Pain shrieked through Tori’s body, crimson-red and blistering, and she arched against its raging persistence. Voices reverberated inside her skull, like shattering glass, relentlessly splintering into meaningless sounds.
“Tori, push.” A hazy shape leaned over Tori, but Tori moaned and struck at it, annoyed and irritated. “You need to help.”
Tori sank back into near unconsciousness again, shutting out the lights, the drone of the conversation, the rasp of her own breathing. Oh, that she could will her own breathing to stop. Darkness overwhelmed her, drowned her, giving her sweet respite from the burning torment.
But it was not to last. Another wave of agony seized her in its grasp, a steady pulsing force, as if coercing her very life blood from her.
“Tori.” The hazy shape again, intruding. “You must push now. It’s time.”
The seething fire was at the centre of Tori’s being, writhing, splitting her in half. She poured the little strength she had into extinguishing the blaze, pressing against the heat. She slumped against the pillow, hair sodden, skin drenched.
“Keep it up, girl.”
Another pain crested, and Tori groaned as flames devoured her insides.
“Make it stop.”
“I’m sorry, Tori. Just a few more.”
Grinding, gnawing, and finally, “Almost here, Tori. You’re doing fine.”
The tiny baby girl was pulled from Tori’s exhausted body, blood and vernix shrouding her small form. Ominously silent, she was quickly taken to the corner of the room.
Tori raised her head, and for a brief second, she saw the little girl. “Cry, baby.”
A few mewling whimpers, and the baby gave a pathetic wail; then, she fell silent again.
“Can I see her?”
“No, Tori, I’m sorry.” The nurse stood between Tori and the people suctioning and cleaning up the newborn.
At that, Tori succumbed to oblivion, letting herself fall into velvety blackness.
By morning, memories of the delivery had faded to nothing more than a bad dream. Tori’s head was still clouded from pain, coming down from her last hit, smoked just before she went into labour, and needing another one right away. She rubbed her temples. Tori knew the deal. Clean up or no baby.
There was a soft knock on the door.
“The doctor will be in to check you, and then you’ll probably be discharged.” Tori was not in the mood for the case worker’s cheerful motherliness. One hit, just one hit. “I have some papers for you to sign.”
The bright paper hurt Tori’s eyes, and she held the pen weakly. “What’s this for?”
“I believe you were informed during your pregnancy that if your baby tested positive for methamphetamine exposure in the womb, she would be taken from you at birth.”
Tori pushed the paper back and forth.
“Your baby will be placed in a good home until you’re clean.”
One hit, then I’ll start the program.
“Can I see her?”
“You know the answer, Tori.”
Tori rolled her eyes. Who cares, anyway? She fidgeted with the pen.
“She’s a beautiful little girl. Worth getting your life together for. Remember we talked about the rehab centre?”
Tori was bored and already getting anxious. She tapped the pen on the hospital table. Let’s get going.
“Are you ready now? You understand everything?”
And then, as Tori started to scrawl her name, she saw in her mind’s eye the glimpse she’d had of her baby daughter before she’d been hustled out of Tori’s sight. A few strands of dark hair, long fingers, the infant cry. Tears loomed.
“Shut up. Here’s your stupid papers.” Tori scribbled her name across the bottom of each sheet and shoved them at the case worker. When she finished, she stood at the window, not seeing the lilacs and daffodils and the manicured lawns.
“I’ll be in touch.”
Tori didn’t answer.
Her friends were glad to see her. And what better way to celebrate her return without her encumbrance than with a hit. No testing to worry about, at least not yet. She could just enjoy her smoke. But as Tori inhaled the fumes, she felt a twinge of pain, as if the small body were once again struggling to be released from hers. And just before the high engulfed her, she heard a newborn cry.
But just one more hit.
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