"And So It Begins." Flash fiction stories of up to 500 words that begin with a first sentence we provide. The first sentence for issue three is "I think I'm in the wrong room."

Path of Least Resentment

By Eric Schniewind

I think I'm in the wrong room. They should color code hospital floors like they do in some parking garages. We’re all wearing masks so everyone else thinks I’m in the right room. Sure, I probably ought to go find the room my wife is in, but they seem to need me here. Anita seems to need me here (fortunately, one of the nurses called out her name). Uh-oh. During my inward retreat something has happened. They are calling me either guy or Guy. Anita holds out her hand and I instinctively grab it. Instantly, I become Anita’s Guy, here to help welcome her baby into the world. Should I be with Margaret, helping with my own baby? Probably. I mean, surely that would be the right thing as society would have it and maybe even on many other levels. But Anita needs me. Margaret, on the other hand, is a very independent woman. She arranged the Lamaze classes during a time when she knew I couldn’t go. She had little faith in my ability to stay conscious through the whole birth because of my low blood pressure and my disdain for harmonica-led jazz, her choice of birthing relaxation music.

My background in retail tells me to go where help is needed most and that is here with Anita. A Tuvan-like moan and Anita grips my hand harder and pulls me in closer so that our clavicles embrace as she endures another contraction. I feel the surge of endorphins vicariously as words of support and encouragement in just the right dosages come effortlessly pouring out of my bees-waxed lips. Margaret had insisted on my lips being well-lubed so that her pre-designed kiss after our baby was born would not be spoiled by a small rough edge.

I feel confident with every move and sound I make. Each of these choices no doubt would have been reason for Margaret’s exasperated eye rolls. But here as Guy, I am the guy. I say the right things. I am in the birthing groove. Impulse flows into action without hesitation. I tell Anita I love her just when she wants to hear it. The baby’s head crowns into view, her head feels like freshly shampooed hair with more suds than water. The medical team scurries around me with hushed-toned support. My sure hands guide our baby to Anita’s breast that rises and falls alternately with joy and exhaustion. Our first kiss is soft and tender, cut short by the pressing need to stare at our beautiful baby.

I never tire of looking at her.

I often think of calling Margaret and finding out how she and child are doing. I think of different ways to explain to her how I ended up in the “wrong” room. Then again, she may not have even noticed my absence.