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WHAT DO I SAY TO THEM / Thomas McCaIl WE ENTER A CRAMPED LOBBY, Lucy Banks, a nurse, ahead of me. The lobby's floor is a jigsaw of small, black and white ceramic tiles, some broken, others missing altogether. In a row of mailboxes on one wall the name "Ramirez" is crudely scratched into the metal of the box labeled 3B. "It's cold in here," I say. The snow that drops from our shoes isn't melting. "They don't heat lobbies in this part of town, John," Lucy says. "They save it for upstairs. It's 3B, let's go." I'm glad Lucy's with me. She's in her forties, twice my age, and I trust her experience. She may be forthright in what she says, but I know she'll never embarrass me in front of a mother. A wooden staircase, its carpet worn and stinking, grumbles under our feet. "What do we know about this woman?" I ask. "Nothing. She called in an hour ago. She's never been seen at the Maternity Center." "No care before now? She just calls us - bang! - and says, 'Come now, this is it, I'm ready to dump this baby/ " "That's right." A small, dark man answers the door at 3B. He's dressed in an iridescent green shirt and black pants. "Mr. Ramirez?" I say, then give him no chance to answer. "We're from the Maternity Center." He nods and waves us through the door. "I don't know what to do if you don't come," he says in a thick, Hispanic accent. The room is large and dim. A long, graceful row of windows on one wall could easily light the space, but there are shades pulled down tightly against the sun. The wooden floor is bare, and furniture is scant—a bulky maroon couch under the windows and a television set on the opposite wall. On the couch perch two small children, a boy and a girl, both in heavy woolen sweaters. They peer at the television screen, mesmerized, while the colored, moving light of a cartoon show jumps on their faces. "How is your wife, Mr. Ramirez?" I ask. Before he answers, the children notice us and scramble to be close to him, one on either side. He gently balances an arm across the shoulders of each. The Missouri Review · 277 "They are not used to strangers in the apartment," he explains. Lucy squats to reach the children's level. Their hair and complexions are fair, unlike Ramirez's. "No school this morning, kids?" Lucy says. "They stayed home to see the baby," Ramirez says. "Where is your wife?" I interrupt rudely, feeling pushed to get moving. "In the back bedroom." Mrs. Ramirez is alone in the bedroom. She's a huge woman, big even beyond her pregnancy, easily the biggest thing in the room. Flat on her back, she lies in the middle of a double bed that strains under her load. Winter sunlight from a nearby window streams across her. "Are you the doctor?" she asks. I walk close to the bed, into the warmth of the light; my shadow is painted on her chest. "My name is John Patterson," I say, "and this is Lucy Banks." Lucy smiles at Mrs. Ramirez, then without speaking moves to a covered radiator under the window. She begins to empty the contents of a fat leather bag onto the surface of the radiator. The instruments for delivery of the baby—oddly shaped, angular pieces of stainless steel—catch the gleam of sunlight and flash it from their edges. "When did you start, Mrs. Ramirez?" I ask. "About five this morning." It is now ten. A simple blue nightgown covers her swollen breasts and the round mountain of her pregnant belly. A tangled bedsheet hides her legs. Her hair—dull blond, short, and straight—is wet at its roots. "How's it been so far?" I say. "A little worse the last hour." "Did you have your other babies at home?" "No, at a hospital. We had insurance. I didn't have to call for this." "Did those babies come fast?" I...


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