Tuesday, April 18, 2017

My Research is Showing - Excerpt

There are times you just have to write the scene that follows your research. It may not be an action scene; it may not quite be a character scene. And yet, it still propels things.

Re-reading a certain passage, I found myself wanting to share. Those who've read much of my curmudgeonliness know I'm not big on excerpt-ery, but I like this scene - precisely because of the research that (ahem) bore it.

Image: Wikipedia of course

It was a whole child, four-limbed, red, wrinkled, endearingly ugly. No deformities seemed present, and the mouth and ears and eyes were clear. Its cleft was clean and correct, its anus a perfect, pale pore. Zeniv placed the baby on a stone bench, and it protested lustily, screeching at the cold and indignity. She placed soft towels beneath the child and with two fingers pulled first at the child’s right arm, then its left, its right leg, then its left. The right side felt stronger; a good sign. Left-sidedness was suspect. When she held her finger before the face of the babe, its quaking arms gravitated inward toward it, but were unskilled yet to grab her fingertip. When she gently put the finger on its chin, its eyes widened a moment, and then closed. It was aware. It seemed to be healthy.

The placenta still hung off to one side, and Zeniv reached for the knife in a sinus of her apron, and cut the cord and placed the afterbirth in a bowl. She turned the babe onto her side and brought this near, squeezing the blood from her wound into the bowl as well. The child was a squalling protest, but so tiny she was easy to hold.

Twisting long fingers nimbly as she could while one hand held the infant safe, she looped a thread of wool around the stump, and tied as close as she could to the belly, pressing the protrusion back into what would become her navel.

Then to clean the child. Natron, the magic powder that preserved the dead in Egypt, was the same magic that brought the royal infant into the world. With this and the towel under the child, Zeniv softly chafed the body, the arms, the legs. In the crevices, she dipped a finger in olive oil and then in the powder, and cleaned where skin met skin. In its still-protesting mouth, she slipped the slightest bit of it across those all but translucent, toothless gums.

The baby gleamed. She was red—flesh and more flesh, from the inside of the mouth to the feet, still wrinkled and compressed from the long stay in the womb.

Last, and softest, clean, warm water. She held the infant to soak several moments, and with free fingers sloshed water over the shoulders, cradled its head and baptized the child with warm, soft water. All protesting abated; the water felt good to the child.

Still it was not complete. One last once-over, with close attention to cleaning out the openings, making sure breathing and elimination should be free. The infant princess wailed as if she were becoming tired, her arms finding direction as if to push Zeniv away. And yet they seemed also to begin to cling to her.

She put olive oil over the little swollen eyes, which closed readily enough and seemed almost ready to be peaceful, to rest. Her body moved only to emit its tiny, wheezing breaths as Zeniv completed the first ablutions with a wad of wool dipped in the olive oil, which she wrapped with a bandage around the belly to cover the baby’s navel.

Finally, the wheezing softening and the eyes closed and tight as beans, she swaddled the child and turned, at last to look to its mother.


I feel like it is a lot of detail, but also that it is a brief enough expositive scene it doesn't burden the flow overall. This is close to the top of a new chapter, and so is the pause before more action--action which becomes, essentially, the first pogrom in the history of Christendom. It needs to be this quiet, and it needs to be this brief before the heat, literally, builds outside the palace. (The main sentence that is probably too much scholarship is the one about Natron.)

Of course I would be extremely grateful if anyone has feedback or reactions.

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