We’re still working on The Midwife’s Apprentice. They’re even starting to ask, “Can we read Alyce today?” They’re hoping for another fart or piss sighting. They get that, and then some…but not like they expect.
After all, our heroine is working for a midwife, so there are going to be some, shall we say, awkward bits. Especially for the boys.
I’ve been doing a lot of (pun intended) pregnant pauses while I read aloud, to let some things sink in. We had a classic example today. In the chapter called “The Leaving,” Alyce gets called to deliver a baby herself (making the midwife angry–this is what she was worried about from the beginning– and prompting Jane to whack Alyce across the cheek). The baby won’t come, and Alyce doesn’t want to make a mistake (one of the big themes of the novel is believing in yourself), so she throws in the towel and sends for the midwife.
The midwife bustles in and sets to work. Then we get to the line (I’m going from memory, so…) “anointing her hands with cornmeal and oil, she pulled and tugged that baby from both the inside and the outside…”
And I stop, midsentence. There is a silence that lasts perhaps 2 seconds. They’re expecting me to elaborate like I usually do, or ask a question — rhetorical or otherwise.
The few quicker (mostly, but not exclusively, female) ones start to laugh quietly. There are a couple of soft ewws, but…
I still don’t say anything.
Now we get the seventh grade “what?” going around the room. A couple more start to giggle. There’s a bit of squirming. Now a few “duh’s.” But still a lot of “what?” with a lot of head-swiveling.
So I read the line again. “…from both the inside and the outside…”
“What? I don’t… (Whisper whisper across the aisle) What?! EWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWW.”
Believe it or not, there are a few still saying “what?”
Now there is general hilarity, and pantomime. Explanations and revelations across the aisles. More ewws, and “don’t you get it?” from the kids who just got it. And still one kid who hasn’t clued in.
“Well, you’re supposed to come out head first. And if you don’t there could be problems, so she just reaches i…”
“Wait. What? You mean?” Fascination and disgust each fight for control of his face. And then…
He starts giggling. Uncontrollably giggling. Tears rolling down his face giggling. Which sets off a wave of sympathetic and imitative giggling.
It takes a solid couple of minutes for it to subside. And when, just a couple of lines later, the midwife picks the woman up and tries to shake the baby out of her, the poor boy loses it again.
I can’t wait until Alyce delivers the “stomach worm” at the end of the book.
(Aside: That just reminded me of a mental floss question we recently had: What eight letter word has four g’s?)