Even after years, my spirit sinks deeply if I’m reminded.
The middle of a long weekend, you’d end up busy, on your own. By midnight I’d already accommodated one of two pimply enfants sauvages. He was a crushed youth, with a single deep scratch on his proud forehead. He’d worn a seatbelt by the looks.
A deep crimson welt sloped from his left shoulder, across his slender abdomen, ending at his right hip. His crushed jaw and flattened face would silently discolour before my eyes. His mildly tanned skin would darken and bruise. This young man was still warm, blood hadn’t settled yet.
We had limited space, another facility, two hours away, would take the driver (I hadn’t time to put jigsaws together; let alone the room to store them). She’d be categorised and loosely reassembled by sunrise.
By the time I had admitted and accounted for her gruesomely dispatched passenger an unexpected child had been delivered to my reception.
I received this baby inside a cotton pillowcase. He was approximately the size of two freshly laundered winter socks folded together and half-turned inside out. His papers indicated he was of mixed race. I once had a whole draw full at home; knee high woollen blend socks – not stillbirth – not like this, incomplete stranger. I was responsible for finding the space to accommodate him. An increasingly difficult duty.
Ours may be the most central facility but that does not mean it is the most modern. Newer venues have dedicated shelving to deal with infants. We make do.
Back when I was training, my teachers often said this was the most difficult task. Simple enough, but never ever easy. Few are capable. Possibly during the first spike in the pandemic not long ago, when the figures were unmitigatedly astonishing, everyone would.
Anyone can now, but most avoid it. I try not to think.
It is a simple act. Paperwork, pack and place. Quite a lot of paperwork to do in conjunction with this procedure – but the paperwork is not the challenging part. It is the packaging and placement. The imagination, when it’s a late evening shift, becomes a negative force to reckon with.
Easy to pretend this is a run of the mill still-born child. You seldom know the circumstances. Small … light enough to carry in one open hand. The tiny body, bulging eyes and enormous pouting lips are common features. Delicate skin tinged a rich shade of purple.
Our procedure was nothing if not efficient. They must be stored wherever possible until someone checks over them and signs off. I knew what I had to do, but I tended to avoid doing it.
Alone, late, busy with paperwork. The controlled temperature disallows any rancid scent from permeating the facility. Noticed we’d used the last plastic bag on the roll, I’d have to go to the storeroom in order to replenish the dispenser.
Really not liking to think about it. The store room was located in the back of the main holding area. The passage into the store was crammed with as yet unidentified individuals all plastic wrapped. The overall disruption of dealing with this pandemic meant they were inappropriately stacked, frozen solid. A revolting mass.
I had to walk among these cadavers, enter the store room and collect a new roll of clear plastic bags. Then I had to place this tiny ex-child into a bag, tie a knot in the top of the bag, number it and place it in the cool room on a shelf.
It sounds simple enough I know. It’s not easy.
- The Fit In Room and The Poetry of Object 0.1 (davidpauljobling.com)
- Creating ‘The Fit In Room’ by David Paul Jobling (davidpauljobling.com)
- Exhibition Review: The Fit In Room & The Poetry of Object 0.1 (glamadelaide.com.au)