Room 316

Hannah Campbell
4 min readAug 5, 2022


After breakfast, Margaret and the baby lolled in the hospital bed like duchesses. The baby, who was tentatively named Alice, slept with her rosy mouth open. She was Margaret’s fourth. On the side table, the heavy ceramic plate was clean and the milk glass empty. The room was warm and quiet except for the murmuring nurses in the hall and the constant swish of busyness that made no demands.

Nearly every day, the nurses remarked on Margaret’s good sense, her excellent milk production. They said some of these younger women should take a lesson from her on how to have a baby. She drifted like a manatee, at the center of nothing at all, the gentle current of praise ruffling her whiskers.

Outside the window, it was February, the season of snow boots that wouldn’t go on properly, lost mittens, runny noses. The snow, the snot, the mud, and that woolly itching for spring — it all felt like an endless dress rehearsal. She tried to see past it all to the baby’s pink toes crinkling in new grass.

A new nurse, barely out of her teens, squeaked in and nodded approvingly at the empty dishes and sleeping baby. She went straight to the curtain and flourished it open. In a game-show voice, she trilled, “There’s a surprise for you! I told them to stand across the street so you could see. Let’s see if they did — yes! There they are!”

Nathan had hinted he might bring the children. Margaret maneuvered the baby to her shoulder and looked out at them, standing awkwardly in the grayish drift by the service road, a ragtag platoon awaiting her inspection. Behind them stood a stockade of evergreens. She counted the children and their mittens. Sylvia’s hat wasn’t covering her left ear. Somehow, Nina’s coat sleeves were already getting short.

Nathan bent over Jack, who was newly four, and pointed up at the window where the nurse stood waving. Margaret couldn’t tell if Jack saw her, but she waved like a beauty queen, from the wrist only, so as not to wake the baby. The girls, 6 and 8, had picked out the window and made a few waving jumps, as if hailing a passing ship. A hawk sliced past the window after a pigeon, taking Margaret’s eyes with it.

When she looked for the children again, the sun had come out, dazzling the snow and thrusting the jagged shadows of the trees forward onto Nina’s shoulder. Margaret saw that their lives would develop deep creases, host plays of light and dark that she could not follow. She felt the chill of the mysterious valleys they would enter. She ached terribly for their rough adoration, all knees and elbows, their hair that smelled like good sweet hay.

After a few minutes, the children’s interest began to flag. Jack scooped snowballs. Nina, the little mother, tried to snug Sylvia’s hat down. Nathan ducked his head and smiled, a little sheepishly, as if leaving a dance floor early. He began herding the children towards the car, inclining his head to hear something Sylvia said.

“Well”, the nurse said, turning from the window with an enthusiastic smile, “what a lovely family! I know they are dying to have you back at home.”

Home. Margaret repeated the word to herself, the “o” rolling to a stop behind her pressed lips like a stone. Balancing its weight gingerly on her tongue, she watched the nurse arranging the curtain, smoothing her chestnut topknot. She tried to remember back to when she was only playing at being grown up, when she wore the novice’s uniform of high heels and lip gloss and listened night and day for the call of that quiet voice. It had never come, of course, but Nathan had, and he was one kind of calling.

Together, they made a home and a family, which Margaret expected would have a comforting finality to it, like a warm rock in her pocket. How lucky they were, people said. How blessed.

Yes, but, and no one had told Margaret this, the whole blessing had to be improvised every morning from whatever was at hand. It turned out that she and Nathan were a couple of journeyman conjurers. Their brand of flimsy, DIY magic worked because of their sturdy refusal to admit the other possibility. They brazened it out, co-conspirators, bound by a blood oath to delight in each other’s workaday sleight-of-hand — the “what’s-this-behind-your-ear” stuff you love if you love the magician. But wasn’t that like the soul note of a fragrance that stays behind, in the tender hollow of a neck, after the high, flowery notes have faded? Wasn’t that in some poem or other?

The nurse turned from the window, expectantly. Through the receiving blanket, Margaret felt the shocking heat of baby cells dividing, galloping recklessly into the future. “Yeah, it’ll be great to get home”, she said, in the decisive tone of a woman deciding to buy the dress she was trying on, after all. The nurse smiled and ticked her clipboard. Everything in Room 316 was as it should be.



Hannah Campbell

I’m a homeschooling mom, a lawyer, a travel junkie, an overly ambitious gardener, and a transplanted southerner. I write about all of it.