all the doors are thrown open, and passengers flood into the hallway . . .
he returns to his cabin and gathers his belongings
broadcasting from the captain’s cabin:
. . . rescue airplanes have been dispatched . . . two patrol gunboats are headed our way at full speed . . ..
the captain advises that no one should remain on board or wait . . .
but the captain cannot object to any passenger choosing to stay with their own will since lifeboats may not be the perfect solution, especially for the elderly and children
at the rate the ship is sinking . . .
there is hope yet; the emergency repair of the water discharging system could be successful . . .
he needs to speed up, grab only things he needs most and leave
. . . passengers who decide to leave the ship are advised to bring only their legal documents, property certificates, and their most precious jewelry . . . life comes before everything else . . . worldly possessions should be forsaken . . .
please remain calm, gather your belongings, and leave your cabin as fast as you can, all on board, do not . . .
remain calm . . . follow orders . . .
our crew members are in charge on every lifeboat, do not . . .
he no longer pays attention to the announcement
in an instant he realizes how his professional habits as a surgeon die hard; he packs the small box tightly and tidy, zips it up and shuts it as if sewing up a thoracic cavity
he regrets that he made this voyage in the first place
he steals a glance at himself while passing by a mirror
the hallway is cluttered with all sorts of things, doors are either wide open or ajar, not a soul around—he is astonished by his own slowness so he quickens his steps and starts running
around the corner are the stairways with iron railings; he sees a carry-bag drop and a woman about to fall . . . he rushes forward, catches her, and helps her sit on the stairs; he does not even have time to see what she looks like because she is moaning and wailing, bending over with hands on a bulging stomach; he knows she is going into labor
he helps her to her feet, carries her in his arms, enters the cabin beneath the stairs, and puts her down on a bed:
“i am a doctor”
someone hurries by in the hallway
he closes the door
she fumbles off her skirt and underpants
“is this your first?”
she nods, and suddenly screams, her head tossing and turning on the pillow
“take a deep breath . . . do you hear me? take a deep breath!”
he moves the desk lamp closer to the bed, adjusts the angle, begins to think what he can use as a substitute for forceps; or perhaps that won’t be necessary, although he does need a pair of scissors for cutting the umbilical cord
“take a deep breath, i’ll be back, don’t cry”
he finds a razor in his cabin, rushes back while the ship is evidently tilting
she arches her back and struggles
he forces her to lie on her back, opens her legs wide, and bends her knees upright, the uterus is already open, he examines the position of the infant . . . under the pressure of his fingers he could feel the infant’s head pointing downwards and is slightly relieved although he is now aware that his feet are turning cold
sea water oozes in from beneath the door
she takes deep breaths, she has the will but not the strength, she cannot help but wants to sit up
he puts a pillow behind her back, tears a strip from a bed sheet and ties her upper body to the bed frame
his palms press her stomach, and amniotic fluid flows out profusely . . .
“inhale . . . hold it, now relax . . . take in a deep breath . . . take it in . . . hold it—hold it”
he can see the head of the infant, but the opening of the uterus is not wide enough, he has to put in two fingers on each side, trying to hold it and pull at the same time ...
the infant wails and the placenta follows out
he cuts the umbilical cord, pulls a blanket to wrap the infant with, and a bed sheet to tie around the woman’s lower body . . .
she carries the baby and he carries her
he sees and yet does not see water spouting from crevices around the door
he turns the door knob
sea water pours in like a wall
filling the cabin
the lamp still shines in the water
light goes out.
ContributorMu Xin | Translated from the Chinese by Toming Jun Liu
MU XIN (1927-2011), pen name, is a renowned Chinese diasporan writer and artist who published more than a dozen of books of fiction, poetry and prose in his lifetime, and wrote most of them while he lived in the New York area from 1984 till 2005. Born into a wealthy aristocratic family in Wuzhen, South China, he was among the last generation to receive a classical education in the literati tradition, but was also exposed through voluminous reading to the highest achievements of Western art and culture. Translator TOMING JUN LIU is the pen name of Liu Jun. Liu was born in Xi'an, China, and is a professor of English at California State University, Los Angeles, where he teaches American and European modern literature, diasporic literature and critical theory. Liu's translation of Mu Xin's collection of fiction An Empty Room: Stories was published by New Directions in 2011, the first book by Mu Xin in English. This English version of "SOS" has never been published before.