Harry didn’t know what he was going to come home to. It had taken him an agonising ninety minutes to get from the gym, collect kids from two schools and get home, covering an overall distance of roughly fifteen kilometres. Emily had been right though. The schools had stood up quite well. Freaking out teachers trying to do the right thing had held him up. Jayden and Wilson were corralled in the middle of the playing field with the rest of their classmates. A teacher was stationed at a desk and anyone leaving was supposed to sign out at the desk with the parent/guardian collecting them. All well and good. The problem was that Kathleen should have been there too and she wasn’t.
Once that was sorted it had taken him and the boys nearly half an hour to get to the primary school along with every other panicked parent in the suburb. With flooding, liquefaction and torn tarmac there was barely one lane passable on the main road the school was on. He let Wilson out of the car and sent him running ahead, hoping that he’d be able to collect the girls and come back. That hadn’t worked of course. Jenny’s school had an even more stringent sign out system than the high school. Harry ended up driving into someone’s front yard and running down to the school himself.
It seemed to take forever before he had them all and could head home. Jenny was pale and freaked out by the quake. Her school had already had quite a bit of damage from the first one and her teacher had gone into a screaming panic when it struck. The three older kids however were quite excited by all the drama. They had their phones, thumbs texting frantically and seemed to know more about the destruction of the city centre than he did. He didn’t tell them that Jack had gone to town.
He’d given his phone to Jayden who’d done a mass text of all their gym staff and friends in the city simply asking “Ok?” His phone was now continuously bleeping. Jayden checked the messages and passed them on.
Finally coming up their long drive he was relieved to see the house still standing and looking perfectly normal. Emily had said the kitchen wasn’t safe. He really hadn’t known if the house would be standing or not. They’d passed other houses that weren’t. Harry hit the automatic garage door opener as the phone beeped again. ‘Jack,’ Jayden shouted as he looked at the phone. So maybe Jayden had picked up on Harry’s concern. He felt overwhelming relief, a great weight lifting off his chest. Then he had to hit the brakes when he realised the door had only risen a few centimetres and then stuck. ‘What’s he say?’
Jayden sounded confused. ‘Coffee? What?’
‘Give it here?’ Harry grabbed for the phone as everyone clambered out of the car. The message didn’t make sense. “Coffee L8”. ‘What’s he on about?’
The boys had grabbed the garage door and were trying to push it up but it wasn’t going. Kathleen grabbed Harry’s keys from the ignition and tried the front door. She shoved it hard. ‘It’s stuck.’ They all streamed around to the back.
The back yard was a surprise. Liquefaction had come up through the patio and in several places across the lawn leaving grey greasy mounds. It had flowed right into the dining room through the open sliding doors but at least they could get in.
‘Emily.’ The kitchen was trashed but the house seemed sound.
‘Mum.’ Everyone was shouting.
Harry’s phone bleeped again. Message from Jack. He fumbled to open the message only to stare at it in confusion. The message was the same as before. “Coffee L8”. ‘What the fuck does that mean?’ The feeling of dread settled back in his chest. Jack wasn’t sending nonsense, not at a time like this. He stopped long enough to text back, “whr r u ru ok”. Doing that meant that by the time he got to Sarah’s room, following the sound effects, he found Emily and all the children balled up in a semi hysterical huddle. They were all of them on their knees on the floor. He pulled the baby out of the crowd and passed her to Kathleen before fighting his own way in and taking Emily in his arms. She groaned as he grabbed her, arching back and crying out. Her protruding belly pressed against him and he started in surprise as he felt it go rock hard against him. The kids backed away nonplussed as she screamed.
The spasm seemed to last forever as he held her and tried to think of what to do. It was obvious that the pain was beyond what she could breathe through. Her attempt at panting sounded more like a gas burner as she forced air through her nose and teeth. He was inordinately pleased that he’d seen her in labour with Sarah because otherwise he would have been terrified. He was still pretty scared but at least he knew this was normal. Then he felt her belly soften and she collapsed against him puffed and limp.
‘Hey,’ he said gently, placing a kiss on her forehead. ‘How you doing? How far apart?’
Emily nuzzled against him tiredly. ‘Getting closer. Haven’t timed them recently.’ She looked up and grinned at the appalled circle of teenagers. ‘It’s okay guys. I’m having the baby and it hurts. But it’s okay.’ Harry couldn’t believe her instinct to care for everyone else, even in the middle of all of this. ‘Having babies hurts.’ He hugged her tight and buried his face in her tangled hair.
‘What do we need to do Mum?’ Jayden’s voice cracked.
‘Yeah, you know,’ Wilson piped up, ‘aren’t we supposed to boil water or something?’
Harry tried to pull himself together. He’d just spotted the TV over Emily’s shoulder and the sight of the destruction was distracting. God Jack could be in the middle of that. ‘Ah. Boiling water. Actually that’s a good idea. Get out the big pots and boil water. We’ll need it for drinking. The tap water won’t be safe.’
‘Just like last time,’ Jayden agreed.
‘Yes, three minutes, just like last time. And while you’re at it, can you two have a go at getting the kitchen cleared up. Bring the rubbish bin in and just chuck anything that’s wrecked. See if you can shovel out the sand too.’ That should keep them occupied for several hours and save them from seeing Emily in pain. They didn’t need to see that.
He turned back to his wife. ‘Have you got hold of Marnie?’
‘She’s trying to come. The bridges are out so she’s having to come around the long way. She should be here soon.’
Harry thought about how long it had taken him to travel a much shorter distance but kept his concerns to himself. ‘Have you spoken to her?’
Emily shook her head. ‘Text. Landlines work but you can’t call to cell phones. Texts work sometimes. She says I’m a healthy woman who’s already had two normal deliveries so she doesn’t expect any problems and not to worry.’ She passed over her phone and Harry scrolled through the messages from the midwife. Every message said “Don’t Panic” in it somewhere. He was resisting the urge to panic and collapse completely so he didn’t find Marnie’s advice particularly helpful. Emily gasped and tightened her grip on his arm as the next contraction arrived. They really weren’t very far apart. Panic seemed like a bloody good idea right now because it looked like he and the kids were going to be delivering this baby.
‘Oh god.’ Emily was crying. ‘It hurts.’
He kissed her. ‘I know baby.’ He held her through the contraction then stood up carefully when it ended. ‘Come on. Let’s go do this on our bed. You’ll be more comfortable. Kathleen, give us a hand.’ They helped Emily to her feet.
He tried to think of what else needed to be done. ‘Jenny, you’re in charge of Sarah okay. Keep her out of the kitchen until the guys have made it safe. Get her something to eat at her tea time. Can you do that?’
Jenny clutched her little sister, her eyes round and scared. ‘I can do that,’ she whispered.
Weakly Emily smiled at her. ‘It’s all right sweetheart. Really. I’ll be okay.’
‘Where’s Daddy?’ the little girl asked quietly.