Emily peeled the mud soaked nappy off Sarah and dropped it on the floor with a plop. She could hear the breathless voice of the TV announcer and it took her a moment to work out what was wrong with that. The radio had been on and now it wasn’t. The radio itself was still in its cabinet in the lounge and the lights were still going. She looked at the footage on the TV of the devastation in the city centre and realised that the building housing the radio station was in the city, it may well be one of those destroyed. Shivering with horror at the thought that the voice she was listening to, only minutes ago could be silenced, could be dead, she collected Sarah in her arms. The little girl automatically wrapped her legs around her and Emily was glad of her warm solid weight. ‘You’re getting to be such a big girl,’ she crooned, enjoying the normality of cuddling her daughter. Her back didn’t feel up to it but she wasn’t letting the baby go. ‘Come on. Let’s go to your room and find another nappy.’ They needed to be somewhere where Sarah would be safe, even if Emily herself was incapacitated.
They’d just made the hallway when she felt the pain starting and had to put Sarah down. ‘Go on love,’ she gasped. ‘Race you to your bedroom.’
Sarah looked up anxiously as Emily doubled up, leaning against the wall. She made shooing notions with her hands, biting back the urge to cry out. Sarah was scared enough already. Sarah plopped onto her bottom and didn’t move. Emily panted as the contraction turned her abdomen rock solid. The pain started to ease and as she straightened up she felt a sudden rush of fluid down her legs. ‘Oh great.’ Her nostrils twitched at the warm fecund smell. ‘Well at least we’re not too worried about ruining the carpet right now.’ Her waters breaking meant she really was in established labour though. ‘Brilliant timing.’ She hitched back the sob that nearly broke from her. She couldn’t give in to it now.
When she collected herself she realised there was a crack in the wall. It ran all the way up the wall and across the ceiling. They’d had virtually no damage in the September quake. Now it seemed this one had broken the house. It wasn’t falling down though thank goodness.
Sarah’s room seemed completely unscathed. Thankfully Emily left her on the floor and raced back to the lounge for the phone and as an afterthought, her handbag with her mobile and her list of phone numbers. She was moving really awkwardly now and it wasn’t just because her legs were wet and sticky. She could feel the baby’s head, hard and solid in her pelvis, forcing her bones apart. The next contraction really hurt. Alone she let herself scream.
Hurrying as best she could she stripped off her wet things and after a moment’s thought pulled off her top as well and replaced it with a nightie. She’d have loved a shower but this really wasn’t the right time for that even if the water still worked. She couldn’t afford the time to find out. She grabbed a towel and wiped her lower half down and then grabbed another pile of towels from the cupboard and went back to Sarah’s room.
Sarah was battering against the door trying to get out and protesting extremely vocally about being locked in.
After waiting out another contraction Emily finally tried to phone the midwife. A call to her mobile didn’t connect. In desperation she fumbled through her handbag to find the card the woman had given her on her first visit. It had her home number. Hardly daring to hope she dialled the number. It was answered by a man. The man was her son. His Mum had been coming home from a call. He didn’t know where exactly that she was but she had texted to say she was okay. Emily felt an overwhelming relief. That meant that she would be okay.
Texting. Emily hadn’t thought of that.
It took her ages to compose the text. She seemed to be lacking the ability to co ordinate her brain and her fingers. “In labour, pls come. Emily Jones.” Her body’s whole focus wanted to be on giving birth, but she couldn’t stop and do that. Not quite yet. She remembered this from her other labours, the way her whole being became totally focused on giving birth. It was quite zen like, quite amazing and looking back, she’d actually enjoyed that part of it, before things had become too intense. Now though, she still had things to do.
After the text to the midwife she sent one to Jack, “Ok??” She managed to hold Sarah down enough to get another nappy on her. Sarah’s room had been the spare room and office up until only a couple of months ago. There was still a cheap old television on the floor of the wardrobe. She managed to drag it out but decided against lifting it up on to any of the dressers. It was safer on the floor. She had to shift furniture to lead the power cord to the plug and attach the aerial cord and by the time she’d finished she was wondering if it was worth the trouble. It was the thought that she might see Jack on the television footage that helped her do it. She had to know he was alright.
The phone beeped.
Emily flung herself across to where she’d left it on the bed. Marnie. The midwife. ‘Thank god.’ She fumbled to open the message. “Don’t Panic,” she read. Emily burst out laughing. “Stay put,” were the next words. “Pls confirm. Are you at home? Are you alone? How long in labour? Time between contractions? I will come to you.” Emily’s amusement stayed with her. That was the most succinct Marnie had ever been. She tended to rattle on and on and on and it drove her nuts to be around her longer than the 15 to 20 minutes that their appointments usually took. But she also made Emily feel safe and cared for. Other than her eyebrows rising to her hairline when she realised that Emily had two male partners and that either could be the father, she had passed no negative judgements on their domestic arrangements. For that alone Emily would have hired her. The midwife she’d had for Sarah’s birth had not been nearly so easy to get along with.
She didn’t want to lie down but she did need to rest. After a moment’s thought she piled the pillows up on the bed and leaned across it, on her feet but her upper body supported. It eased her aching back. ‘Hurry up and come home Harry.’ She tapped out her reply to Marnie as the horrific images on the TV continued. She couldn’t look away. A dishevelled lady reporter was trying to explain that the phones weren’t working and hundreds, herself included didn’t know if their families, their children were all right. Someone else asked people nationwide to use phones only in emergency situations to reduce the overloading. There were pictures of bloodied people being helped from ruined buildings. People in business clothes, dirty and bloody themselves assisting others, doing first aid. She had to keep watching in case one of them was Jack.
On the floor Sarah scolded her new baby dolly and spread books and toys around the room in a temper. She latched onto Emily’s leg and yanked, telling her off for not picking her up. Emily’s contractions were about three to four minutes apart.
The phone beeped. Marnie again. “Bridge out. Still coming. Don’t panic.”
The horrifyingly familiar sound of a train approaching morphed into a wild jolting shake knocking Emily face first into the pillows as her feet slipped. She struggled to breathe as another contraction wrapped her in its grip. ‘No,’ she yelled. ‘Ow, damn. No.’ The whole house rattled and shook. Terrified the roof was going to fall she slid to the floor, head against the bed, pulling Sarah in too, even as the pain of the contraction paralysed her. Sarah was shrieking in terror. ‘Oh god,’ Emily moaned into her hair. ‘Oh god, I can’t do this.’