Harry sent Kathleen off to (carefully) rummage through the store cupboard in the garage and find a tarpaulin. ‘Have you heard from Jack?’ Emily asked as soon as they were alone. They walked slowly up the passageway to the bedroom.
‘I got a text, but it doesn’t make sense.’ Harry showed her.
‘Looks like he fumbled the buttons. You know he always does that. The keys are too small for his fingers. He probably pushed send before he’d finished the message.’
‘But “coffee”? In the middle of this? And why’d he send the same thing again?’
Another contraction started and Emily turned in towards him. She wrapped her arms around his neck and he had to brace himself as she writhed, crying and shouting in his ear. Her body felt so hot and damp and foreign. ‘God,’ she growled as it eased. ‘I should be in hospital. Having drugs.’ She sagged and he took her weight. ‘Arrrghh.’ She panted some more. ‘What are we going to do? I’m going to have this baby soon.’
Harry had already figured that one out. ‘It will be fine,’ he soothed. ‘Like Marnie said. You’re fit and healthy and you’ve never had any problems before.’ He really really hoped that was the case. He shuffled them into the bedroom.
He and Kathleen stripped the bed then made it up with the tarp over the mattress, a pile of towels, a sheet and more towels. It crackled a bit but it shouldn’t be too uncomfortable. The trouble was, Emily was exhausted but she didn’t want to lie down. She leaned on her elbows on the top of the dresser and insisted on having the TV on, even though Harry wanted to keep her calm. ‘How can I be fucking calm when Jack’s out there,’ she hissed at him. ‘Leave it on. I have to see.’
Harry looked up alarmed, to see Kathleen’s shocked gaze. Damn. It was barely a year since the girls’ mother had died. He couldn’t bear the thought that they might lose their father too. None of them could contemplate that thought.
‘He’ll be helping people,’ Kathleen said, gesturing at the screen. ‘That’s what he does.’ The TV was showing a group of people, some of them in dirty ruined business suits, still wearing their ties, lifting someone on a blanket into the back of a four wheel drive. ‘He’ll help people then he’ll come home when he can.’
Harry and Emily exchanged glances. ‘Of course he will,’ Harry tried to say brightly.
‘Just if he doesn’t hurry up,’ Emily said in a strangled voice as she doubled over again, ‘he’s going to miss this baby. Oh fucking hell it hurts.’ She screamed.
Harry raced over to support her. Jenny was standing in the doorway, baby Sarah on her hip looking at Emily aghast. Harry pressed his hand into the small of her back, the only thing he could do that eased her pain, even slightly. Kathleen went to her sister and hugged her. The disaster on the TV continued.
It took a bit of coaxing but eventually they managed to get Emily on to the bed and settled her on a pile of pillows, lying partially on her side. She dozed between contractions. Harry lay on the bed beside her pressing into her tailbone. Emily’s phone had been bleeping and she’d had the same message from her friend Chantelle three times. Harry had had the enigmatic coffee message from Jack once more too. The phone system was not working properly. The reports of the destruction on the TV were starting to repeat themselves. There didn’t seem to be any new news although there was speculation of a huge death toll.
Kathleen had fetched the bottle of water that Harry had had rolling around on the floor of his car for weeks. It was the only drinking water they had as they had to treat the tap water as contaminated. He offered it to Emily who drank half of it in one go. He wished he’d thought of it earlier. The kids shared the bottle of fizzy that was in the fridge. Harry directed the girls to use a clean pot and ladle water out of the toilet cistern. He figured that would be fine to use to wipe Emily’s face and cool her down. There had been no word from the midwife for some time.
The boys appeared through the door from the patio. They were covered in mud. ‘The tap outside my bedroom’s come off,’ Wilson announced. They’d followed the sound of rushing water they could hear when they were in Wilson’s bedroom and realised that the tap on the outside wall had come apart. He was brandishing a hammer.
‘The place was flooding so we’ve turned the water off at the main,’ Jayden explained waving a large wrench. Harry was impressed. ‘Now we’re going to go and fix it.’
‘What?’ Harry sat up. ‘How?’
‘Well we probably can’t actually fix it,’ Wilson told him, ‘but it’s not like we need the outside tap right now so if we bend the pipe up and stop it running then we can turn the water back on.’
‘Can’t make things any worse,’ Emily murmured beside him.
‘Okay then,’ he agreed reluctantly. ‘Don’t wreck the place.’
Five minutes later, when Emily was in the middle of another wrenching contraction there was a huge after shock. The house thrashed like it was in labour, things crashed and broke and Harry hung on to Emily and tried not to scream. Dear god, the kids were under the house. How could he have let them do that? What sort of moron was he? The whole building could collapse on them. As soon as he could stand he raced for the man hole. Jenny and Sarah were screaming. As he got there Wilson shot out of the hole. He was pale, his eyes huge with fright. He threw himself at Harry. ‘Jayden?’ Harry yelled.
‘I’m here. I’m coming.’ The other boy climbed up out of the hole, shaking and white.
Harry pulled him into his arms, hugging the filthy pair. ‘Don’t you do that again. That was a really stupid idea. I’m such an idiot.’ He realised he himself was shaking. ‘Just stay safe okay. Stay safe.’
Jayden gave a funny grin. ‘We fixed it though.’
Back in the bedroom he found Emily on her knees on the bed, her eyes wild. ‘They’re all right,’ he told her hurriedly. ‘The boys are fine.’
‘The baby’s coming,’ Emily gasped. ‘I think I want to push.’
‘Oh shit.’ He hurried to hold her as she tried to pant through the contraction. He was absolutely terrified. ‘Don’t push. Not yet.’
‘Not going to be able to hold off for too long,’ she grit out. She let out a string of swear words and Harry could feel her whole body involved in the effort of giving birth. ‘Goddamn bloody Jack,’ she cursed as the contraction finally eased. They were much stronger and longer than they had been.
‘Is this his baby?’ Harry could have bitten his tongue as soon as he said it.
‘You know I don’t know,’ Emily growled at him. ‘Could be either of you. Not going to happen a bloody gain.’ She snorted through her nose and reared up, grabbing for the head board and slumping back onto her knees, legs wide apart. ‘Oh god.’ She leaned her head on the wall, taking a moment’s rest. ‘I need to know. You’ll have to look. Am I dilated enough? Is it safe to push?’
‘What? How would I know?’
‘Have a bloody look.’
Unwillingly Harry lifted her nightgown and peered at her nether regions. ‘It doesn’t look normal,’ his voice squeaked.
‘Of course not,’ but her voice tapered off into a grunt as the next wave took her and Harry watched helplessly as things bulged where they shouldn’t. Jesus, he was a gay man. He shouldn’t be looking at women’s twats at anytime and certainly not like this.
‘Oh gross,’ said a voice. Harry dropped the edge of the nightie and looked up to see Jayden staring at them appalled. Brilliant. Then his eye caught a glimpse of a familiar looking uniform and his heart thunked. ‘Someone’s here,’ Jayden announced and a police officer walked into the room. The young man was very deliberately not looking at Emily on the bed. Harry felt all the breath leave his body. ‘Jack?’
‘Pardon?’ said the officer.
A moment later a small middle aged red haired woman swept into the room. ‘Now what have we here?’ the midwife said cheerfully. She handed Jayden the towel she’d been drying her hands on and beamed around the room. For all the cheerful smiles her gaze was assessing. ‘Emily love, you’ve created a lot of fuss. Looks like I got here just in time.’
She nodded at the police officer. ‘I flagged down young Benjamin here and his four wheel drive. He’s been a real trooper. I’d never have made it otherwise.’ She pulled a large green wrapped bundle out of her bag and proceeded to quickly and efficiently set up equipment on the top of the dresser. ‘It is absolute carnage out there on the roads. You’ve got no idea, there are pot holes the size of trucks and,’ her eyes spotted the TV and went wide. The cop was riveted by the images too. Harry realised that if they’d been on the road they probably had no idea of what was happening in the city centre. Well they’d probably heard on the police radio but to see it... Marnie’s eyes narrowed at Harry and he shook his head. No, he wasn’t turning it off. Her prattle continued, ‘You’re so lucky you stayed put. If you’d tried to get to the hospital you’d probably be giving birth in the car. I know you read about that in the papers all the time, but believe me you don’t really want to try it. Awfully messy. Really hard to get the stains out of the upholstery.’
She hitched up the night dress and ran her hands over Emily’s belly, feeling the baby, assessing the situation. ‘Oh not long now, doing well.’ She pulled out some sort of instrument. ‘Let’s just listen to baby’s heart beat shall we,’ and a swisha swisha swisha sound filled the room. Harry had never felt so relieved in all his life.
‘I want drugs,’ Emily moaned.
‘Too late for that.’
Emily gave a strangled cry. ‘Can I push?’
‘Go for your life.’ Marnie motioned to Harry. ‘Hey Dad. Up on the bed. Whatever she needs,’ she whispered as he clambered up. The cop’s eyes were wide and Harry realised that all the kids were hanging in the doorway too. It didn’t matter at all.
Things happened very quickly after that. Emily hung onto the headboard and bore down with everything she had. Harry pressed on her back. Emily screamed. The world outside was full of chaos and death but in here, on the bed where the baby was created, Emily was giving birth.
‘There’s the head,’ Marnie said with satisfaction. ‘Just easy now. Let baby come. Good girl.’ And with a final agonised cry from Emily the baby arrived.
Emily collapsed into Harry’s arms as Marnie wrapped the baby in a soft white towel. ‘It’s a lovely girl,’ the midwife said happily.
‘Oh.’ Emily sighed against Harry’s neck.
Something wasn’t right. ‘She didn’t cry,’ Harry said panicked. He looked down at the little bundle. A bemused blue eye blinked at him from a scrunched up face.
Marnie grinned. ‘They don’t all. She doesn’t need to. She’s fine. She’s just lovely.’ She wrapped an arm around Emily and kissed her. ‘You did real good.’ She passed the towel wrapped baby up into Emily’s eager arms. ‘Turn around real careful. We haven’t cut the cord yet.’
‘So everything’s all right?’ Jayden asked anxiously, edging into the room.
‘Everything’s just fine,’ Marnie told him. She smiled at the kids. ‘You’ve got a new sister and she’s perfect.’
‘Thank God for that,’ said a gruff and unexpected voice by the patio door.
Harry jerked his gaze away from Emily. ‘Jack?’ He didn’t look real, didn’t look like Jack. He was chalk white, eyes huge and dark in his face, lips pale. Harry’s first startled thought was that this was Jack’s ghost. Then the figure gave a choked sob and slid down the wall to sit on the floor and Harry realised that this was Jack all right. He was battered and broken and he was covered in dust. There was blood too.
Jenny screamed and everyone surged forward.
‘Thank God,’ Harry said with utmost sincerity. His eyes filled with tears. ‘Oh thank you God.’