Friday, 27 November 2009 - 10:19 pm

We are one more

Can’t stay for long. I’m so tired.

We are one more now. The disturbance last night was Masterson shouting for help – Sally had finally gone into labour. Real, water-breaking, belly-rippling, screaming labour.

The whole building was in chaos. The boys were put on finding cloths – sheets and towels – and boiling water. They were kept out of the room where the birthing was happening, and if their faces were anything to go by, they were fine with that. Except Conroy and Matt – they kept asking if we could see the baby yet and trying to peek in. Conroy got an uncomfortable eyefull and stopped asking, but Matt wasn’t squeamish, it seems. He seemed more excited than anyone else; most of the group looked somewhere between worried and terrified.

They tried to keep me out of the room, too. At least, Masterson did. I almost let him but then Sally cried out and I couldn’t stay away. She’s my friend and she needed help. She needed all the help she could get. She has always been a small thing and pregnancy didn’t change that. Overdue by almost two weeks, the baby was big. She struggled right from the start, and it wasn’t long before she was crying and begging to know if it should hurt that much.

A few of us were there to help. Janice was the solid one through it all – she was at her cousin’s birth, she said, and it was nothing to panic about. Sometimes these things just took a while. Bree was there too, looking pale and uncomfortable. She mostly fussed around Sally’s head, trying to keep her sponged-off and quiet, and avoided looking at the business end as much as possible. Jersey wanted nothing to do with it and Mira fainted in the doorway. Someone carried her off out of the way.

I ran around between people, doing whatever needed to be done and letting Sally squeeze the stuffing out of my hand in between tasks. My time as Simon’s assistant in the infirmary helped – I’m used to taking directions in a hurried situation and my squeamishness has a much higher threshold than it used to.

Masterson bossed everyone about with short, sharp words, until Janice snapped at him about Sally needing some reassurance. He gestured to the rest of us, saying that she had plenty of people to reassure her, and I thought that Janice would actually smack him.

“She needs you, you bloody idiot.”

He stared at her and I could see the arguments queueing up in his head. He’s the doctor, he has to run this whole show and make sure everything happens as it should, blah blah blah. But he didn’t make it that far. He looked at Janice and then at Sally, and I saw him give up.

That was when I remembered about his wife and child, the ones who had been killed at the first rainfall. The ones who had driven him to grief so deep he buried it in drugs, preferring being high to looking at the world. He has been here before, with a struggling woman and a baby trying to come into the world, and he didn’t know whether to be doctor, or husband, or father. He might lose them both, all over again. That’s what I saw when Masterson went to the head of the bed to talk to Sally. The rest of us drew back to give them some space.

She was too exhausted to cry any more and looked so hopeless. He took her hand and leaned over to speak quietly to her. We couldn’t hear him but we could see her nodding. She was listening and whatever he said to her seemed to help. He stroked her hair off her forehead and then another contraction interrupted them. She screamed and he excused himself to carry on with the delivery.

It went downhill from there. I completely lost track of time between running for this and fetching that. Calling encouragement and telling her its all right, rest a bit now, save your strength. I think she ran out of that after the first hour.

We were up all night and through the next day. At one point, Janice started sending us off to eat one at a time. Masterson refused to leave the room and wouldn’t eat what we brought for him even when it was right there. Sally wouldn’t eat either but we did make her drink water.

I don’t know who fought harder: Sally or the baby.


The rain had just started hitting the windows when a cry slapped the inside of the glass. The baby was streaked in blood and fluid and hiccupped before it shrieked again. It didn’t stop until Janice wiped it with a towel and wrapped it up in a blanket. It came out furious, wrinkled and beet red, as if all the struggling had offended it. It was the ugliest, most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen.

With the hard part over, Sally deflated, weeping softly. She looked like she might pass out right away, but then the baby was placed on her chest and she had to move her arms to hold it. She was shaking and weak, but she still managed to cradle it against her and place a trembling kiss on its smeared, soft-skulled head.

“It’s a boy,” Janice told the new parents. They took it in numbly. Masterson’s expression closed down when he looked at the baby – one moment, he was barely holding himself together, and the next he was all business. Sally smiled with vague euphoria, just glad that it was over and she had her child in her arms. I’m not too proud to admit that I was teary as I watched them, for the beauty and sadness of it.

I didn’t have time to dwell on it; there was still a lot to do. The sheets were ruined – there was so much blood. I exchanged glances with Janet when we changed the bed and her expression seemed to agree with me: that’s enough blood to cause concern. An awful feeling curdled in my stomach as we folded the bedding over, hoping that Sally wouldn’t see it.

I looked at Masterson, but he was busy sewing her up – something I never hope to see again in my life. It’s the sort of thing you hear about and don’t want to believe is a part of childbirth. Once that was done, he fussed over everything we did and checked on Sally every couple of seconds. She fell asleep eventually and Janice took the baby off to be washed and checked.

He looked normal. Despite all our fears, despite the unknown effects of the poison he helped clear from his mother, he looked like a normal baby, if somewhat raisin-like when he screwed up his little face to cry, all angry red wrinkles. Masterson finally peeled himself away from the mother to check on the little one, and he shrugged at the end, saying he could find nothing obviously wrong with him.

The baby was put down to sleep in the crook of Sally’s arm and we left them all to their exhaustion, Masterson included. I don’t think he left that room after the delivery started and he’s still there now.


Downstairs, things were quietly jovial as everyone waited hopefully for news. They had all heard the baby cry and Bree had disappeared at some point – I think she had told them the sex of the baby before she went to collapse in her bed. She had been strange through that whole ordeal, though I do’nt know Bree very well any more. I was honestly surprised she leant a hand at all – she used to act like that kind of thing was below her.

Janice and I told the others that the baby was healthy and normal and doing well, and the little family upstairs was resting. There was a cheer – quickly shushed in case the sound carried – and a descent into grins and a smattering of claps. Estebar looked puzzled and asked what was going on, and Kostoya was lucky enough to be the closest adult. The professor flushed red and cleared his throat, then straightened his shoulders, drew himself up, and came over all fatherly. He started on the ‘when two people love each other very much’ speech and was drowned out by a round of laughter. Not unkind, just amused and relieved.

I was glad when I finally found Matt. He put his arms around me and said he’d missed me last night, warming a little ball in my chest. It’s strange how much a little thing like that can make such a difference to me, but it does. Sometimes, love sneaks up and surprises me with reminders like that. I kissed him and promised that I hadn’t slept a wink without him. Then I went to curl up and didn’t even know if he was there or not, too deeply asleep. I think he was, though. At least, he was the one who woke me for dinner a couple of hours later.


The mood in the building is convivial now. New life in the After is so rare and it lifts all of us. I see smiles and feel like sharing them. I can see the edges of hope wrapping around people again, warming them. I’d almost say that we’re cheerful.

I think I’m not the only one looking towards tomorrow and hoping, now.

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