Whomp. Another pain and Sara starts feeling more afraid. She starts thinking, What was that? What have I done? What's going to happen? She's been so stupid about her own body. She kept telling herself, if I don't think about it, it won't exist.
A contraction buckles Sara over, banding her stomach with fire. Panicked, Sara grips the seat. "Mom," she says uneasily. "Mommy--"
If she hadn't bitten her fingernails, she would have dug them into the vinyl. "Pant," Abby orders, sucking in her own breath, but Sara can't. All she can do is ride the pain, hold on fast, and pray it will end. Sara had never actually believed she would give birth, and now there's no escape. "First births can take eighteen hours," her doctor has told her, and Sara had thought he was just trying to scare her, to punish her, even. Another pain, deeper this time. Whomp. She winces and Abby grips her hand. Sara presses her hands along her back and the pain stops a little. Or maybe it just tightens, like a steel garrote.
Jack skids, flinging Sara against the side of the car. "Everyone all right?" he asks.
"Jack, for God's sake!" Abby says. And then something happens, a wave of pain shoots down Sara's back. It has a life of its own, an unstoppable force. She gasps and she's suddenly drenched from her waist on down. Something is pouring out of her, uncontrollably, like pee, like bathwater. The floor of the car is suddenly soaked. Sara locks eyes with Abby. "It's okay," Abby says, taking her hand, speaking calmly, but Sara can feel how her mother's hand trembles. She feels the sound of the road deep within her skin. She hears the whisper of the other drivers, flowing through her like river water. Her grip tightens. She makes a sound, harsh, scraped from her throat, and Abby stiffens. "Jack, can you please just go fast," Abby says. Jack's hands tighten on the wheel.
The pain zigzags down Sara's spine, stronger, more intense, making her suck in a breath like Jell-O through a straw. She tries to roll herself into a ball, to get away from the pain, but she's too big, and anyway, she knows there's no escape from this. "Hurry," Abby tells Jack. She touches his shoulder with one hand, and there's something new in her voice, something urgent that makes Jack look at Sara for the first time. There's sweat beaded on his lip even though the car is so cold it's practically freezing. His lips are chapped and his shirt is unpressed. "Okay, baby girl," he says. Baby girl. She hears it in wonder and for a moment the pain fades. Baby girl. He used to call her that all the time, making her groan, making her friends giggle. He wouldn't let her pick up anything heavy or go anywhere by herself because he'd worry what might happen. Once, he even reached out to hold her hand when they were crossing a street, just as if she were six. Baby girl. At sixteen, she's no baby, but still, hearing him call her one now is comfort. Now she wishes he would call her that again, but instead, he's hunkered over the wheel, weaving in and out among the other cars, like an accident getting ready to happen.
A new bolt of pain shoots along her spine and Sara feels like laughing because her doctor is clearly wrong. Her baby isn't going to take eighteen hours to be born. Her baby is coming now and there's nothing anyone can do about it.
There ahead of them is the hospital. There's St. Elizabeth's. Big and squat and brown and full of traffic, people, and doctors. Jack pulls up by the ER. "I'll let you get out, park, and find you," he says. His voice sounds like someone she no longer knows. Sara squints out at the front door, panic rising in her throat. She can't breathe. She can't move. She can't survive. Frantic, she tries to speak. I don't see them," she suddenly rasps. "Where's Eva and George?" Abby tightens; Jack snaps the wheel around. It's the first time she's spoken those names in the car because of the way Jack and Abby react, but she can't help it now. It feels like there's too much at stake for her. Another bolt of pain curls her over. Sara tries to sit up, and finds, to her surprise, that the pain won't let her. "Easy, honey," Abby soothes, jumping out of the car, opening Sara's door.
Copyright Caroline Leavitt 2004. All rights reserved. Reproduced by permission of the author.
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Southern Gothic fantasy with a contemporary flare set in Savannah
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