It's a shock to feel all that heat. Things waver in the shiny air and for a moment Sara is listing. For a moment she thinks her whole life is a mirage about to pass. She tries to arc her legs out of the car and the pain forces her down, insistent and angry, a line of pure fire making her still. I can't survive this, she thinks in wonder. "Sara?" Abby bends toward Sara. "Honey, here's a hand," Abby says, and Sara grasps at her mother's fingers. She holds on tight and pulls herself up and she's suddenly dizzy, and another cramp grabs her, whomp. And whomp again and whomp, and she tries to breathe, to stand, and she can't do either. She buckles over. "Sara?" says Jack, his voice cracking. Huh-huh, hee-hee, ho-ho, Sara pants and the pain, insistent as a fist, suddenly collapses her into Abby's arms.
A nurse sped Sara down the corridors, skimming along a bright green line. "It's okay," Abby said, racing alongside. The wheelchair bumped and Sara screamed, soaked with sweat, terrified. I won't die until they get here, she told herself. Faces blurred past her, but she didn't recognize a single one of them. Her panic spiked like fever.
"What can I do?" Abby pleaded. She tried to grab on to Sara's hands, but Sara was digging them into her thighs, against the pain.
"Where's Eva?" Sara cried, bunching over. "Where's George? They said they'd be here! They promised!" I can't do this without them, she thought. I'll die.
Abby's face hardened and got that distant look. "Here's Dad," she said, and Sara heard his steps, then she felt his hand on her shoulder, a touch, before he took it away.
"Here we are," said the nurse, pushing through a set of grey doors marked DELIVERY, into a small white room. Where's Eva? Sara thought, as the nurse helped her out of her dress and into a flowery johnny. "Up we go," said the nurse, gently guiding Sara onto a long green table. Where's Eva? Sara thought, keeping her eyes on the door, right up until the pain hurtled deeper and she shut her eyes. "Where's Eva and George?
"Smile, you're going to get a baby out of this, Mrs. Rothman," the nurse said, and for a moment, out of habit, Sara looked at her mother, the only Mrs. Rothman she knew.
Next door, someone was screaming, wild shrieks, splashing into the room, making Abby blanch and Jack look down at his sneakers. A new nurse wrapped a monitor belt about her belly, a fat band of white, a clumsy plastic buckle. A machine whirred and beeped next to her, a green line forked up and down on the screen at each contraction.
"Do your breathing," the nurse admonished. The scream tore into the room again and Sara was so frightened, her breath stopped. "Breathe, I told you," the nurse repeated.
The woman next door shrieked again. "Is she dying?" Sara asked.
The nurse tightened the monitor belt. "That woman's Orthodox Jewish and she won't take any medication."
"What medication? Give me some medication!" Sara screamed, a wire of pain cutting across her belly. The Orthodox woman screamed in harmony.
The nurse took a blood pressure cuff and wrapped it calmly around Sara's arm. "The doctor will be here any second. Now you breathe."
Sara panicked. Her mind was so fogged with fear and pain, she had forgotten everything she knew. The breathing Eva had helped her with. The lucky charm George had given her to keep in her pocket, a small silvery angel she loved. Where was the charm? Where were they? She needed them. She looked desperately at the door.
"Concentrate, Sara," Abby said. "Every time you get a contraction, focus on me."
The nurse glanced at Sara and then, resigned, she gripped Sara's hand. "Purse your lips," she ordered, "Pant. Hoo-hoo hee-hee." Sara tried it, but the nurse's face was smooth and calm, and Sara's felt as if it were crumpled like a ball of paper. "Hoo-hoo," panted Abby encouragingly. Jack leaned against the wall, closing his eyes, defeated, and then there was a new fist of pain, and she bolted up. "Hoo-hoo, hee-hee," the nurse urged.
Copyright Caroline Leavitt 2004. All rights reserved. Reproduced by permission of the author.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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