She snapped away from him and bent over at the waist. She put a hand to her chest.
He reached his hand through the doorway and touched her at the small of her back.
The touch made her flinch. She tried to straighten up but couldn't.
"When?" she asked.
He took a step into her house and closed the door.
"Earlier this morning," he said.
"About ten miles off the coast of Ireland."
"In the water?"
"No. In the air."
"Oh...." She brought a hand to her mouth.
"It almost certainly was an explosion," he said quickly.
"You're sure it was Jack?"
He glanced away and then back again.
He caught her elbows as she went down. She was momentarily embarrassed, but she couldn't help it, her legs were gone. She hadn't known that her body could abandon her so, could just give out like that. He held her elbows, but she wanted her arms back. Gently, he lowered her to the floor.
She bent her face to her knees and wrapped her arms over her head. Inside her there was a white noise, and she couldn't hear what he was saying. Consciously, she tried to breathe, to fill up her lungs. She raised her head up and took in great gulps of air. As if in the distance, she heard an odd choking sound that wasn't exactly crying because her face was dry. From behind her, the man was trying to lift her up.
"Let me get you to a chair," he said.
She swung her head from side to side. She wanted him to let her go. She wanted to sink into the tiles, to ooze onto the floor.
Awkwardly, he placed his arms under hers. She let him help her up.
"I'm going to be---," she said.
Quickly, she pushed him away with the palms of her hands and leaned against the wall for support. She coughed and gagged, but there was nothing in her stomach.
When she looked up, she could see that he was apprehensive. He took her by the arm and made her round the corner into the kitchen.
"Sit here in this chair," he said. "Where's the light?"
"On the wall."
Her voice was raspy and faint. She realized she was shivering.
He swiped for the switch and found it. She put a hand up in front of her face to ward off the light. Instinctively, she did not want to be seen.
"Where do you keep the glasses?" he asked.
She pointed to a cabinet. He poured her a glass of water and handed it to her, but she couldn't hold it steady. He braced her fingers while she took a sip.
"You're in shock," he said. "Where can I get you a blanket?"
"You're with the airline," she said.
He took off his topcoat and his jacket and put the jacket around her shoulders. He made her slide her arms into the sleeves, which were surprisingly silky and warm.
"No," he said. "The union."
She nodded slowly, trying to make sense of this.
"Robert Hart," he said, introducing himself.
She nodded again, took another sip of water. Her throat felt dry and sore.
"I'm here to help," he said. "This is going to be difficult to get through. Is your daughter here?"
"You know I have a daughter?" she asked quickly.
And then she thought, Of course you do.
"Would you like me to tell her?" he asked.
Kathryn shook her head.
"They always said the union would get here first," she said. "The wives, I mean. Do I have to wake her now?"
He glanced quickly at his watch, then at Kathryn, as if considering how much time was left to them.
"In a few minutes," he said. "When you're ready. Take your time."
The telephone rang, a serrated edge in the silence of the kitchen. Robert Hart answered it immediately.
© 1999 by Anita Shreve
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