The first twin arrived screaming and scrunched, as expected. The doctors, though, were not yet smiling. There was tugging and frozen expressions from the midwife and the surgeon before the second appeared; no sound, no movement. It was whisked away. They had both gone and there hadn’t been time for explanations. Tense murmurings drifted through the air from a side room in the theatre. The air was thick with questions and disinfectant. There had been nothing natural or relaxed about the event. It had been meticulously planned: a home birth with candles and low music, white noise almost. That was until the kicks slowed and she had started to feel feint.
“Call an ambulance,” she had called as he was making coffee in the other room. He had anticipated a calm before the event, time to prepare. She had known that something wasn’t right. Nature had a way of raising an alarm; call it a mother’s instinct, a sixth sense, who knows? But she had known, had felt the lull without the swell of another contraction. “Honey,” she had said in an unruffled voice, “call an ambulance, I’m going to need a hospital.” He had wanted to ask why, wanted to pretend he hadn’t heard, ignore her call. He hadn’t wanted there to be trouble or difficulty, not at the start.
They arrived swiftly with very little fuss and even fewer words. They knew. She was carried into the ambulance with the speed and precision of an army preparing weapons for battle. He had braced himself, picked up her bag, stopped to throw in some extra energy bars for her or for him. He hadn’t known which. Then he had grabbed a bottle of water from the fridge and a muslin from the washing pile. One more wouldn’t hurt. Once they were both inside, the doors closed on them. The weight could be felt in the sound as they shut. She had been hooked up to a drip and he hadn’t been able to remember much else from that point.
Now they were in theatre waiting. “We’ll just stitch you up, then you can rest.” The surgeon sounded confident but they could hear the fear in his voice. The recovery room had felt like a no man’s land of people waiting, waiting for something to happen, waiting to regain feeling or consciousness, or for something else. Some time later a nurse brought a bundle to them. “It’s a girl,” she said, handing the baby to its mother. Then her face dropped. She hadn’t needed to say more, but she did. “I’m so sorry.” She looked at Mum. She looked at Dad. “We did everything we could but your son, he wasn’t breathing when he arrived.” They all drew a breath. “And he never drew breath,” she continued. “I’m so very sorry. Would you like to talk to someone?” They both shook their heads. “We just want to be alone with our little girl, if that’s ok,” he had said. His voice thick with pain, fighting back the tears. He could hear it crack as he had said, little girl. The nurse had walked away slowly without turning back. The doors swung back behind her, shuddering as they snapped shut.
The moments that followed were long, the hours and days that followed, even longer. “Grief,” the minister had said before the funeral, “it takes different forms for everyone. Don’t be surprised if you feel numb, or if you feel pain in unexpected moments.” The word grief had felt alien to them at the time, but over the years it had become a familiar companion to them, an unexpected guest at the table. With each year that she grew, he was there with them, an invisible force that sat with them as they revisited the day.
F.C. Malby is a contributor to Unthology 8 and Hearing Voices: The Litro Anthology of New Fiction. Her debut short story collection, My Brother Was a Kangaroo includes award-winning stories, and her debut novel, Take Me to the Castle, won The People’s Book Awards. Her short fiction has been longlisted in The New Writer Magazine Annual Prose and Poetry Prizes, and won the Litro Magazine Environmental Disaster fiction competition. Her stories have also been published online in Litro Magazine, Ether Books, Spontaneity Magazine, 1000 Words, Flash Fiction Magazine, Paragraph Planet, Flash Flood Journal and The Puffin Review. www.fcmalby.com @fcmalby
Image: Mon Petit Chou Photography