This story is by Stefany Snedden and was part of our 2016 Winter Writing Contest. You can find all the Winter Writing Contest stories here.
“I’m not ready to say goodbye,” he whispered.
He stared into his mother’s eyes, searching; desperate to see any remnant of life left. He was caressing the frail, weathered arm, observing the woman who had brought him into this world who was now inches away from leaving it forever.
He felt the coolness, the icy temperature of the near-lifeless body, reliving so strongly the juxtaposed warmth of his mother’s hug when he was just a child.
“My time has come, my angel,” his mother struggled to mumble back. “I have lived my life and raised a beautiful son. I have lived poorly, loved tremendously and celebrated with those who matter most. I have done all that I was here to do, my love. It is my time now. I must take my last breath, so another can take their first. I will always be with you, my darling. Always…”
Her chest hitched, signalling that the oxygen couldn’t bear to travel through her lungs any longer.
He stared; aghast, frightened. Frightened because she was leaving him. Frightened because this was it.
He watched her as she took her last few breaths, holding her hand, looking into her eyes while she stared blankly up at the ceiling; he was thinking how much he had regretted it, not telling her about him and his wife Sara.
I’m running out of time. She needs to know, he thought.
Without hesitating, he opened his mouth.
Only to hear the flatline of the heart monitor.
Three floors up Sara was screaming in the hospital room. Her shrieks reverberated through the unwelcoming sterile room and down the corridor.
“I need you to try and focus Sara. Keep your breathing as steady as possible and keep pushing as hard as you can.”
She could have punted the doctor’s face right there and then. There was a human, a tiny human, revolting in her body and trying to find the exit.
“Get this… goddamn thing… out of me… NOW,” she managed to yell through gritted teeth and forced breaths.
She needed him. She needed her husband. He helped her to make this magical yet seemingly demonic being inside of her and he needed to be here now to help her see it through.
She knew she wasn’t the only person in this hospital for him to see, though.
His mother, Isabella, had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer eight months ago, and while she put up a hell of a fight – more than Sara ever thought she would be able to herself – it seemed that the battle had come with an expiration date.
Sara couldn’t get over how unfair it was; she couldn’t believe how cruel life could be.
Jack had grown up watching his father abuse his mother. He had seen him punch her, kick her, slap her, grab her by the hair and throw her to the ground. As the only child, he didn’t have anyone to turn to. He didn’t have anyone else to protect him, only his mother. His battered, beaten and broken mother, who would tiptoe into his bedroom at night after his father had drank himself to sleep, to kiss him, tuck him in and say she was sorry.
Three years ago, Jack’s father (better known in the family as the bastard) died from cirrhosis; his mother was finally free. A fifty-two year catholic marriage had finally evaporated – she got out.
That was, until, eight months ago when she was in an achromatic room sitting across from a doctor who told her they had found a malignant tumour on her pancreas. It was inoperable, he said; she should hope for the best but get her affairs in order.
A woman had spent her life chained to an abusive husband and got the “get out of jail free” card only to have her freedom cut short.
Jack and Sara had only just found out a few days before they received this news that Sara was pregnant. They went from being over the moon to being tossed into a metaphorical Dead Sea.
They wanted to tell Isabella, but Jack couldn’t do it. He didn’t want to tell his mother who suffered a lifetime abuse and very little happiness that her terminal cancer was likely going to prevent her from ever meeting her granddaughter, something she had always dreamed of; she had always wanted a little girl.
Sara hadn’t been able to see Isabella for the past few months. Her stomach had grown too large to hide. When she was at the 6-7 month mark, she was able to get away with it by wearing baggy shirts and staying loose with her hugs, but once a basketball had started to protrude from her midsection they knew they couldn’t conceal it any longer.
“The baby is crowning, Sara I need you to keep pushing as hard as you can,” the doctor said, bringing Sara back to reality.
She pushed. And pushed. She pushed so hard she was positive her intestines (or something else) was going to come spilling out.
“Keep breathing, only a few more pushes until she’s out,” the doctor ordered.
At this point Sara was intertwining her selfish anger towards Jack into every push. Of course she understood it may be his mother’s last hour, but this is also the birth of their first child – both of these things will only happen once in a lifetime.
Here she was, screaming in agony, happily married to a husband who was elsewhere in the hospital instead of here, with her, in the delivery room.
“That’s it, that’s it, just one or two more big pushes Sara.”
It took everything she had in her, that last push. She isolated all possible strength that was left and pushed as hard she ever could, in a mixture of excitement to meet the baby and the desire of having the delivery over at last.
But she didn’t hear any screams. It took her a few seconds to realize it, but after that final push, it was silent. She opened her eyes under the bright fluorescent lights to look at the doctor, who was holding her newborn daughter so low she couldn’t see her. He said something in a low voice to a nurse at his side.
“Wh… what is it? What’s going on? Is she okay?” Sara asked, scared nearly to death.
The nurse ran to the phone on the left wall, spoke for two seconds and hung up.
Then the hospital speakers came on. “Attention, all hospital staff, Code Pink – 5-D-Delta, delivery room.”
Her heart leapt into her throat. She started panicking, gasping for air. She worked in a hospital before, where emergency codes were part of mandatory training for all staff. She knew what a Code Pink was – neonatal cardiac arrest.
As Jack sat there, crying and devastated, he heard the switchboard attendant come on the speakers overhead.
“Attention, all hospital staff, Code Pink – 5-D-Delta, delivery room.”
He jumped to his feet. He didn’t know exactly what a Code Pink was, but he knew enough that it had to do with children and he knew that it couldn’t be good.
Stifling his upset, he raced out of the room and to the nearest stairwell where he jumped up the steps to the fifth floor two at a time. He knew what delivery room she was in because he had been in there before he got word that his mother would soon be taking her last breath.
As he stopped to throw the green scrubs on over his clothes just outside the doorway, he saw a herd of nurses and doctors scrambling towards his wife’s delivery room.
Frantic, he pushed his way into the room, all the while shouting he was her husband, he was the father.
Sara lay weeping in the bed, while the team of doctors and nurses worked to revive his little baby girl.
He ran over to take Sara in his arms and tell her that everything will be okay, but his eyes never left that baby – their baby.
He saw them shock her once, then twice, in an attempt to get her heart beating again.
Once again, like instant déjà vu, he was staring – aghast, frightened.
Then he saw it. You wouldn’t even think it would be possible from across the room to see a little baby’s chest rise and fall, see their nostrils flare open then shut. But he did. He saw it. Once he heard the baby’s beautiful cries, he himself could finally breathe again.
Just moments after he saw his elderly mother take her last breath, he saw their newborn daughter take her first.
They named her Isabella.