A misting rain began to fall as Angela headed toward the highway and the fifteen-mile ride that would bring her home, the largest town in the rural area. Ahead, one of the electronic signs that warned of traffic problems flashed, and she slowed to read it: “Accident on entrance ramp to Highway 33. Use alternate route.”
That brought her to a full stop, right in the middle of the road. Alternate route? She didn’t know an alternate route. After a year in this area, she’d had time only to find one way to and from the area where she worked. This was it.
The blare of a horn behind her jerked her to attention, and she hit the gas to move to the shoulder. A car sped past, its engine roaring, and she quickly followed in the hopes it might lead her home.
It was too fast. In seconds the roadway ahead disappeared in a veil of fog, and with it the car’s taillights, leaving only white stripes in an endless backdrop of smudgy black.
She slowed to a crawl and squinted through the slapping windshield wipers to focus on the lines, her teeth clenched with such force her jaw began to ache, her fingers gripping with such strength her arms began to shake.
She’d taken a deep breath to clear her head when a noise ahead caught her attention—screeching tires trying to grip pavement. Angela took her foot off the gas, and while her car idled, a high-pitched whining filled the space ahead of her, followed by an explosion of metal, ripping and grinding and crashing for what seemed like forever.
“Oh God.” The words escaped her mouth, sounding like a prayer, before she knew they were in her head. She shook the thought away and moved the car forward, accelerating bit by bit until her headlights caught it—the crash.
A car, small and brown and looking like a relic from the mid-‘80s, had stopped in a broadside position ten feet off the roadway, its crumpled hood molded around a drunken-looking light stanchion. The overhead light spotlighted the car and its predicament in a yellowish funnel shape, as exhaust pumped from the car’s tailpipe in flumes so thick, even the now-sheeting rain couldn’t smother it.
She was up and out of her car before she’d pulled her phone from her pocket, and as she ran, she flipped the switch on her headset and dialed 9-1-1, then dropped the phone back in her pocket.
The dispatcher answered just as she reached the car, but her attention was caught by the web-like splintering of the windshield. Inside, the man in the driver’s seat was slumped over the steering wheel. Blood seeped from a gash in his head.
Angela grabbed the door handle, and as she yanked, the door hinge screeched its reluctance to yield. When it gave way to the pressure, she landed on her butt on the slick, grimy shoulder, and shards of gravel and glass dug into the fleshy part of her palms.
Wincing against the sting, she scrambled to her knees and crawled forward.
The interior of the car smelled like sweat, blood and other body fluids, and her nose wrinkled involuntarily. The man hadn’t moved, and she reached past him to turn off the ignition, then pressed her fingers to his carotid artery. When she felt the answering pulse, weak and thready but there, she drew in a quick breath and let it out in an explosive sigh.
“9-1-1 operator. Again I repeat, what is the emergency?” The man’s voice blasted from her earpiece, making her heart leap, and she realized the dispatcher had been speaking the whole time.
“I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I fell, forgot I had you on the phone. There’s been an accident, somewhere near the detour for Highway 33.”
“What detour, ma’am?”
“The one at the entrance ramp. The sign said it was closed due to an accident.” Her annoyance caused the words to whip from her mouth, short and brittle.
The dispatcher hesitated. “You said this was Highway 33?”
“There is no Highway 33.”
“The point is, I couldn’t get on the highway, so I kept traveling on that road. I got, I don’t know, a couple miles down and there’s a terrible accident.” Her voice trembled, and she swallowed the spit forming in her mouth while observing the car’s occupant. “There’s a man. He’s alive but bleeding from a head wound. Looks like he impacted the windshield. I don’t want to move him. He could have spinal or other internal injuries.”
“Are you a doctor?”
A rustling noise came from the back of the car, then a moan, and Angela moved to the back door, then peered through the window.
A woman lay braced against the opposite door, her feet planted on the seat so her knees were lifted and spread. Her hands were wrapped around her belly. It was huge and swollen. She convulsed, her back arching, and wailed for a full five seconds before simmering into a moan.
“Look, can’t you track me by GPS or something?” Angela asked the dispatcher. “There’s a pregnant woman in the back. Looks like she’s in labor. I have to go.”
She didn’t wait for a reply, but tuned the dispatcher out while she opened the door. At the intrusion, the woman jerked. Her hair was dark—whether black or brown was too difficult to determine in the murky light shining through the windows—and it was matted with perspiration that drenched her scalp and ran down the sides of her face. Her eyes, wild and glistening with tears, latched on Angela’s face.
“I am. I am. What’s your name?”
“Hi, Peggy. I’m a doctor. I’m here to help. How far along are you?”
“Full term. I’ve been in labor since this morning. My water broke and we were rushing for the hospital. My husband was driving like a crazy man. We slid and crashed.”
“Contractions, how far apart?”
“I don’t know. I don’t know. Seems like they never stop.”
Right on cue, she gasped then began to pant. “Here comes another one.”
“Hold on. I need to take a look.”
Angela crawled onto the seat and slid the woman’s dress up over her knees. There was blood, a lot, and she tried to recall from her one obstetrics rotation if this much was normal. Or maybe it was from the accident. But then the contraction built, and the baby’s head began to crown and push past the bulging tissue.
“Peggy, you’re almost there, almost there. Doing great.”
Peggy moaned while she bore down, seeming to instinctively know when to back off.
When the contraction eased, she sagged against the door, panting once more. Angela dragged her coat off, then slipped it beneath Peggy’s hips.
“What are you doing out tonight?”
“Excuse me?” She hadn’t expected the third degree from the woman in the midst of childbirth.
“What are you doing out on such a nasty night? Shouldn’t you be home, next to a husband or lover, maybe your own baby?” There was a teasing quality to her voice, despite its weak breathiness.
Angela fought rolling her eyes as she swiftly tugged her sweater off her arms. It was brand new, a cozy fabric that would be gentle against the baby’s skin. “Actually, I was at a church service, with my boyfriend.”
The woman’s eyes flared before half closing. “How could I forget. Christmas. I’m having a Christmas baby.” Her eyes had closed, and her lips lifted in a weak smile.
“Yes, you are.” But that was the extent of the conversation because another contraction grabbed the woman and bowed her back in its grip. “This is it,” she said, hoping she was right.
Quickly, Angela draped the sweater over her hands, placed them next to the woman’s body and prepared to deliver the baby. Like catching a football, that’s what they’d said during training. She’d even caught a few babies herself, and remembered the thrill of new life. Ron had spoken often of it, how the female body was designed so uniquely for this task. How the baby and mother, in perfect design, knew how to work together.
The memory of his words kept her calm, her hands steady. Still, she half listened for the arrival of the ambulance while rain pounded the hood of the car like a spray of bullets.
“You’re doing great, Peggy. The baby’s almost here.” Blood gushed from the woman’s womb and spilled from the coat onto the floor of the car. Angela ignored it, ignored what it might mean, and focused on the baby’s head as it slowly emerged.
“His head is clear. He’s beautiful. Two eyes, a nose, a mouth. He’s perfect.” Her voice caught in her throat, and she had to swallow a rush of emotion.
Peggy sagged against the door and her legs went lax. “I’m tired, so tired.”
“Of course you are. Creating life is no easy work.” The baby’s head rested in her hands, and as she spoke she dabbed at his eyes and mouth to clear the mucus. And where the hell was that ambulance?
“Do you have children?” The woman spoke, once again giving her an X-ray look that seemed to seep into her soul.
“No. But hopefully, some day.”
“Get married first. Don’t bring a baby into the world without a father.” Her eyes lit for a second before fatigue dimmed them once more. In that moment, Angela saw their velvety brown shade, like pansies. They reminded her of someone, a face flitting in the back of her mind. It vanished.
She shook away the confusion and said, “Look at you, already talking like a mom.”
“I am, aren’t I?”
Before Angela could respond, Peggy tensed, and her eyes rolled back. Another contraction. She heaved herself into an upright position, grabbed her knees to draw them to her chest, and strained, letting out a series of strangled squeals.
“Couple more seconds and that beautiful baby will be yours,” Angela crooned, half to comfort the mom, half herself. But nothing happened. No movement from the baby.
Peggy began to whimper, and Angela’s shoulders tensed from holding position for what felt like an eternity. When Peggy collapsed again, sounding like a bellows, Angela flipped the switch on her earpiece.
“Hello, 9-1-1, you still there?” Silence. The call had died. Next she tried Ron, but it went to voicemail.
Scrubbing her face, as if the manipulation of tissue would wake her brain, she thought back to her conversations with Ron. He’d told her about a seminar he’d attended on midwifery and at-home birthing.
Babies and mothers are instinctively adept at getting out of problems, she remembered him saying. You just had to help them.
Her thoughts clear, she moved closer to Peggy, her hamstrings spasming as she moved from the scrunched position.
“Peggy, I think the baby’s shoulder is stuck. I need you to get on your hands and knees.”
“What? Here?” Her eyes floated open, but they were flat, and dull. As if she’d given up.
“Yes. Now. You have to now, Peggy. Your baby needs you.”
Those were the magic words, and they compelled the exhausted woman to action. Together they maneuvered her until she’d balanced on her hands and knees, her right shoulder and hip resting against the back of the car seat.
But the effort had taken its toll, and Peggy’s words slurred. Still she kept her humor. “I like you. I wouldn’t stick my butt in just anyone’s face you know.”
“Somehow I knew that about you, Peggy. Good job. Let’s get this baby born.”
The words were barely out of her mouth when Peggy tensed with yet another contraction, only this time, the baby began to move.
“He’s coming, Peggy. He’s coming. Hang in there.” Her voice had thickened with emotion, a combination of relief and tension, fear and gratitude all mixed up.
As the shoulders began to emerge, she slipped her hands under the baby and eased him out.
“A girl. You have a beautiful baby girl. Congratulations, Mama Peggy.” With tears filling her eyes, then overflowing, Angela wrapped the baby in the sweater, made sure she was breathing, and waited while Peggy flopped around. When she placed the baby in her arms, a look of wonder and awe washed away the fatigue, and Angela felt her shoulders relax.
While Peggy cooed to her baby, Angela used the hem of her skirt to wipe the blood from her hands, then dashed to the front of the car to check on the dad. He hadn’t regained consciousness, but his pulse was steadier, which gave her hope that internal injuries were minimal.
In the backseat, the baby made little grunting noises as it nursed for the first time, and it wasn’t until she began to cry, tiny mewl-like noises, that Angela suspected anything.
She glanced back. Peggy’s face had turned gray, her breathing rapid and shallow, and bruise-like shadows hollowed the space beneath her eyes. Moving once more to the back seat, Angela placed her palm on Peggy’s neck. Skin clammy, pulse racing. Shock.
“Is the baby okay?” Peggy’s voice sounded slippery, like she couldn’t control it.
“The baby is fine. You’ll be fine too. The ambulance will be here soon.”
“You saved my baby. Thank you.”
“No, you saved your baby.”
The corners of Peggy’s mouth tipped up in an expression of pure satisfaction. “She’s beautiful.”
“Absolutely. Look at all that curly black hair.”
“Like yours, isn’t it?” Peggy took her eyes off the baby to peer at Angela for an uncomfortably long time. Before Angela could answer, she said, “She’s going to do wonderful things. Maybe she’ll be a doctor, like you. God has great plans for this one.”
Avoiding the “G” word, Angela said, “I’m sure you’ll be right there with her, enjoying every moment.”
Peggy shook her head, cuddled the baby’s head into her neck, and rocked back and forth. “I wrote her a letter.”
Unsure how to respond, Angela kept quiet, and after a moment, Peggy adjusted the baby so she could look into her face. “Happy birthday, my sweet angel.” Her eyes brightened. “That’s her name. Angela.”
“That’s my name,” Angela blurted it before thinking, as if this woman would give a damn.
But Peggy looked up and held Angela’s gaze while giving her a bittersweet, knowing kind of smile. “I know.”
Please check back tomorrow for the final chapter of Christmas Delivery.
If you missed the first chapter, you can find it here.