A Christmas Gift
by Vanessa Horn
“Ooohh,” Marie moaned as she pushed open the entrance doors. She slowly bent over, grimacing simultaneously.
Joe downed his carrier bags and placed his hand gently on her back. “Is it that Braxton Hicks thingy again?”
“I’m not sure. Maybe. Though it feels a bit different this time… more painful.” She winced but then forced herself to straighten up again. “Just need to get indoors for a cup of tea.”
Joe nodded then stabbed at the lift button. Nothing happened. “Bloody out of order again! Do you reckon you can make it up to the flat, hon?”
Marie sighed. “What choice is there? I’m not staying here all night, especially not on Christmas Eve!”
Eventually, with considerable puffing and swearing, Joe and Marie reached their flat and let themselves in. Entering the lounge, Marie sank onto her deck chair with considerable relief, but then suddenly gasped as a warm, wet stain spread through her worn leggings. “OMG – my waters!”
Joe paled as he watched the unfamiliar liquid travel down his girlfriend’s legs, culminating in a sizeable puddle on the floor. He snatched his mobile from the nearby table, only to throw it down again in exasperation as he remembered it was dead: they ‘d obviously made the wrong choice in choosing to buy food rather than renew the contract! “I’ll have to go out to ring for an ambulance.”
Abruptly, Marie stopped screaming. Grabbed his hand. “Don’t leave me!” she begged, her eyes wide and frightened.
“But…” Frowning, Joe glanced around the small room for inspiration. There was none. He bit his lip,
Without warning, the lights flickered and then went out, plunging the flat into a gloomy grey. Now all they could discern was the twinkling of city lights through the thin curtains.
“Oh for pity’s sake!” Joe yanked the fabric across with his free hand. The extra light now gave him a clear view of Marie’s horror-stricken face as she gurned then screamed.
“Aaaagggghhhhh! It’s coming – it’s coming!”
His response remained unspoken, coinciding – as it did – with a sharp knock on the front door. Marie snapped her mouth shut and looked at Joe warily before she eventually releasing his hand. She gave him a push. “Answer it; things can’t get any worse!”
Joe eased the door open to find three surly-looking teenagers lurking in the shadows. The largest of them pushed forward and smirked. “Awright mate? I’m Gas, from the flat below and this is Balt and Mel. When we heard the screaming, me mum told us to see if we could help. She’d have come herself only, like, Eastenders is on.”
“Let them in,” called Marie, “they might have a phone we can borrow or something!”
Reluctantly, Joe led the boys into the lounge where, he noticed with alarm, Marie had lowered herself onto the floor, where she was panting heavily.
“Oh, youse having a baby!” commented Balt. “Well, we know all about that, don’t we lads?”
Mel nodded vigorously. “We ‘elped deliver our Shaznay,” he confirmed. “Breech birth she was, but we still got ‘er out afore the medics arrived.”
Marie gulped. “Perhaps you could just ring the ambulance please; it’s my first, you see, and I want to give birth in hospital.”
But as Gas dug in his pockets for the phone, he was running a practised eye over Marie’s straining figure. “Don’t think you’re gonna get a choice!” Finally retrieving his mobile, he chucked it to Balt with a “Ring ‘em anyway!” Then he proceeded to roll up his sweatshirt sleeves before turning to Joe. “Get some water and towels, will you mate!”
Joe hurriedly felt his way out of the room, thankful that someone else – however improbable – was there to take charge.
Mel moved to Marie’s side and held his hand out to her. “Just squeeze when the pain gets bad,” he offered. “It dunt matter if you hurt me – I can take it!”After only a second’s hesitation, Marie grabbed hold of the smaller boy’s hand, grateful for any comfort she could get in this surreal situation.
Balt frowned, obviously wondering what his contribution could be, but soon brightened, offering Marie a small orange ball from his hoodie pouch. “It’s a stress ball,” he explained. “School gave it me to help with me anger management issues. You can throw it or squash it – whatever you want, really.” Appeased, he sat by Marie’s side watching as she tentatively pressed the rubber in and out.
Meanwhile, Gas, who had expertly whipped off Marie’s leggings while she was distracted, instructed her to “Wait til the next contraction then push as hard as you can!”
Resigned to her fate, Marie nodded and then, as she felt the pain escalating, let out an “Aaaaaggghhhh!” and bore down at the same time.
Gas grinned. “Well done! Nearly there now!” He gently wiped Marie’s brow with the corner of his sweatshirt and she smiled back at him, inexplicably trusting this confident stranger.
On returning to the room with a multitude of towels, Joe gasped, pointing down at Marie’s nether regions. “L-look – it’s coming out!”
“Yep.” Gas carefully took hold of the baby’s head and requested “One more push!” There was a squelchy swoosh as Marie obliged, and the baby slithered smoothly into his grasp. After a quick wipe on Gas’s sweatshirt – the towels forgotten – a tiny wriggling baby was placed into Marie’s arms.
“Just like the Christmas story,” whispered Joe reverently. “Hey – we could call him Jesus!”
Marie tutted. “I don’t think she would appreciate that, hon!”
Joe took a closer look at the baby’s lower quarters. “Ah yes; Jesusa then, maybe?”
From Marie’s side, Gas shook his head and snorted loudly. “Nah, man – she’s gotta be Jaycee innit!”
As the wailing of the superfluous ambulance grew louder and closer, Joe and Marie glanced at each other and laughed. Then Marie shrugged and gazed round at the three teenagers, her grateful face shining in the indistinct half-light. “Yes, why not? Jaycee she is, then!”
Vanessa Horn started writing during a sabbatical year away from teaching in
2012. She has had successes in several short story competitions such as The
Word Hut, Cazart, Erewash Writers, and Berkhamsted.
Richard Edwards has a BFA in Creative Writing and Journalism from Bowling Green State University and an M.S. in Education from the University of Akron. Managing editor of Drunk Duck, poetry editor for Prairie Margins, reporter for Miscellany, Akron Journal, Lorain Journal, and The BG News. He has also worked as a professional writer and editor in the medical publishing industry for several years. For the last 15 years Richard has also taught literature and writing at the secondary and post-secondary levels. He works much of the time with at-risk students.