Authors: Debra Gaskill
Tags: #Fiction & Literature
Chapter 37 Graham
Six months later
“Breathe, baby, breathe!”
I wrapped my hand around Elizabeth’s and looked her in the eye, trying to get her to focus as the contraction swept through her body. Sweat covered her face, shining in the harsh light of the delivery room at Akron General Hospital. Face to face, we breathed in tandem, short, heavy, chuffing sounds:
hee, hee, hee, hoo, hoo, hoo,
like we’d learned in Lamaze classes. The contraction stopped momentarily and she fell back against the pillow. Someone had put a surgical cap over her naked head.
‘You did this to me, Kinnon,” she gasped, trying to catch her breath. “This is your fault.”
“I seem to remember you were a willing participant, Mrs. Kinnon,” I whispered.
She smiled and I released her hand, catching a glimpse of her wedding ring, a plain gold band framed by the little solitaire.
Before she could respond, another contraction rolled over her and we began our synchronized breathing again.
This morning, I’d rushed up to Akron as soon as she called to tell me her water broke, speeding up the highway before the sun came up.
It was now early evening.
“Just a few more minutes and you can begin pushing.” The doctor looked up from between her legs, which were swathed in sheets.
Another contraction came in another wave. We locked eyes and began breathing together again.
“C’mon, baby, c’mon,” I whispered. “You can do this.”
“Kinnon, I—” she began and froze. Her eyes rolled up in her head; her lips turned blue. The heart monitor at her side began to shriek and her hand fell away from mine.
“Elizabeth? Elizabeth?” I cried. I turned to the nurse at her side. “What’s going on? What’s happening?”
Control gave way to chaos as the sound filled the room.
“Quick! Get him out of here!” The doctor barked. “Get him out of here! I need the crash cart!”
“No! No! What’s happening?” I cried as a nurse shuffled me out into the hallway.
“Sir, you need to stay here,” she said firmly. “We have an emergency and it’s best that you stay out here and let us handle it.”
I could see the panic in her eyes. I grabbed her by the arms as she tried to reenter the delivery room.
“What’s wrong with my wife? What’s happening?” I demanded.
“Sir, I don’t know. You just need to wait here.” She peeled my hands from her arms and dashed back inside. I caught a glimpse of someone standing above Elizabeth with defibrillator paddles as a baby cried.
I sank against the wall as more staff rushed past. Someone came out and led me to a private room, furnished with a chair, a coffee table and couch, where I sat alone, sobbing and rocking.
We married four months ago, on a Friday morning in the judge’s chambers at the Summit County Courthouse. It hadn’t been a conventional marriage, but then, I never expected anything else. Her parents and her brother attended. Mother and Bill were in Boca Raton and couldn’t make it, although Bill sent a big check.
She wore a vintage peach maternity top with a wide white collar, black skirt and Kelly green flats with her purple wig. The bouquet of white roses rested in her hands on her wide belly. Still limping from my wounds, I wore a navy blue suit, with a matching boutonniere. I’m not sure what the judge thought as he pronounced us man and wife.
On Monday, I returned to Jubilant Falls.
For the next sixteen weeks, that was how we lived: Each Friday after work, I would get in the car and drive to her apartment, handing off the police scanner to the new reporter in the newsroom. If Elizabeth had the weekend off, that was great. If she didn’t, she came back to Jubilant Falls and stayed at my place on her days off. With some of Bill’s check, I bought a minivan and a car seat, trading in the Toyota. A crib now sat in the corner of my living room, matching the one in the baby’s room at Elizabeth’s apartment.
The drive was tedious, but the reunions bliss. I teased her about how convinced she was that we could never make it work.
She thrived in Akron. Her coworkers and editors loved her and the future looked bright. Until there was a job there for me, it was best I keep the job that I had at the
The remainder of Bill’s check sat in a joint account, waiting to be used as a down payment on a house when that job came through. She wanted a Cape Cod-style home and we spent the weekends poring over the real estate listings on line, the laptop resting on her expanding belly.
That was the plan.
That was how we were going to live our lives, our whole lives.
She understood dinner wouldn’t always be at the same time and she probably couldn’t stop me from going hell-bent for stories.
I promised her summers at Lake Erie. I’d promised.
“I can’t lose her, not now!” I cried to the institutional tan walls.
The sound of the ticking wall clock was my only answer as I sank back against the couch, feeling hollow.
It was half an hour before someone knocked and I jumped up as the door opened. It was the doctor.
“Where is she? How is Elizabeth? What about the baby?” I asked.
He pulled the surgical mask down from his face. Pain filled his eyes.
“I’m sorry. We lost her. It could have been an aneurysm or a stroke, but we won’t know for sure—”
The sound of my grief bounced off the walls.
The door opened again as the nurse, the same one who’d pushed me into the hallway, walked in, holding a small squalling bundle. Her eyes were red from crying.
“I’m so, so sorry about your wife. It’s a girl, Mr. Kinnon,” she whispered, handing me the baby. “It’s a girl.”
I took the bundle from her and sat back down on the couch, cupping my daughter’s head with my hand, filled with equal measures of awe and loss and love.
A pink knitted hat covered a mass of brown hair. I laid her on the couch and opened the blankets, examining ten perfect fingers and ten perfect toes. Her skin was red and blotchy, with white cheesy spots in places. I couldn’t tell if her deep blue eyes could focus on anything or not. Above her diaper, there was a clip over her umbilical cord; around it, her skin was stained with iodine. She turned her head to the side and opened her mouth, making a sucking sound.
“Oh God,” I whispered. “What do I do now?”
“She’s hungry,” the nurse said softly. “Let me get you a bottle.”
“What are you going to name her?” The doctor ran his finger tenderly across her forehead.
“We were sure it was going to be a boy,” I said, taking the baby into my arms. The nurse came back with a bottle and handed it to me. “She didn’t want to know ahead of time. We hadn’t even chosen a girl’s name until last week. This is Gwendolyn Elizabeth Kinnon.”
I leaned over and kissed her forehead as she hungrily sucked from the bottle. “Your mommy would have loved you very much, Gwennie.”
Three days later, on a cold, wet February day, we laid Elizabeth to rest, next to her grandparents in a Shaker Heights cemetery.
I barely remember the ceremony or the people who attended.
I just remember bouncing little Gwennie on my shoulder as she howled through the service, giving voice to all our sorrow. Elizabeth’s death made the front page of the local section of the
: Reporter dies giving birth.
I stayed at Elizabeth’s parents’ house as we worked our way through her personal belongings and her mother helped me through the basics of baby care.
After a week, I tucked everything in the van, fastened Gwennie into her car seat and, wearing Elizabeth’s wedding rings on a chain around my neck, headed back to Jubilant Falls, loaded down with diapers, baby clothes and grief.
Addison, Marcus and Dennis met me at my apartment and helped me unpack the van. I sat on the couch, giving Gwennie a bottle as my spare and Spartan living room turned into a frilly, pink nursery.
After they left, she fell asleep easily in the crib. I sat cross-legged on the floor, watching through the slats of her crib as her breath came rhythmically. I leaned my head against the side of the crib and tears rolled down my cheeks.
“It wasn’t supposed to end like this, Elizabeth,” I whispered. “What am I supposed to do now? How am I going to raise our baby? How am I going to do my job?”
Gwennie’s deep blue eyes opened, fixing on me. I scooted over to the crib and slipped my hand through the slats, laying my hand on her belly. Her mouth curved into a gassy smile. A tiny hand, still pink and splotchy, worked its way from beneath the swaddling pink blankets, and locked on my index finger.
In that second, in that motion, I saw her mother. Every joy, every pain, every time we found each other in the dark of night, in tenderness and need, they all resulted in this little pink-wrapped miracle in my living room. In this little girl, I realized I would have Elizabeth forever.
My shattered universe would come together again, not immediately, but day by day and piece by piece, as we built our little family around those memories.
“We’re going to do this, baby girl,” I whispered. “We’re going to be OK.”
About the author
Debra Gaskill is an award-winning journalist with more than 20 years of experience in newspapers in Ohio. She has an associate’s degree in liberal arts from Thomas Nelson Community College in Hampton, Va., a bachelor’s degree in English and journalism from Wittenberg University and a master of fine arts degree in creative writing from Antioch University.
She and her husband Greg, a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel, reside in Enon, where they raise llamas and alpacas on their farm. They have two adult children and one grandson.
She is the author of three other Jubilant Falls novels,
The Major’s Wife, Barn Burner,
Lethal Little Lies
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Murder on the Lunatic Fringe
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