It’s the middle of the night when Will gets a panicked phone call from Hunter. She had been doing her rounds visiting the pregnant girls after the Seven meeting to pass on everyone’s messages of love and support. The hysteria floods my own eardrums as Will fumbles for the light, unable to make sense of her garbling. I peel my eyes open when he interrupts her and puts the phone on speaker.
‘Wait, Hunter, slow down. What’s happened?’
‘She’s a stupid fucking bitch is what’s happened! Told me she had a bloody curry for dinner and it was just fucking cramps and then her fucking water breaks all over the cunting floor and I can’t get her down the bastarding stairs and she won’t let me call a fucking ambulance and- I DON’T CARE IF YOU DON’T WANT STRANGERS PUTTING THEIR HANDS IN YOUR FANNY YOU NEED A FUCKING DOCTOR YOU BINT-’
Will and I spring out of bed and grab the nearest clothes with shaking hands and pounding hearts. Hunter is still spitting with rage.
’Fat cow only wants her fucking doctor! What the hell am I meant to do?! It’s meant to be staying in her for another two weeks- NOBODY’S GOING TO STEAL YOUR BLOODY BABY YOU MAD BITCH! THEY CAN’T TELL IT’S NOT BEEN INJECTED-’
‘Hunter!’ I grab the phone and hold it to my mouth. ‘Hunter, calm down and stop yelling at her! She needs to be relaxed! Put me on speaker…. Clarice? Can you hear me? It’s Red-’
‘I am NOT calling a motherfucking ambulance, Red, so don’t even try-’
‘Nobody’s going to force you into anything, I promise,’ I say, trying to keep my voice level and soothing as my own heart rate skyrockets. Hunter squeals her disapproval and I watch Will grab his jacket and pull out the keys to the van. ‘We’re on our way. Will you let me call a doctor to deliver it safely at home?’
‘His fucking phone’s off!’ Hunter interrupts.
‘Who else do we know?’ Will whispers at me, gripping the keys so tightly in his fist I fear he may cut himself.
‘What the fuck is going on Red?’ Hunter cuts into our silence as Clarice screams in the background wracked by a contraction. Suddenly, it’s obvious.
‘We’ll be there in twenty. Hunter - get a clean sheet on the floor and don’t yell at her again, alright?’
‘Hurry the fuck up!’ We barely hear Hunter over Clarice’s violent howl.
Will and I bound down the stairs to the van as I dial the next number. With each ring the fibres in my body tense hard enough to crack my own ribcage.
‘Hello?’ comes the groggy answer as I throw open the door to the van and jump in.
‘Mum - it’s me. I need you in Zone Seven right now to deliver a baby.’
Clarice lies panting on a patchwork of clean towels, naked save for the sheet thrown over her torso. I sit at her head, cooling her forehead with a damp cloth as Hunter kneels by her side, gripping her hand and cooing words of encouragement with her eyes locked on the spectacle between the girl’s legs. Will has been banished to the bedroom after setting up the camera on the small kitchen counter, keeping her family in the loop over the phone. My mother kneels between Clarice’s knees, bending forward and speaking calmly over another bellow induced by the contractions tearing through the girl every few minutes. Clarice only let her in because she understood it wasn’t the first injection-free baby my mother had helped.
‘Ok, Clarice, we’re picking up a gear here. I promise this will all be over very soon.’ Angela’s voice is gentle but her eyes are like steel focussed on the slit the baby will emerge from. On her right are the mismatched tools we managed to collect before her arrival, sterilising them in boiling water in the sink. Thankfully, she had surgical gloves at home.
‘I want my fucking Mum!’ Clarice wails.
‘I know, dear, but there’s no room in here and we need to keep it clean until the baby arrives.’ The four of us dominate the miniscule room and, prostrated on the floor, Clarice’s belly is so large it seems to pull everything toward it. I wince as she screams again with such force the grey lace on the window appears to quiver.
Suddenly I see Hunter’s face drain and match the colour of the lace. Her mouth curls and she turns her head although her eyes remain locked on Clarice’s vagina, desperate - but unable - to look away. I catch my mother’s eye and she nods. It’s all the instruction I need and I grab the big towel sitting on the chair behind me, scampering forward on my knees. I stretch it out between my hands like a net underneath my mother’s hands as Angela instructs Clarice to push. Looking between her knees, the red, puckering flesh seems to steal my stomach as it spasms and parts, weeping a mucus fluid. Clarice wails and thrashes, showering tears and sweat and blasphemies as we beg her to push. Suddenly, a pink expanse appears, like an eye to a keyhole, and parts the flesh like a tongue between lips. The towel shakes in my hands.
‘Here he comes, Clarice. I need one more big push, Clarice. Do that for me - one final push-’
Clarice’s shriek splits the air like a scythe and another world bursts forward as she greets her son with an undying sacrifice. He slides into my mother’s grip, rupturing holes in the future. She places him in my arms and bundles him in the cotton womb. He matches his brave mother with angry yells and flailing fists that demand our sight just as the sun lifts its smile of morning into the room through the grey lace that now shines white. His wails sing with the chorus of a thousand voices and our tears map his home within us all, refracting his wriggling welcome in our crystals as he shows us all his brothers and sisters who are waiting to follow. When his eyes open for the first time my heart cracks as if to spill onto him all the life I can offer.
‘What colour?’ Clarice’s voice trembles with exhaustion as she props herself up onto her elbows, her body heaving with breath. ‘What colour are his eyes?’
‘Blue,’ I whisper, handing him to her as she leans back on the tower of pillows Hunter shoves against her. He settles on her chest and blinks slowly, squirming in his towel. As Clarice’s eyes spill over with love I swear that she, too, can see the perfect blue of her son’s gaze.