I hold my sister's mottled and battered baby. There is a smear of blood on the tiny girl's forehead, her fists crumpled up like boxing gloves.
Sandra jostles me, trying to get a clamp to Kate's surgeon.
The baby gasps.
Someone in the corridor screams as security tries to manage the sudden flow of injured, and the surge of arriving families. Again I'm startled by how quickly after a wreck parents and husbands can make it to the ER.
Sandra grabs my shoulder. "Incubator," she says through her mask. "Deborah?"
I look, but I don't see it for a moment. I'm not used to these plastic bubbles in theater.
"Please Deborah," Sandra says, putting her hand on my arm.
"Sutures, quickly," Dr Ravi says.
"Let me have her," Sandra says, adjusting Kate’s respirator and passing the sutures. "Don't make me pry her from you." She begins prying at my arms anyway. "What are you even doing in here, Debs? Go home."
I turn to the incubator, see the big lid, the tubes and tank below. I reach out and put the baby girl onto the mattress.
"Where's the cart?" Ravi shouts.
Sandra tapes monitors to the child's chest, wipes away some of the blood, then closes the lid. "Go home," she says. "You're not any use here."
"What would I do at home?"
"Fine, wait in the hall."
I look at the maelstrom of people beyond the window. A truck crushed four cars in the tunnel. Half the city has come out. Nobody can separate those who can be reassured from the others. I'm not stepping into a mob. I have all the reassurance I need here.
"She's twenty-nine weeks," I say. I stare at the baby. So miniscule, so nearly formed. I look again at Kate. Her face is torn and taped. They work on her chest. I had bandaged her arm, but I think she'll lose it. One of her legs will be lost too. When she came in I saw the shin strung on at the knee by a few white ligaments.
"Deborah," Sandra says. "Out." She's in charge here. She's handing Ravi instruments. They're not interested in legs or arms, they just need to stem the flow of blood in her abdomen. Fumbling, I screw the oxygen to the incubator, but the girl is too early, I know.
"Dammit, Debs, you're not helping," Sandra says.
I can see Ravi slowing his work.
"Security," Sandra shouts.
Dr Miller darts in. He leans over my sister's body, discusses things with Ravi, who continues to work with Sandra. I barely hear anything, but the tone is enough. Miller turns to the incubator.
"Security," Sandra shouts again. She swabs for Ravi.
Miller lifts the incubator lid and puts his stethoscope on Kate's child's chest.
A security man slips in and grabs my arm. I don't move.
Miller listens for a moment and his head drops.
* * *
When I was twelve and Kate fifteen, blackbirds nested in the branches of the tall oak outside her attic room. She'd convinced Mom and Dad to let her convert the tiny space into a bedroom so that she no longer had to share with me.
Kate watched the birds hatch their brood. One day Kate's six-month old cat, Shambles, leapt across to the branch while the adult birds were out hunting. The cat took a hatchling, but slipped when Kate screamed. Bird and cat tumbled to the ground.
From the kitchen I heard the thump, out on the front walk. I was there before Kate. I did't know how a cat could land wrong, but Shambles lay bleeding and dying there on the concrete. The hatchling flapped, struggling, with just the last whispers of life in it. Shambles mewled, his eyes glassy, and I had to sniff back tears. I heard Kate pounding down the stairs, still screaming.
Then Shambles shivered and died, his body softening. The adult blackbirds clucked in the branches above.
"Deborah," Kate yelled from the steps.
I picked up the fledgling and put my hand on Shambles, stroking his soft grey fur. I was crying. Kate squealed beside me, falling to her knees.
I know what I did, though I didn't know I could. I took the last puff of life from the dying bird and passed it to Shambles. It was a little bit of magic, like something from one of my library books. The fledgling died in my hand and Shambles lifted his head.
Kate gathered him up, and Mom drove them to the vet, while I sat on the porch step with the dead chick in my hand listening to the birds chirrup and tweet in the tree, feeding their surviving babies. I sat on the step until long after dark.
* * *
"Call it," Miller says. Then he turns to Ravi. "Can I assist?"
I pull away from the security man.
"We've got others," Ravi says. "There's too much bleeding."
"Okay," Miller says.
The incubator lid is still open. I step over and lift my sister's child.
"Clear the theater," Sandra says. "We've got others." She pulls her mask down and comes to me. "I'll give you a minute," she says. She reaches up with a clean sponge and wipes my eyes.
"Wait," I say.
This baby girl is still clinging, and though she is very early I know she can make it.
"It's been called," Sandra says.
"Make him check again," I say. How can I do this to my sister? How can I chose between them? I put my hand on Kate's whole but bloody arm and I know what she wants, and she gives it freely, lets me pass it to the child.
"Come on," Sandra says.
The girl's thin heart lurches, once, then again and I hand her to Sandra. "Please," I say, not able to look away from Kate's damaged face. "Please just check again."
I hand the baby over and hear Sandra say "Oh my," then, "Doctor!"
Kate's face is serene.
Copyright: © 2010 Sean Monaghan
Sean Monaghan's stories have appeared in print and online in numerous publications. His science fiction novel The Rotated" is serialized at Infinite Windows. More information at his website www.venusvulture.com.