by Sean Bracken
Colin Sharpe absorbed the atmosphere that enveloped his senses with the murmur of low intimate conversation coming from the other diners, coupled with the rich aroma of fine Italian cooking and the light fruity taste of the fine Chianti that he sipped on.
His wife Melissa sat facing him and even after three years of marriage he was captivated by her beauty. Long waves of blonde hair framed a face that must have been stolen from an angel. Jade eyes that expressed kindness and warmth smiled back at him. “What are you staring at ?” she teased while wiping traces of Nico's famous Napoli sauce from her lips.
“Only the most wonderful creature in all of God's creation” Colin replied. “With this bump? You must be joking” said Melissa while pointing down to her heavily pregnant tummy.
The couple were celebrating their third anniversary and looking forward to the birth of their first child, which was due in a couple of days. Fully satisfied with the delicious meal, they decided to pass on desert and order an Americana for Colin and a Cappuccino for Melissa.
As Colin tried to catch the eye of a passing waiter, Melissa gave a stifled cry and gripped tightly onto the table. “Are you okay, Mel?” asked Colin with some concern showing in his voice. “No. I'm fine Colin. It's just a twinge, but can we skip coffee and head home please?” Colin grabbed the attention of Dino, a waiter serving the next table over and explained that his wife was unwell and asked for the bill and their coats.
In a matter of seconds Dino was back helping Melissa into her winter jacket and insisted that their meal was on the house with the best wishes of Nico and the staff. Thanking everyone profusely they made their way out of the restaurant and into the bitter cold of a harsh January night on Dublin's Dame Street.
They had been fortunate earlier and found a parking spot a couple of doors away, so in no time they were pulling out into the City Centre traffic and on their way home to Forest Lane. Colin suggested that they should head for The Holle's Street maternity hospital but Melissa chided him for fussing and insisted that it was nothing to worry about.
The journey home was far from pleasant as the rain turned into sleet accompanied by a chill wind that made driving treacherous in places. The couple were more than relieved to see the gates to their home swing open and the lights spring to life on the tree lined avenue that led up to the house. Melissa decided to have a quick shower before bed and Colin poured himself a large measure of thirty year old malt Scotch Whiskey.
Soon he was wrapped up in a Tom Clancy thriller as he relaxed beside the flickering flames of the gas fire place. Pausing only to light a King Edward Imperial and to pour another generous glass of Scotch he lost himself in the latest adventures of Jack Ryan.
The midnight chime from the antique Grandfather clock in the hall roused him from a light slumber and he decided to call it a night. Undressing in the dark to avoid disturbing Melissa he was soon fast asleep and snoring softly from the effect of the alcohol.
Colin often joked that an atomic blast wouldn't wake him once he was asleep and normally that was the truth, but somehow a quiet whimper encroaching into his dreams was enough to disturb him and he turned in the bed to go back asleep. But there it was again. A faint plaintive whimper. He opened his eyes and was shocked by a scene so terrifying that it took a second to register with him. Melissa was slumped on the seat of the en-suite toilet. Her face was almost snow white and her feet were surrounded by a thick pool of blood. He ran to Melissa and noticed that the bedroom carpet was wet and sticky. He shook his wife in an effort to wake her, but instead she began to slide down to the tiled floor.
He picked her up from the floor and carried her semi-conscious body back to the bed and placed her gently on top of the duvet. Grabbing the phone from the bedside locker he dialled 999 and asked for an ambulance. After giving clear directions to the operator he persuaded her to transfer his call to the National Maternity Hospital and despite his rising panic he kept himself under control and managed to describe the situation first to a night porter and eventually to a nurse.
The nurse told him to use towels to try to slow the bleeding and to raise Melissa's feet with pillows. He pressed speaker on the phone and took a pile of towels from the hot-press. As he tried to stem the bleeding he could feel something spongy hanging between Melissa's legs. Somehow he managed to tell the nurse what he had felt and she reassured him that it was probably part of the placenta.
Melissa was trying to talk to him but she only managed a feeble incoherent mumble before she passed out again. Hanging up on the nurse, he called his twin brother Terry who lived on the far side of their shared stables and stud farm. Mercifully Terry answered after only a few rings and was awake and alert within seconds of hearing the strain in Colin's voice.
“Becky and I will be there in five minutes.” he said. “Don't panic. I'm sure she'll be fine. We'll cut across the stable yard so leave the back door open.”
Colin changed the now dripping towel and ran downstairs to unlock the back door. He the ran to the front and pressed the remote to open the automatic gates. Leaving the front door ajar, he ran back upstairs to Melissa. He tried to rouse her, but she remained comatose. If it was possible it seemed that her skin ws even paler that it had been earlier.
A few minutes later he heard Terry and Becky running up the stairs and when they came into the bedroom the colour drained from their faces. Becky took over and pushed him in the direction of the stairs. “Go out and watch for the ambulance. I'll look after Mel.” she said, trying to hide the concern from her voice. Terry looking like he going to faint followed him downstairs, out the front door and up the driveway to watch out for the ambulance.
The bitter cold barely registered with either of them while they waited and Colin spoke with his brother. “The baby's dead Terry. I could feel it sticking out of her when I tried to stop the bleeding.” he sobbed. “Where is the fucking ambulance? It must be fucking” hours since I called them.””Calm down Col. It's way less than half an hour. Get a grip on yourself.” And with that the ambulance pulled onto the drive.
The para-medics ran into the house and a minute later Becky came down and wrapped her arms around Colin. She pulled him into her embrace and cried softly into his shoulder. “I'm so sorry Col. It looks bad. I've heard of this happening to other women and the medics are finding it hard to find her pulse.” With that the two medics arrived down the stairs carrying Melissa between them. One of them pulled the ambulance door open and they manoeuvred Melissa's limp body onto a stretcher.
Within seconds they were on their way. Driving at breakneck speed despite the slush and ice on the road, the ambulance careered out onto the main road in the direction of Holle's Street hospital. The medic that rode with them in the back seemed calm and unworried. He talked constantly with Colin while he squeezed fluids into Melissa from a drip bag.
The driver ignored the treacherous conditions and drove with lights flashing, siren screaming and with his foot to the floor arrived at Holle's Street inside fifteen minutes. They were rushed into the hospital, through reception and into a lift to the third floor where they were met by a waiting doctor.
The doctor was a young woman in her early thirties and to Colin she seemed to be half asleep. They had placed Melissa in a private room and as the doctor carried out an examination Colin restrained himself from shouting at her. With a complete lack of urgency she issued instructions to the attending nurse in medical speech.
Everything seemed to happen in slow motion to Colin and after an eternity Melissa was wheeled away to an operating theatre and he was told to wait where he was.
About an hour later an orderly stuck his head in the door and told him that there were some people looking for him down at the reception desk. Colin made his weary way back to the lift and down to the ground floor. Terry and Becky were there waiting for him accompanied by Mel's father, Jack and her brother Mike. Colin sank into a chair beside them and rested his face in his hands. He felt completely drained and could barely speak.
Eventually he looked up and explained that he didn't know what was happening. Melissa was in surgery and he was supposed to wait upstairs for further news. Terry went over to a vending machine and brought back an insipid cup of coffee for Colin. The lukewarm coffee revived him a little and against everyone's advice decided to return to the private room to wait for further news,
Hours passed by with no news and the deserted third floor seemed gloomy and very lonely.
The dimmed lighting cast long shadows as Colin paced up and down the corridor. He prayed with all of his heart to God, begging Him to spare Melissa. He cried out in pain that he couldn't bear to loose her. He travelled down to reception every half hour or so, but had no news for his waiting family.
Just after eight o'clock in the morning, standing alone in the silence of the cold corridor he heard approaching footsteps. He looked up to see a tall man wearing a doctors coat walking towards him. As the doctor approached he held out a small bundle and placed it in Colin's arms. Colin looked down and saw a tiny baby wrapped in a pink blanket. Wide awake and sucking on her thumb the baby seemed to smile at him through clear blue eyes.
“Mr. Sharpe, meet your baby daughter.” said an exhausted doctor and with that Colin let his tears flow. They poured down his face in torrents as he stared enchanted by the steady gaze of his baby. The joy, the love, the elation all washed over him in waves and he looked up to the the doctor and said “She's beautiful, she's beautiful.” No other words could form in his mind. Just over and over again he said “She's beautiful, she's beautiful.
Eventually Colin composed himself and the doctor told him that Melissa was safe. They had sent repeated requests to every hospital in Dublin for extra supplies of blood. They had worked for hours to stop the bleeding and for a long time Melissa was clinging to life by a thread but she was safe now and fast asleep. The doctor took the baby from Colin and advised him to go home for some rest and not to return until the afternoon.
With pure joy in his heart Colin sank to his knees and thanked God for His Divine mercy. And with a new spring in his step he took the lift down to share his good news with his waiting family.