Something new

Amber was just starting to relax when the bloody phone started ringing again. A pay phone isn’t supposed to ring at all, and there’s something bone-chillingly insistent about one that rings and rings and rings. Now it was starting up again, as if it were an alien that could see her standing there. She looked up the street hoping to see her dad’s big Lexus with its reassuring “Doctor” on the licence plate. For once, she just wanted to see him.

She tapped a toe. He KNEW her shift ended at midnight. And though he didn’t like her job, and he hated that she’d quit school, and as far as she could see he didn’t like anything about her – he had SAID he’d be here at midnight and where the bloody hell was he? She’d put in a six hour shift at the restaurant and she wanted her lift home and she wanted it NOW. Especially with the damn phone drilling away at her.

She pulled her short skirt down in the direction of the tops of her thigh high boots and shifted from one high heel to the other. Her feet were killing her. The neon sign flashing “Danny’s Diner” turned off, meaning that Danny had left by the back way and was pulling out himself. She felt very alone.

On the seventh ring, she could stand it no longer. She darted toward the phone booth, muttering, “All right, all right, already!” She pushed open the folding door and grabbed the battered handset.

“Hello?” she said carefully.

A hysterical female voice immediately assaulted her.

“Hello, hello, you help, you help me, you come up here now!”

“Wait a minute. What are you talking about? This is a phone booth, I’ve just…”

“I know phone box, I know phone number of this box,” the voice shouted. “I see you there. You nice girl, you help me. I have baby coming, I need help now.”

Amber reeled backwards, nearly dropping the receiver.

“Lady, you need to call triple-0. You need an ambulance.”

The note of hysteria increased.

“No, no ambulance, no hospital. You come now, I see you, you see me and come up. Door open!”

Reluctantly, Amber looked up at the row of flats above the restaurant. Sure enough, she could see a face and a wildly waving hand on the top floor, in the window nearest the stairwell. In her ear, the tenor of the voice changed. There was an anguished groan and a clank as the phone hit something hard.

Amber stared at the window. Now only a white hand was visible, palm pressed to the glass.

“You come please. I so scared,” the voice said, more quietly. “Baby coming now.”

Amber swallowed and reached a decision.

“I’ll be right there,” she said. “It’ll be okay.”

Why did I say that? she asked herself fervently. This is NOT okay! She dropped the phone into its cradle and pressed out the door, catching a heel on the door frame and nearly tripping. She ran toward the building, grabbing her phone out of her bag as she went. She found her father’s number in her call list and rang. As she raced up the steps, she got his voice mail recording. “Dad, where the hell are you? I think a woman is having a baby and I need you!” She gave him the location and ended the call.

She reached the door near the top of the stairwell, swallowed hard and stepped in.

Amber glanced about her. It was a tiny room, sparsely furnished and very neat. She saw a little buddha on an intricate table under a mirror with a colourful frame. And on the floor, leaning against the wall under the window, an Asian girl, looking younger than Amber herself, sat on a white blanket that had been laid out precisely. She clutched a mobile phone. She wore a faded sundress, darkened at the armpits. Her black hair was matted with sweat. She was wildly holding her bulging stomach and writhing in pain, barely acknowledging Amber’s presence. “Baby want to come,” she gasped between clenched teeth. “I cannot, I cannot. Hurt so bad.”

Amber closed her eyes for a moment, willing herself to remember details from the training video she had watched with her father a couple of years ago. She met the girl’s terrified eyes, removed the phone from her grasp and took her hand. “It’s okay; you’re doing fine; this is the worst part. It’ll be better if you squat. Like this,” she scrambled to demonstrate while her boots resisted the sharp bend.

“I feel baby coming,” the girl groaned.

Amber balanced herself with a hand and leaned down to check. “Jesus. Jesus Christ, it’s coming, it’s coming, I can see the head crowning. It’s coming!” She looked at the girl in amazement, then willed her voice to sound calm. “It’s all good, relax a moment. You’re doing great. Okay, push now. Push!”

Amber held out her hands as she watched the impossibly big head with its shock of dark hair emerge. She cried, “That’s it, that’s it, push again; I’ve got it, I’ve got the baby, I’ve got it!” Her voice dropped and she found herself blinded by tears as she held the tiny blue squirming being. “I’ve got him,” she whispered.

She carefully untangled the baby from the umbilical cord. The baby reached for breath and suddenly a cascade of sound emerged from the tiny lungs. He wailed an indignant roar, and in a moment the little blue body was flooded with colour. Amber reverently pressed the tiny body into the arms of its exhausted mother, then slid to a sitting position, her shiny boots out in front of her.

* * *

“No hospital,” the girl repeated, holding tightly to Amber’s hand as she pleaded with Amber’s father. “Please no hospital.” She lay now on her bed, the baby contented on her belly. She looked to be summoning energy for one last battle.

Amber huddled close to her father. He had arrived shortly after the young mother had delivered the afterbirth, and had matter-of-factly checked over both patients before cutting the umbilical cord. Amber looked at him questioningly. “She’s likely not here legally,” he said to Amber, “and she doesn’t want to come to the attention of the authorities.” He studied the girl closely. “You are very healthy,” he said. “And your baby is healthy. But you will need help with this. Who do you have who can help you?”

“My cousin is here, this her place, but she away for today. She back soon and she help me.”

Amber took her father’s arm. “Dad, I’ll stay with her tonight. I’ll just be here, like a nurse in the hospital, in case she needs something. I’ll ring you if I need help.”

Her father regarded her closely. She held his gaze.

Finally he turned to the mother.

“I will come in the morning to make sure you are both okay,” he said. He took one last blood pressure reading while the mother stared at him, relief in her eyes.

He packed his bag and then stopped in front of Amber, who was supporting herself by leaning against the back of a chair whilst unzipping a boot.

Without a word, he tousled her hair.

Without a word, she reached out and hugged him closely.

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