“Oh Gawd, John, I think he’s coming!”
John looked to the lake where his wife was treading water, the yellow straps of her bathing suit a bright slash against the dark rippling surface. He jumped to his feet and looked back towards the cottage. “Hennie!” he called. “Hennie, the baby’s coming!”
Running to the edge of the lake, he looked out at his wife. “Sal, come into the shore, baby,” he said, “Hennie’s coming.” He waved his hand at her in a come-hither motion.
Sally shook her head, and her face toggled between a look of pain and one of panic. John took a step closer to the edge. Water lapped the toes of his brown leather shoes, and he stepped back quickly, looking down at the darkened tips. Dammit!
He was aware of Hennie approaching, heard the slap of her shoes on the pathway as she approached. He heard her drop her bag, a thud against the hard-packed earth, and then she was at the edge of the lake with him. “Sally, get yourself in here straight away if you want me to help you bring that little one into the sunlight,” she said and placed her hands on her hips.
Sally shook her head again, and her lips moved, silently.
“Speed it up, Sal, that baby doesn’t want an exit into that brackish water,” Hennie scolded, and John stepped back to let the midwife take control of the situation.
Sally bobbed. Her lips moved again, her voice just above a whisper, and completely drowned out by the slap of her hands and arms against the water. No longer treading, but floundering.
“What’s that?” Hennie called.
Sally scanned the surface of the lake surrounding her, movements jerky and frantic, before fixing her gaze directly downward, squinting into the dark depths. And then, “I can’t!” she screamed, and water splashed up as she dipped violently, as if pulled from below.
John watched her sink beneath the water—her hands waving, almost comically, above her. He slipped his shoes off and pulled his sweater over his head before splashing towards the spot in the lake where he could see Sally’s fingertips, just above the water.
He dove into the water and swam towards her, grasping her fingers just as they began to sink below the surface. With a mighty yank, he pulled her upward, her head breaking the surface. She pulled her hand free and grabbed his shoulder, clinging to him as best she could. “Something’s got me!”
John saw the panic in Sally’s eyes, and she screamed as she was wrenched free from his arms to splash beneath the surface again. John dove, the water stinging his eyes as his gaze adjusted to the murk.
Bubbles escaped Sally’s lips and John parted the water, kicking towards her as she sank. In the shadowy depths, he wasn’t sure what he was seeing.
Grasping Sally’s arm, he used her as an anchor to propel himself deeper, deeper.
Reaching for her ankle, he felt fingers intertwine with his own, a warm touch, and his heart began to pound inside his chest. The hand began to pull away and he groped, grasping, not wanting to lose the contact, but his fingers sank into a tangle of eelgrass. As he pulled it away from Sally’s leg and foot, she began to rise, and he squeezed his fist around a handful of the weed before surfacing beside her. Sally clung to his back as he towed her towards the shore, to safety.
Then, Hennie was there, helping Sally to her feet, guiding her towards the picnic blanket and her medical bag. With a scream of pain, Sally fell to her hands and knees on the blanket and rolled onto her back.
“It. Grabbed. Me.” She grunted the words out between teeth gritted in pain.
Hennie ignored her and went about cutting the bathing suit free from her hips, but John stood above her, holding the fistful of eelgrass aloft. “It was just grass, Sal, just grass.”
Sally’s eyes were wide as she looked at the handful of grass and shook her head. “It grabbed me,” she repeated. “It wasn’t no grass, it was a hand, and it grabbed me.”
Then a contraction took her, and she screamed as her body shook with the pain. Hennie glanced up at him, knowingly, as she reached forward to place a gentle hand on Sally’s protruding tummy. John shook his head—now was not the time to discuss what was in the lake.
Another contraction, another scream, and beneath that he heard a splash that drew his attention away from his wife and back to the expanse of water.
A head breached the water at the centre of the lake. Long hair danced wetly across powerful, feminine shoulders. A hand raised in greeting. And, John remembered her. He remembered how lonely he had been as a child; how she had been his best friend. His only friend, sometimes.
As their gaze held each other, a promise was renewed. She was here, steadfast, still a friend, after all these years.
Beginning to raise his hand in reciprocation, he heard Sally’s laboured breathing. The harsh inhale-exhale of air through gritted teeth. She called his name, and he curled his fingers into his palm, dropping his hand back to his side as he moved to kneel beside her. Sally—his wife, his love, his best friend—squeezed his hand, and he looked into her pain-filled eyes as she gave a final push.
Everything went silent for a moment.
John held Sally’s hand as his oldest friend dove back down under the surface of the lake, her tail slapping against the surface of the water, breaking the silence.
And, the baby began to cry.