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The Ripple Effect

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I opened my eyes to see the two paramedics next to me, and I vaguely realized that I was in an ambulance. The siren was loud, hurried.

I felt dizzy. The pain vibrated through my body, making me want to curl up and cry.

I looked around, searching for Jamie, but he was nowhere to be found. I closed my eyes and thought of his crooked smile, of his slanted eyes full of love.

The image of his body taking the crash’s impact flashed in front of my eyes, pushing every happy memory away.

I passed out again.

The hospital corridors around me were familiar, but their sterility seeped in my body; cold, hostile, unsafe. I shouldn’t be in a hospital. Not again.

The stretcher I lay on was moving fast, so fast that the stuff jogged around it to keep up with me.

I ran a hand over my crotch.

Blood. Fresh, crimson.

Not again. Please, please, not again.

I gripped the hand that grasped the stretcher close to mine. It belonged to a bony and tall nurse, her lips a thin line on her face.

“No,” I pleaded. “Not yet. It’s too soon.”

She gave me a compassionate look and nodded, her eyebrows knit together. “I ken, lass.”

She knew. And yet, I could tell by the look in her eyes that there was nothing she could do. There was nothing I could do.

I heard Jamie’s voice in my mind, telling me to have faith. I set my jaw and swallowed hard.

“My husband?” I asked. “He was with me,” I added, tugging at her sleeve when she didn’t turn to look at me.

“He hasna arrived yet,” she said, matter-of-fact. The policeman who called us asked for three ambulances. The other two are still on the way.”

Jamie in an ambulance, away from me. Separated, unable to give solace to each other.

He had to be safe, to come back to me as soon as he could. I needed to grasp his hand and listen to his deep voice keeping the fears at bay. I needed him more than ever, and yet, he wasn’t there.

I started panicking. I was alone, and I couldn’t feel Faith.

“My baby,” I whispered, placing my bloody hands on my belly. “My baby isn’t moving.”

The nurse’s lips had almost disappeared from her pale face, and she looked at me though exhausted eyes, clad in black circles. “We’re taking ye for an ultrasound right now.”

I took a deep breath, and the hospital’s scent invaded my nostrils like an old friend. It seemed to mock me for my failure, for lying on the stretcher instead of running next to it.

The exam room was quiet, dimly lit. The gel on my belly, cold. My side, empty. Jamie was supposed to stand there, by my side, as he had always done.

I fixed my eyes on the screen, waiting.

The black and white recording of the ultrasound had the image of my daughter. Still there, and a bit bigger than I remembered. Curled up, with a tiny fist next to her heart.

Her silent heart.

I clenched my own hands in fists, waiting, hearing my heart beating alone in my body. All alone, waiting for hers.

It couldn’t be. The ultrasound machine might be broken, the volume too low.

The time passed, but there was no movement, no sound. The examination room was enfolded in an eerie silence.

A heart in the making, with millions of beats waiting ahead, hushed abruptly. A muscle that didn’t contract, leaving stalled blood in her veins and arteries.

“Come on baby,” I pleaded, my tears blurring the picture on the monitor. I brushed them furiously away, afraid I would lose the tiny movement that would confirm that my girl was still alive.

A buzzing filled my ears, thousand of wasps around me, their stings painful on my body. And yet, I felt nothing inside. I didn’t want to feel, to think. I didn’t want to accept the realization that was forced upon me.

This wasn’t happening. I had promised to keep her safe. I had told her all would be okay.

The same tired, sympathetic nurse led me to a room, helped me settle on the bed, and administered an IV. Finally, she patted my shoulder with a sorrowful smile. “I’m sorry for your loss,” she said.

I looked at her, lost. My loss. It couldn’t be.

“Dinna hesitate to ring for help.” Her voice was soft and tender, but I felt it coming from miles away. “My name is Crook. Just press the button and I’ll come promptly.”

I nodded, and instinctively ran a hand on my belly. Still there, still full. As if nothing had happened.

I felt exhausted. With my hand still on my belly, waiting to feel Faith, I succumbed to sleep.

I woke up in the darkness, my dream still fresh in my memory. Faith had woken me, kicking like a wee fiend. I turned to tell her Da, but he wasn’t there.

Neither was our bedroom. The soft light on the hospital’s white walls blew the dream away. Faith hadn’t kicked.

I waited in silence, barely breathing so I wouldn’t miss her move. But it never came.

My baby was still. My girl’s heart had gone quiet. The ultrasound monitor was working properly.

The only thing I heard was my own heart, breaking. A smashing sound, filling the world with tiny pieces that crashed on to the walls and fell on the floor, ensuring that the shards would never be mended again.

A cry left my lungs before I realized it. It was guttural, inhuman. It tore my throat, running through the hospital corridors, trying to find a way out – to the sky. To her.

But she was too far away to listen.

My womb was full, and yet, I was empty. My soul was lost, somewhere between a baby kick and a cry I would never listen to. I could still sense her, curled up, silent, featherlight. And yet, she wasn’t there.

I had lost Faith, and with her I lost a part of myself.

Sobs started wracking my body, sobs that I couldn’t control, waves of grief crushing upon me, molding my shape, changing me forever.

Mrs Crook came to my room even though I hadn’t called for her. She whispered soothing words that I didn’t hear and injected something in my IV. I wished it was poison.

With both hands cradling my belly, my dead baby, my dead dreams, I cried until I fell asleep. In my sleep, I dreamed of a redheaded girl, running in a field of barley, golden like her skin, looking at a sky as blue as her eyes.

When I woke up, I had almost forgotten what was real and what not. I was almost sure that I had dreamed of the accident, the blood, Faith’s unnervingly silent heart. At that moment, I had convinced myself that all was well, and I looked around, searching for Jamie. That second, that split second, I was happy.

Then I saw Geillis sitting in the chair next to my bed. And I remembered.

“My baby,” I whispered, looking desperately at her, and I felt a fresh wave of tears running down my cheeks. “My baby girl,” I repeated.

Pain; unending, unforgiving.

Geillis, the always sharp-witted Geillis, had nothing to say. She came to sit on the bed next to me, wrapped her arms around my body, and rocked us both, my Faith and me, equally dead inside.

“Jamie?” I asked in a hoarse voice after a while, and she pulled away to look into my eyes.

“He’s okay, he’ll be okay,” she said with a trembling smile.

“Where is he?”

“In the OR. Hildegarde came from our hospital and is operating on his hand,” she said, and seeing my distress, she repeated, “He’s okay. He’ll be okay.”

That didn’t sound reassuring at the least.

“What has happened?” I asked. “Nobody has told me.”

“You crashed on the traffic barrier, but fortunately Jamie had reduced your car’s speed, and the impact was minor. Both airbags opened – ”

“I know,” I interrupted her. “The airbag killed Faith,” I said, and my voice cracked. “It’s a placenta abruption, right?”

“Yes.” Geillis swallowed hard, trying to stop the tears before leaving her emerald eyes. “Jamie would end up with bruises and light injuries like you – ”

I snorted. Light injuries. I had never thought that tearing my heart out would be considered as a light injury.

Geillis looked at me and frowned. “You know what I mean,” she defended herself. “Anyway, Jamie would be okay, if not for the second crash. The car that pursued yours went straight to a head-on collision with the truck.”

“And?”

Why did it take her so long to explain such a simple thing?

“The truck was heavy, thank god, and didn’t move much from the collision’s impact. It’s rear side, however, dented the side of your car. Jamie’s side.” I held my breath, unsure if I wanted her to continue. “Jamie was lucky,” Geillis added hurriedly. “He only got injured on his right side – leg and hand.”

“How bad?” I asked in my doctor’s voice, afraid that if she witnessed my meltdown she would stop sharing the information she had acquired.

“His leg has a deep gash that will leave a mark, but other than that it’s fine. His hand, however, got trapped between the dented door and the steering wheel. We still don’t know if it will ever be fully functional again.”

“His vitals?”

“All fine. Like yours.”

Like mine. Which exactly of my vitals was working fine, I wondered.

“Geillis?” I asked after a while. It was strange that she hadn’t asked any questions. So strange, that it showed how bad things really were.

“Tell me,” she leaned towards me with a smile.

“What happened to the other man? The one who pursued us?”

“He was dead already when they brought him to the hospital. He died at the collision,” she said and frowned, looking at me. “Who was he Claire? What did he want?”

“Randall,” I simply said. “My worst nightmare,” I added, and closed my eyes, wishing the conversation to be over.

Randall was dead. I was finally free. But it was a hard-won freedom, and I didn’t know what to do with it.

A life for a life, I thought, and started crying again.

“Claire,” Geillis said when my sobs quietened. “We need to talk about you.”

“About me?”

“Ye have to give birth, Claire. You can either wait, or we can proceed with the induction today.”

“I want Jamie to be with me,” I said, biting my lip hard to block the tears inside. “I can’t do it without him.”

Geillis nodded, but I saw a shadow lurking in her eyes. “Okay, then. We’ll wait until tomorrow.”

We fell silent, until I spoke again, a few minutes later. “Geillis,” I whispered. “I don’t want to lose her.” 

The dam broke again. I cried in her arms until I fell asleep, grateful for finding a way out of reality.

The next morning Jenny had taken Geillis’ place next to my bed.

“What are you doing here?” I asked, surprised, when I saw her. It was a long way from Lallybroch.

“Of all the places in the world, Claire, this is the one I should be.”

She had been crying. Her eyes were puffy and red rimmed, the silver trails on her cheeks shining under the daylight. She held my hand, and then took me in a crushing embrace, as if she was trying to force life back inside me.

“Jamie?” I asked.

“He hasna woken up yet. It was a long surgery.”

I nodded. “How did it go? Did they tell you?”

“Aye, they did. The doctor said his hand will never look the same again, but he will be able to use it, eventually.”

“Good,” I breathed, then hesitated. “Jenny, does he know?”

Jenny shook her head. “I dinna think so. Geillis told me he was unconscious when they brought him in, then woke up crying and calling yer name. They gave him sedatives and he fell asleep. He hasna woken after his surgery, so I couldna talk to him.”

“I’ll tell him once he’s awake,” I announced, setting my jaw. “Was I on sedatives too?” I asked as an afterthought.

Jenny gave me a sorrowful smile, one that wordlessly replied to my question. “They doctor said ye have to go into labor,” she said at last.

“No,” I denied, feeling I’d said the same thing one million times. “I’ll do this when Jamie is better. I don’t want to be alone. He is supposed to be there.” My voice broke mid-sentence, and I stopped Jenny with a raised hand before she could come closer to hug me. Love elicited more feelings than I could handle.

In the afternoon, Mrs Crook came to my room again, rested and ready to start another shift. “Lass,” she said, squeezing my hand. “Nothing will change, ken? Tis better to proceed now.”

“Why isn’t my husband here?” I asked, as if it was her fault that Jamie was away.

“He’s on heavy painkillers. He isna in condition to witness a labour.”

“I’ll wait,” I said, determined. “I’ll wait until he’s better.”

Jenny talked before the nurse could voice her disagreement. “I’ll come wi’ ye, Claire. Better the wrong Fraser than no Fraser at all, aye?”

“But Jamie would want to be there,” I said, crying, as I slowly accepted that he wouldn’t be. “He would want to be there no matter what…”

I gave birth to my dead daughter, committing in memory every single minute. I carved every single detail of the process on my heart, while wishing the doctor to tear me apart, to break me into pieces so I couldn’t feel anymore.

She never cried, and never reached for my breast. I belatedly realized that I didn’t have milk to give her yet. But I would have, in a few months. Milk made for her. Useless.

Faith lay in my arms, born and still. A porcelain doll, with my white skin and Jamie’s red hair. With ten fingers and ten toes. With faint red eyebrows laid over closed eyes.

And I sang to her. And I called her by her name. And I wished she would be alive. And I lived, and yet I died.

Jenny had brought with her a light green bodysuit with pink elephants. The evening after the birth she gave it to me with tears in her eyes, explaining that she had bought it a few weeks ago, for Faith to leave the hospital with the clothes her auntie gifted her. We dressed Faith together, brushing tears away only to make room for more to come.

Sometime in the night, Jenny told me that Jamie had woken up from his morphine sleep. I took Faith with me in her beautiful outfit, holding her tight against my chest, and walked to his room.

I walked to him, needing him to hold us both. To listen to him whispering soft Gaelic words to our girl, even though she wouldn’t listen to his wobbly voice. To share the burden of loss with the only person who could really understand.

His eyes were closed when we entered his room. I walked quietly across the darkness to stand next to his bed, but he felt me before I could talk and opened his eyes.

“Sassenach,” he said with a dreamy smile, his eyes darting from me to Faith in my arms.

He looked at me as if I was holding the world in my hands. A second, his own split second, of happiness.

And then, the heartbreak.

“No,” he said, shaking his head. “No, no, no. It’s too soon.”

“I know,” I whispered. “I’m sorry, Jamie.” I stood still, cupping Faith’s head, rocking her with my sobs. “This is all my fault. I’m so sorry. She’s not here.”

A growl left his throat, deep and painful, but he patted the bed next to him. I sat down, facing him.

“Never say that again, Claire. Never, d’ye hear me?” Tears rolled down his cheeks, but his voice was sober. I dropped my eyes somewhere between his clavicles, ashamed. “Listen to me,” he said, authoritatively, tilting my chin up so I could see him. “Tis not yer fault. Nobody loved Faith more than ye - more than we did. More than we still do.”

He hugged us both then, and in the silence of the night, we made the perfect picture – if someone was far enough to misinterpret the painful tears with happy ones.

Two heart were beating in that room instead of three. And these two, kept a mournful rhythm, one of loss and powerlessness.

Jamie traced Faith’s face with a finger that seemed gigantic, but the way he did it was so gentle, that I thought his bones would break.

“Mo ghraidh,” he whispered, and I knew that this time he wasn’t calling me. “Hello wee one, it’s yer Da.”

And with that, with the same words he used to greet her when she was alive inside me, Jamie broke the last fragment of my heart that had remained untouched.  

We sat awake all night, telling her stories about our family. About what her life would be, if it hadn’t stopped abruptly. About her uncles and grandparents. About her cousin, who had gifted her his little yellow duck to play with, when we would bathe her. About the love that bound us all.

We stayed awake all night, in a tight embrace, wishing the sun never to come out. Wishing that a miracle would happen, and our little family would be whole again.

But the miracle had happened, and we held her in our arms. Ten fingers and ten toes. Two closed eyes, dreaming of a better world.

In the morning, we buried our Faith.