“We have plenty of time.”

Sarah gasped violently, her lips puffed with a burning swell. “What do you know about birth?” She curled like a shrimp holding a pebble, stroking her enlarged stomach with hands snaked with veins. “Last time you thought there was plenty of time, we missed the wedding.”

“Eh, you didn’t want to be there anyway.” Andy waved his arm, throwing her unforgiving hospital bag over his shoulder and tucking a blanket under his thin shoulder, the fibers crusty. “Mom and Dad loved each other, not Mom and him.”

“This isn’t the wedding, Andy! I have to be there, or it’s coming to me. And you. Right now.” She made a face, looking down at her fingers where her sweatshirt stretched into blurred stripes. “Even if I don’t love it, too. You know what it’s like to be an unloved baby–”

“Stop.” He eyed her. “I’m your only chance right now, and it’s in your best interest to keep that relationship.”

“I don’t need you–” she started.

“I’d like to see you try to fit between the seat and steering wheel.”

She tightened her lips. “I hate you.”

Relations,” he reminded her.

In honesty, however, Andy was terrified. Perhaps if he remained unfazed, she would calm down, and the baby would stay out of the world for longer. Long enough for someone else to deliver it, not him; broken reaped by the broken.

And yes, Sarah was right. He knew exactly about this child’s coming neglect because he himself had been the unwanted child. His streaking dyed hair almost distracted him from the fact, calling direct attention to his rebelled nature; obviously, he couldn't have been planned by a mother named Pearl with a cream aura and teeth that had never known instant gratification.

Who would’ve asked for a child as unaccomplished as himself? No one. Especially not Pearl. Yet, that very thought was precisely what made him into nothing. For that, Andy hated Sarah too. She didn’t love the baby at all, because she didn’t love the man that had started it all. That just wasn’t fair.

Sarah pushed her damp, burning hair back, eyes thick with anger. “Leave me alone. I’ll call Paul.”

No,” Andy snapped, throwing his fist into the table as he approached her. He stopped, then softened, his knuckles red. “No. He only comes when it’s convenient, and he has been ignoring your calls since he left last night.”

“How do you know that–”

“You talk a lot when you’re in pain.”

“You don’t know anything–” Sarah cut herself short with a groan, slapping the side of her ribs and resting a palm on her hip. “Can we go?”

“Yes.” Andy continued towards her, his spine hunched to keep the bag and blanket balanced on his side. Grabbing her wrist, a white-inked tattoo waving a dove’s beak past his sleeve, he pulled her from the chair.

“Slow down,” Sarah gasped, squeezing his fingers until the vessels might pop like the holy being that once kneeled in Gethsemane, blood swelling from every pore. “I’m carrying two here.” Her legs moved like an elephant, wide and weighted.

Unfortunately lacking precision, however. Pain is blinding.

Fear is worse.

Andy caught her against the crumbling brick wall as she missed a step out the front door, her toes scratching against a smashed glass bottle.

“Nice welcome mat,” Andy muttered, sarcasm dripping.

“Well, I’m not quite the designer.”

That was a lie though because they both knew that before the baby, Sarah would move furniture about just for the fact that “It didn’t look right anymore”. She forgot that now. That’s the only way she would allow the floor to be littered with shards of danger and crinkling advertisements stained by strong drinks. Even the blinds of escape were bleached closed by a sun that only touched the outside, never seeing within.

It was Paul's fault, but also hers, for allowing herself to be molded by what she had mistaken as love.

She would’ve been a better mother before the baby.

Sarah yelped as she dropped into the passenger seat, slapping Andy’s hand away instinctively. “That hurts!”
 His long fingers curled away as he slammed the door. “Not my fault.”

She groaned with a hissing scream through the cracked window. He was right, and she knew it, but she had to be angry at something, rather than everything. Her whines disappeared for a moment as Andy rounded the car, then jerked open the driver’s door.

“Breath, okay?” Andy suggested as his knees hit the steering wheel to sit.

Sarah gasped with eyes wide as golf balls at his position, just as the engine coughed awake beneath the turning key. “You can’t drive!”

“I’m not going to ask someone else in this rusty trailer park to drive us, and I can drive.” He switched the car into reverse. “I just choose not to.” His foot slammed the gas pedal.

Sarah yelped and caught herself on the door frame, their momentum swinging towards the street. “Now you do?”

Andy aggressively smashed his palm to drive the vehicle forward, suppressing outbursts. “Sarah, don’t even get started on things you now do.” He eyed her stomach which hid her seatbelt like a slumped water balloon. “That is not something that is done.”

The right wheel hit a ditch, jolting her coming protests to silent whimpers. Small tears collected on her lashes like morning dew. This time, though, the beginning was easier than the end.

“Left, left, left,” she whispered quickly, her mouth rolling slightly with a pain that was different than before.

When Andy steered in the direction and glanced towards her, brows lowered at the hushed tone, he saw a face that didn’t belong to her: fear, and genuine despair, pulling at her eyes.

“What’s wrong?” Andy demanded, blood sinking in his face. “What is it?”

She grunted. “It hurts.”

Andy shook his head. “Well, I think it’s supposed to. It did before.”

“Not like this.” Sarah swallowed. “This is…”

She stopped.

“How would you know?” Andy asked, more bitter than he intended.

She glared at him, the gaze burning into his slick cheekbone. “Yeah, well, how would you know?”

“There you are.”

After waves of groans and yelping accusations, questioning who was truly at the right to drive, which was invalid in all senses of reality except for Sarah’s deep frustration with the road’s imperfections, Andy slammed the brakes until the tires screeched to a stop in front of the violently bright hospital doors.

Sarah, from her slumped position, looked over the car door through the window. “Aren’t they supposed to come meet us?”

“This isn’t a movie.”

“You’re supposed to call them, I think.” She looked at him with an accusing expression. “Did you call them, Andy?”


Sarah groaned. “Andy!”
 He stepped out of the car. “I’m sorry, but did you call them?”

She threw her fingers toward her stomach. “I’m not calling 9-1-1 on myself–”

Andy slammed his door behind him, then hurried around the rusted hood to open hers. She rolled out, her legs moving quickly, but her unborn baby holding her upper body down. She seemed weaker.

“I can’t.”

“Sarah.” Andy looked at her firmly. “You have carried that baby for almost nine months now. Don’t tell me you can’t walk a few more steps so that I don’t have to carry you.” He paused. “Are you the type of person to wander the entirety of a supermarket, but the moment you get to the parking lot–” he threw his finger down expressively, “–not another step. You leave the shopping cart right in another parking spot.

“No.” She took a deep breath, then heaved herself forward, catching Andy’s shoulder. “Go. Just go.”

Andy kicked the door closed and led Sarah forward through the automatized doors that hissed their entrance as an announcement to the nurses behind the front desk. They glanced up lazily, before slapping their feet to the floor into a panicked run. Sarah’s face and body shape were enough to know help was needed.

“This woman is in labor!” a nurse cried, taking Sarah from Andy’s hold like a competing gentleman at a ball. She twisted her head back. “Page Dr. Bellist!”

Andy hurried after them, Sarah’s head swaying between nurses until finally ducking into a room. A nurse stopped him from entering with a hand on his chest. “Only the father.”

“I’m her brother–”

“Unless she specifically requests for you, you cannot be in here.”

“I’ve been here more than that baby’s father!” Andy boomed, stepping forward. “It deserves–”

The nurse pushed him back with a stern force, stronger than expected for her size. She looked up at him. “It is the mother’s choice.”

“Sarah!” he shouted, pushing forward again. Motions echoed from inside, white gowns and shouting voices flashing like a flock of hunted swans. He leaned towards it.

“Sir!” the nurse gasped, holding her ground.

“Ask her,” Andy demanded, looking at her. “Ask Sarah. She’ll let me in.”

“Okay.” She pushed his chest back and grabbed the door. “You have to sit out there for now.”

Andy hesitated, then stepped away. “Fine.” He nodded and paced away, rubbing his face. “Fine.”

The door clicked next to his ear. He slapped the sides of his head and dropped into a chair–as if he was just some visitor.

He waited.

After a few minutes, the pale door opened, and Andy jumped to his feet.

“She only wants the father,” the nurse told him softly, his eyes apologetic. “I’m sorry, but you need to stay here.”


“I’m sorry.”

His face flushed. “She– no, but… you– I don’t–”

“I’m here!” a familiar, dark voice filled the hall behind Andy. He recognized him before he saw the shadow of bleached blonde hair and the fiery flames of ink on his chest, half-tucked behind a low-cut shirt.

“Who are you?” the nurse demanded.

“Paul.” His shoulder brushed Andy. “The father.”

She nodded and waved him in. “I’m going to need to see some I.D. but come in. The mother may identify you as well. Who called you–”

“I don’t want to come in.”

The nurse stuttered with a stare. “What?”

“I want to wait outside.” His chin hardly flinched with his lips, the skin porous and hairy. “I don’t want to be with her.”

“She asked for you.”

“I don’t want to be there.”

“Are you sure?” He was. “Well, knock if you change your mind.”

The door swung closed behind her, leaving the two men in the hall together.

Andy lurched from the side, smashing Paul’s head against the door frame with heavy fingers wrapped around his skull.

“You get to be there with her, and you choose to stand on the side. Like the bloody coward you always are.” Andy stumbled away, shaking out his fist. His bones trembled. “It deserves better.”

Paul rolled his jaw and straightened to look, eyes pink with pain. “I didn’t ask for it.”

Andy screamed, jumping for him again. Paul tossed him aside with a thick arm built from carrying families out of fires. Why couldn’t that arm comfort his own woman? Carrying his family?

Sometimes, it’s easier to save strangers than family, because at least responsibility will not last a lifetime. Paul knew he would have to stay as a father forever if he stood in that room. He wasn’t ready to be that rock for anybody.

Andy twisted back but Paul knocked him back with a punch to the throat. He choked, holding his neck as his vision swayed at the licking fire tattoo in front of him.

Such angelic hair–nearly purer than gold–but Paul carried a second choice: to sacrifice. For that, Paul was an angel from hell. Perhaps if he had gone into the room, something may have been different.

Sarah might have been stronger if he had been.

The room door opened. Much time must have passed with their fighting, as the light through the windows was now darker than before—nearly absent. Their uninterrupted brawl of anger should’ve been the first sign that something much deeper was wrong.

They were not the hospital’s attention.

“Are you the father?” a whisper from the opened door of the room drifted above them.

The pair, intertwined on the floor with running noses and sore fists, stumbled to their feet. A nurse waited, not patiently but rather absently, with regret in her brows.

“Yes,” Andy answered between heavy breaths. “Yes, he is.”

Paul nodded, wiping his mouth.

“The mother is gone. With the baby. I’m very sorry.”

Andy’s knees buckled before the realization of cold water traced his spine. Blood drained into his heels, leaving his face cold and broken. Seeing the misery in the nurse’s eyes, he dropped to the floor without any doubt that it was true. A tight sob escaped his tightening lips.

“What?” Paul’s face, for the first time, was revealed with distraught shock. “Can I see her–”

“She’s gone.” The nurse eyed his disheveled appearance, then shook her head once, taking a side-step to allow him in. “We’re out of time. While you were fighting, she was fighting for her life.”

The motion was gone behind her. Andy, from his hunched position, barely raised his head enough to see the somber forms of medical professionals that could not save either patient. He groaned and dropped his forehead into the cold tile, creasing his brows for the brimming tears.

Two men in the looming hallway, subtle shadows grew into pointing fingers of blame. Guilt.

See, Paul, with the burning tattoo on his revealed chest, was a man of sacrifice. With time, without even thinking about it at all, he sacrificed his family. Sarah, and that unborn child. His violently bright hair should’ve made him good luck, but that wasn’t his choice. That wasn’t his luck.

Andy, with his own tattoo of those lucky doves, could’ve saved her. He did as he knew, leaving her to the hospital. Perhaps, though, it would’ve been better that he delivered the baby himself. Then he wouldn’t have been interrupted–or rather he wouldn’t have gotten involved--by Paul. Sacrifice and rescue, luck and choice, nature and consequence.

They would never know.

But there are angels in hell, right?

Written: March 2022

A.R. Hansen

Author of Battle of the Mind