Can you have sex accidentally?
This was the question that occurred to Miranda as she looked back on that fateful afternoon. One minute she was weeping to her cousin’s friend Dean that she was infertile and that Hugh didn’t love her anymore; her life at the advanced age of 25 was more or less over. The next minute, well, the deed was done.
Not that she was complaining about the speed, mind you. No, it was a highly satisfying romp on the pool table in the guest house in the backyard. The rain was falling hard and singing in its wordless way—sheets of music coming down all around them—when he swept her into his arms, said there now, doll and covered her lips with his. After that it was all desperation and longing and warmth and breathlessness mixed together against a background of green felt.
She had loved him for years, she had to admit. Square-jawed and blue-eyed, Dean had come to her attention when she was only eight and he sixteen. He played football and wore a leather letter jacket and became an Eagle Scout while she gaped and admired from a safe distance in her straggly hair and crooked glasses, as awkward as he was flawless to a painful degree.
Stunned and slightly bruised, they sat up on the table, looked at one another, and begun to laugh nervously. No, they had definitely not planned on this happening. It was simply an accident due to overflowing emotion, rampant sympathy, and no small bit of latent attraction.
For everyone acknowledged that she was no longer awkward; the motion of time had been kind, tumbling her about and removing the hard angles, and she had come out the other side of puberty with a softness and beauty beyond what her former self could have hoped for.
Yes. She nodded absent-mindedly. It had definitely been an accident. And they were so very sorry it happened. Sorry it hadn’t lasted longer, mostly. So they remedied that with another go, long and slow and passionate this time, until all energy was spent and her mind was a beautiful blank. She had lain in his arms for an hour until her phone buzzed with a message from Hugh, wondering where she had gone and what the fuck was he supposed to eat for dinner. They scrambled to sort out clothing, promising to meet again the next day.
But that didn’t happen. Dean stepped off a curb in downtown Mobile that evening (daydreaming of their liaison, she liked to think) and was struck by a city bus. He died instantly, leaving Miranda with only the memory of that sweet encounter, a newfound affection for rainstorms, and the unexpected and delightful revelation that she was finally pregnant.
The depression that became Tropical Storm Pat blew up faster than any other storm in the history of the Gulf, local meteorologists said. In almost no time the tranquil waters became a seething, dark kettle of doom for anyone unlucky enough to be caught in it, which was at least fourteen shrimp boats, eight trawlers, and twenty-one vacationers in various yachts, sailboats, and motor craft.
Miranda couldn’t say with any certainty whether she went into labor because of the weather, or if the storm began after contractions started. At any rate, she knew she was in trouble. Hugh was packing the car to evacuate in case the word was given that the gale had strengthened to hurricane standards and he was in no mood to be told she needed a ride to the hospital.
She paced the floor of the living room, breathing deeply through each pain, hoping this was a false alarm like so many similar scenarios in the past few weeks. When the next contraction caused a light sweat to break out over her forehead, however, she knew this was no dry run. She had to tell Hugh.
“No way, Miranda!” he shouted, the vein in his neck standing out in an alarming way. “You’ve done this a million times over the past week; I am not going through it again, not with this weather! Just go lay down or take an aspirin or something!”
The radio blaring from the front seat of the BMW stopped playing classic rock and the familiar drone of a weather alert began.
Tropical Storm Pat has been upgraded to a level 3 hurricane. Evacuation is recommended. Landfall is expected in five hours. Clarke, Baldwin, Mobile, Washington…
As the computerized voice continued listing affected counties, Miranda’s water broke with a resounding splash on the brick driveway, narrowly missing Hugh’s gleaming Del Toros. He leapt back, staring at her in barely restrained terror, swearing with more creativity than she previously credited him, which was considerable. She stood, dripping, and stared at the turbulent sky with consternation.
“Go get your things,” he ordered, his voice suddenly cold and strangely calm. “And bring plenty of towels. I don’t want your goddam ooze on my leather seats.”
Driving through the pouring rain, they arrived at Mobile Regional in ten minutes. Pulling up to the emergency room doors with tires squealing, Hugh turned to her with eyebrows raised. She opened the door and heaved herself out with some difficulty, turning back to him pleadingly as the wind whipped her maternity dress around her legs. She grabbed at it before it flew completely over her head.
“Are you sure you’re not going to come in?”
Her lip trembled unexpectedly and she bit it, hard. Hugh hated emotional outbursts.
“Hell no! I already told you! There’s no covered parking! Do you have any idea what hail does to a car? I’m heading up to Dale’s. That should be far enough from the damage path.”
As if confirming his fears, the storm began to hurl rain more forcefully than before, the drops hitting the pavement and awning so hard they bounced. He swore again.
“Get out! Get your shit and get in the hospital. You’ll be fine; they have all the crap they need for this kind of thing. I’ll be back when it blows over.”
Miranda pulled the back door open, grabbed her small suitcase, and headed through the sliding doors of the ER, turning back to wave at her husband, who was already out of sight in the driving rain.
The staff and faculty at the hospital endured plenty of hurricanes and their kin over the decades, but even the most weathered among them marveled over the strength and rapidity with which Hurricane Pat arrived. Faster than meteorologists had anticipated, the storm charged ashore and the whole earth seemed to tremble beneath its feet. In the birthing room, Miranda hardly noticed.
“Push, dear! Push!” the OB nurse instructed, as though Miranda was sipping tea and reading a book. “There’s his little head. Push!”
At that moment the entire hospital was plunged into darkness and there were slight, involuntary screams from the hallways as people groped for something to hang onto and the gale rattled the windows. A half-second later the hospital generators kicked on and an eerie half-glow replaced the glaring fluorescents.
“Holy God,” Miranda’s obstetrician swore under his breath. “What else is going to happen?”
Miranda, heedless to the commotion and turmoil outside her window and the consternation of the staff around her, pushed with all the strength she possessed and not a small amount more, and the baby slid into the sure hands of her doctor. Suctioning him extensively and rubbing him vigorously on the warming table, the nurses worked to elicit a response from the small limp body as Miranda held her breath and fought tears once more.
The wind shrieked beside her and the lightening flashed as she glanced up and saw a man standing in the doorway. For a moment she thought it was Hugh, but her heart leapt and she cried out as she realized it was Dean. He was smiling at her as tears rolled down his cheeks and in the instant thunder clapped hard enough to stop her heart, he disappeared.
From the warming table a wail rose up, beautiful and piercing, and the lights flickered back on.
Miranda, crying with relief and joy, stretched her hands out and pleaded to hold the small bundle, which was passed to her almost quickly enough to alleviate her fears.
Outside, Hurricane Pat downgraded suddenly to a gentle rain and nothing more, to the amazement of the entire population of Alabama and surrounding states. Meteorologists everywhere defended their reputations with little success, although the heavy rain did cause enough flash-flooding to console the most passionate viewers of The Weather Channel. In the hospital, the entire basement was full of water and the storm was said to have stopped just before the first floor was inundated. In Miranda’s room on the sixth level, she was heedless to all but her fine and perfect son.
“Noah,” she cooed to his wee wrinkled face. “Noah. How’s my perfect little man? How is he today?”
“Great name for a baby born during a flood,” the nurse muttered as she took it down for records. ”Father’s name?”
Miranda paused, temporarily confused, and flushed a deep crimson as she realized she had almost spoken Dean’s name.
“Hugh. Hugh Collins.”
Truthfully, she had almost forgotten about her husband, as her heart was so completely inundated with love for the child she had borne. She remembered Hugh’s words about coming back later and wondered when, exactly, that would be. She hoped it was a long time. She felt no guilt, and then felt guilty for it.
The baby grew fussy and she fumbled to put him to her breast, marveling that something so natural could be so damn difficult. By the time he successfully attached she dripped with sweat but leaned back against her pillows and sighed with contentment. The nurse smiled.
“You’re both really taking to it now, aren’t you?” she commented. “I never had much luck with it myself, but I’m always happy to see somebody succeed.”
Leaning over the pair, she lightly stroked Noah’s fuzzy head. “He sure is a cute one, I must say. I’ve seen a lot of babies, you know, and this one, well. He’s just prettier than they usually come out!”
Miranda could not, and naturally never would, argue. Her boy was finer than she had ever dreamed.
Hugh arrived early in the morning the next day and strolled cheerfully through the maternity ward, winking at nurse and handing out redolent Havana cigars.
“A boy, you hear? A boy! Course I wouldn’t have expected any less, you know. My boys know how to make boys!” he boomed, his deep voice travelling down every corridor.
Miranda drew the covers tightly around herself and hoped she looked pleasant enough. She smoothed the blankets to make certain the bloodstained pad beneath her was thoroughly covered. He wouldn’t like to see that, she knew. She wished briefly but fervently that she spent a little more time on her makeup, but snuggling with Noah was so much more appealing.
Hugh would want her to look her best; she should always look her best for him. At least, that’s what he’d been telling her since the day they met.
Never mind, here he was in the doorway, filling the frame, and he strode towards her with a smile that seemed almost sincere, thrusting a cigar at her, which she took timorously.
“Look, I saved one for you,” he chuckled.
She relaxed one iota, only to become alarmed again as he bent over the sleeping bundle and began rapidly unwinding his swaddled form.
“What are you doing?” Miranda asked, uncertain whether to be alarmed or pleased that her disinterested husband should be so intent upon the newborn. He said nothing but continued clumsily unwrapping the baby, whistling an aimless tune.
As the last bit of blanket unknotted itself, the baby gave a start, reflexively threw his spindly arms out and began to wail. Miranda reached for him but Hugh knocked her hand away.
“Determined to make a mama’s boy out of him already, are you?” he sneered. “Not my son. If he is my son.”
Miranda’s heart began to beat in an unnatural rhythm. There was simply no way Hugh could know. Not possible. No one knew. She strove to make her face a mask of bewilderment and indeed, it was not difficult. He seemed intent on finding some damning evidence on the baby himself, turning Noah this way and that, and becoming more agitated by the second. He even went so far as to peer into the tiny patch of plastic that passed for a diaper, baby loudly protesting, before releasing him roughly and straightening up.
“Hugh, I don’t…”
With that she was nearly knocked off the bed by the back of her husband’s hand. Her ears rang as she sought to right herself, the entire room spinning. From a long way off she heard the baby’s wail become a hysterical shriek and this sound alone enabled her to gather her wits.
Hand over her burning cheek, she stared in terror at the man looming over her as he exposed his sizeable bicep and pointed to a small dark stain she had never noticed before.
“Every man in my family for ten generations has had this birthmark, you bitch; this mark, look at it!”
He grabbed her face in his hand and shook her. “This mark, it’s on us at birth, somewhere, like a goddam fucking oracle, you hear me? A testimony to fidelity, woman, and you–” He roared louder than before as she grabbed blindly for the nurse call button and pressed it frantically.
“You cheating whore.”
His fist flew, connecting soundly with her right eye and causing an explosion of pain to rocket through her whole body. She flew from the bed and crumpled against a recliner in the corner of the room. Noah shrieked and flailed his limbs as the bed tipped over, tossing him to the cold linoleum with a sickening thud. Sobbing and pleading for mercy, Miranda crawled to her son and gathered him up as Hugh wrenched the bed aside and descended upon them.
Nurses and orderlies filled the room, drawn by both the call button and the specter of violence, and chaos reigned as shouts of outrage and distress mixed with Hugh’s bellowing. Orderlies flew like bowling pins as Hugh vented his rage and succeeded in breaking several bones. Finally, a timely injection of a potent sedative by a particularly nimble nurse brought the man down like an oversized rag doll.
After his large, doped form had been dragged from the room, Miranda was examined and treated for an orbital fracture and bruised ribs. Being composed primarily of softness and fluff, Noah was unharmed, and with his mother’s breast as comfort he was quickly asleep once more.
Miranda, on the other hand, wept until late into the night, clasping her bandaged ribs tightly and rocking with the sorrow of the inconsolable. Her husband would be put in jail, no doubt, hopefully for a long time, but the terror of him would never fully recede, not while he was alive, not while she could feel the weight of his fury bearing down upon her, not as long as she had a son to protect.
As she sobbed into the swaddled child, however, she swore she felt an arm around her and smelled the warm scent of leather and heard the gentle words “there now, doll.” Though she knew she was simply imagining Dean because she needed him so badly, she still felt better; his strength became her own.
When the room grew pale with the cold blue of early morning, her tears ebbed away and the fear was replaced with an outrage that grew like the sunrise. How dare the man threaten the safety of this miracle, this baby stretching and cooing in her arms? How dare he come at her like she was some kind of animal when he was the animal—he was the brutal thing that was ruled by only the most rudimentary of emotions: jealousy and fear.
No. She would not be afraid of him. Though she trembled within, she would clad herself in steel and do whatever needed to be done. Bathed in early morning gold, she watched the sun rise and drank in that peculiar newborn perfume emanating from her son’s tiny form.
She felt as though she was being born again, her very DNA was rearranging itself. What once allowed for submissive naiveté reformed into the determined ferocity that gave women the world over the reputation of a mother bear. She breathed deeply and wiped her eyes for the last time. If Hugh came looking for trouble, he would find it. She would make sure of that.