Looking out through the ambulance window is like looking through the side of a spinning zoetrope, the dark countryside cut up, run off in rippling blue panels of detail. We’re a long way out now. The road leans and turns, banked up steeply on either side with trees, stone walls, the sudden shock of a lighted window, a figure pressed back in a hedge, everything snapped and gone before you’ve really seen it, whilst high around us, beyond the manic play of our lights, bearing down like a wave, the massy black curve of the downs.
‘Half a mile. Should have its hazards on.’
The notes tell us the baby’s head is crowning.
‘Five hundred yards.’
And then we see it, tucked over in a passing place, an estate car with its lights flashing, the front doors open.
Frank puts the ambulance behind it, shielding it from the bend, and leaves the scene lights on. I hurry out of the truck to the passenger side of the car, whilst he fetches out the maternity pack.
Melissa is half-lying back on the seat that her husband Seth has wound down as far as he can. She is holding a glistening baby to her breast, wrapped in a bath towel; Seth is sitting sideways in the driver’s seat, his arms outstretched around the two of them.
‘Thank God. Thank God,’ Melissa says, her lips cracked and dry. ‘I don’t know what to do.’
‘Is it a boy or a girl?’ says Seth.
‘Let’s have a look. It’s a boy!’
‘Hello Eli,’ she says. ‘Welcome to the world.’
Eli squalls and hollers, bunching his wrinkled mitts in his face, blindly fumbling towards her breast.
More blue lights; a police car pulls up behind our ambulance.
‘A driver rang saying he’d heard screaming in a lay-by,’ says a police woman, striding over then hanging back, rising up on her toes for a peek, smiling.
‘Ahh!’ says her mate.
‘This is hilarious, ridiculous,’ says Seth. ‘I never imagined anything like this.’
‘Everything’s fine. You’re doing brilliantly.’
‘What happens now? I just don’t know what to do,’ says Melissa.
‘You’ve done it, Melissa. You’ve given birth to a beautiful little boy. All we need do is get ready to deliver the placenta. We’re ready to clamp the chord now - look. Would you like to cut it, Seth?’
I hand the scissors to him, he makes two or three snips, and the chord is through. I give him a couple of clean white blankets; he takes Eli out of the soiled towel, wraps him up snugly, then hands him back into Melissa’s arms again to suckle. After ten minutes I try to help the placenta along by rubbing up some contractions; Melissa begins to moan harder and push, and eventually in a slow gush of blood and liquor, the placenta flops out into my hands. I put it into a bowl and pass it back to Frank. I wave a bloody glove in the air at the two police women, and they wave back.
Five minutes later we’re posing for photos at the back of the ambulance. Seth’s camera gets passed around, variations on angles and backgrounds, but central to it all, Melissa and Eli enthroned on the trolley, the baby happily suckling, and a pale host of moths tumbling around us through the night.
A car drives past, slows briefly, speeds up.
‘What must they think?’ laughs Seth.
‘A major incident.’
‘A little miracle.’
‘We’d better get off.’
Whilst we load the trolley Seth packs the child seat back in the car and makes himself ready to follow.
We leave the police women standing by their patrol car, speaking into their radios, as we set off in convoy for the hospital.