Sally had been marching up and down this steep hill every day since finishing work. Her route started and ended at the holy well. An ancient stone structure with a black caged roof, fronted by a cracked drinking fountain and an old park bench to the side.
A place of pilgrimage in the Middle Ages for its healing waters, it was halfway up or down the hill, depending on your direction of travel. Neither up nor down, Sally thought.
Its healing waters had long since dried. But it still made for a soothing spot to sit and reflect on the people who might have stopped there to drink, and what miracles they might have believed occurred.
Nowadays, it was sometimes used as a meeting place by dark-hooded teenagers smoking pot. A different kind of well-being, Sally supposed. She had smoked pot socially when she was younger but now, on the verge of motherhood, she was aware of her fast-shifting perspectives — groups of young adults smoking were something to be avoided or even reported as a nuisance, reclassified in Sally’s mind as anti-social rather than social behaviour.
At six days overdue, there were still no signs of labour whatsoever, not even any fake contractions as a teaser to the main event. The increasing number of well-meaning check-ins from friends and family were gratifying and grating at the same time, from the inquisitive “Still no sign?” and “Have you tried—” to the inane “Baby’s obviously just too comfy in there!”
Sally’s daily walk took her (slowly now) down from the well to the village high street, around the green and back to the foot of this hill — at the top of which was where she lived. She usually picked up a takeaway coffee on route; although it meant tolerating the barista who would only put one shot of coffee in her cappuccino instead of two to “regulate” her caffeine intake.
Today, she decided to rest on the bench with her hot drink. Her mouth was dry, and she was out of breath. A small bouquet of flowers lying in the fountain, as if in thanks for its times of water service, also looked parched.
Not long after sitting down, Sally became aware of something damp. It hadn’t been raining but the wet sensation was deepening, like she’d sat in a puddle. She looked down, registering in horror that her waters had broken.
“Oh no, oh no, not here!” she cried aloud, just as a teenager in a black hooded tracksuit was walking his bike past, a metal chain clanging loudly against its frame.
He, pale and stick thin, stopped and stared, wide-eyed.
Oh God, she thought, clutching her handbag. Now was not the time to get mugged or worse, mugged, filmed and shamed on social media.
Move along, Sally instructed silently, teeth clenched. Her drenched maternity trousers stuck to her like clingfilm, her huge belly tightening and expanding over the elasticated waistband. Her hair starting to mat itself to her perspiring forehead. She pictured herself as the enormous turnip from the children’s tale, needing to be heaved by medical staff to move her from this spot, and wished she could hide behind the well until this was all over.
“Are you okay?” he asked tentatively, pulling his hood down to reveal a soft, sandy mop of hair. She realised he was about half her age and reduced her internal threat level down a couple of notches.
“Not really,” she panted, manoeuvring herself upright from the bench. “My waters have just broken and I think my baby, my very late baby, has decided to arrive. Here. Now.”
“Where do you live? I can help you home if you like and call for help.”
“Just at the top of this hill. But I really don’t think I can make it.”
She bent forwards over the bench, her knuckles bright white gripping its elephant grey back; exhaling audibly through her mouth as intense contractions started sweeping through her body one after the other.
He started to get out his phone from his pocket.
“NO!” she yelled.
He looked surprised. “Um, I’m just going to call an ambulance.”
“Oh, okay. Yes. That would be great. Thank you.”
“I’ll stay with you until it arrives.”
“Oh God! I was going to have a water birth — it was the nicest room in the maternity ward when we had the tour.” Her eyes started welling up.
“Don’t worry. You’re by the well, so it’s kind of like a water birth,” the boy said smiling sheepishly, holding his phone to his ear ready to talk to the emergency services.
Right in that moment she loved him.
“They say they’ll be here any minute. Oh, and if you have any paracetamol to take it now.”
“Paracetamol?? What the actual FU— I mean, thank you for the message. ARGH!” Sally wailed. “Sorry, what’s your name?”
“Jake. I’m Sally. I hope my child is as — ARGH!”
“I can speak any more, Jake. Just. Going. To. Focus. On. Breathing.
“Can you call my husband? My phone’s in my bag.”
Jake sat down on the edge of the bench, tactfully dodging the puddle of water at their feet, found her phone in her bag and put a call on speaker to her husband.
In the background, Sally could hear a blaring siren coming closer. A moment of calm washed over her. She instinctively turned herself from the bench to the well, taking hold of its cage rails as her body began pushing out her baby, her miracle of life.
Becky Jones is a seasoned content marketer. Around work and family life, she loves to write short stories and has been published by Fairlight Books. She lives in Reading, in the UK, with her husband and two boys. For more info, visit her website: https://becky-jones.com/