Story: The Tide – Part One
THE TIDE is an original story from local retired midwife CAROLYN DENMAN. Look out for the second instalment soon.
The old stone bridge appeared ahead and Jill knew a moment of panic.
I’m driving too fast. She braked; the car swerved just avoiding the stonework.
Slow down.She tried to calm the sense of urgency that gripped her. The tide was coming in. Would she get there in time?
Overhead a gale shredded the clouds into long, grey streamers. The air smelt damp with the threat of rain. At 7pm the roads were deserted, encouraging Jill to put her foot down as the tarmac unwound in front of her. It was still daylight – which would make getting across to the island easier.
All their careful planning had come to nought. Jed should have been there with the boat, but he had gone to help a neighbouring farmer, leaving his pregnant wife, Carol, alone. At 37 weeks of pregnancy, Carol hadn’t anticipated going into labour.
“I thought it was a false alarm,” she’d said, when she telephoned Jill. “Just uncomfortable practice contractions, I thought, so I ignored them.”
“How long have you been having contractions?” Jill listened as Carol narrated details of her labour.
“At least four hours now. They’ve become awfully strong all of a sudden. And painful. My back’s killing me, and the baby feels very low.”
“Don’t worry; it’s only a 20-minute drive for me. Will we need the boat?”
“Jed’s not here. He’s gone to help Brian Hepplethwaite with a cow that’s gone down. Brian’s new to farming and not sure about doing the calcium and he can’t afford unnecessary vet bills.”
“Is the tide out? I can walk across.”
“It’s coming in, about halfway. I’ve rung and rung Jed. There can’t be a signal. What are we to do? I can’t give birth alone.”
“I’ll wade across.”
“You’ll get wet, but please come, Jill, I’m scared.”
“I’m on my way. I’ll bring dry clothes to change into. Don’t panic, it will be okay.”
“Please be quick.”
“Will do. Now whatever you do, don’t get into the bath.”
“Why not? I was thinking it might help with my backache.”
“Not until I arrive. It could speed up the birth.
Jill slowed the car as she turned onto the grass car park at the top of the cliff. Driving with care she moved forward down the gently sloping field almost to the edge of the cliff. She tried to open the car door, but a fierce gust of wing slammed it shut again.
What a wild night, I hope I can get across all right?
Jill chewed on her lower lip as she shoved at the door, forcing it open. Her hair swirled around her face. She pushed it out of her eyes with an impatient hand. Walking around to the boot, she looked out to sea. The bay was wild with white waves rushing and foaming inwards.
Gosh, how far has the tide come in? I wish I could see.
Opening the boot lid, glad that the wind was coming off the sea, Jill reached for her bag and the heavy box containing her Entonox equipment.
I’ll need the scales too. And another Entonox cylinder. My bag of spare clothes. Heavens! How am I going to carry it all? Slinging her bag of clothes over her shoulder, Jill picked up her midwifery bag in her left hand and the Entonox box in her right.
The spare cylinder will have to go in my shoulder bag, she thought.
Putting everything down again so she could put the blue and white cylinder of gas in with her clothes made the bag a heavy weight. Reluctantly, she accepted that there was no way she could carry the scales as well. Jill faced into the wind and walked with care to the top of the steps leading down to the beach.
Jill loved this beach with its estuary. She often came here with her dogs; they enjoyed swimming in the deep stream, which ran through the middle of the estuary to meet the sea. The beach was unfrequented, the sand a bright creamy white full of shells. Black rocks in staggered layers marched in lines towards the sea making swimming dangerous. Around the corner, the bay broadened out and the sea came tranquilly up its length. Jill often swam there once the tide was in. It was a scenic walk at low tide with the island on the other side. Jill would walk with her dogs along the estuary, until the sand turned to mud and she had to retreat. At low tide, you could paddle through the stream to reach the island without difficulty.
When Carol decided on a home birth, it had seemed there would be no problem getting there. Jed, being a farmer, was always near home, so available to bring the boat across the bay to pick up the midwives for the birth. Now, as Jill staggered down the steps with the wind buffeting her, she wondered how she could have been so sanguine about it.
It was a cold April evening, but there was still plenty of light. Reaching the beach, Jill paused for breath looking over to the right. The tide had already covered what she could see of the estuary. Her feet sank into the sand as she walked forward, rounding the first row of black rocks.
Tucking in her chin to avoid the full force of the wind. Jill peered ahead, eyes watering, but she couldn’t see how far the tide had come up on the right. Swapping her light bag to her right hand, Jill hefted the Entonox box with left. Time was critical, but big impatient strides only made the sand sink beneath her feet and impede her feet.
“Bum, bum, bummer.” She swore under her breath and slowed her pace. After some minutes, Jill rested her back against the tall rock beside her, looking out at the swirling sea. The sky was turning black and the waves, mirroring the sea, looking malevolent. Jill shivered, feeling anxious as well as cold.
The turbulent waves reared up and crashed back into the sea with a spectacular display of frothing white. With a determined effort, Jill walked towards the corner of the cliff. Shingle slid into her sensible laced shoes making her stagger under her burdens. She was glad to turn her back on the wind as she rounded the corner. She dropped the heavy Entonox box as she looked along the estuary. The tide was higher than she expected. Already halfway up, the stream was submerged in the sea’s turbulence.Everywhere looked grey as the light faded; even the leaves on the thrashing branches on the other side of the water. Jill tried to estimate how deep the water was where she had thought to cross.
Bother, it looks as though it will be already up to my waist. Of course, I swim well, but not with all this equipment. Should I ring the police for help or the coastguard? But how long before they could send a boat?
Her shoulder bag was digging into her skin, hurting. Involuntarily, Jill gripped her bag even tighter.
Walk up the estuary, where the water is shallower, get a move on.
She strode forward along the sloping ground, which dipped down towards the hidden stream. Here and there, the odd small rock stuck out of the sand as well as brown, trailing seaweed. The wind pushed at her back with unexpected force. The sea flung itself in her direction and Jill leapt onto a rock.
Heavens! It’s rough. Getting wet’s not going to be much fun.
Jill moved fast down the slope towards the swollen stream. The ground was becoming muddy rather than sandy and Jill knew she’d gone as far as she could without getting into trouble.
Dropping her burdens on the ground out of reach of the water, Jill unlaced her shoes. Taking them off, she glanced around before pulling her tights down in one swift movement. She grimaced as she eased her feet out of them, they were already muddy. Bundling them up, she tied the shoelaces of her shoes together and strung them around her neck.
They hung awkwardly on each side of her chin.
She grinned, there must be a touch of madness in my family.
Lifting up her equipment she stepped into the water. It enveloped her feet and ankles in an icy deluge. Wincing as small pebbles in the surface dug into her feet, Jill walked down the slope. A wave surged past her bringing the water up to her knees.
Jill paused, then moved into the foaming sea, gasping as she found herself thigh deep and cold. Her mobile rang; ignoring it, she looked ahead at the hundred yards of water separating herself from her labouring mum. Taking a big step forward, Jill felt her foot slid down through the mud. She toppled backwards and fell full length in the water. All her equipment fell too.
(Ooooh….can’t wait for Part Two. Will the midwife make it in time? – Kitty)