Lisa struggles onto all fours again. With one hand she pulls clumsily at her clothes. After a moment I push her hands aside and help her pull her skirt out of the way. Embarrassment only lasts a moment--there's no time for any of that now. I hold her hand and pull her around so that she's leaning back against me. I can feel her whole body tighten with each contraction.
"It's coming," she says. "I can feel it."
And sure enough when I check a few minutes later the head is visible. The sight sends a thrill of horror through me. The dim green light from the top of the buoy reflects brightly off something that might be blood. Lisa screams at the top of her lungs, the sound of it tearing the night.
"It's okay," I say. And I'm strangely calm, even here in the midst of everything. Nothing's quite gone to plan, but it's happening now, after months of waiting, and what will be will be. "You have to push," I say.
Lisa slumps back against me, nodding weakly, panting. "It really hurts," she says. I feed her a small sip of juice from the tin, and then another contraction comes and she's screaming again, screaming so loud I'm sure her throat must tear. The green light pulses steadily through her pain, and I hold her, trying somehow, vainly to take some of that pain into myself, to do whatever I can to bring her through her agony.
And then suddenly, the head is out. I seize one of the towels and support the fragile little thing as gently as I can. In the dim light I can't make out anything but the shape of a head. I wonder vaguely, terribly, why it isn't making any noise...
"You're almost there," I say. "Just one more push. Just a little more..."
"I can't," gasps Lisa, sounding exhausted. "I can't do it." But then a look of pain crosses her face and she grits her teeth once more and with the next contraction the body slips quickly out. I scoop it up in the towel, astonished by how small and light it is. But something's wrong: it's barely moving, silent. I thought babies cried when they were born?
Lisa is lying back with her eyes shut, shaking. "Do...do you..." she manages.
"I've got--" I take a moment to check in the next dim pulse of light. "I've got her."
Lisa holds out her hands, and I pass over the small, silent bundle. Each moment seems terribly long, filled with nothing but the noise of the ocean slapping against the hull, a tide of dread rising rapidly in me like bile.
No. Not this. Not after all this time.
Lisa takes the baby girl and holds her against her chest. And I wait. I wait, breathless, uncertain. And everything, for a moment hangs suspended.