Page 24 of Together

‘Wanna come and look around?’ said Adam before he opened the door. ‘Dad picked up a fourteen-foot sailing dinghy and he’s helping me. She needs a lot of work but she’s going to be mine when we’re finished. We’ll probably be done by the time I’m thirty. It seems like everything needs to be sanded a hundred times before Dad’s happy with it.’

‘Nah.’

‘OK. See you later. Later, Mom.’

‘Don’t forget to drink water while you work,’ Emily told him. ‘Don’t let your father give you coffee. It’s dehydrating.’

‘OK.’

‘Back to school tomorrow.’

‘Yeah.’ Adam kissed her on the cheek and then he was gone, loping around the puddles of melted snow to the workshop. William put the truck in gear and Emily slid over to the passenger seat. He turned the truck around.

‘What will you do?’ Emily asked him quietly.

‘I’ll pick up my stuff. I’ve got some friends in Portsmouth.’

‘You don’t have to go.’

‘I’ll send my address when I’ve got one so you can have those statements sent out.’

‘You’ll stay to say goodbye to Adam, though, won’t you?’

‘I don’t much like goodbyes.’

He turned on the radio. Emily sighed and gazed out the window. It was beautiful in Maine when it snowed; everything white and fresh and new. But when the snow melted, it showed up the layers of dirt and sand underneath and made everything grey. The snowbanks lining the road were sad lumps of spatter. Maine didn’t have a proper spring; it went straight from winter to mud to summer. Sometimes she missed English spring days: bluebells and apple blossom and crocuses poking out their tender purple and white heads from the earth. The first daisies made into bracelets and necklaces and crowns.

She’d just left an English spring, though, and been happy to be here instead.

A woman walked along the side of the road in the dirt and muddy snow. She had slim shoulders, a cloud of curly dark hair. They passed her and Emily glimpsed a profile.

‘Polly?’ she said.

‘What?’ William was pulling a cigarette from the breast pocket of his shirt with one hand.

‘Stop the truck,’ she told him. ‘Stop.’

He pulled over and Emily opened the door and got out. The woman was wearing winter boots and an oversized winter coat that flapped over her wrists. She had stopped walking. Her hair was the same colour and texture as Polly’s, her face was the same shape, but she wasn’t Polly. She looked familiar to Emily, somehow.

There weren’t any houses around here, and no pavements to walk on: only a muddy, sandy verge by the side of the road. ‘Are you OK?’ Emily called to her.

‘Yeah, yeah, I’m fine.’ The woman wiped her face with the sleeve of her coat.

Emily walked closer to her and she saw that she was crying. She also saw the baby, strapped underneath the oversized coat, wearing a yellow bobble hat and resting against its mother’s chest. At the sight she realised how she knew this woman: she wasn’t her sister, but her patient.

‘Sarah?’ she said.

‘Oh. Oh, Dr Brandon. Oh, hello, I didn’t know it was you.’ Sarah wiped her face more hurriedly. Her nose was red and chapped.

‘I didn’t know you lived in Clyde Bay.’

‘Yeah, just . . . on Eagle Point Road.’

‘That’s a couple of miles from here. Do you need a lift?’

‘No, I’m walking. It’s . . . it’s the only way that she sleeps.’

Sarah’s eyes were rimmed with red. Her lips were cracked and her hands were unsteady.

‘She’s asleep now?’ asked Emily. ‘I’m sorry, I’ve forgotten your baby’s name.’

‘Dolores. I call her Dottie.’

The baby was snug under the coat, in its yellow knitted hat. Emily stood next to Sarah and looked down at the child. ‘That’s a pretty name.’

‘It was my mom’s.’

‘You’ve been walking to get her to sleep? All this way, by the side of the road?’

‘It’s OK. I do it all the time.’ Her voice cracked, and Emily put her hand on her shoulder. It was thin and bony beneath the stuffing of the coat. She tried to remember when she’d last seen Sarah. It was the day after she’d got the letter from her father, the day she’d decided to go to England immediately. Only a few days ago. Had Sarah looked this bad then, this worn out?

How had Emily not noticed?

‘Well,’ she said, ‘she’s asleep now. Let us give you a lift home.’

Tears were leaking from Sarah’s eyes now. A drip clung to the end of her nose. She nodded and walked with Emily to the truck. The door was still open.

‘This is my stepson, William,’ Emily told her. ‘William, can you put out that cigarette, please? Sarah’s got a baby. We’re going to take them home.’

William, evidently surprised, rolled down his window and dropped his cigarette out of it.

‘I don’t have a baby seat,’ said Sarah.

‘William will drive carefully.’ Emily got into the truck so she would sit in the middle and put out her hand to help Sarah climb up. William waited until they’d both buckled up before he put the truck into gear.

Emily gave William directions to Eagle Point Road, all the time going through Sarah’s records in her mind. First baby; single mother; father out of the picture; she’d said her mother had died. She was twenty-one. She’d needed several stitches. She’d said that Dottie cried a lot. Dottie had grizzled all through their appointment and Sarah had rocked her with an air of desperation.

How hadn’t Emily noticed it? The computer system had been playing up, her mind had been on her father’s letter . . . but she should have noticed. She should have seen this young woman’s distress.

The house was a small one, painted white, with a porch that sagged on one side. Pine trees bent over it from all sides. The drive hadn’t been shovelled since the last snowfall and the car was covered with melting lumps of snow. William pulled up.

‘Well, thanks,’ said Sarah. During the ride she’d only spoken to tell William which house was hers. She opened the door to get out.

Emily should tell Sarah to come into the office tomorrow. She should call Yvette when she got home and get her to book Sarah in and give her a call to tell her what time. She should ask some clinical questions, weigh the baby again, weigh Sarah, examine her again, and see about a prescription to help post-natal depression.

‘Do you have any coffee?’ Emily asked. ‘Or tea? I could do with a cup, if you’ve got some.’

Sarah hesitated, about to slide off the seat. ‘Um. Uh, yeah. I should have some. I think.’

‘Great. I won’t stay long.’ Emily smiled at her and Sarah’s forehead creased. But she got out of the truck, and Emily followed. She turned and leaned in toward William. ‘I could probably do with your help,’ she told him.

William also frowned. But he turned off the ignition and got out.

Sarah was heading for the house. Her feet fitted into boot-shaped prints in the snow. While she dug in the pocket of her coat for the key, Emily spoke to William. ‘Have you got a snow shovel in the back of your truck?’

‘Should have.’

‘She could do with her driveway cleared out, and her walkway. And the car. Come in for coffee after.’

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