A Gift

Lori M. Jones

“Joe, maybe we should pull over,” MaryAnn said, gripping the handle of her car door.

I think she may have said it twice before, but her words had jumbled beneath the sound of the flapping, angry wipers. It was as if we’d driven right under a waterfall, our remaining day’s light blotted out by menacing clouds and endless water. I was driving by pure faith and the guidance of an occasional flicker of red brake lights in front of me. The smell of the fresh banana nut muffins she’d baked for our trip still hung in the air.

Our nerves were a bit rattled and perhaps this trip was bad timing. We were supposed to be heading to a relaxing night away, a date night, before my job interview tomorrow. The position of Statistics Professor—my dream job—had opened up at Messiah College.

“Joe!”

“Mary, I think I’m okay.” I kept forging on, determined to get to our destination to make my wife happy, and accomplish our goal of an enjoyable evening.

I needed to take her mind off the fact that we’d suffered our fourth miscarriage a week before. And to distract her from the disappointment that we wouldn’t be telling our families happy news next week on Christmas Day, I’d booked us a room at the nicest hotel near the university and made reservations at the finest restaurant.

MaryAnn’s sadness had been overwhelming and I was desperate to ease it. Of course, I was sad too, but my grief couldn’t compare. She’d carried the babies inside of her. I had loved the idea of them, but she was the one who had held them. And she held a guilt along with it because her body, as she’d say, was the reason we couldn’t have a family. Her chances of getting pregnant were slim, and now it seemed her ability to carry a child, the doctor told us, nearly impossible. Immediately after leaving the doctor’s that day, she filled out the paperwork to begin the adoption process, yet she said it didn’t feel right. “Maybe God just doesn’t want us to be parents, Joe,” she had said through sobs that night.

“Holy… I’ve never seen rain like this. And in December.”

I couldn’t see the hood of the car let alone the pavement, but I stubbornly kept driving.

Cars were scattered along the side of road, reminders of what a fool I was being. The rain began to lighten but a new tinkling sound on the windshield alarmed us.

“It’s starting to freeze,” MaryAnn said.

“Damn.”

I lightly pumped the brakes to see if I had traction but the car swerved out of my control. Black ice.

“Damn,” I repeated, then mercifully, our tires caught again.

“Pull over,” she said in a calm, but demanding voice.

I did. There was no one else on the side of the road along this stretch. A couple other cars passed us slowly. And then it was quiet except for the sound of the rain intensifying again and transitioning into ice.

“So how long do we wait here?” MaryAnn asked, staring ahead as evening faded into night.

“I don’t know. Maybe until we see a salt truck?”

The thermometer on my dashboard showed the temperature had fallen to thirty-two degrees.

“Sir! Open your window!”

As if I needed more adrenaline coursing through my body, a man’s face appeared to my left and his loud tapping made me almost jump through the roof. The police officer’s nose was nearly touching the glass. “Josh Brady” his nametag read. I opened my window as fast as my finger could push the button.

His full beard was dripping and crusting over in ice. “There’s a car over the hill. Do you have a phone? Can you help? I totaled my car on my way to the station. Phone and radio are busted.”

He pointed over toward the woods and I could see the front of his car smashed against a tree. I noticed a small cut on his forehead, and he dabbed it with the back of his hand.

“I have no service,” MaryAnn said, pressing her thumbs all over her screen.

“The car is that way, past mine. There’s a woman unconscious in the driver’s seat.”

I popped my door open and followed the crusty-bearded officer into a ravine, slipping the whole way. Mary was behind me. “Mary, stay in the car.”

“No, I’m coming.”

I wasn’t surprised except, perhaps, that she wasn’t ahead of me.

We got to the car and she ran to the passenger side where the window was broken. Without hesitation, her arm was inside the window unlocking the door.

“Mary! The car is sliding. Get out of the way!”

She jumped into the passenger seat. The car handle slipped from my hand and the car slid further into the ravine, but onto more level ground. Now probably stuck for good in the mud.

My fearless wife reached over the woman’s big pregnant belly and opened the driver side door.

“She’s bleeding bad from her head, but she has a pulse.”

“Hello, miss, can you hear me? We are here to help you and your baby. Please open your eyes!” Even though MaryAnn was a teacher, she sounded like a trained EMT. But, then again, it was a job that probably contained some of the same field experience.

“I’m heading back to the road to get us help,” said Officer Brady. “Stay with her. There’s a rag in the backseat you can use for her wound.”

I pressed the rag into her gash. She moaned, so I said again, “Please open your eyes. We are here to help you. You’ve been in an accident.”

And magically, she opened them. Her eyes locked with mine and her pupils looked large and eerily bright black. “My water. My water broke. This isn’t my baby.”

There was no time to try to decipher what that meant.

MaryAnn mumbled, “Oh, my God,” while reaching between the air bag and the woman’s stomach, apparently searching for some lever or button to push her seat back.

I found the plastic handle before she did and yanked on it, making the seat fall backwards. My wife was still talking to the woman, who was no longer responsive.

Just then, I heard a clamoring up on the hill. Ambulances and police cars were at the officer’s wrecked vehicle and perhaps other cars that were stopped. They must not see us. I tried to gain my footing in the challenging terrain.

“Hey! Down here!” My voice sounded so small, and I feared they couldn’t hear me or see us. I ran toward them, but then I heard my wife’s pleas.

“Don’t leave us. Don’t leave us.”

The woman was awake again, but apparently from my wife’s words, not alert. MaryAnn held the woman’s hand and said, “Sarah, stay awake, stay with me. You’re going to be a mama. You’re going to want to witness this!”

Apparently, the woman’s name was Sarah.

“Thank you. For saving my life. And the baby’s. But I’m not gonna be a mama.”

And she closed her eyes. “Sarah, Sarah!” my wife yelled. Sarah looked so young to me now, like a child asleep.

Sarah moaned and her eyes opened again. She cried out. MaryAnn grabbed onto her one knee, and terrified, I took the other. My wife slid the woman’s dress up, and I instinctively looked away, but I could see out of the corner of my eye that my wife was going to work. The light from her iPhone’s flashlight was illuminating the intimate scene.

Sarah screamed out again and pulled her head toward her knees.

“I see your baby’s head!” MaryAnn yelled.

And the yelling and the pushing continued. Then MaryAnn pulled a bloody baby from between the woman’s legs, guiding it around the steering wheel.

“Oh my Lord. It’s a boy.”

I took the long white rag we’d used to stop Sarah’s bleeding and opened it up to wrap around the baby. The boy was still attached to the umbilical cord and I had no idea what to do. I was in awe of my wife, who acted as if she’d done this before.

I ran again toward the first responders by the road and screamed with all of my might.

“Down there!” one of the EMTs yelled to the others.

With thick mud on my shoes, I hurried back to join my wife who was cradling the baby boy in her arms, wrapped inside the white rag.

One of the paramedics pushed past me as another entered the car from behind my wife.

I felt so dizzy I thought I was about to faint. Within seconds, I heard the baby’s cries break through all of the chaos. What a beautiful sound.

Sarah was placed on a stretcher while my wife held the baby, now wrapped in a clean white sheet. MaryAnn looked at me and said, “Sarah doesn’t want to hold the baby.” Her eyebrows pressed toward each other in a look of dismay.

The rain had stopped and we both stood beside Sarah’s gurney after MaryAnn asked the paramedics to stop for a moment.

My wife and Sarah held hands. The baby boy was asleep in my wife’s other arm.

“The baby’s adoptive family just backed out,” Sarah explained in a rush of words. “I was on my way from seeing them. The mother found out she is now pregnant with twins and the father’s job was relocating them overseas. I was distraught. My water broke. Then the rain hit and I must’ve blacked out, but I don’t remember.” She was breathing like she was in labor again. “I just don’t know what I’m going to do now.”

We were then asked to step aside and Sarah’s gurney was loaded into the back of the ambulance. Without permission, my wife, still holding the baby, went with her.

I grabbed the arm of one of the EMTs and asked, “Can I join them… please?”

He hesitated and said, “I’ll ride up front since no one is in any medical need.”

A different paramedic joined us and we were all shut inside together. The lights were so bright, and I could now see my wife’s shirt was covered in blood. The ambulance jolted forward, taking off toward the hospital.

MaryAnn leaned closer to Sarah. “I’m so sorry the family backed out. But are you sure you want to give this baby away? We can’t have children, I can’t carry a child, and this is such a beautiful gift.”

“I’m only eighteen. My parents want me to go to college. I don’t want him.” She burst into tears. The baby whimpered too. “Would you take him, MaryAnn? We can do an independent adoption. Please. You can’t have children and he needs parents.”

The look on my wife’s face was a mix of a relief and joy I hadn’t ever seen before. It was the joy I’d wanted to see on my wife’s face for years.

MaryAnn looked at me. “Joseph. She wants us to adopt him.” Her words were breathy and slow.

“Oh, Mary… Yes, let’s do it. We can do this. But can we?”

Sarah’s cries were now cries of relief and joy and my wife was now in tears.

“Please. Please adopt him. You were meant to be here tonight. You saved us. I can pick who he goes to, and you two… you two. I mean it’s almost Christmas… and your names. Mary and Joseph? Is this even for real?”

The paramedic interrupted us. “And, you do know what town we are in, don’t you?”

I shook my head.

“Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, folks,” he said.

We gasped and laughed, and MaryAnn wiped tears from her eyes while staring down with love at the tiny baby… wrapped in swaddling clothes.

A fear of seeing my wife completely disappointed again smacked me. “Sarah, are you sure? Please… this is serious. Are you absolutely certain?”

“I’ve never been so sure of anything. You both are my heroes.”

MaryAnn rubbed Sarah’s arm as tears streamed down her cheeks. “Sarah, we would’ve never found you had it not been for the officer who pointed us toward you. Officer Josh Brady is the real hero.”

The paramedic stopped taking Sarah’s blood pressure and popped his face up, his eyes bulging from his head. “What? When did you talk to Josh Brady?”

I explained how he told us where Sarah was and asked us to help.

“Um, Joshua Brady was killed in a car accident tonight. We had just finished pulling him from his mangled car when we heard your calls for help.”

Everyone’s face went pale. My wife’s mouth hung open. She managed to say, “But we saw him. His head was bleeding and he took us to Sarah.”

“That’s impossible, ma’am. He never left that car. He died instantly.”

My wife and I looked at each other. I could tell she probably wasn’t breathing. All of my mathemat­ical skills could not make this add up.

Sarah could barely speak, choking on sobs. “Was that his ghost? His spirit? An… angel?”

Everyone just shook their heads slowly, eyes wide with disbelief, trying to absorb it all. No one said a word as we pulled into the driveway in front of the hospital.

We never left Sarah’s side and we took turns holding her hand until her parents arrived.

And one week later, we were able to share happy news with our family on Christmas Day.

We got to introduce our son to our family. Our sweet baby boy, our precious gift, Joshua Brady.