The risk from the start
Five-year-old Andrew-Jack shook his father.
“Daddy I’m hungry!”
“Andrew-Jack Palmer stop it I told you do not wake Daddy yet!”
9-year-old Sarah stormed into the sitting room where their father slept and grabbed her younger brother’s arm.
“But I’m hungry Sarah!”
“I’ll make you something, just don’t go bothering Dad, the twins kept him up most of the night!”
Jackson Andrew Palmer [Jack] rubbed the heels of his hands in his eyes and tried to focus.
“It’s okay Sarah, couldn’t sleep much anyway!” Jack replied rubbing his temple.
His head throbbed from the half bottle of whiskey he had consumed the night before and disturbed night’s sleep his twin daughters treated him to, seemed he couldn’t even drown his sorrows in peace.
“Dad I’m starving!”
“You’re always starving Andrew-Jack. Give me a second!”
“Dada!” garbled 1-year-old Gracie.
“Hey, sweetie! How can you be awake so early? He asked, “Seems you and your sister barely slept”.
But at least she made attempts at talking unlike her over clingy twin sister. Alexia who had jumped up on his chest threw her arms around his neck and wailed in her usual high-pitched frequency straight into his right ear.
Jack jerked away and winced.
“Jeez, Lexi enough! Please, why can’t you talk to me!”
He groaned as he sat up and prised Alexia’s vice grip arms from his neck and set her on the floor.
Alexia protested with one of her favourite acts; clinging to his leg and whimpering. Jack scrubbed his face in his hands and winced at the throbbing pain in his head as he stopped himself from blowing a fuse at the whimpering toddler, reminding himself that she was only a baby and she had to fight to get attention because there was no one else to give that attention to her.
Jack pursed his lips and gulped to clear the lump in his throat as he looked at his three-blonde wispy haired, blue-eyed, thin, pale-skinned daughters whom he knew looked nothing like him. Jack was 6 ft. 2ins. Tall and of a lanky build, skin bronzed by the sun, his coal black hair a short, unruly mass of loose curls, his coal black eyes had lost their sparkle and these days a sprinkling of dark, gritty stubble coating his jaw; money for razors were the bottom of his priorities.
Some said his son Andrew-Jack was like his mini-me but Andrew-Jack had mousy hair though he was not as fair skinned as his sisters, he did have Jacks dark eyes.
People often did double takes as he trudged them through the streets or around the supermarket. Especially the striking difference between him and his daughter’s.
As Jack tried to focus on keeping awake, he felt exhausted now but had been too tired to sleep.
Alexia continued to whimper, and vice grip his leg, Gracie was swinging off his other leg and making a noise he was sure was a mimic of her twin sisters wails but in the mocking sense. Andrew-Jack was still complaining about his stomach, and Sarah was tugging at his T-shirt sleeve, and it seemed as if she was whining at him too! Did they sense what day it was? Jack shook those thoughts from his head; they were too young to process those kinds of thoughts. He wished he didn’t have to; he wished today was over!
However, he had to remember 8th January 2001! His twin daughters were a year old today, but they were still too small to understand about birthdays, which was a good thing but made him feel like a bad father for two reasons; he didn’t have money to buy Gracie and Alexia any birthday presents, he barely had enough to feed them! He had $15 But had to put ten of that on petrol to get him to work, Sarah and Andrew-Jack to school and the twins to daycare. He had nothing in the house to eat except three slices of bread, a quart of milk, some butter, a jar of jam a jar of chocolate spread, a tin of baby milk and a tin of creamed corn! He shuddered at the thought! He hated that stuff! Although his stomach ached as if to tell him otherwise and he was getting a little desperate and was tempted. It was given to him at Christmas in a food parcel his neighbours came to kindly deliver on Christmas morning along with some clothes and toys for the kids!
’Just like Santa Claus! Sarah said. ’Because all Santa had brought her, and her sisters were a pair of pink baseball boots! And blue ones for Andrew-Jack.
‘But what about Daddies?’ ’Sarah said when the neighbours dropped everything in, saying Santa must have left them at their houses by mistake the neighbours said. Jack quickly hushed Sarah and looked at his neighbours with tears welling up in his eyes, telling them they didn’t need to do that. That’s when Mrs. Harmen a kind old lady that lived below them with her husband George brought in 2 casserole dishes; one containing turkey she had sliced and marinated in a rich, creamy sauce and the other had roast potatoes all Jack had to do was heat it in the oven later. Jack cried again and apologised to all his neighbours about his messy flat. They brushed him off and told him they didn’t mind. Jack still felt overwhelmed thinking of it now, but at least it stopped him thinking about today for a while.
One year ago, today when everyone was still buzzing from new year’s parties and the new millennium. Today was supposed to be the best day in Jackson Palmer’s life! Today was a year since his beautiful baby daughters were born. But his wife Laurie knew her having another child could be risky and he had offered to get a vasectomy, Laurie, however, was having none of it! 25 was far too young, and it wasn’t fair to allow him to do that! Dear sweet Laurie was always thinking of others before herself! But clearly, the condoms and the pill were not as foolproof as they thought! Laurie found out she was expecting but she was already four months by then, Gracie and Alexia were born two months early by emergency cesarean section. It was a tough decision but one that had to come quickly in ordered to save the baby’s or risk losing all of them. With Laurie’s weak heart there was added risk to her pregnancy, putting a strain on her body especially since she was carrying twins not to mention the fact that she had been diagnosed with preeclampsia a life-threatening condition, caused by high blood pressure, swelling in the limbs especially the ankles and could cause migraines. Laurie had been suffering all three symptoms for a few weeks before the babies were born, but she had particularly felt unwell that fateful day!
On 8th January 2000, Jack had wanted to go with her to her hospital appointment. He had offered to take the day off work, but she told him they had to keep things normal for Sarah and Andrew-Jack! So, she kissed him and Sarah and Andrew-Jack and told them she loved them and placed her hands on each of Jack’s arms watching the tears well up in his eyes.
” Hey, Mr.! Big smiles wipe those tears and don’t work too hard I love you, you big oaf!”
She stood on her tip toes to kiss his cheek.
“Have a nice day sweetheart! And don’t worry everything will be fine!”
Don’t worry everything will be fine! She said kissing him and hugging her children tightly
“Mama you squishin’ me!” Andrew-Jack groaned.
“Sorry, big guy! Have a nice day at preschool and mama loves you very much!”
She looked at Sarah and grabbed her head in her hand, kissing the top of her head.
“Love you sweet pea!”
Sarah’s brows knitted together. She was old enough to pick up on the tension today.
“Love you more Mama!”
“Have a good day at school!”
That was their trademark; Jack smiled just like calling him a big oaf, he pretended to be hurt by her words just so as she would give him another kiss. Jack slammed his eyes shut and tried not to cry in front of the children; he’d give anything to be called her big oaf again!
By lunchtime that day, just before he was about down tools and knock off for lunch. Just the second before he was about to drop his spade and jump out of the trench, his mobile wrang out! Jack took a breath and answered the withheld number!
“Mr. Palmer? Dr. Harris here of New York City hospital your wife is being booked in for an emergency cesarean section at 2.00 this afternoon!”
“Wha- what! B, but the twins aren’t due for another two months!” Jack exclaimed.
“The twins are showing signs of what we call fetal distress Mr. Palmer and your wife is not so good either!”
“Not so good? But what does that mean?”
“I advise you, Mr. Palmer, to get to the hospital as soon as possible!”
Jack dropped the hand holding his mobile by his side and slumped sadly and wearily against the side of the trench. A shocked, pained look etched on his face. He felt as if he could pass out! One of his work colleagues placed a hand on his shoulder.
“You okay bud?” He asked.
Jack looked up, his face ashen.
“It, it’s Laurie! They s, said they’re doing an emergency cesarean section at two! And th, that things d, don’t look good! The babies are showing signs of what they call fetal distress and. And th, they s, said Laurie’s not so good either! She’s been feeling unwell for weeks, and the Dr. said she had to rest up it don’t look like it’s done any good, does it? He explained pursing his lips. “But she wouldn’t let me go with her to the hospital! Said we had to keep things as normal as possible for the kids!”
His colleague felt helpless as he watched Jack. He looked up, his face still ashen Mac watched his jaw tick and knew he was fighting back the tears.
“Wha- What if sh, she don’ pull through it, Mac?”
Mac squeezed his shoulder.
“Hey, man dun’t talk like that! Go on I’ll clear it with the boss!”
Jack jumped out of the trench.
“Thanks, Mac! Do you think I got time to go home and change? He asked nervously. “Don’t think they’ll let me in like this!”
“Better go straight to the hospital man! They won’t judge your wives about to have a baby!”
Jack grinned and held up two fingers.
“Two babies Mac!” he said still grinning.
“Ok two babies! Just hurry up man!”
Jack was glad he went straight to the hospital that day. It gave him a chance to have some time with Laurie.
“Jackson you’re filthy!” She exclaimed.
Jack sighed thinking of that day in his head only Laurie always called him Jackson, to most everyone else he was Jack!
“I know! Surprised they let me in like this! Was digging a ditch!”
Laurie cupped her hand on his cheek; she loved the feeling of his day’s growth of prickly stubble.
“Oh, honey! She soothed.” In this weather? It’s pouring out,”
“I know but the boss says we might get rained off this afternoon if it keeps up, but I got off anyway!” He replied with a wink.
Laurie gave him a weak smile.
“Told you I shoulda’ came!” He added.
“I didn’t think you’d need to! It’s going to be okay Jackson! This time tomorrow we’ll have two beautiful girls three counting Sarah!”
“And I’ll have four! He replied raising his brows. “Four! Women! Jings maybe I ought to build myself a man cave!”
“Don’t you dare Jackson Andrew Palmer! She replied frowning. Her best nonsense look. “Besides you Still got Andrew-Jack.”
“Then he can live in the cave too!”
“Jackson!” said scolded.
He grinned mischievously and Laurie glared at him.
That glare always made him gulp and shiver; she could get Sarah and Andrew-Jack to behave that way too. She grabbed his hand as she watched him gulp again, she rubbed her knuckles across his cheek and smiled gently then chuckled as she heard the sigh of relief, he gave knowing he was off the hook, she could never stay mad at him long!
“I love you, you big oaf!” She replied.
Jack gave her a cocky smile.
“I love you too honey!”
Just then a nurse and two porters arrived.
“okay sunshine time to go! need to get your wife prepared for theatre” said the nurse.
Jack kissed the top of Laurie’s head and held her hand lingering a moment longer.
“Holy smokes! Exclaimed the nurse, raking her eyes over Jack.” Who let you in here like that! What’d you do fall in a muck hole?”
“No ma’am I work at construction I’m a labourer, was digging a ditch!”
“Must be a great job in this weather!” she replied in a sarcastic tone.
“Yes, Ma’am just great!” replied Jack sighing.
Just then Jack felt helpless as the nurses and porters surrounded his wife pushing him to the side.
“Okay sorry love but you’re gonna have to go!”
“Wait! What? But don’ I get to go with her?”
“Sorry honey not this time best you just grab a coffee an’ wait outside!”
“Sorry honey I don’t make the rules! It’s doctor’s orders”
Jack slumped down on a chair in the corridor and raked his hands through his hair,
He gripped tufts of his hair in his fists and slammed his eyes shut! he lifted his head abruptly when he heard the slamming of the doors echo through the long corridor! He jumped to his feet and was at Laurie’s side in a second taking her hand in his, Laurie shivered at his touch, his strong but tender grip, his hands rough and callused reminded her of how hard he worked and knew he’d work a little bit harder when the twins arrived.
“I love you, Jackson, be strong for us Jack! You gotta keep your babies’ safe I’ll see you soon! Honey!”
“No, I wanna go with you! Don’t go, Laurie, please!”
“Be strong Jack, I love you!”
‘Be strong Jack! I love you’ those were the last words he ever heard her say! And those last two times she’d called him Jack!
There was a lull of silence as the doors of the operating theatre slammed shut behind her.
Only the sound of Jack’s screams echoed through the hospital as the porters quickly grabbed him trying to restrain the tall strong frightened hunk of 236lbs of muscle. Jack managed to struggle free from their grip and looked at the hospital staff, his eyes welling up with tears.
“Please! Y, you g, gotta let me go in there! Please, I need t, to b, be with my wife!”
Jack tried to burst his way into the theatre, two nurses stood guard at the doors two porters weren’t enough to restrain him, quickly they called on their radio for back up! One more porter appeared and took over at the doors of the theatre and helped to hold Jack back, while the nurse disappeared into the theatre to help with the operations.
“NO!! LAURIE!! I love you!! He yelled. “I lo-ve you!” he said in a quieter tone through the sobs that shuddered through his body.
He sunk to his knees covering his face with his hands, his sobs echoing through the long empty corridor at least it felt empty! The three porters looked at each other they’d have to have hearts of stone not to feel bad for him. One of them laid a hand on his shoulder.
“Hey man it’s goin’ to be okay, the doctors know what they doin’!”
Jack looked up at the three men, he quickly got to his feet and wiped his hand down his face, he shoved his hands in the pockets of his work trousers and looked at his feet, shaking his head.
He gulped hard before speaking, looking at them as if he were about to burst into tears all over again.
“No, No it’s not! Y, you don’ understand! She, she’s sick! Real sick!”
He looked at the three men with tears running down his cheeks, he felt dumb bawling like a baby in front of them. He was taller than all of them, but he didn’t feel it. He saw the grim looks on their faces. He looked at them, his eyes rimmed red from crying, they watched his face turn pale and watched him purse his lips and his face wrinkle as if he were about to cry again and no one would judge him if he did. He slumped against the wall as if needing support and scrubbed a hand down his face.
“She, she’s not g, gonna c, come back is she!” he sobbed.
One of the porters placed his hand on his shoulder.
“C’mon man, come sit down!”
As if in a trance, Jack sat down on one of the benches in the corridor and put his head in his hands again.
“I, I’m g, gon-na lose h-er I, I j, jus’ kn-ow I’m never g, gonna see her again!”
“C’mon buddy now dun’t go thinkin’ that way!”
“But sh, she said I g, gotta be strong! An’ sh, she c, called me Jack! She never c, calls me, me J, Jack!”
The porter looked at his colleague.
“You wanna go get some coffee Trev?”
“Uh! Sure thing, how you like your coffee man?”
Jack was staring at his outstretched hands, trying to focus on stopping them shaking. The porter sitting next to him grabbed one of his hands in his.
“Uh! Wh- what?” asked Jack, his voice thick.
“You want some coffee man? How you like your coffee?”
“Um! Dark! Jus’ a little milk no sugar!”
“No problem buddy! Be back in 5!”
While Trevor went to fetch the coffee, the other porter tried to keep Jack talking. He was just a kid they thought, despite being a head and in some cases shoulder above them, he was still just a kid!
“So, uh! What you hopin’ for boy or girl?” asked one of them.
They saw a hint of a smile form in the corner of his mouth.
“Actually! He said. “Actually we’re ‘avin’ twin girls!”
“Cool! Said the porter. “So, this you first?”
Jack shook his head.
“Got a girl already! She’s eight an’ a boy he’s 4!”
The two men winced.
“Jeez mate! Don’ envy you surrounded by women! Gonna be crazy at your place!”
Jack smiled again and chuckled.
“Tell me about it! I joked an’ said I was gonna build my boy Andrew-Jack and me a man cave! Laurie’s ‘avin’ none of it! She got this look see! Make Andrew-Jack and Sarah my daughter stop n’ do as they told right away! An’ me too! Feel me doin’ what she told no matta’ what! An’ when she uses my full name, Jackson
Andrew Palmer! Man, I know I’m gonna get it”
Both men laughed.
“Take it she wears the trousers then?”
“Suppose! But Laurie she jus’ so much better at everything than me! All’s I know how ta’ do is dig ditches n’ build scaffolding ain’t much good at all the domestic stuff! Tho’ I can cook some but not as good as Laurie!”
Trevor came back with his coffee, the first of the other porters produced a hip flask and poured some of the contents into Jack’s cup, Jack gave him a sideward glance.
“For medicinal purposes, right?”
Jack gave him half a smile and gulped down his coffee.
“So, you got any names yet?”
“We agreed Laurie could pick the girl’s names an’ I could pick boys, guess she got her way again! He said with a chuckle. “My girl is Sarah an’ Andrew-Jack I got to name him after me in a roundabout sort of way! an’ she wants Gracie an’ Alexia for the twins”
“Won’t know who’s who though!”
“You will! Let me see! Said the porter. “Gracie sounds like she’ll be quiet and reserved like ‘er Daddy with jus’ a little hint of mischief.”
“Hey, I am quiet and reserved most of the time an’ Laurie says I got a mischievous streak! How you know?”
“I can tell man; a good judge of characters get used to it so many peeps passin’ through you know!”
“So, Alexia? Said the porter. “Alexia sound like she wants to get her own way and won’t stop till she gets it!”
“Like Laurie, right? Thanks, man,”
“For what? Just doin’ my job”
“You didn’t have to though, sit here with me I mean! All you guys ’preciate it!”
The porter put his arm around Jack’s shoulders.
“You don’t have any other family do you mate, apart from your wife and kids, do you? No one we could call for you!”
Jack shook his head.
“Laurie’s an only child, her mom died some years back and her dad died in the Iran war when she was a kid! And my mom dumped me on the doorstep of the local convent orphanage when I was a few weeks old they told me they named me after the three male maintenance workers that were workin’ there at the time! Grew up there! Never had a proper family till I met Laurie, she was the daughter of a woman I used to cut grass for when I had to earn money while stayin’ at the halfway house when I got too big to stay in the orphanage!”
The porters looked at each other and closed their eyes.
Poor kid! They thought, and he was just a kid to them. He was only 24!
“Hey Jimmy, reckon we ought to get back to work now!” said Trevor.
“You guys go! I’ll stay here with my lil’ buddy for a while reckon someone ought to stay n’ keep him company! Will, you cover for me?”
“Sure, thing Jim! Hope it works out for you buddy”
“Thanks a lot, you guys!”
Even though he had Jimmy the porter at his side the next hour seemed like days until Dr. Harris finally immerged from the theatre right after they heard two angelic screams, okay one angelic scream, the other a bit overdramatic, Jimmy was right Gracie was first quiet and reserved followed by Alexia a drama queen already and only a few minutes old! Life was going to be a challenge from now on, little did he know how much of a challenge!
Dr. Harris handed him quiet and reserved Gracie first! Jack smiled she was so much like her mama with wisps of blonde hair.
“Hi Gracie!” he replied.
Dr. Harris smiled.
“Your wife said you’d both picked out the names, but she said she’d let you decide which was which!”
“That’s cool! Said Jack. “So, this is quiet n’ reserved Gracie!” he replied.
He watched the doctor make a note ’baby Palmer A ‘Gracie’ then jack held her identical twin, her little fists flying, and she was whimpering.
Jack smiled again.
“An’ this has gotta be Alexia! Guess you’re gonna give me a lot of grief huh!”
Dr. Harris placed them in cots and said they would need to be taken to NICU’
“NICU?” asked Jack.
“you’ve heard of intensive-care right?”
“Well the baby one is Neonatal intensive-care unit Mr. Palmer! Neonatal means”
“What? Uh I know what it means! Is everything okay?”
“Just a precaution Mr. Palmer! Your daughters are what is known as premature! And just need a little extra help to make sure their organs are working properly”
Just then Dr. Harris’ pager began to bleep then alarms and announcements
for him wrang overhead.
“Sorry I have to go!”
“What when do I get to see Laurie!”
“I’m sorry Mr. Palmer there are some complications with your wife right now!”
“Complications wha, what do you mean complications is, is sh, she gonna be okay!” said Jack, his eyes welling up again.
“I’m sorry Mr. Palmer it’s not possible to tell you that at the moment”
He quickly scribbled on a notepad and handed it to the nurse at the reception. She nodded and went straight to the drug cabinet.
“But if she’s sick I need to be with her!!”
Dr. Harris looked at him grimly.
“I’m sorry Mr. Palmer!” said Doctor Harris disappearing through those big theatre doors once more.
Jimmy held on to Jack as firmly as he could.
“NO!!!” Jack’s screams could be heard echoing the corridor once again and this time the whole hospital heard them Jimmy was sure.
Jimmy wrapped his arms around him.
“You gotta calm down buddy!”
Jack still struggled.
“Calm down! How can I calm down! My wife is gonna die an’ they won’ let me see her!”
“You don’t know that buddy!”
Jimmy nodded, and the nurse stuck the needle into Jack’s arm before he could react again.
“Ow! What the!”
He felt Jack’s tense body slowly loosen up.
“C’mon mate let’s take a seat an’ wait it out” he replied.
He helped Jack on to the bench. Jack now calm after the sedative they administered by order of Dr. Harris.
“What was that?” he asked.
“Doc says we gotta give you some sedatives!”
“Sedatives! What for?”
“Make you calmer! You feel calmer now buddy”
Jack shook his head as if to shake off the dizziness he felt from the effects of the sedative.
“Good so I can move my hand now you not gonna bolt for the door!”
Jack shook his head. Jimmy slowly removed his hands. Jack sat forward, his head in his hands, supported by his elbows resting on his knees, while Jimmy rubbed his hand on his back.
Neither of them spoke this time. Jimmy watched Jack scrub his hands on his face. He sat hunched over, his head bowed again, staring at his trembling hands, trying to focus on stopping them trembling again, both legs trembled too as if he was trying to keep himself occupied.
Jimmy felt awkward, how could he give comfort to a guy who already knew his fate was sealed and he was probably about to become a single Dad!
Jimmy supposed just being there was enough! At least he hoped so. Jack felt cold sitting in that corridor, despite the heat he could feel from the radiator at his back. The shaking of his legs and the trembling of his hands, however, was nothing to do with feeling cold! He jumped up so abruptly, he felt dizzy but managed to stay upright, his heart thudded in his chest, his palms sweated, and his stomach churned so fast he was sure he would be sick. He knew by the grim look on the doctor’s face it was over! He didn’t need to say anything Jack knew! He stood listening to the doctor, hardly hearing the words.
“I’m ever so sorry Mr. Palmer we tried everything we could! But your wife sustained a lot of blood loss due to a massive haemorrhage causing too much strain on her heart! The final blow was the massive stroke she suffered, and we were unable to resuscitate her, I am so sorry Mr. Palmer!”
Once again Jack fell to his knees, holding tufts of his hair in his hands, he could be forgiven for the loud deafening screams that echoed the corridor causing babies to cry and those patients who were able to come running to investigate. The nurses, porters, and midwives ushering them back in.
Jack stood again wiping his arms across his face.
“I, I’m sorry!” he managed to say.
“That’s okay Mr. Palmer” said the doctor.
He placed his hand on his arm.
“I know this is not a good time, but I’d like you to come to my office!”
He instructed Jimmy to get him some coffee. Jimmy fetched Jack some coffee and placed his hand on his shoulder.
“I gotta get back to work now!”
“Thanks, Jimmy!” replied Jack.
“No problem buddy jus’ doin’ my job!”
Jimmy left, and Jack watched the doctor sighed.
“Jimmy Radcliffe, he’s a porter, right?”
Jack wasn’t sure if he was talking to him but answered anyway.
“Yes, sir an’ a damn good un too!”
“I know, I’ve seen him give support to patients on several occasions. Maybe I should see about making him a patient support guru!”
“You should! Said Jack a matter of factly. “I’d never ’ave gotten through today without ’im!”
“Uh huh!” replied Dr. Harris.
Jack watched him scribble down notes and put it in a tray on his desk.
“My recommendations tray! He replied tapping his nose. “Now Mr. Palmer where were we?”
“Um, doc! I’d really feel more comfortable if you were to call me Jack!”
“If you wish Jack now where were we,” he said again.
“The part where you tell me that under the current circumstances this is not a great time to be discussing this, but it has to be done as soon as possible, you wanna ask me ’bout my daughter’s hearts, right? You want me to get ’em tested, see if they got Laurie’s condition!”
The doctor raised his brows.
“Have we been through this before somewhere Jack?”
“It’s all I’ve heard for the last 9 months’ doc, this is not a great time to discuss this Mr. Palmer but I’m afraid, well you know the rest doc!”
“Indeed, I do Jack, so do I need to tell you the next part?”
“You mean if I wanna get my daughter’s tested, to which I reply go ahead the sooner the better right? Then you gonna ask me ‘bout my older daughter Sarah an’ son Andrew-Jack to which the answer is they don’t have it, we got ’em tested already!”
“Well Jack I don’t think there’s anything else to say apart from, you may go see your daughters now and we’ll get those tests done as soon as we can, and we’ll help you make arrangements for your wife!”
“Thanks, doc, for everything!”
The hardest part was figuring out how he was going to tell Sarah and Andrew-Jack They wouldn’t see their mother again. He decided there was only one way to tell them. So, he picked them up from school and took them for a burger, he knew Laurie would disapprove but she’d understand why he did it as he did.
So, Jack picked Sarah up from school and Andrew-Jack from pre-school.
Andrew-Jack was a little of a hand full it was going to be hard keeping him on track.
He ran to his father when he saw it was him coming to collect him, even though his helper teacher had been helping him with his jacket at the time.
Jack groaned as the little whirlwind slammed into his legs.
Jack scooped him up into his arms.
“I’ll tell you later, let’s get your jacket on buddy!”
The teacher stepped forward just as he was tying Andrew-Jack’s laces and sorting his jacket while he struggled, couldn’t that kid keep still for a second.
“Hey be still lil’ man!”
Andrew-Jack stilled, grabbed his fluffy toy rabbit from his backpack and pooped his thumb in his mouth. He lay his head on his father’s chest.
Jack zipped up his son’s jacket and stood straight. He ruffled his little son’s hair.
“You tired now buddy?”
Jack gulped, Andrew-Jack was so used to his mother picking him up from pre-school, his father being there was something out of the ordinary. He was usually at work. Jack picked him up and grabbed his backpack.
“Um Mr. Palmer before you leave Andrew-Jack’s group teacher would like a word!”
Jack followed her into the pre-school class with Andrew-Jack still in his arms.
“Sit down Mr. Palmer I was hoping to see your wife today!”
Jack looked a for a place to sit everything was barely knee height to him. He sat on one of the tiny tables.
“That’s uh kinda not possible!”
“I see! Well the thing is Andrew-Jack was a little of a handful today!”
“Yeah tell me about it! He’s a handful every day!”
He set his son down on the floor between his legs. Andrew-Jack tugged at his arm.
“Daddy I wanna go home!”
“In a minute buddy, jus’ talkin’ with your teacher!”
“Teacher’s mean! She wouldn’t let me have floppsy bunny!”
“Now Andrew-Jack we discussed this you a can only have your bunny for the first 5 minutes of class then it has to go in your knapsack!”
“But I was sad!”
“You were sad? Why were you sad Andrew-Jack!” asked the teacher.
“Cus’ the babies are comin’ today an’ Sarah say that mean I won’t be mama’s baby no more!”
The teacher looked at Jack, she was sure she saw tears glistening in his eyes. He grabbed his son into his arms.
“Oh, buddy you’ll always be our, my uh baby an’ we’ll uh, I’ll uh love you just the same as I do your sisters!”
The teacher narrowed her eyes, did he just backtrack himself and say my and I’ll?
“I uh gotta go!”
“Mr. Palmer we still haven’t discussed your son’s behaviour!”
“I reckon he was feeling left out an’ that’s prob’lay the reason why he was acting up today!”
“But it’s not just today Mr. Palmer and that doesn’t excuse the reasons of every other day”
“I know but just not today ok!”
“Is everything okay Mr. Palmer?”
Jack slammed his eyes shut. She watched him gulp hard, hold his fingers in the corners of his eyes. The teacher watched as the tears spilt down his cheeks.
“It’s Laurie! He said. “She uh, she didn’t, there were some complications with the birth an’ she didn’t make it through!”
Jack put down his son. Andrew-Jack clung to his legs.
“Daddy I wanna go home!”
“In a minute champ!”
The teacher watched as Jack wiped his nose and a trembling hand across his eyes. She lay a hand on his arm.
“I’m ever so sorry Mr. Palmer. If there’s anything we can do!”
“Thanks! But I still want a report on Andrew-Jack”
“Sure Mr. Palmer we’ll discuss things at a later date”
“I uh better go! C’mon Andrew-Jack!”
“We going home Daddy?”
“In a while son, got something I need to take care of first!”
‘Like how to tell you and your sister about your mother!’ thought Jack with a shudder.
Sarah looked at him with a frown.
“How come you ain’t at work Dad! Where’s mom did she have the babies did something happen with mom an’ the babies? Daddy have you been crying!”
Jack gulped, Sarah was smart too smart for her own good sometimes! He closed his eyes, he didn’t want to tell her just yet!
“Well, how ’bout we go for a burger and a milkshake and we can talk!”
He watched her go back to sweet nine-year-old mode again, her eyes light up at the mention of burgers and milkshakes!
So, he sat in the diner watching as Sarah ate her burger and Andrew-Jack gulped down his burger like it was the last one on earth, he gulped and hoped Sarah didn’t acknowledge the fact that he hadn’t eaten a single bite of his.
“Slow down Andrew-Jack you’ll get sick!”
“But it’s good an’ we never get burgers; how come we never go for burgers Daddy?”
“Well cause mommy don’ like me feedin’ you too much junk food!”
“So, will mommy get mad?” Sarah asked.
Jack gulped and pinched the bridge of his nose.
“Well I, I guess mommy would get mad if she, I mean if she! Um, Sarah c’mere a sec come sit around here with me!”
Sarah moved around to where he was sitting opposite from her not forgetting to bring her burger an’ milkshake with her. Andrew-Jack had gulped down his burger and was flying around the plastic toy aeroplane he got with his meal. He ducked under the table and over to the other bench still flying his plane above his head.
Sarah sat beside her father oblivious to the quickening of her father’s breathing, the thudding of his heart or the tears that began to roll down his cheeks, she didn’t even notice his hand trembling as he curled his arm around her and pulled her close. He lay his cheek on top of her head and sniffed loudly, he’d promise not to cry in front of her, but it was too hard not to.
Sarah suddenly sensed something was wrong,
“Daddy why you are crying?”
Before she could answer Andrew-Jack was standing on the seat his plane high above his head.
“Hey Andrew-Jack, come down from there!”
He jumped from the seat and continued to flying his plane running round in circles next to the seats.
Jack watched him. Andrew-Jack was in awe just like any other little boy hyped up after his treat of a day out at the burger joint. That just made Jack cry harder, he wished today was just one of those ordinary days! He didn’t care if the whole diner could hear him as he burst into tears all over again. He quickly wiped his hand down his face and was about to try and explain to them if he could just get Andrew-Jack to sit still for two seconds.
Then it happened Andrew-Jack came running back toward them, he tripped on his lose lace and went careering into the table; milkshake, coffee and his father’s untouched burger went flying and landed at in Jack’s lap. He jumped to his feet abruptly trying to wipe himself off.
“God damn it boy can’t you just still sit for two minutes!” he yelled grabbing him by the shoulders and giving him a shake.
The whole diner was in silence. Andrew-Jack gasped, his father never yelled like that!
Jack knew the whole diner was staring at him, like he was some sort of ogre. Jack grabbed his son up into his arms and hugged him tightly.
“I’m sorry Andrew-Jack, I’m sorry buddy!”
The little boy struggled in his arms.
“Want mommy!” he sobbed.
Jack sat down with more force than was needed and folded his arms across the table and cried into them.
“Daddy! Andrew-Jack wailed. “What’s w’ong with Daddy Sawa!”
Before Sarah could answer a member of staff appeared.
“Is everything ok sir”
Jack by now was in no fit state to answer only his sobs could be heard in the quietness of the diner while everyone tried to piece together what was happening.
“Could you give us a minute!” replied Sarah.
“Sure, sweetheart take all the time you need, is your Dad ok?”
“I’m sure he’ll be fine thank you!”
The staff member left, and Sarah tried as best she could to console her father not sure why he was sobbing his heart out in the middle of a busy diner. Andrew-Jack stood at a careful distance sucking his thumb.
“Is Daddy ok Sawa!”
Andrew-Jack shook his head, he had never seen his father cry before. Jack looked up and wiped a hand down his face, he gestured to Andrew-Jack.
“I know champ I’m sorry! There’s something really important I gotta tell you guys!”
Andrew-Jack ran over and gave his father a hug.
“So, what’s wrong Daddy did something happen to mommy or the babies!”
Jack looked to his daughter then at his son; he was also aware he had the rest of the diner hanging on his every word.
“The uh, the babies are fine honey! Sarah, Andrew-Jack, it’s mommy, you know how the babies were making mommy uh! Sick? And she had to go to the hospital, today right?”
“Did mommy have the babies!”
“She sure did honey an’ you’ll meet ’em soon they’re a little sick right now and need to stay in the NICU!”
“What’s a NICU Daddy?” Asked Andrew-Jack.
“It stands for Neonatal intensive-care unit buddy! It’s where they put babies sometimes cos’ they too small an’ need some help!”
“Was I in NICU?”
That made Jack smile and the whole diner sigh in awe.
“No buddy you were just fine!”
“Ok! So, where’s mommy!”
“Jeez buddy I’m so sorry! Mommy’s not here she’s! oh god!”
“Daddy what wrong!” asked Sarah.
“Mommy didn’t get better Sarah! She got real sick an’ the, an’ she!”
“Daddy, did mommy go to heaven?”
“Wh- What! Sarah how did?”
“My friend Molly’s grandpa got real sick an’ Molly said he went to heaven it maked Molly sad an’ mommy got real sick an’ she didn’t pick me up from school and Andrew-Jack from preschool an’ you never come to pick us up and now you really sad, so I guess mommy gone to heaven huh!”
Jack rubbed her cheek and pulled her into his arms and held her tight.
“Daddy you squishin’ me!”
“Sorry pun’kin’ I jus’ can’t get over how smart you got!”
“I’m a big girl now daddy!”
“Yes, sweetheart you are!”
“Daddy what you mean where’s mommy! I want mommy!”
“C’mere buddy I know it’s hard for you to understand but mommy’s not gonna come back she’s gone buddy to uh heaven!”
“You mean wike Mrs, Seymore’s cat got runned over an’ we din’ ever see him again!”
“Well I guess it’s kinda like that! Mommy got sick buddy having your baby sisters!”
Andrew-Jack stared at them as if he were in shock. Then Jack watched him step back from a puddle on the floor. He began to sob.
“Mommy!! I want mommy!”
“Oh, jeez lil’ buddy I’m sorry”
Jack ran over and bent to his level hugging him into his arms.
Jack heard gasps of shock all around him.
“oh my god! That poor guy, he just told his kids their mama died!”
Suddenly there was people standing all over the diner with their hands on their hearts. Jack stood up.
“Who’s gonna take care of us Daddy!” Andrew-Jack asked.
Jack scratched his head was he invisible?
“It’s okay Andrew-Jack I’ll take care of you!”
Sarah wrapped her arms around her little brother and hugged him close.
“It’s gonna be okay Andrew-Jack, were all gonna be okay, right Daddy”
Jack managed a smile.
“We sure are pun’kin!”
There were those sighs of awe again. Jack scrubbed his hand down his face. He had to get out of here!
But just before he made an’ attempt to move, staff appeared out of nowhere and were handing the kids more milkshakes and muffins.
“Uh thanks!” he said.
“C’mon we gotta go!”
“Daddy my aeroplane!”
“But Daddy I need my plane!”
“I don’t know where it is, let’s just go son please!”
“Nooo Daddy! I want my plane!”
“I’ll buy you a new one Andrew-Jack a bigger one!”
“But I want that one! Please Daddy!”
Just then Andrew-Jack broke free of his father’s grip. Jack looked up and saw one of the staff hand Andrew-Jack his plane, where had she come from.
“Um thank you!”
The woman gave Jack a sympathetic smile.
Jack was about to leave when one of the customers grabbed his hand and placed a wad of notes in his palm and closed it over. Jack looked confused.
“We all chipped in! it’s for your wife to help with you uh know!”
Jack felt the tears spilt down his cheeks, he wiped them with a trembling hand. Andrew-Jack clung to his leg, Sarah grabbed his hand tightly.
“Daddy why that man give you money?”
“Shush buddy! I uh!”
The man placed his hand on Jack’s shoulder.
“It’s okay mate you don’t need to say anything! we’ll let you go now!”
The customers all stood again, hands on their hearts, heads bowed in sorrow. One opened the door for Jack and his kids to leave. Jack was never so glad to leave the diner that day. He was to learn later they had put up a plaque in Laurie’s memory a thoughtful gesture, but did they really know how she felt about fast food? Would she be proud of the way he handled things that day!
Jack lumbered across the car park, dragging his young son, he picked him up with one arm, Sarah ran alongside him. He strapped them into the car seats and jumped into the driver’s seat starting the engine. He shoved the notes into the glove compartment and drove off Sarah watched as he drove by their apartment block! “Where we going Daddy?”
“I don’t know! Just somewhere!”
Jack drove for miles. he drove to the border between New York and New Jersey, he could go there a new state get away from everything, living in New York was going to hurt too much, so many memories of Laurie.
“Hey, Sarah, go take your brother to the bathroom!”
“But I don’t need the bathroom!”
“C’mon Andrew-Jack we’ll go eat our muffins and watch the boats!”
With Andrew-Jack and Sarah well out of earshot; Jack lay his hands across the steering wheel and opened up into a flood of tears sobbing so loud he was sure the whole state could hear, he struggled to catch his breath, his eyes and nose streamed with tears and snot, he cried so hard he wasn’t sure how to stop.
What was he going to do without her? Who’d look after the kids, how would they eat? He wasn’t selfish, he had just taken those things for granted. He wiped his face and called the children back to the car. He had to stay focused, had to make things work for their sake.
“okay you guys! It’s jus’ you an’ me now kids jus’ you me Gracie an’ Alexia they’re your new baby sisters an’ you’re gonna help me take care of ’em right?”
“sure, we are Daddy”. Said Sarah.
“But we can’t take care of babies we too little Daddy!” said Andrew-Jack.
“We can help make them laugh and sing to them, babies like that sort of stuff”
“How you know they like it?”
“Cus’ I’m smart right Daddy?”
“Yep cuz’ you’re smart jus’ like your mama an’ you know somethin’! she’d be real proud of you!”
Laurie’s funeral went by in a blur, the only thing that stuck in Jack’s mind was the image of Andrew-Jack placing his tiny toy plane at his mother’s graveside. That still made Jack choke up with tears whenever he thought of it!
Jack had taken Laurie’s death hard, and if were it not for his neighbour Mrs. Seymore across the landing he was sure his children would be in the hands of the state by now.
Jack drank heavily in the weeks after his wife’s death.
His perfect family was torn apart.
‘Why Laurie why didn’t you just let me get my vasectomy!’
It was Mrs. Seymore’s harsh words that got him out of his depressive state to a certain extent.
“Jackson Andrew Palmer you need to get yourself on track! You’re going to lose your job and your kids to the state if you carry on like this!”
“Can’t- d- do it with-out her!”
Mrs. Seymore grabbed Jack by both arms.
“Jackson! Listen to me! Look at them Jack they need you!”
Jack looked at his children and slammed his eyes shut, it hurt so much to look at them Sarah especially, she just looked so much like Laurie.
Andrew-Jack ran to him.
Jack wiped a hand across his face and picked his son up with one arm.
“Hey big guy!”
“Mommy says that! I’m her big guy!”
“I know champ! I know!”
He gestured to Sarah, she ran into his arms, he bent to their level and hugged them both close.
“Don’t forget these two” said Mrs. Seymore.
Jack stood up and took a daughter in each arm.
“They, they look so much like her!”
Mrs. Seymore gave a silent nod.
Jack took in a sharp breath.
“I gotta get outta here!”
“You need a hand!”
Jack looked at his neighbour his eyes wide and serious.
“No, you don’t understand! I mean I have to get out of here! Out of New York! “
“If that’s what you think is the best Jack!”
“It is right? Is it! Damn it I don’t know what’s right anymore!”
“You have to do what’s right for you and the children Jack!”
“Um thanks Mrs. Seymore for everything!”
She just nodded and rubbed his arm.
Sarah stood watching her father pack up their belongings two weeks later.
“But I don’t wanna live in New Jersey Daddy I like it here!”
“It’ll be a new adventure a new start for us all Sarah, there’s just too many sad memories here!”
Jack hugged her tightly.
“It’ll be okay pun’kin! We’ll all be okay!”