An Excerpt from The Day Before Tomorrow

Prologue

     Sitting before her coffee, she dips her toast into the middle of a soft-boiled egg and opens the paper. Her pulse guns as she scans two – no wait, three – pages of obituaries. A long, slow sip of coffee. She opens her day-planner and schedules a few obits:

Monday, May 17, 10:30: McQuade and Bitter Funeral Homes, 46-year-old male, Everett Churchill, survived by wife and four boys

Tuesday, May 18, 2:00: Park Memorial, 92-year-old couple, Mr. & Mrs. Edward and Bernice Piccallo, five kids, 25 grandkids

Wednesday, May 19, 3:30: Guthrey and White Funeral Home. 37-year-old female, Elizabeth Juliette Merchand, cancer, survived by husband and four children

Thursday, May 20, 2:30: Tracy and Bros. Funeral Home, 46-year-old male, Richard Lougheed, tragic and unexpected death, survived by two children

Thursday, May 20, 2:30: Guthrey and White Funeral Home, Abigail Finley, 13-year-old female, tragic and unexpected death

       Rats, she thinks, two at the same time. She crosses out the Lougheed  funeral.

Saturday, May 22, 6:40 am: Whitehorse, AC876.

       She scoops out the rest of the yoke, closes the paper. A front-page sideline catches her eye.​​


    Outside the kitchen window, the breeze of new spring brushes up against the empty swing set, its cold metal hinges complaining shrilly of the wait.


***

   The hospital hums with quiet industry. Across the hall, two nurses are discussing the best way to make lentil curry. “Excuse me, sorry to bother you, Miss,” the woman says to the nurse at reception whose nametag says Amy. “I am looking for a woman who was recently in a car crash.” Amy flips open a chart. “Annabel Grace.”
   “Yes, I know the one. She’s pregnant.”
   “Yes, that’s right.”
    Amy looks up from her chart. “A friend of yours?”
   “A relative, actually.”
   “Terrible thing." Amy shakes her head, "just terrible.  It's a miracle she survived the crash. And the baby..."
   “I’m her sister.” A perfect lie. She continues, too late to stop. “She’s exactly ten-months younger than me. Irish twins they called us. We haven’t seen each other in over four years.”
   Amy makes eye contact. “Do you have identification?”
   “We had different last names. It’s a long story. Look, I just want to pay my respects.”
   Amy looks back at the chart and sighs. “Room 6323. Please, if you could make it quick, I’m really not supposed to.”
   “I shall.” She treads down the hall. A family huddles around a bed. Machines beep. She stops at 6323. A woman’s body on a gurney. Red ants march resolutely across the monitor.
    She approaches.
   The belly is smooth, like a pot roast stuffed under the sheets. White bandages wrap the skull. Sculpted cheekbones, elegant eyebrows, dark lips. She is struck by how pretty she is.
   She draws the sheet down little by little to expose a blue and white hospital gown. She listens for footsteps above the swoosh of the ventilator. She reaches out, slowly lifts the gown. Swollen ankles, stubble legs, pink panties – the kind pregnant women wear.
   Her belly is cool to the touch, like fresh fruit  sitting out on the counter. She places both hands on the belly, spreads her fingers as wide as they can go.
    Still no footsteps.
    Her eyes widen. A kick! The edges of her mouth turn up slightly in a way that says she is terribly pleased, but not quite believing. Again a kick, perhaps a fist or a foot. Dear God!
    Footsteps now from the hall. A shadow advances like a stain in the doorway. 
​   She snaps her hands away. How could she have not heard them sooner?
                        Fetus Alive in Brain-Dead Mother

A thirty-six year old woman travelling westbound on hwy 266 was hit head-on when the driver of a semi carrying timber logs fell asleep at the wheel. The woman, currently on life support at the Northampton General Hospital, is eight-months pregnant. The mother will remain on life support until the baby can be safely removed from the womb. Health professionals say it appears the baby remains unharmed. ​...read more page D7.”


“In rivers, the water you touch is the last of what has passed
and the first of that which comes. So with time present.”

Leonardo da Vinci

Part 1

Chapter 1
August 1979
     Juliette can see for eternity in the cerulean sky and, in that moment of quiet wonderment, she feels an unexpected rise in her spirit – her awareness is unencumbered by thought, rapt with being alive.
      The window is halfway down, George’s finger on the wheel.
   The road, patched and re-patched before them, cuts the countryside in half. Juliette watches the prairies pass by like a motion picture: green wooded foothills, whimsical corn fields as tall as men, harvested clearings, dense undeveloped thickets, jagged and uninviting. She pictures what the land would look like from a skydive – tiled with russet, emerald, goldenrod, and their van, the size of a beetle, inching along with a destination in mind.
     The dashboard starts its rattle again. George gives it a good swift thump. “Now stay that way,” he says and swings out to pass a truck. There is no shortage of honeybees this year, judging by the bounty of wildflowers competing from beneath shale and rock. Showy blossoms of bergamot, tall and dignified, ecstatic to have burst from the ether into here and now. Subtle, more delicate bluebells nodding with the breeze, opening themselves, stunned and helpless, to the southern sun like hungry baby mockingbirds.
    “Damn thing,” George says and accelerates to sixty. “You see that, hon? Ever notice that? The dash doesn’t rattle at 60.”

    She glances his way. “Can we stop?”
   “We can do whatever we want. No kids, no worries, right?” Gravel pings off the undercarriage as they slow to a stop.
     She stretches her legs into the summer air. Bubbling notes of a nearby stream make her mouth instantly dry. She takes her coffee mug, makes her way through the long grasses, crickets bounding like hot corn. The stream’s shiny back comes into view through a break in the trees.
    Through the brush, a rustle. A hare? A groundhog? Or maybe a bull snake? She wades in to her knees, dunks her mug into the stream. There it is amongst last year’s reeds and cattails – a trumpeter swan, stoic and unmoving. The white plumage of his chest looks fluffy and soft, well cared for. He regards Juliette in a jittery, yet oddly thoughtful way.
    A tree frog leaps.
    The swan startles, points his long neck in the direction he wishes to go and pushes hard against the air. The wings are remarkable. Juliette watches him until he disappears high above the canopy of leaves.
    “Honey?” George calls from the van, “You better pick your flowers. We gotta get moving.”
 
   Back on the road, the asphalt is in need of attention. Juliette blows a wisp of hair off her forehead. “Does that hurt?” George looks back and forth from his wife to the road.
    “It’s jarring. It hurts... I don’t know, deep.”
    “Okay, hon. We’re gonna get you there.” He holds the wheel at ten and two position as if that might somehow help.