Marie Kenning hummed, her eyes half closed as her husband, John, maneuvered the car along the damp, curving road. The sun was setting. The headlights made little impact in the fog and swirling leaves, but the melancholy October weather didn’t dim her spirits in the least. Marie was six months pregnant; she and John were on their way to their first childbirth class.
“What are you humming, honey?” John asked. “Sure sounds pretty.”
“‘Brahms’ Lullaby,’” Marie said. “My mother sang it to me every night, and now I’m singing it to our baby.”
John laughed. “Don’t you think it’s a little early for lullabies? You’re not due for almost three months. Or are you just getting in some practice?”
“Actually, it’s not too early at all, I read an article saying that babies recognize music played to them before they were born. So I’m giving our child a head start.” She patted her stomach. “Maybe he’ll grow up to be a musician.”
John covered her hand with his. “Maybe he will. But he’s already the luckiest baby in the world to have you for a mother.”
“Or could it be a girl?” Marie teased, closing her eyes again. She was impatient to hold their baby, boy or girl, in her arms. Even more, she couldn’t wait to see John cradle the child, protecting it as he’d always protected her.
Her pleasant train of thought was broken when John jerked his hand away from hers. “What the…?” he muttered.
Marie’s eyes flew open, and she stared out the windshield. A pair of headlights, set on blinding high beams, came straight at them. “Look out!” she gasped, jamming her right foot against the passenger side floor and grabbing the armrest on the door.
John jerked the car to the right and slammed his foot down on the brake pedal. The car spun on the wet, leaf-strewn road, twisting from side to side. He struggled to regain control.
Time diminished to a crawl. Marie watched everything in bizarre slow motion—the merciless headlights bearing down on them, John’s contorted features as he wrestled with the steering wheel, the deafening impact, the flying glass. The howl of tortured metal and squealing rubber was unbearable. Marie blacked out.
When she regained consciousness, it was silent—ominously silent. How much time had passed? Marie felt warm blood trickling down her face, but she didn’t have any pain—yet. She turned her head slowly to look at John. His head hung low, his eyes closed. A thin stream of blood, black in the waning light, ran down his right temple. The steering wheel, pressed against his chest, and the shoulder belt appeared to be the only things holding him upright. His hair and clothing were coated with pebbles of broken safety glass that glittered in the fading light of dusk. Panic gripped her at the sight of his pale, still face. How long had she been out?
Marie whispered, her voice trembling, “John? Honey, are you all right? Can you hear me?”
He didn’t answer.
She reached out to touch him, but a sudden sharp pain in her left side, just under her shoulder belt, stopped her. Releasing the buckle, she probed the tender area. Pain blossomed again. Her dazed senses told her she probably had a broken rib.
Moving with care, Marie touched John’s arm. He didn’t respond, gave no sign of life. She couldn’t tell if he was breathing. Frightened, she pushed him harder. He slumped away from her in the seat like a rag doll. His head hit the side window with a loud crack.
“John!” she cried. “Wake up!” She shook his arm.
A fierce new pain slashed across her abdomen. It lasted only a few seconds, but it left her gasping for breath and covered with a fine sheen of sweat. Although this was her first pregnancy, Marie instinctively knew she had just felt a labor contraction.
“My God,” she moaned, tears sliding down her cheeks. “What am I going to do? I can’t lose John—I can’t live without him. And I can’t lose our baby! What am I going to do?”
In the distance Marie heard the wail of an approaching siren. Clutching John’s sleeve as though her grip alone could keep him with her, she closed her eyes and prayed, willing her husband and her baby to hold on.