I watched with worried eyes as the paramedic strapped Miranda into a stretcher and loaded her into the small aircraft, followed by her newborn child.
"Thank you," Miranda said hoarsely, a smile stretching her face as her eyes shimmered with tears. "I don't know what would have happened without all your help."
My smile was more strained than hers. She didn't know what would have happened, but I did. The child would be in the hospital morgue and Miranda might have followed soon after. "My pleasure. The hospital staff in Perth will take care of you both. Your husband will be there when the plane lands."
The Royal Flying Doctor Service plane's doors slammed shut and the pilot crunched across the gravel on his way to the cockpit.
I heard a shout from across the field.
The emergency gate ground open, motor whirring and metal grating on metal.
Both the pilot and I turned to see a lanky man running through the grinding gate and across the gravel beside the tarmac. His long strides cleared the distance faster than I could have. He waved a paper file that looked like medical records.
The man was breathless when he reached us, but he still managed to make his words intelligible. "The patient's file.Has to go with her on the plane." He held out the white cardboard folder with a rainbow of numbered stickers up the side.
The pilot took the folder with a nod and climbed into the plane. I backed away to a safe distance and the breathless man did the same. "Glad I got here in time," he gasped. He was almost doubled over, his hands near his knees, as he tried to catch his breath. He appeared to be speaking to the gravel beneath his large feet.
I looked around, but I saw no one else within earshot, so the man must have been speaking to me.
"What did you do to make the hospital staff send you racing out here with medical records? Did you steal one of the doctors' parking spots?" I asked, hoping to head off any further conversation.
Privately, I thought it more likely that he was a member of the cleaning staff that I hadn't met yet, who'd been sent here by the cowering intern, too shaken to venture out of his office to drive.
Instead of being offended, the man laughed. He stood up and I realised for the first time that the length of his limbs matched his height – he was taller than me. "I may be the most junior doctor at the hospital, but I still get my own parking spot. I'm Aidan Lannon, the intern. I wrote up the patient's notes so slowly that I didn't realise she'd left without them, so it was my responsibility to take them to the airport."
So this is the new intern – and he's not the useless, quivering wreck Rob said he was. He's a man who takes his responsibilities seriously and doesn't send a flunky to make up for his mistakes. I found I almost liked him. Begrudgingly, I began, "I'm Belinda," but that's as far as I got.
"I know who you are. You're the midwife who saved that woman's life, and her baby. If it weren't for you, they both would've died." His eyes shone with something like admiration.
I sighed. "I'm the student midwife, who happened to drive past where she'd crashed her car into a kangaroo and took her to hospital with me at the start of my shift. When she went into premature labour, she became my patient, as Jill, the qualified midwife, was dealing with a difficult delivery for a woman who refused anaesthesia. I told Jill I'd let her know if I ran into trouble, but it wasn't necessary, and her patient needed her more."
I hit the gate release and we waited for it to clank open before trudging from the restricted airside gravel to the bitumen between the hire cars and the staff car park. Together, we stood and watched the tiny plane taxi down the runway. It took off, shrinking into the sky until it rose above the cloud ceiling and out of sight. Silently, I wished the woman luck, hoping that her daughter would survive long enough to leave hospital and go home with her mother. My hopes for happiness flew with her.
Happiness I will never know. My daughter no longer lives.
I sagged, suddenly realising how exhausted I was.
Yet the intern turned to me, his eyes full of unmistakeable awe. "If that was your first solo delivery, you're in the wrong profession. You should have studied medicine instead of nursing. I couldn't have done it."
I was too tired to explain to him that Miranda's child was by no means the first baby I'd delivered, nor the most difficult. Instead, I looked for my car in the parking lot.
"How did you get here?" Aidan persisted.
I wondered the same thing, as the only car I could see was not mine. "In the ambulance, with my patient," I replied slowly. The ambulance had left without me. I hoped that didn't mean there would be another emergency waiting at the hospital. If and when I managed to make my way back there. It would be a long walk – more than three hours. There wasn't a taxi in sight and my bag, my phone and my wallet were back in my locker at the hospital. I heaved a deep sigh and summoned the strength to start the long journey back.
Aidan pressed a button on his key. The lone car in the parking lot flashed its orange lights. "Let me give you a lift back to the hospital."
I considered refusing. I also considered how tired I was. By the time I reached the hospital on foot, my shift would be well and truly over and the sun would have set. I hadn't brought a torch and there weren't any streetlights for most of the way. It'd be pitch dark and I'd be a good target for the Nannup Tiger, if it existed.
"Okay." I tried to keep my face expressionless. It wasn't difficult, as even the effort of forming any expression was exhausting.
Aidan drove a Mini, a very small car that appeared incongruous to his size. He opened the passenger door and started pitching things from the passenger seat into the back, before he gestured for me to sit down. He seemed really nervous, apologising for the mess in his vehicle.
I sat in the passenger seat, carefully placing my feet between a pair of very large sneakers and some muddy gumboots. Noticing something uncomfortable beneath me, I reached for it and pulled out a stethoscope, the head of the chestpiece decorated with a sticker of a three-lobed leaf.
In three strides he rounded the front of his car and folded himself into the space between the driver's seat and the steering wheel. He reminded me of an octopus squeezing itself into a small rock crevice, only more angular and awkward.
When he'd managed to wedge himself inside, I held up the stethoscope, lifting my eyebrows, too.
"Oh hell, sorry. That's my lucky stethoscope. Dad gave it to me before I left Ireland and I forgot to take it off before I left the hospital." He took it from me and stuffed it into the glove box.
He said little and I said less for the start of the drive, until we were forced to stop by a flock of sheep moving across the road from one paddock to another. The farmer shifting them waved to us and walked over to the driver's side window.
He and Aidan discussed sheep and I let my mind wander, not listening, until I caught the words, "…Nannup Tiger…"
I turned to listen to their conversation.
Aidan laughed. "You don't expect me to believe in the Nannup Tiger, do you? That's just something you made up for tourists!"
The farmer shook his head. "The Nannup Tiger's real, mate. It took two of my lambs last week and Pete next door said he's lost three. Pete's missus saw a slinking dark shape by one of the sheds near the house the night they lost two lambs. You watch out for it. I'm shifting my lambing ewes closer to the house, so the dog and I can keep a better eye on them."
He waved again as he closed the gate behind his sheep.
Aidan crunched his car back into gear and accelerated away. "So, do you believe in the Nannup Tiger?" he asked, without taking his eyes off the road.
I replied cautiously. "It's a native species that's believed to be extinct because no one's seen one for a long time, isn't it? With all the forests and big farms around here, anything could be hiding. It wouldn't surprise me if there are still some around, even if no one sees much of them. Aren't there plenty of undiscovered species in the world, even in Australia? What's one more?"
Aidan's laughter died. "Some stories say it's a thylacine, some sort of big native cat, but others say it's a black panther that escaped from a circus. No one seems to know what it is." He looked nervously into the trees on either side of the road.
I made myself smile. "Well, if you're scared of it, don't go out at night, then," I said lightly.
He shivered and continued driving, this time in silence.
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