The Maps Between Us-Chapter 17
The children laughed as Hiccup chased them up the hill.
“I’m gonna beat you, Pappa!” Shouted Zephyr.
“I’m gonna win!” yelled Nuffink, stumbling along behind his sister. “I’m a night fury!”
Hiccup chuckled. “I’m catching up!” He pushed his hands deeper into his pockets and carried on walking.
He’d taken the kids to the beach after school so Astrid could rest. She had a stomach bug- or maybe it was morning sickness. She was about twelve weeks pregnant now, and they were going to Guernsey the next day for her dating scan. The thought of seeing their baby on the monitor for the first time made Hiccup want to whoop with joy. They would tell Zephyr and Nuffink over the weekend, and neither Hiccup nor Astrid could wait. Giddy in their excitement, they were acting like teenagers again. Hiccup treasured the nights they lay awake whispering to each other under the covers about a future with three Haddock children, with three pairs of muddy boots and three little ones crawling into their bed every morning. They couldn’t wait to do the baby years all over again.
“Kids! Shoes off before you go in the house, please!” Shouted Hiccup as the children reached the front gate. When he caught up with them they were sat on the doorstep brushing sand off their clothes. Zephyr had fetched a small bucket of water from the outside tap and was encouraging Nuffink to dip his feet in.
“It’s freezing, Zeph!”
“No it’s not!” Said Zephyr. She plunged both feet into the water, which Hiccup could only assume was bitterly cold. “See, it’s fine.” She pulled out her feet, which were now white, and gestured towards the bucket. “You need to wash the sand off, Nuff. Mamma’ll kill us!”
“It’s alright.” Said Hiccup, kneeling down next to Nuffink. “C’mere, if I brush the sand off your feet really well it’ll be fine.”
Zephyr laughed. “Mamma’s gonna kill you!” She sang.
Hiccup rolled his eyes. “She’s not gonna kill me. When was the last time you heard me and Mamma fighting, hey?”
“You don’t fight.” Said Zephyr.
“See, we solve all our disagreements through calm, reasonable disc-”
“But Mamma sometimes gives you the death stare.” Said Zephyr.
“The deadly nadder death stare.” Said Nuffink.
Hiccup sighed. “Okay. Calm, reasonable discussion and Mamma’s death stare. Come on, its nearly time for dinner.”
In the kitchen Astrid was filling up a hot water bottle. She smiled when the children burst through the door, shouting about the kite they’d flown on the beach.
“Pappa bought it for us from Ruffnut’s shop!” Said Nuffink.
“It has a dragon on it!” Squealed Zephyr.
“It sounds wonderful.” Said Astrid. She sat down at the kitchen table and pinned the hot water bottle between her shoulder and the chair, resting her head back against the wall. “You’ll have to show it to me later.”
“Are you tired, Mamma?” Asked Zephyr.
“Yeah, Babe. But I’ll feel better tomorrow.”
“Don’t worry, Mamma. I’ll help Pappa cook dinner.”
“I want to help too!” Clamoured Nuffink.
Hiccup laughed. “Okay. Zephyr, you can chop the vegetables.” He passed her a small knife. “Very carefully.” She nodded. “And Nuffink, you can measure out the pasta. We need three hundred grams.”
Half an hour later dinner was almost ready. Hiccup asked Nuffink to set the table and began dishing up pasta carbonara.
“Mamma?” Said Nuffink.
Hiccup was distracted. He was trying to prepare the salad whilst listening to Zephyr, who was talking in full flow about the dance competition she and Fanta had won at school. He almost missed what Nuffink said next.
“Mamma looks like a ghost!” Gasped Nuffink. He giggled.
Hiccup looked up. Astrid was sat bolt upright in her chair, her face absolutely drained of colour. She was gripping the edge of the table, her jaw clenched tight. Hiccup had never moved so fast in his life. He reached Astrid and crouched down in front of her. “You okay, Babe?”
Astrid blinked. Her hand flew to her middle and she lurched forwards with a strangled cry.
“Zephyr,” Said Hiccup, trying to keep his voice calm. “Pass me the washing up bowl.” Nuffink was still giggling. Zephyr skidded across the kitchen with the bowl. Hiccup placed it in Astrid’s lap. She’d gone even paler, if that were possible. “Astrid?” He asked. She said nothing. “Okay, Astrid. Okay.” Hiccup wrapped his arm across Astrid’s back, unsure what to do. He wondered whether this merited a phone call to Sark’s only doctor. She’d been okay five minutes ago. “Astrid?” He asked.
She sat up and looked at Hiccup, her eyes clear and dark with pain. “Hiccup.” She breathed.
She swallowed and blinked again. “I need to lie down. Help me to bed.”
Thor, she must be ill, thought Hiccup. He wasn’t sure he’d heard Astrid actually ask for help, well, ever. He set the washing up bowl on the table- hopefully she wouldn’t need it- and hauled her to her feet. “Okay?” He asked. Astrid nodded.
Zephyr and Nuffink watched anxiously as their parents headed for the stairs. Nuffink was tugging at his braids. “Is Mamma okay?” He asked.
“She’s got tummy ache, Nuff,” said Zephyr, holding Nuffink’s shoulder as he tried to run to Astrid. “She’s okay. Pappa will look after her.”
Hiccup was trying to decide whether to take Astrid upstairs or to the sofa. Her grip on his shoulder was fierce and she was getting stronger with each step. He could feel her tugging on him, leading him, trying to walk without him. Bed; he decided. He’d take her to bed. She’d feel better after some sleep. She’d feel better-
Astrid’s legs buckled.
Her hand released Hiccup’s shirt and her arm slipped from his neck. She hit the floor like a rag doll, her head smashing against the tiles. Hiccup heard himself cry out, heard her name echo off the kitchen walls, but it wasn’t enough. He couldn’t break her fall. She lay still and silent, motionless by the door.
In the hours that followed, Hiccup would replay that moment over and over again. He would feel her falling away from him, hear the crack of skull on stone. He would see her lying in a scrawny heap, hear Zephyr reassuring Nuffink that “this happens to grown up ladies sometimes”. He would remember his heart beat thundering in his throat as he rolled Astrid onto her side, and he would ask himself why he didn’t catch her. In the hours that followed, he would wonder whether catching her would have made a difference. He would try to believe the doctors when they said it would have made no difference at all.
Index with disclaimer and links to other chapters