The fluorescent lights, high above in the ceiling of the pediatric ward, were intense in their incandescence. Brianna had grown unaccustomed to artificial brightness, a consequence of living for the past years in a world lit by sun and candles alone, and she felt her red rimmed eyes burning again. One of the lights flickered persistently and in any other circumstance its constant buzz would have been exasperating, but in contrast with the turmoil already rampant inside her, that irritating event was of no consequence.
In the last few days, Brianna had barely been able to remove her eyes from the baby cot containing the small form of her daughter, and only allowed to be pulled away, albeit with some resistance, when her body demanded rest. And even then, on the brim of complete exhaustion, sleep would not come easily.
In contrast, Amanda rested at ease even among the steady noises of machines, leaving Brianna constantly marveled at the peacefulness of her child, as if she had not spent hours under the skilled scrutiny of surgeons just a few weeks ago. She had counted the days since then, all of them an excruciating passage of time while observing only small improvements and expecting the words that would relieve the weight on her chest.
Among the general numbness that filled her body these days, she most acutely felt her breasts painfully heavy with the milk she could not yet feed to her demanding daughter. That new inability to provide for her own baby only added to the sense of uselessness when all she could do was watch and wait. A demanding effort for someone who had struggled with patience all her life.
Eager to provide at least comfort, Brianna leaned forward and touched Mandy’s little hand. She gripped back fiercely with newfound strength, her little nails no longer purple as they had been when her mother made the diagnosis that sealed their fate and carved a fear so deep within her that it was yet to leave.
She had once traded the commodities of the 20th century for the comfort of family, until she was faced with a pain for which comfort alone would not suffice. So, before they left, Brianna had begged her mother to spare no details explaining the surgery, because if she could deconstruct and rationalize the information in her mind towards all possible outcomes, perhaps then the fear of the unknown would not be so crippling. Back then, in her mother’s distinctive analytical voice, the steps had been laid out before her, setting her and Roger’s lives in motion again with no choice but to leave a time that was not their own.
And since then keeping track of time had been a tricky business when one’s life revolved around a hospital room. When day and night became indistinct from each other, and rest would not come easy, she attempted a brave smile, would take Jemmy by the hand and step out into the burning sunlight. In those brief moments when Brianna sat alone with her son, she tried hard to temporarily pause her worries and allow Jem to fill the silence with a stream of questions that her foggy mind struggled to assimilate all at once. And all she could do was hold him through the waves of wonder as he absorbed the brand-new world that surrounded him. Had the world been this loud before? She kept wondering as she found herself a little in awe as well in spite of the immediate shock of being back to the 20th century.
As certain as she was that it would only take a short while for her, Brianna was not quite sure Roger would ever be completely at ease in this time again, for even in the few weeks since they had arrived, she noticed Roger struggling to conciliate both worlds, a shocking antithesis of each other. It was also clear that he was holding back his thoughts, afraid that it would crumble the impeccably strong pretense he wore every day to support her and Jemmy. But Brianna saw the worry firmly etched in the wrinkle between his eyes, which had not left since the diagnose. She read it in the desperate manner he often sought her hand for comfort, and in the soothing whispers in Gàidhlig to Mandy in the middle of the night. And as a sort of escape from the concern running freely through his mind, Roger consumed newspapers voraciously every day as he sat beside her, distilling the world he once knew into comprehension again.
But right now, Brianna did not care if the world was headed towards destruction and humankind had learned nothing whatsoever in the past centuries. She barely took notice of her surroundings while being completely absorbed in the consuming worry for her child. A part of her world lay in that cot, so terrifyingly helpless among modern medicine.
As she held on to Mandy’s small hand, a familiar smell rose once more in the surrounding air, which forced Brianna to twist her nose to get rid of it, though it filtered through her pores nonetheless. The constant coming and going of nurses made the room smell of that sort of antiseptic that had mingled with her mother’s perfume a lifetime ago. Memories of her childhood often came as an amalgamation of senses, and this one stood out vividly. Brianna had despised that scent while growing up, for it reminded her of the place that consumed her mother’s attention and often left her waiting hours for her to come home, valiantly fighting sleep. After a while Brianna learned that waiting was futile and accepted, begrudgingly, the few moments of undivided attention she would get. And as time went on, Brianna found that she would rather be surrounded by the stuffy scent of her Dad’s study, of hardwood, pipe and paper, comforting scents in the absence of her mother. Their time spent together made Brianna fiercely devoted to her father while her mother was sometimes dethatched from the surroundings, inhabiting the privacy of her own thoughts.
Brianna sighed. Even after all this time she was not being completely fair. She spent the early years of her life resenting her mother based on a hidden narrative, while she found refuge in what she loved to do in order to hide a broken heart. All the while she tried hard to build a family with a man that, even though was dear to her, could never substitute the one she had loved the most. Now, through the perspective of time and truth, Brianna understood that her mother had done the best she could with the choice that had been made for her. Just like Brianna was trying to do as a mother, now for the second time, and finding for herself that it meant the ability to be selfless as she matured and grew into her own self.
She missed her mother terribly, and even though she had always seen herself as independent, she now realized how much she truly leaned on her mother, on both her parents really, for support. She even missed the new scent of herbs her mother had acquired, which in hindsight was much more fitting to the kind of woman she was, like she had always meant to belong to the earth itself, looking more at home than she ever had.
The absence of her parents burned in her chest and her arms felt oddly empty with the desire to hold her mother. Instead she took a fussing Mandy from the cot and held her carefully against her chest, feeling the strong heartbeat vibrate through the little body. Mandy’s features were fuller than before with a soft pink glow constantly on her round cheeks. As Brianna looked down, her daughter’s eyes, already vivid and fully aware, stared back at her as if fully trusting the comfort and support her mother would always provide.
She held in her arms the baby she had yearned for quite a long time, although she came with the bittersweet cost of leaving part of her family behind. Brianna had lived a thoroughly sheltered life as a child, which left her painfully immature to her own world, let alone an 18th century one. The growing pains had been hard and numerous, though nothing had prepared her for the heart wrenching feeling of taking her baby girl and saying goodbye to her parents, losing them for what would likely be forever.
“Oh, Mama…” She sighed with closed eyes as she kissed Mandy’s silky black hair.
She felt a large hand closing gently on her shoulder then, while a smaller one came to rest on her arm. Without opening her eyes Brianna knew that Roger and Jemmy had returned and stood reassuringly beside her.
“It’s alright to miss her.” Roger said softly.
Not for the first time she was surprised at how in tune with her thoughts he was, or perhaps they were just so clearly visible on her face that it was hard to miss.
“I was once used to be apart from her, to be on my own.” She said looking into his eyes. “And we had said goodbye before, so I thought it would be easier this time, but now I find myself wishing she was here with me.”
“Aye, I miss her too. Both of them actually.” He paused for a brief moment then began again nervously. “Do you regret our decision?”
“Absolutely not!” She said vehemently. “I’ll miss them for the rest of my life but will never regret this.”
Roger nodded silently, visibly relaxing, and surrounded her shoulders with his arm. He placed a tender kiss on her forehead and waited patiently for her to fully empty her mind of some of the pain he knew had roamed it for days.
“It’s just that mama’s still so vivid to me, you know?” Brianna said looking down again at her daughter. “As if we have only moved to a different place, but the fact is that right now she’s-“
Dead? Gone? She could not bring herself to complete the phrase and no word seemed suitable to describe the novelty of leaving loved ones 200 years in the past. In a sense she was mourning all the people they had left behind, altogether in one dreadful, all-encompassing moment.
Silence filled the room as the three of them came together around the baby in Brianna’s arms, so lost between memories of the past and the uncertainty of the future, that they were unaware of the sound of footsteps that came towards them. The arrival of the doctor caught them off guard with the news they had all been silently praying for. Amanda was sufficiently healed already and they could finally take a healthy daughter home, and after a brief discussion they were left alone once more.
She heard Roger’s rough voice questioning no one in particular, as if the word itself was absolutely foreign to him in this context.
Home. A strange concept indeed. A surge of panic gripped her heart and made her hold Mandy even closer. She suddenly became painfully aware that there was no home to go back to.
Brianna looked around her. A pair of small blue eyes and another pair of green ones stared at her with that sort of innate determination that burned deep in the Mackenzie bloodline. Her frightened heart slowed down a little under their equally intense gazes and the solid weight of the baby in her arms. It dawned on her then, as clear as their love for each other that wherever, and whenever home was, at least they were together.