The Thunder of Galloping Horses. memoir by Angela Rebrec

Bio Photo Angela Rebrec 2020

The Thunder of Galloping Horses 

         Sometimes a knocking at the door is just the wind. A look through the peephole will confirm this.

         They argue about the blood test, the requisition on the fridge held up for the past six and a half weeks by a magnet that boldly yells ALASKA in multi-coloured all-caps.

          “What’s the point,” she growls at him, “It’s not like I’d do anything about it.” She hops into the car and drives towards the lab at the local strip mall, the creased requisition on the seat beside her like an unwanted passenger.

         Barely a fortnight after fertilization and the heart begins to form. By the fifth week the heart starts to beat and divides into chambers. At six weeks, blood flows inside the body. By ten weeks, when she’s lying on the mid-wife’s couch and the Doppler wand comes to a stop at her belly’s bottom right side, they hear their baby’s own heartbeat.

         A knock at the door can be ignored for only so long. The wind can stand there for days.

         The doctor’s voice from the other end of the telephone reminds her of a pre-recorded message: …quad screen results positive…no need to worry…at this point doesn’t mean anything…because of how far along you are… schedule you in immediately …hospitalamniocentesis.

         The heart rate of a healthy baby in the womb ranges from about 120 to 160 beats per minute. A heartbeat that’s much faster or slower than that may signal a problem. [i]

         On occasion, the wind will let itself in with its own key.

         He leans over to her and exclaims, “These odds don’t look so bad.” The genetic counsellor nods as she preps them with stats, diagrams, outcomes, results.

         A one-eighth chance, she thinks, unwilling to speak it out loud, as though that act alone will make it solid, breathe into it a life all its own. 

         Cells duplicating and splitting and joining up again like starlings in a murmuration, pulsing and then cinching together like a belt at the waist. When chromosomes don’t separate the way they should, sometimes they get stuck together, to travel in threes or to travel all alone. Everyone’s chromosomes are a little bit different; but sometimes, cells get it all wrong.

         The texture of the room sticks to her body like fly paper. Every speck of dust, the pea gravel the children have carried in their shoes from the playground that now lies under the rack, the whites soaking in bleach in the tub, the sun stretching its fingers through the laundry room window, all chafe her like the sound of hornets.

         She sits on the laundry room chair as she answers the call from the doctor.

         The sound of hornets.

         The channel between the pulmonary artery and the aorta in a fetal heart diverts blood away from the lungs as prenatal blood is already oxygenated from the mother. After birth, this channel usually closes on the first day of life. If it does not close, it results in a decreased flow of oxygen into the body.[ii]

         A cool breeze staggers through the room while the door is left gaping.

         He argues: “Isn’t it obvious? It’s the right thing for our family. There isn’t even any question.” It’s an argument she knows she cannot win.

         It’s what mothers are supposed to do.

         In the hospital she asks the doctor. Just in case. In case they got it wrong.

         She almost makes him cry.

         Following the diagnosis of a genetic anomaly, some couples choose to have a legal abortion. However, following later abortions at greater than 20 weeks, the rare but catastrophic occurrence of live births can lead to fractious controversy over neonatal management. To avoid this situation, a fetal intracardiac potassium chloride injection is administered to cause fetal cardiac arrest before induction of labor.[iii]

         The walk to the hospital room. The longest hallway. The framed canvas photos on the wall of wide-awake or sleeping babies. The hallway at its narrowest. Families passing them in the tightest corner of the hallway, squeezing them out with their laughter and mylar balloons. The hallway and its photos. Baby sounds funnelling into the hallway as if from a soundtrack. The photos. The hospital room in the quietest corner of the ward. The longest walk. The noisy ward. The longest walk.

         In their hospital room, the nurse arrives with several painted boxes made by ladies from the auxillary. “You can choose one,” she says. “For keepsakes…footprints, photos…the ladies make them for families…like yours.”

         Not until the nurse shows them the last box does one finally speak to them as an overflowing riverbank: a blanketed baby asleep on a crescent moon, and behind, a blue-black sky filled with stars.

         She tells her husband “Run.” She tells him “Go get the nurse.” She knows childbirth and this is too easy, too soon. She squats over the toilet. The half-dose of Demerol begins to kick-in, and suddenly, she’s alone in the bathroom with her motionless baby.

         Sounds held up to the light. Clouds shuffle past as a procession, peer into the hospital window, witness a bed centred in the room, the chair with its back to the glass, the closed door failing to bar the scarring sounds from the hallway. From the door’s vertical glass panel: flash of purple scrubs, a jean jacket, mylar balloons, flowers cradled in arm. Sounds embrace after pacing in the hallway. Murmurs. Whispers. Hush, hush. Meadow flowers blooming in the hallway. Dappled clouds now peering in through the door’s window, push forward through the hallway’s mist, hold flowers up to the florescence. Teacups rattle on their saucers. Kittens mew at the door. Elbow through the sound. Light and its noise held up so high. Hush.

         She remembers it like a dream. Laughter in the midwife’s office and the fetal Doppler rolling across her belly. Too much laughter. “Quiet,” chuckles the midwife as she turns the volume up on the Doppler’s speaker: the unmistakeable sound of galloping horses. Their thunder rises in the room, joins the laughter already jumping on the ceiling like children tumbling in a carnival bouncy castle.

         The first rule of the door: always look through the peephole for what awaits outside.

         Nurse barges into the room, breaks the ice-quiet like a pick. “She’s so beautiful,” she whispers, as a crocheted-blanketed and flowered-layetted bundle floats across the room. Nurse takes a seat on the bed, and with joy on her face, hands the bundle first to him.

         Not really a bundle: a baseball handful, a kitten, a bouquet of freshly picked dandelions, a teacup and saucer.

         She wonders through the Demerol-half-dose haze: Why so much joy? Were they wrong after all?

         She held her right here, like this. And then she placed her in her palms. Like this.

         He indulges her everything—even the chaplain and the blessing.

         She wants to kiss baby’s feet one last time, but they are covered in knitted booties.

         “While you were asleep I went downstairs,” he confesses. ”What kind of cheap dad would I be if I never bought my daughter anything?”

         From her seat in the far corner of the office she watches rain fall onto cars parked in the lot outside the floor to ceiling window. It’s the third week of August and even the month seems to understand.

         The funeral director explains their policy: “We don’t charge parents anything for our services. You only have to pay for the casket.”

         She sits, trying not to crumble to the floor as a cracked teacup.

         “We’ll take the most expensive one,” he tells the director.

         The emptied room: where friends came and carried the baby’s things away.

         She walks to Safeway because she knows the fresh air will do her good. Moments through the automatic doors and already she is the fine lines of porcelain: the music piped through the store composed in D minor; the aisle with fishy-crackers and arrowroot biscuits; the customer who rifles through the apple bin as her toddler, strapped-in to the buggy’s seat, whines and reaches for a banana bunch.

         It’s all she can do to keep from chipping, piece by piece.

         She grabs a loaf of bread and milk jug by the handle and heads to the checkout.

         As much as you try, some locks cannot be changed.

         There was a knocking at the door.

         She stands at the threshold of the doorway, looks out to the bricked walkway that leads from the front steps of her house towards the sidewalk. In a neighbour’s yard, a tabby attacks an insect under boxwood hedges, misses a robin pulling at a worm on the lawn. Two bicyclists wiz by and soon afterwards a mini-van follows. Petunias wilt like summer butterflies from the patio planter as the garden hose suns itself serpentine underfoot.

         At the threshold of the open doorway, she allows the wind to walk past her and enter, to pace about the rooms of the house, a cold wind that reminds her of galloping horses, a sound that magnifies within the empty upstairs bedroom.

         She whispered, She’s so beautiful. Asleep on a crescent moon.


[i] Moore, Thomas. “When can I hear my baby’s heartbeat?” Baby Center: Expert Advice. n.d. Web. 22 Sept. 2015.

[ii] “The Heart and Downs Syndrome.” National Downs Syndrome Society. 2012. Web. 22 Sept. 2015.

[iii] Fletcher, John C. PhD., et al. “Fetal Intracardiac Potassium Chloride Injection To Avoid The Hopeless Resuscitation Of An Abnormal Abortus: II, Ethical Issues.” Obstetrics and Gynecology Vol. 80, Issue 2 (August 1992): 296-299. Web. 22 Sept. 20 2015.

This memoir was first published in PRISM International, Summer Issue 2016.

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Angela Rebrec is a multidisciplinary artist whose poetry films have been recognized at the Barcelona International Film Festival, FilmmakerLife Awards, and Phoenix Shorts. Her most recent writing has appeared in Vallum, Prairie Fire, GRAIN, Cathexis Northwest Press, as well as the anthology, Voicing Suicide (Ekstasis Editions, 2020). Angela’s 2020 collaboration with composer Mickie Wadsworth for ART SONG LAB  has been included in NewMusicShelf’s Anthology of New Music for Trans & Nonbinary Voices, vol.1. Her writing has been shortlisted for several awards and contests including PRISM International’s Nonfiction Contest. Angela facilitates writing and expressive arts workshops for kids and adults of all ages She lives in Delta, BC on the unceeded ancestral lands of Musqueam, Kwantlen, Stolo, and Tsawwassen peoples.

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Published by darcie friesen hossack

Darcie Friesen Hossack is a graduate of the Humber School for Writers. Her short story collection, Mennonites Don’t Dance, was a runner-up for the Danuta Gleed Award, shortlisted for the Commonwealth Writers Prize and the Ontario Library Association's Forest of Reading Evergreen Award for Adult Fiction. Citing irreverence, the book was banned by the LaCrete Public Library in Northern Alberta. Having mentored with Giller finalists Sandra Birdsell (The Russlander) and Gail Anderson Dargatz (Spawning Grounds, The Cure for Death by Lightening), Darcie's first novel, Stillwater, will be released in the spring of 2023. Darcie is also a four time judge of the Whistler Independent Book Awards, and a career food writer. She lives in Northern Alberta, Canada, with her husband, international award-winning chef, Dean Hossack.

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