Extract from Christmas Angels by Nadine Dorries

  

Kitty held on tight to the handle of the pushchair, with Maura repeatedly reminding her not to let go, as they wandered down the main corridor of St Angelus, scanning the signs for one that said Children’s Chest Clinic. Maura’s hands were warm and clammy and she wasn’t sure who was the more scared, her or Tommy. 
 
They had failed to find the clinic so far and were too afraid to ask the way. They felt far too insignificant to bother anyone they had seen pass by so far. Maura opened her mouth as a serious-looking doctor strode past them, his white coat kicking out behind, his stethoscope strung around his neck and flying out in front, but no words escaped. In Maura’s world, you waited for someone as important as a doctor to speak to you first. Maura and Tommy both felt awkward. This was not their world of the docks and the streets, where they were both well known and respected. This was a world of education and disease. The first was a stranger to them all, the second a far too frequent visitor, both to their own home and to those of their dockside neighbours. 
 
‘Ask your woman here,’ Tommy hissed as a lady in a starched navy-blue dress strode past at a very determined pace, her head held high, her frilled and elaborate cap spilling down her back, letting everyone know that she was a very important nurse indeed. 
 
‘Why don’t you, you eejit! You ask.’ 
 
He failed. By the time Tommy had got his tongue around his words, the woman had disappeared. 
 
Maura nudged him as a group of nurses marched by. ‘Go on now.’ 
 
The nurses were clutching at their black and red capes as flashes of their pink uniforms became briefly visible beneath. Their heads were angled close to one another, starched caps meeting in the middle, and they were whispering as they went. 
 
‘What happened there then, Tommy? You’re gasping like a fish out of water,’ said Maura as they stared at the backs of the departing nurses. 
She looked directly at Tommy and, seeing the anxiety etched on her face, he felt helpless. He was, just as she said, a fish out of water and he would have given anything to be anywhere but St Angelus. 
 
Angela began to grizzle in the pushchair. She was uncomfortable and they could both hear the rattling in her chest, but the biggest worry for Maura was that Angela had stopped complaining. Angela had been labelled from birth as a crier and Maura proclaimed almost daily that if she’d been her firstborn, there would have been no more. They’d already tried everything they could think of to ease her cough – a visit to the priest, several doses from the miracle-cure-in-a-bottle that Kathleen had brought back from the west coast of Ireland, and a prayer request to the nuns at Mass the day before. But the morning had brought no improvement. 
 
Tommy had crept down the stairs on his way to his early shift, careful not to wake their other children, who had slept in the bed with him. As he tiptoed over to his dozing wife, he took one look at the dark circles under her eyes and the red rings around those of his precious daughter and made the decision to call in the doctor. The kitchen was lit only by the waning moon, the struggling flat grey dawn and the dying embers 
in the fire. 
 
Maura sensed his presence and opened her eyes wide. 
 
‘How is she?’ he’d whispered as he squatted down at her side, holding on to the arm of the settle to keep his balance. 
 
Maura, ever the vigilant housewife, noted as he spoke that there was a gravy stain on his vest from the night before. ‘Still bad. She did sleep for some of it, though,’ she whispered back. 
 
As though to let him hear it for himself, Angela’s chest rattled with her next inward breath. 
 
‘I’ll knock on next door and ask Peggy to go and fetch the doctor.’ 
 
Maura had nodded. The time had come. Most of the Irish mothers in the streets cured their own, with patience and love and a few herbs sent in the post from Ireland. But they always knew when it was time to hand over to a higher authority.
 
Christmas Angels by Nadine Dorries is out now. Get your copy here