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Catch Your Breath

“Auerbach masterfully captures the many legal and medical nuances and proves adept at sustaining the suspense.”

--Library Journal

“Auerbach brings her adult characters to vivid life in this tense tale.”

Catch Your Breath explores the dilemma of a mother accused of Munchausen’s Syndrome by Proxy, or of deliberately causing her own child’s illness.

Here is an excerpt from the beginning of the novel:

Rosie hears the noise, but it is way far off, wandering around in the back of a very sweet dream, so she turns over and makes it go away for a while. And then the noise rolls up at her again from out of the dream, like a rumble or a growl, odd, but familiar. Then, as sudden as a lightning flash, she knows exactly what it is: it’s her two-year-old, and he’s struggling to breathe.

Please, no, not again, she thinks as she grapples with the sheet and comforter, trying to untangle herself from the bed. She stumbles across the narrow hallway to Jason’s room, scoops him up out of his crib, and she sees that, yes, it’s like the last two times, with the gasping and with his breathing gone all screwy. Rosie flips on the light and sees her child’s brown eyes big with terror, begging her for help. She holds him against herself, too tightly, maybe, but she can’t help it; it’s like he’s going to slip right through her arms if she doesn’t. She tries to remember what the doctor told her to do if it happened again, but she comes up blank. “Jason, honey,” she pleads while she rocks him, but his breathing still comes in little twists that get cut off as soon as they begin. Rosie carries him into her room because she’s going to have to get dressed and drive him to the hospital -- she can’t go in this see-through thing she’s wearing -- but as she tries to lower Jason down onto her bed for a minute, he clutches at the fabric of her nightgown and the gasping becomes more labored. She can’t do it. She can’t put him down. What if she were to let him go and he stopped breathing altogether?

Call Quinn, she tells herself, because with the two of them here, they’ll be able to deal with it. One of them will hold Jason and one will drive, and it’ll be fine.

As she lifts the telephone receiver, she realizes that she’s never coded Quinn’s number into the memory. They’re separated now, trying to be independent of each other, trying to stay further apart than one telephone digit. Pushing the first three numbers, the exchange, which she knows has got to be the same has hers, she figures the rest will come to her, but her fingers only hover, spiderlike, over the number pad. She must have put it in her address book, she thinks, and hangs up the phone. Before she can even find the book of numbers, she has to throw half the contents of her night table out onto the floor, but yes, she has written Quinn into it. Her fingers shake as she pushes at the buttons that’ll connect her to him.

And then he doesn’t answer. Jason’s body feels rigid against her chest, like he’s trying to resist whatever it is that’s torturing him. She puts her cheek down on the baby’s head. “Hurry up,” she growls into the phone, and then she hears Quinn’s voice, deep with sleep, saying hello. “Quinn, Jason’s having a little trouble breathing,” she says, minimizing, trying to sound calm so as not to make Jason any more frightened than he already is, but she knows she’s doing a lousy job of it, feels the way her voice explodes as it hits the word breathing.

“What?” he asks.

“He’s not breathing right, Quinn. You’ve got to come over here.”

“Like croup?” he asks, much more alert sounding now.

“Maybe. Maybe it’s like that,” she reassures herself, for she has remembered the time Quinn is talking about, when Jason, only a tiny infant, had a terrible cold and almost stopped breathing. Maybe it was like that, maybe he had a cold now.

“You need to turn on the shower,” Quinn says. “Make it hot, then take him into the bathroom so he can breathe the steam.”

She holds Jason against her hip while she reaches her hand into the shower to turn the hot water on full blast, just like Quinn said and then she sits down on the floor, leaning up against the tub. She’s crying now, because she’s started to think about Jason dying and she can’t bear it, losing him, she couldn’t possibly live without him. She strokes his head and back and tells him that she loves him and everything’s going to be all right, but she knows it’s not. This is the third time this has happened and something is really wrong with her child. She’s got the door closed to keep the steam contained, and that’s why she doesn’t hear Quinn when he comes to the front door and finds it bolted from the inside. She doesn’t know that he has already ripped through the screening of the storm door and she doesn’t hear him pounding both fists high against the wooden door. She doesn’t hear him shouting her name into the night.