"They couldn't save your wife."
Those were the first words blurted at him by his neighbour when Max Brewer returned home to find his house burnt to the ground. He was so much in shock by the sight of the crumbled foundation and burnt wood he barely registered the words at first. And then they sunk in.
A month ago he and his wife had thought it was all over. Their crisis had passed. The words he had expected a month ago out of the mouth of the nurse now issuing from his neighbour's mouth chilled him to the bone. His face blank and dull, his eyes staring straight ahead but not really seeing, he asked the other question. The one not yet answered.
"The children. Where are my babies?" He could not look. Didn't want the pity that would break him down completely.
"They are in hospital. The police say she died to save them."
They were alive! For a moment his heart sung. But he quieted it and merely nodded.
"Do you want a ride there Mr. Brewer?"
He turned towards her finally and although his eyes still expressed a pain so immense it seemed as if it might never diminish, he nodded.
"I'll just go get my keys."
There they were. All five. Could he keep them? Would they haunt him if he didn't? Would they haunt him if he did? He didn't know. All he knew was that they were alive and something would have to be done.
"This may not be the best of times Mr. Brewer but have you any idea what you will do with the children? You as a single person will not be able to care for them all."
"Are you suggesting I give them up?" His voiced cracked.
"We believe that would be the best thing for them. Quintuplets are hard to deal with by themselves but without help... they are impossible. And without someone to support you and them, you haven't got the time."
"Would... Would they remain together?" He didn't want his babies to be separated from him but to separate them from each other would be even worse. He couldn't fathom the idea but right now it was hard enough to keep himself alive and breathing and keeping his head on straight. Max had always been a cool headed man but then most cool headed men have never experienced beating the odds, having a wonderful family and then having it all ripped from them a month later. He had to concentrate. His decisions now could not merely be for himself and his grief over his wife, they must be for the small, living beings snuggled in their hospital beds as the monitors beeped their survival.
"I'm afraid not. It would be impossible to ask a family to take on five babies at once. No they will not be able to remain together. It is possible someone will take two but we can't ask them to take any more than two."
"Could I take two." It was not really a question, more of thought. Something that appeared in his head, flat and uncaring. He struggled for control of his head.
"I'm sorry but I'm afraid not. Mr. Brewer, it is not advisable at this moment that you take even one in your distraught state."
Finally a feeling other than grief and despair! Anger pierced his gloom.
"They are my children, Sir. I will decide what I am doing with them. I understand your concerns but it is my choice. Now will you please leave me alone?"
The officer left.
Three days later, Max was saying goodbye to four of his five. He'd left himself no room for grief since the fire and each of his children had a small locket with a picture of their mother in it, their initials engraved in the back. He knew he'd probably never see them again and that his farewells were the end so he lingered over them, unable to bear the thought of losing this precious moment.
"Goodbye Maxwell," he whispered into the ear of one baby. "Bear your name with pride." He kissed his child before settling him into his car seat for the drive to the social services office.
"Goodbye Lea. Make your mama proud. That was her name too."
"You'll never even remember me, Christopher, but I'll always love you."
"Be true to yourself, Anastasia. You are my beautiful girl."
That drive was the most painful since the one to the hospital but when he returned home he knew he would finally let himself mourn. His one remaining child would be his solace but he must never burden her. He wondered if he had done the right thing. Choosing one child out of five had been so hard but finally he taken the one his wife called "her biggest accomplishment". The runt of the litter. May. He would raise her best he could.