This morning, the sun is shining right into my face. I can feel its warmth caressing my cheeks. Its buttery fingers are trying to prise open my eyes. I don’t want to open my eyes though. I don’t want to hear the birds singing their hearts out. If I open my eyes, I’ll see the apple tree smothered in blossom and its branches pressing against the bedroom window. I’ll see the cloudless blue sky and I’ll hear the children next door laughing as they play games in their garden. Yes! Everything in the world will be normal. But in my heart, there is a dark and empty place. In my mind, nothing will ever be normal again.
I’ve been getting labour pains. Michelle, that’s the Health Visitor, says they’re ‘after pains’ and are quite common after the baby has been born. It’s been six weeks since I gave birth. My stomach is still very tender and a bit swollen but the nurse says that it will go down.
It must be like when they have earthquakes and they have ‘after shocks’. Well, I’ve had an after shock. I’ve had the shock of my life.
The social worker is coming tomorrow. She’s got a funny name, it sounds like Kowalski. She’s got an accent but she
speaks beautiful English. Not like me. She’s a lovely person though. She’s got those very blue eyes that wrinkle at the corners when she laughs. It must be hard, doing her job. I mean having to talk to people when their baby has died. I bet she goes
home and has a good cry sometimes. I’m always crying these days.
Yesterday, when I was at mum’s, I was doing the washing up and I felt this big, painful lump in my chest. It went right up into my throat and suddenly scalding hot tears came into my eyes. The next thing, I was sobbing my heart out. I just couldn’t stop. I had a banging headache afterwards but the lump was still there. I can still feel it when I swallow. It really upset mum.
Sometimes Mrs Kowalski tells me about her home and family in Poland. I asked her if she missed them and she said she did sometimes, but her life was here in England now. I’ve never been abroad. I’ve never even been on an aeroplane. My mum hasn’t either. She always says that if God had meant us to fly he’d have given us wings!
My baby was beautiful, but she was pale and still. They let me hold her for a while and when I kissed her little face, it was as cold as marble. I didn’t want to leave her there, she looked so lonely, but they said I had to say goodbye. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do. Now I’m lonely too and some days I want to be with her.
My mobile phone is buzzing round like an angry bee on the bedside table. I don’t want to answer it. The vibrations are making it move around and it keeps chinking against my glass of water. It’s annoying me. I’ll have to answer it.
‘Oh hello Mum!’
‘Hello Love! Were you asleep?’
‘No, it’s OK, you didn’t wake me. I was just thinking about getting up anyway’
‘I thought you might like to come over and have some lunch with me later. I could do with the company.’
‘Well I hadn’t thought of coming over today. I don’t feel very sociable.’
‘Have you been feeling depressed love?’
‘No, not depressed exactly but I do feel a bit down. Mrs Kowalski’s coming tomorrow to talk about Chantal. I feel I need to psyche myself up, if you know what I mean. Perhaps I’ll pop round this afternoon if I feel up to it ‘
‘You do that love! I’ll be looking out for you. Bye for now’
‘Yeah! See you later mum!’
I love the smell of mum’s house. It doesn’t smell of chip fat, stale tobacco smoke and sweaty trainers like Gary’s house. Gary’s mum isn’t very house-proud. When I step into the hall I get a wonderful scent of flowers and sometimes of the carrot cake that she likes baking. Gary used to love her home-made cakes. She didn’t seem surprised when I told her he’d left me. It was like she expected it somehow. As soon as he found out I was expecting Chantal he was off! You couldn’t see him for dust! Mum said some men were like that. They couldn’t face up to the responsibility. I didn’t blame him. He was only 22.
About six months ago I bumped into him with his new girl friend in Greenways supermarket. She didn’t look more than about fifteen. She had dark roots showing through her dirty blonde hair. She didn’t speak or smile or anything. She just stared at my lump with her small blue eyes. I was quite big by then. Gary said, ‘you look tired out’
It was true. The baby was very active at night, kicking and jumping around inside me. She often kept me awake. I didn’t mind. I was so excited. Often, to pass the time when I couldn’t sleep, I’d be planning how I’d dress Chantal, the toys I’d buy and the birthday parties there’d be. I imagined her in her school uniform with her hair in plaits and ribbons. She’d be holding my hand tightly as we walked through the school playground on her first day
Just for a moment I had a glimpse of what could have been, then Gary put his hand on my bump and said ‘Good luck’! They wandered away into the other aisle, and it’s funny, but I haven’t seen either of them since.
My mum is sitting at the big, old, pine kitchen table with her nose practically pressed against an old laptop she bought second hand off the internet. She’s on the internet 24/7. She lives her life on it. She loves buying and selling things on eBay. If anyone had ever told me my mother would become a whiz on the internet I never would have believed them. I’m hopeless with computers. I can just about send an email. I’ve no patience with it. If it doesn’t do what I want I just get angry, start shouting and want to throw it out of the window. When she sees me, she smiles shyly. She’s had some new false teeth and isn’t used to them yet. We have a big hug. I can smell the scent she uses that she buys from Marks and Spencer. She smells of roses. I notice she’s got a grey streak in her dark hair that she didn’t have before. She’s got shadows under eyes too. It’s not just me that’s suffering.
After lunch we sit in the conservatory for a while chatting, then mum says she wants to show me something. ‘I’ve been decorating your old bedroom, come upstairs and have a look and see what you think.’
My old room has been transformed. The walls have been painted the palest of pink and cream voile curtains flow down to the floor. The curtains are drawn against the late afternoon sun and the room is in semi-darkness. In the middle of the thick beige carpet is a white cot with an animal mobile spinning slowly back and forth. My stomach starts churning and my mouth is dry. I look at mum but she simply puts her fingers to her lips and nods at the cot. I tiptoe to the cot and look at the baby lying cushioned on a white polka dot quilt. She is dressed in a little pink Broderie Anglais dress and fluffy pink bootees to match. Her eyes, fringed with dark lashes, are closed and her tiny hands are raised, palms up, in an attitude of surrender above her head. The material of her dress billows out with the rhythm of her light breathing. After a while, I realise she looks exactly like Chantal. I want desperately for this little one to be my Chantal. I turn away confused. I try to disguise the sob caught in my throat with a cough. ‘Oh! She’s so beautiful! Is it really chantal, mum?’
Mum has come up to the cot and puts her arm round me. ‘Yes’, she whispers, ‘and she’s all yours for ever!
It‘s such a sunny morning that I am taking Chantal for a walk in her new pram today. Lots of people have been stopping to look in the pram and admire her. She looks so sweet, fast asleep in her pink bonnet, her dark eyelashes brushing her velvety cheeks. We go in to the park, I sit down on the bench and with one hand on the pram, I start throwing some bread at the ducks. It‘s funny watching them splashing around; squawking, quacking and
standing on their heads in the water. There aren’t many people about. Everybody’s at work at this time of day. It’s like we
almost have the park to ourselves. It‘s good to feel the warmth of the sun on my shoulders. I am sleeping much better these days. Even Mrs. Kowalski said how well I was looking when she came to see me yesterday. The lump in my chest has gone now. I think that was all the love I have for my baby. It was all wrapped up into a tight ball that was choking me. At night my chest was so tense I couldn’t breathe. When mum brought back Chantal, that ball loosened and all the love spilled over from my heart into this little bundle.
I was so lost in thought I didn’t notice that it had clouded over and the wind had got up, so we made our way back along the path towards the park gates. Rain started drizzling in the wind and I put my head down to stop my mascara getting wet. I didn’t want it smudging round my eyes like a Panda. So I didn’t see Gary walking towards me. He was with the small, thin girl with dyed blonde hair. They stopped when they saw me. They were blocking my path. Gary was smiling. ‘Let’s see the little ‘un then.’ He looked into the pram and then back at me. ‘My word! Is that our Chantal? She’s amazin’ ain’t she?’
I was just going to answer him but I didn’t get a chance because the blonde girl suddenly rushed forward and stared hard at the little figure sleeping there. Then, without warning, she reached into the pram and grabbed Chantal. She shook her violently and then, shockingly, threw her down on the floor with all her might.
‘It’s a flippin’ doll you idiot! It’s one them baby dolls what they ‘ad on the telly the uvver night!,’ she yelled. ‘Some mad old bag makes ‘em in a microwave in yankee land and ships ‘em over ‘ere.’ Gary and I stared at her. Neither of us could speak. ‘It ain’t real, yer morons. Yer buys ‘em off the internet!’ she screamed. She stared wild eyed at each of us in turn. She walked up to me and put her face close to mine. ‘You’re off your ‘ead you are. You wants a bloody Witch Doctor you do! ‘ she shrieked, showering me with spittle. Then she turned and ran off down the path.
Chantal’s head had become separated from her body and one of her arms and a leg lay in the dirt. Her pretty pink dress was covered in grass stains. Gary picked them up carefully, put them in the pram, and covered them up. ‘We can get her mended. We’ll just have to take her to the doll’s hospital’, he said with a grin and started to push the pram. He turned to me, ‘Well, are you coming then?’
The right of Rusty Gladdish to be identified as the author of this publication has been asserted by her in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.
All characters in this publication are fictitious and any resembleance to persons living or dead, are purely coincidental.