6:55pm. She was covered in white froth.
They held her up for a moment – seen through sodden hair: pink, screaming, alive – declared her female and took her away.
The mother wiped hair from her daughter’s face. The daughter looked at the mess that was her labour and after the baby that made her a mother too. Of sorts.
She was returned bathed and in a blanket. To hold for a moment. A slip of warmth, with soft, fast breaths, that would almost fit in a shoebox. The mother left her daughter and granddaughter to be alone. Heard quiet singing, threads of a Gaelic lullaby. Let tears fall on the lino.
The pink thing was harder to keep than to give.
Then, hours later in the ward, the daughter signed papers in neat cursive, “I would like them to be gentle and understanding people. Loving. Aware of the trust I place in them.” With small, reasonable pen-strokes she became a girl again. Not a mother after all.
Then days later she wrote a poem, “I will hide you if you need me. Just like you, someone freed me.” Rhyming couplets. Six verses. One spelling mistake. Their instead of they’re, a small mistake, as mistakes go.
Then weeks later she went back to school. Church. Saw him, and tried to be the same as before.
All the while, on the second floor of the Diocese of the Mission of St James and St John, the pink thing slept. A little hungry, a little cold and not long for her name. Not Jessica. Not even Amy.
Just a baby.
It was because of her crippled arm. They’d known each other forever, and since he was a rough sketch of right… and since she liked to sketch…
It was because of loneliness too. Walls and walls of it in a country so fucken big it had no edges.
They met at school. Both were Presbyterian and he understood the migrant struggle. The Machine Operator career peak at the Ford factory, the shithole that was Corio, and how it was still better than Northern Ireland. And her brothers knew his brother and he was all right.
Also, he had dark hair and sang in a band. So it was because she liked poetry, music, art. Darkness. They both read – made them bigger than themselves and their lives.
When he took her she felt chosen. It was easy, a moment of pain and then fine. Small price to pay for the arm. And he was caring, gentle in an impatient way. Didn’t seem to notice she was there when he came, but said nice things after.
She might do it again. Hell, people were dying in Belfast so why not?
Except somewhere inside her, a cell divided. And then divided again. And became something more than they meant to each other.
25 years later
No one really wants to do it in the back of a Corolla, but sometimes there’s nothing left to say. And after all, there’d been the promise of something. The emails. The talk of systems architecture. Food. Every low inflection dripping with sex (which she was good at – lengthen the vowels, deepen the voice).
And she’d shaved.
And she kept her promises.
So they’d climbed over the seats, and pretended to need each other urgently and he’d lasted about 40 seconds before it was over. Then he’d cried. Sobbed. And said he was so lonely. She’d held his head, knowing that was true, because he was alone. She was miles away, wishing it’d been good enough to justify itself.
There’s a pointlessness to fucking if it’s not for love or spectacular lust. There’s a nothingness to it that swallows you whole. It’s what methodone is to heroin. It’s worse than nothing.
She knew this and fucked him anyway. At least nothingness is truthful.
After the sobbing, socks were found and awkwardly replaced. She stood beside the Corolla in the frozen, still midnight air and looked at the lights across the bay. He started the engine, she got in. They didn’t touch or speak. He drove her home.
And somewhere inside her a cell divided. And then divided again. And became something more than she would ever let live.