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She

A story of desperation like no other...


She walked the streets, not knowing where to go or what to do. Whimpering and still warm, her newborn baby lay where she had left him. She hoped the owner of the tatty launderette would find him when she came to lock up, if no one had found him before.

Flickering like a broken slot machine, the fluorescent lights of the launderette provided not enough light for day and too much for night. The baby snuffled in time with each flash of the bulb. He was covered: wrapped in her soft, pink, Pointelle cardigan. She pulled off the tiny pearl buttons in case they had pressed in to his delicate, but bluing, skin. Clutching the buttons in her left hand, she continued the longest walk of her life.

If she had worn mascara, it would be running down her cheeks, clogging around her lashes, clumping in the corners of her beautiful green eyes. Her blood-shot eyes daren’t look back: they followed her feet as they kicked the air. She wasn’t sure whether she was weak or the air strong, but the leaden blanket fought against her. Just like everyone else.

Staring through the window of a betting shop, she watched as the tempted or desperate played with their lives or the lives of their loved ones. Hope was all they needed, hope and the ‘little extra’ they had put away. She had had hope for a while, when she first felt the sparkling kicks of life inside her, but it dwindled as they became less and less real. It’s amazing how unnoticeable a life can become when you will it enough. Amazing too how she could hide it by buying a bigger size and denying the occasional ‘are you putting on weight’ question. She really hadn’t put on much weight at all. There was no ‘bump’ as such; she had made sure she didn’t over eat; she starved the pregnancy as if it didn’t exist. She had to ensure those closest to her knew nothing: she had no option. They must never know.

Barely discernible, within earshot of whirring washing machines, the baby boy lay chilled despite his mother’s gift of her button-less cardigan. His breathing shallow, he called out to her, the tiniest cry, hoping to feel a pair of recognisable arms subdue it; they didn’t come.

She didn’t give the bundle a name; she hadn’t thought of one. Without a name, perhaps he wasn’t hers, perhaps he wasn’t real. She didn’t dare look in to his eyes; she had made a pact with herself that she wouldn’t. She didn’t want a mental photograph. That sort of tenderness would cripple her, bring her back to reality and give the tot artificial hope: the artificial hope of love.

As her feet carried her past the motor parts shop, she saw a pair of fluffy dice dangling in the window display. Her mind wandered to the nursery her best friend had created for her daughter and the ‘farm’ mobile that was suspended above the cot. She nearly managed a smile until she remembered her nameless baby boy. She tried, more than she thought she would need to, to shift his existence from her thoughts. A careless shake of her limp, red hair managed it, this time.

A whiff of fish and chips hit out at her; she saw the cook vigorously shaking the chip pan and she allowed the familiar scent to envelop her. She realised, for the first time since ‘the launderette’ that she felt discomfort – a deep ache. Becoming aware of herself, her face formed a pained frown. She had been convinced that maternal feelings would not come – she had driven them away, focusing on anything other than her body. As far as she felt, the pregnancy was divorced from her being. Quite how she managed to convince her body to follow the plan she did not know but, at least up until that moment, it had been successful.

Soothed by the smell of fried chips, the little bundle’s father crossed her mind. The gambler: willing to chance a moment’s pleasure with that of a life. Oh, he was beautiful to look at, mesmerising to listen to, with an electric touch that momentarily caused her to lose all sensibility: never again. The chancer would never know what he had lost. He would never know about the life he helped create. Although, she realised, she would never know it either: she had lost too.

All too quickly she was caught in the bustle of a small crowd. She must have looked a little odd or spaced out. The bingo hall had just opened its doors and she was jostled as they impatiently rushed inside. They had money to spend, to risk, and they were set to play the game. No one spoke to her or offered any help. She took that to mean, thankfully, that no one could tell what had happened at the launderette. She hoped no one would ever guess her secret – they couldn’t.

‘What is a perfect mother?’ she thought. She wasn’t sure, wasn’t convinced anyone really knew. It wasn’t leaving a precious package in some sub-standard shopping precinct, she knew that. She repeatedly attempted to justify her actions when any doubt flooded her mind: she struggled. Desperation had been the cause, that and the knowledge that she couldn’t go home with that baby.

Almost at the end of the grotty street, she saw the condemned casino on the opposite side. She imagined the revellers and the late-nighters heading to the casino for a wager. Dressed to impress, they watched the roulette wheel with their crossed fingers hidden beneath the table. The ‘black-jackers’ sat hiding their sweat patches with their jacket sleeves rolled up to their elbows. Apparently, the Casino closed forever after one too many arrests outside, when the games from within spilt out in to reality.

However she tried to convince herself otherwise, sadness screamed out of her eyes. A pained expression replaced her crack at a smile; the number eleven appeared, ingrained between her eyebrows; her mouth drooped well before her age dictated. Perhaps this would be harder than she originally thought but she had to carry it off; she had to go home as if the last nine months hadn’t happened.

The little one’s whimpers were gathering pace as he grew more ravenous for comfort. As late evening set in, the souvenir of his mother’s cardigan was now inadequate for his tiny limbs. His petite hands, eager to seize affection from the air around him, were beginning to turn purple. A strange feeling was piercing his stomach: hunger. However hard he tried to suckle his fist, he wasn’t satisfied. Whilst he still had any energy left at all, he needed to cry for help. A launderette customer, or its owner, were his only possibility now.

The metal door clattered past its hinges and the bulb flickered, almost to the brink of its existence. An elderly gent called to his wife.

“Jenny, are you ready for the off, love?”

Jennifer, the launderette manager, pottered out to her husband of forty-five years. Her eyes gave a final sweep around the premises when she paused; both Jenny and her hubby heard it, a feeble bleat from somewhere in the room. Hurriedly, they peered in to each dark space in the launderette and there the poor darling was: the abandoned victim. He was perfect but his colour almost matched that of the 1970s linoleum flooring. Shocked, Jenny bent down to pick up the tiny treasure. He was so precious, she didn’t dare break him. Jenny’s husband frantically called 999 and in doing so noticed a warm basket of towels on top of the largest tumble-dryer – this became the discarded chap’s crib. His minute cries for attention had been answered and Jenny’s tender bosom was the perfect nesting place.

Meanwhile, she was nearly home. Home, without the little distraction that had been plaguing her for the last few months, he was lost to her: abandoned. She hadn’t predicted the pain surging through her body and mind. Would it show on her face? Would it show when she walked or attempted to talk? Somehow, she had to build a shield – and fast. It was overwhelming as she forced herself to become numb. This numbness would protect her. It had to. There could be no more thoughts of that child. It didn’t happen. He was not hers.

Shivering, she reached her doorway and almost stumbled over the tall step. Her legs trembled and the warm air, although welcome, caused a wave of nausea like she had never experienced. Her heart thumped on her chest wall, desperate to escape. She swallowed hard and tried to breathe more deeply. Her body wanted to collapse, to give in but somehow she had to go through the little porch and in to normality: her normality.

“Are the children in bed?” she called to her partner of fourteen years. The wonderful man she never thought she could deceive. “I’ll go straight up to them.” This she did and as she tucked the duvets tightly around their bodies, a tear escaped from the well inside and trickled down her colourless cheek.

Copyright S. J. Whatling 2015 ‘She’

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