Work in progress...
“HANNAH!” David bawled at her as her tyres screeched against the tarmac. The smell of burnt rubber spilled through the open window and made her feel nauseous. She squinted at the glare from the sun. She glanced into her rear view mirror and saw an elderly man emerge from a Jaguar behind her and wondered why David was leaning across her to close her window. Other drivers, equally pissed off at being stuck in a ten mile tailback, were cursing her from open windows. Six cars down the line three teenage boys were sat cross legged on the roof of a stationary Mark One Golf, and paused their game of cards to add ironic applause to the atmosphere; that couldn’t possibly be safe, she thought to herself. In the car to her left two children were gazing wide eyed at the crazy woman who had just tried to reverse down a dual carriageway. The old man was walking towards her car; she held down button to lock the door and urged David to do the same.
“Fuck this”, she muttered to herself shifting from reverse into first gear.
“Turn the engine off, Hannah. I’ll speak to this bloke and then we will switch places.” David was unnaturally calm. He rubbed his face in frantic despair, a gesture she was becoming accustomed to watching. He left the car, slamming the door behind him with less composure and met the man from the Jaguar halfway. Hannah shuffled round in her seat to watch her diplomatic David reason with the man she had come very close to killing. His hands were raised, palms facing outward- submissive. He was defending her. She was suddenly elated, she wanted to kiss him. She decided she would. He hurried back to the car and tried to open the door on her side. He was sweating. She unlocked the door, ready to hail her hero.
“David! That was amazing!” She shrieked as he flew the door open on its hinge.
“Out!” There would be no debate. She did not like being told what to do.
“You’re not insured, you shit!” She slurred at him. David grabbed her by the arm and forced her out the car, dragging her to her knees, laddering her beige tights that were now stained with the blood seeping from the grazed skin. Humiliated, she rose to her feet to find that David was already belted up in the driver’s seat. She tried the handle, but he had locked the door behind him. She slammed both palms against the window over and over, screaming until her throat was raw. She was unaware of the stares, or she didn’t care. Exhausted, she rested her head on the top of the car. The bodywork had become warm under the afternoon sun and was prickly against head. Defeated, she walked around the back of her car and sunk into the passenger seat.
“What now?” She asked, sheepish and condescended.
“We wait. Like everybody else.” And he switched on the radio, awaiting the traffic report.
Hannah woke up in the hospital. She squinted at the clinical light and the pain behind her eyes made her feel nauseous. Her mouth was dry and she could still taste the hospital coffee burnt onto the back of her throat- except now the taste was hours old and had invaded her entire mouth. She reached across the table for the plastic jug and searched for a cup. Her joints ached and her muscles were sore from having spent three nights in a plastic chair. Lifting her body from the chair she crossed the room towards to the wash basin in order to clean her teeth. She caught sight of her reflection in the mirror; she gently pulled at the corners of her eyes to try and expunge the signs of wrinkles forming. She inspected the dark circles around her eyes and considered their permanence; she scraped back her hair into an elastic band, ignoring its need for shampoo, a hair brush, anything. She wondered where David was and how long she had been asleep. She glanced at the clock above the nurse’s station, but was unsure whether to consider the time as day or night. She thought it must be the morning as she watched fresh faced relatives wander through the special baby unit with flowers and giant bears. She inspected her own impressive collection of balloons and cards and poured herself a glass of water.
She stood beside her son’s cage; he stared back, his eyes were unnaturally large- posing an unanswerable question. The ward was long and thin, two rows of metal pens extending down past the nurses’ station to a wide window. The position of the babies was hierarchical; the closer to the window, the more chance your baby stood at survival. The window babies were at the gate of sanguinity. Hannah couldn’t feel the breeze that would inevitably be tumbling through the window at the end of the row; she was stuck in purgatory. She returned to the cot and touched the child’s hand. It was an unusual exchange, she didn’t want to wake him, yet she was scared to let him sleep.
“Open your eyes.” She whispered. The baby stirred, but didn’t obey.
The nature of human love had been massively overridden by the human instinct to survive; she longed to hold him to her chest, but instead she scrutinized every breath that inflated his lungs. She placed her finger against the formidable bar and watched the oxygen enter his body through a series of tubes and machines that she couldn’t even begin to comprehend. They looked invasive on his tiny, incapable figure, like they were weighing him down, causing more harm than help. She wanted to rip them from him and carry him home. He would be fine with her, with his mother.
She heard somebody enter the room touch her on the shoulder. She didn’t turn round, she could smell David’s aftershave, but she didn’t want him to see her face.
“How is he?” He asked. What a pathetic question, she thought. “Fine.” she said.
But her mind was churning out awful scenarios. What if her son died? Would her grievances be brought into question? Surely she wouldn’t be entitled to cry as much, to lament as deeply as a mother who had held, cherished and nurtured their child. Would they tell her to move on? Even worse, would they be right?
“I’m going to go home and take a shower. Will you take this shift?” She asked her husband in a polite fashion she usually reserved for co-workers and employees. He said of course, and she walked briskly down the hospital corridor and into the blinding sunlight. She thought her skin looked whiter than the other visitors.
Hannah stared silently out of the window as David switched off the engine. Her mother’s house looked different and she didn’t know why. It used to be her sanctuary, a place of support where nobody would let her down. It was warm, nothing in the house matched, the sofa was old and covered in stains, the carpet was threadbare, but it was her home. She always thought she could never love a place more than this, yet in the dark, since it happened, the house looked different. Although she couldn’t see in she knew it would be the same, they always knew what to say in sensitive situations. Her mother could always find the right words, but she couldn’t do anything with their empty words- she just wanted to be alone. The walls looked thick and she thought that if she screamed then nobody outside the house would hear her. She felt hot and anxious and opened the car door. She longed for David to hold her hand, but instead he loaded his arms with the gifts from the back of the car, ignoring her silent plea. The gravel crunched beneath her shoes as she approached the front door- she didn’t need to ring the bell, she had a key, but she did so anyway, out of courtesy, she wasn’t ready to feel at home.
It was the weekend prior to Christmas, the family had gathered to decorate the oversized Norwegian Pine (it looked smaller in the garden centre) and as they ritualistically, as they did every year, removed five inches from the top of the tree so it would stand up, they forced happy giggles with glasses of Cava to the overplayed sounds of Christmas classics. Hannah sat on the coffee table and dug around in dusty boxes decorated with holly leaves searching for the nativity scene, the angel she made in pre-school and the handcrafted dolls they’d bought in the Philippines all those years ago. Year’s worth of memories wrapped up in old newspaper and boxed away for forty-nine weeks of the year; and then evoked all at once. It was like a tidal wave, the weight of the water pushing down on her stomach and she found herself grieving for a history she would never have. Hannah donned the brown reindeer ears and attached a bauble to her nose with some blu-tak. Her sister laughed; her David told her to grow up, with unnatural scorn. Slowly they added the charms to the tree. It became a palimpsest of everything she once loved and treasured. The tree looked hectic and taunting even though half the decorations had gone with her father when he left.
Hours passed and she had become giddy from the wine. Her sister kissed her upon the head and left to be at home with her husband whilst her mother had retired to her bed, leaving Hannah sitting on the sofa, watching the lights twinkle with regimental pace.
Hannah didn’t know where, but she’d heard the door slam, the diesel engine start and car reverse from the driveway in either anger or despair. The headlights shone through the curtains in the living room and disappear as David reversed the car from the driveway. She wasn’t surprised. She watched the lights blink, adding a warm flickering glow to the living room; and for a moment she gave considerable thought to burning the house down. She set her champagne flute down on the mahogany coffee table and approached the tree considering the origins of this ludicrous tradition. She stepped onto the sofa beside the tree to give herself height, took the angel from the top and gently placed her on the coffee table beside her glass. And then, returning to the task at hand, with all her force, she pushed the tree to the floor. The fairy lights continued to systematically twinkle in regimented configuration, but as she stepped down from the sofa glass baubles cracked under the hard base of her slippers, loose pine needles were scattered across the cream carpet, like grass being enveloped in freshly fallen snow and Kirsty MacColl sang sweet abuse to Shane MacGowan over the stereo.
Hannah opened the window expecting the aroma of early spring, but instead she was assaulted by the dense fumes emerging from the hospital’s kitchen below her. She was hungry, yet refused to swallow the poison served to her every day on a brown plastic plate. She glanced in misery at the packaged prawn sandwich discarded to the waste paper basket the day before. She closed the window and pulled down the blind. As she slumped into the plastic chair she considered opening the unused camp bed that sat, discarded, in the corner of the humid and achingly oppressive cubicle. She closed her eyes.
“Mrs Ranger.” Hannah felt the nurse’s slight hand brush her knee. She opened her eyes and forced a smile.
“The doctor needs to take some blood.” Hannah nodded her acceptance towards the nurse. Her name was Jessica, she was in her early twenties; Hannah thought she looked like a Dolphin- she exuded benevolence. It was sickening. But she liked her.
“I’m afraid you’ll have to leave.”
“No.” Hannah was adamant as she saw the doctor enter the room. He was little older then Jessica, but his arrogance pulverised her demeanour to pulp when he failed to acknowledge either the nurse or Hannah’s response, and he repeated the demand.
“I’m afraid you’ll have to leave.”
He looked like a ferret.
Hannah stood, but rather than obey, positioned herself by her son’s head and relished the look of disdain on the doctor’s face. She smiled- “Well?”
He took the baby’s feeble arm and thrust the needle into the search for a vein. He was struggling; the baby’s body jarred in agony, his subtle features warped and contorted. The doctor’s supercilious manner was replaced by beads of sweat forming on his brow. Hannah watched her son’s face descend into a pool of violent blue.
“He isn’t breathing.” The nurse urged the doctor to pull away. His eyes met Hannah’s and they shared the acknowledgement of his treason. A torrent of abuse began to fall from her tongue and stung her throat as she battled between vivid despair and lucid anger. She stepped into him and pulled back her fist and threw it into the doctor’s cheek, and then with the other fist, pitching the force of her blow into his chest. She continued as the doctor held her at arm’s length by her shaking shoulders. Another two nurses hurried into the room, and she felt the sting of the needle before the other nurse supported her other arm. As the two nurses lowered her to the chair in the corner she cried softly to herself, “He’s my baby. He’s my baby.”