‘Push! Push Harder Barbra!’
‘This is as much pushing as you are ever going to get woman!’
‘Come on now Barbra.’
‘Don’t you “come on” me, you giant raging lesbian!’
‘I am not a lesbian Barbra.’
‘You can’t say that when you’ve got both your hands half way up my downstairs! MOTHER OF MARY! GET OUT OF ME!’
‘Here he comes Barb, one more push.’
‘Breath and push’
‘Here he comes..’
‘-FIGURE, WHY HAVE I NEVER READ THE BIBLE! DAMN IT!’
‘What? What? Why can’t I hear him? Where is he Helen? Why isn’t he crying? Helen? Helen! Helen where are you taking my baby? HELEN!’
Two hours later Helen came back to my bedside. Her eyes were so red.
‘I’m so sorry love, the doctors did all they could, but I can assure you that your child had a heart of gold.’
I want to say the first week was the hardest, but that makes it sound like things have gotten easier. Saying that would be a lie. Returning home with an empty baby carrier was one of the most painful things I have ever had to do. The whole drive home I kept glancing at it in the passenger seat. Checking up on my little boy, wondering if he’d be one of those who get travel sick real easy. I even strapped the damn thing in, actually did it properly for the first time in my life. I caught myself speaking to him, reassuring him in that strange high pitched voice that I’ve heard mothers do and vowed I never would. His baby blue blanket lined the carrier and I kept reaching across the gear stick trying to tuck him in and coming up with just lumps of air. I pulled over three times on that twenty minute journey to vomit. Waiting for the tears that never came. I remember the guilt, this overwhelming sense of guilt for not crying over him, for not breaking down on the road side and waiting for some good Samaritan to take me by the elbow and call me a taxi.
My sister had come round earlier that day, I could smell her perfume as soon as I came through the front door, she always smothered herself in it, trying to smother the stench of cigarettes that constantly riddled its way through her clothes. Of course the shower had been cancelled, I got the nurse to call my sister. I couldn’t even consider telling her myself. I remember placing Aiden, Aiden’s carrier on the table and looking across my sparsely decorated front room, there were so many little baby sized presents piled against one wall, unopened cards addressed to ‘the happy family’ and ‘the little one.’ One day I’ll open them with him, one day when I’m gray and old and he’s still young and has that glorious smell that babies have, we’ll sit on our own little white cloud and open all these presents, open all the cards, we’ll umm and ahh over the illustrations, laugh at the jokes, and he’ll point at the fancy writing because one day he’ll be a poet.
That same day I went out and bought 10 cans of paint named ‘daffodil white.’ I was drawn to it because daffodils provided promise of new life. I took the cans up to Aiden’s room and drowned out the baby blue walls with this daffodil white. I was careless, flecks of paint spat on to his cot, which knocked ten pounds off the asking price when I later tried to sell it. Aiden’s favourite teddy just stared at me with his dull button eyes, questioning my motives, questioning why I was so quick to leave Aiden in the past. To put him to rest in a coffin as big as a shoe box and not even watch it go six feet under.
‘Who are you to look at me like that you prick.’ I questioned the bear, its permanent grin mocking me.
‘You never even met him! You didn’t even know him! I knew him! He was my little boy! My Aiden! Not yours, not anyone else’s. Who had the right to take him away from me? My boy had a heart of gold, that’s something you’ll never have!’ I snatched the bear up from his resting place, I tore his mocking head off and broke a nail, I was so angry that he’d broken my nail that I pulled out each and every bit of his stuffing until the walls were covered in little white specks of the bears blood, they stuck to the paint, yet still no tears came, not for the bear, not for Aiden.
‘Barb! Are you home?’
I ran to Aiden’s door, reached up to the lock that he wouldn’t be able to use until he was way in to his teens and slid the bolt across.
‘Barbra? Honey? Everything ok?’ I remember being too scared to breathe. Maybe if I avoided telling anyone then I could convince myself for that little bit longer that the doctors had done all they could and saved my little boy. Maybe they’ll bring him through my door with bells and whistles and a T.V crew behind them. Maybe we’ll all laugh about it and Ashton Kutcher would tell me I’d been ‘punk’d.’
‘Barbra? Love? Do you want to come out and talk?’ I leaned my back against the door and slid down it, could picture my sister doing the same thing on the other side. I could feel that she was there, my mirror image on the other side of that door. We sat like that for hours, I watched the light fade outside of Aiden’s window, watched the sun rise and catch the reflectors on the dream catcher. We sat like that until I heard my sister stand up and the familiar sound of her knees clicking rang through the oh so thick silence. She slid a note under the door and left.
‘I’ll put some dinner in the microwave for you.
That Monday my alarm went off and I turned on to auto pilot, planning breakfast as I swung my legs out from under the rose patterned sheets. Quietly thanking God for gracing me with a good night’s sleep and not waking me up with morning sickness. As I pushed myself out of bed my hand shot towards my stomach on instinct, caressing little Aiden and waking him up too. I grabbed at air and a stretched pyjama top. My legs buckled beneath me and I crashed to the floor, my hands grabbed at my stomach once more, scared that I would agitate Aiden by moving so suddenly, they just found air again. It was all fucking air. I ran to the toilet, vomiting across the carpet, the walls, vomiting on the tiles of the toilet floor and over the wooden seat. By the time I held my head over the bowl I had nothing left in me. Reluctantly I dragged myself to my feet and tiptoed over the vomit as I prepared for work.
They had forgotten to take down the congratulations banner above my desk and I winced as I saw it. Dan caught my eye, followed to see what I was gawping at.
‘Shit, oh shit oh shit oh shit. Barbra I am so sorry, I told Ally to take it down yesterday. Oh god, oh shit. I am so sorry.’
‘It’s alright Dan, I’ll do it.’
‘No, no, honestly Barb I’ll take it down now, we just weren’t expecting you back so soon after..’ he trailed off and I looked at him, daring him to finish his sentence. Daring someone to utter what had happened aloud and for it to enter reality. In my mind I was still waiting for Mr. Kutcher to jump out from behind the filing cabinets.
‘Dan?’ he froze, like a deer in headlights awaiting his death.
‘I will take the banner down, thank-you anyway.’
He took this as a dismissal and quickly retreated back to his office cubicle, I could see pairs of curious eyes peeking from over computer screens and through office windows. I waved and most quickly retreated as I headed towards my desk. I pulled my chair against the wall and climbed, desperately willing my hands to remain on the wall and not to dash protectively to my shrivelled stomach. I slowly pulled the banner off the wall and folded it neatly, carefully, far too aware of every pair of eyes on me in the room. I scratched at the blue tack for a good five minutes but it wouldn’t come away from the tiny little grooves in the paint. A hand on my back.
‘Barbra? Your sister’s on her way, I think you should go home.’
‘Dan I’m fine! Please, just let me get rid of this fucking tack!’
‘Barb there’s no tack there, you picked it off about an hour ago,’
I looked at my hand, really looked at it, my nail had been filed down to my finger and blood had started to seep out of a friction burn that looked a lot worse than it felt. I held my finger, kissed it, this would be Aiden’s first ‘oopsy daisy’ this would be his first ‘magic kiss to make it all better’ he’d giggle and we’d share a jelly cube to make the pain go away. Dan led me down from my chair; he grabbed my coat and picked up my bag.
Aiden’s bottle of milk fell out, crashed to the floor and cracked, luke warm milk spread and soaked in to the grey office carpet, his favourite toy absorbed the milk and his dummy fell in to the carpet dust that should of been hovered up over the weekend by Margret.
‘Fucking hell Dan! You could see my bag wasn’t closed!’
I rushed to the floor desperately try to save all things Aiden before reality stole them from me, I scraped the milk from the weaves of the carpet, got it under my nails and tried to put it back in the bottle, desperately wiping his dummy praying that there were no germs on it. I couldn’t have my little boy getting a ‘belly boo.’ His rattle from Aunty Jane and Uncle Spencer had broken. That pissed me off.
‘That was the only rattle he’s got you heartless prick! He was going to be a musician! He was going to write his first girlfriend a song that I’d play to him on his 21st! Now look what you’ve done! That was his only rattle!’
Dan just stared at me as if he’d only just noticed me for the first time in his life.
‘WELL!? WHAT ARE YOU GOING TO DO?’
‘Who’s he Barbra?’
‘Who’s he!? Who the fuck are you? He is my SON! How dare you speak about him like that! He is my world and you Daniel are nothing.’
‘Sis? Sweety come on, come with me, it’s alright, we’ll get him a new rattle, I’m sure Aunty Jane will remember where she bought it from.’ Becky was running towards me, sweeping up Aiden’s things so carelessly, throwing them in to my bag and sweeping me out of the office without a word to anyone else.
‘I swear to god Becky, if he doesn’t replace Aiden’s rattle by the end of week, I will give him hell. I WILL GIVE YOU HELL DAN!’ looking over my shoulder to see if he heard me. The office just stood and watched as I was hustled in to my sister’s fiat. Pricks.
Three months down the line and tinsel started edging shop windows alongside glistening fake snow, constantly greeted by smiling children’s faces. The local toy store had a half price sale on all baby toys. I’ll admit it, I spoilt Aiden rotten. I must have spent over two hundred pounds on him in the run up to Christmas.
Come Christmas Eve our presents were wrapped, each with its own bow and clue on the gift tag. He couldn’t read yet but I’d read them to him. My Aiden is going to be real intelligent when he’s older; he already taps his fingers to Mozart and cries when chart music plays on the radio. My boy’s got such promise. We laid out Santa’s swig of brandy and a mince pie, made fresh that day. We even gave a carrot for each of the reindeers so that they could continue to deliver presents to all the other well behaved boys and girls. After placing our stockings across the sofa, I carried my lump of air to bed; we were too excited to sleep but wanted nothing else. We waited in the hush of the night for sleep to take us, waited for the sound of bells on the rooftop, waited for that iconic laugh echoing down our chimney. Of course none of it came, our waiting was in vain. And still no tears.
I unplugged the phone on Christmas morning, I so wanted this Christmas to be special, to be something that would stay with us for life. I was halfway through helping Aiden unwrap his new set of bath toys when Becky let herself in.
‘We need to get those locks changed don’t we Aidy, but shh don’t tell Aunty Becky.’
‘Barbra? Merry Christmas! Where are you? Bar-‘
I jumped to my feet, throwing hundreds of pounds of toys behind the sofa, frantically shoved wrapping paper in to the piano stall, but Becky was at the door, watching it all. I’ll never forget that horrific look of pity she had for me in her eyes, like I was a walking charity case.
‘Barbra you can’t be serious?’
I studied the scraps of wrapping paper on the floor.
‘Come on now, there’s something I want you to see.’
I was confused, lost. Why was she dragging me away from my oh so perfect Christmas, mine and Aiden’s first oh so perfect Christmas. We climbed in to her fiat and I watched as children on new skates and scooters whizzed by my window, watched them wave to their parents, daring to take their eyes off the pavement just for a split second to make sure their audience was watching. I witnessed the parents laughing together, taking photos over mugs of hot chocolate. I’ll make hot chocolate next year.
‘Here we are, follow me Barb.’
I remember noticing how cold it was now we were outside of the car; remember the crisp slightly frozen grass gently crunching underfoot. Deep breathes like the doctor told me, deep breathes when walking long distances; I shouldn’t really be doing this so soon, mothers aren’t built for the outdoors so soon.
Becky stopped in front of me and I almost bumped in to her, waving a half hearted hand in front of my belly, the instinct was fading now. She pulled me to her side and just held me there as I read what was in front of us.
A child so precious, so beautiful, so bold.
The Angels called him straight away
To share his heart of gold. ‘
The grave was covered with presents, Christmas cards, flowers.
‘You need to see this sis, you need to accept that this is where Aiden belongs now.’
I fell to my knees, and stayed there for the rest of the day, me and Aiden, Aiden and me, against the world. Visitors came and went, passed short greetings on to loved ones six feet under and then left. None of them understood the bond me and Aiden had, we didn’t even need to speak. It was just being in each other’s company that was important. I pulled a new rattle out of my pocket.
‘Sorry it took me so long love.’
I dug a little way, completely oblivious to the mud caking my hands; I laid the rattle to rest and let him play it all through the night.
Tears cascaded down my cheeks.
Ray is a twenty year old student, born in London, raised in Essex, and 'trying to fight every stereotype that comes with my place of dwelling.' He is the captain of the University Volley ball team and helps to run a children’s home in Eastern Uganda. He is currently on an English Literature degree 'which I adore, but occasionally it’s good to vent, remind myself that I chose this course not to study texts, but to write texts to be studied. I’ve never published any work before, I haven’t had the confidence. But now I say, why not?'
'The inspiration for this piece came from the idea of literalising phrases that we say every day. It’s how I initiate most of my writing. This piece’s phrase is: ‘A Heart of Gold.’'