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March 24, 2011
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She could hear him again. Crying. That was all he ever did. Bloody cried all day long. What was it this time? Another bottle, another nappy? Sometimes he didn’t seem to want anything. He still cried, even when she swapped his dirty nappy for a clean one; even when she spent ages heating up milk, and then when she attempted to feed him, he would refuse to take it and spit out the teat in anger. The midwife had told her that sometimes babies just cried because they needed affection. She had taken him out of the crib as she spoke and held him against her chest. Immediately he had stopped crying, and made contented snuffly noises instead. ‘There we are poppet’ she’d whispered fondly. She tried to pass him over to Alice, but she had instinctively backed away before she realised what she had done. The midwife frowned, concerned, so Alice gritted her teeth and took the baby; cradling him in her arms with a false smile plastered on. Looking down at him, she tried to give the impression that she was gazing at him in wonderment. Because that’s what she was supposed to feel isn’t it? She knew that when mother’s held their newborn babies in their arms for the first time, they reported feeling a rush of unconditional love. It is the greatest day of their lives, and their baby is the most beautiful human being on earth. Yeah, Alice thought. Either all mothers were big fat liars, or there was something wrong with her. Because something had gone wrong when Alice’s baby was born, and she had held him for the first time. When the nurse had lowered the pink, sticky bundle into her arms, and she had stared expectantly into the tiny face of the person who had just come out of her, all she had felt was numb. Where were those feelings of love and adoration? Alice had burst into tears, just like every other mother when faced with her newborn baby. The nurses had smiled at her, tears shining in their own eyes. They didn’t understand. They weren’t tears of happiness, but tears of despair.

Things hadn’t gotten any better when she left the hospital with the baby either. She lived alone in a little flat in London. A 20 year old single mother, no sign of the father. A kind midwife had visited to show her the ropes. How to change and bath him, how to make up and feed him bottles. How best to keep him stimulated. Alice had listened and watched as she demonstrated on the tiny wailing bundle of skin. And all the while, the bubble of fear kept growing inside her.

Now, she lurked on the stairs, listening to the high-pitched wailing growing louder and more shrill by the second. The sound made her chest contract in fear. She didn’t think she could face him again. But as the noise began to reach levels of unbearable, she knew she would have to. The midwife would be round later on, in which case she could pass the job over to her for an hour or so. This thought made her sigh with relief. Okay, it was now or never. She cautiously crept towards the room. Peering round the door, she could see the white lacy crib. She saw the blankets that lined the crib, being thrashed around by his kicking legs as he squirmed in distress. He was angry, she thought. But it was as if there were an invisible force that was preventing her from entering the room, and every muscle was alert as she wanted more than anything to turn on her heel and run. Run from this screaming monster. But instead, she closed her eyes and took a deep breath. In her mind, she made a list of what she was going to do. She was going to lift the baby out of the cradle, then she would carry him into the bathroom and change his nappy. This would be followed by making up a bottle and feeding the baby. Then she could put him back and not see him again until the midwife arrived. She reeled the list off several times, imprinting the instructions clearly onto her brain. By now Kieran…Callum…Kyle? Yes it was Kyle; was screaming as though he were being murdered, so Alice advanced ever nearer to the crib, until she could see him. His face was screwed up and burning lobster red, and his chubby arms and legs were pumping furiously. Her face also twisted in disgust, as a strong, pungent odour seeped from the cot, and hit her in the face. Gathering every ounce of strength and courage that she possessed, she leaned over and reached into the cot. She couldn’t help but recoil as she felt her fingers touch the baby’s flesh. It made her skin crawl and she felt her breathing becoming more rapid. Now come on Alice, it’s just a baby. Your baby! She reminded herself, trying to calm down. With her second attempt, she put her hands underneath his armpits and pulled him up, until she was dangling him in front of her. He felt hot and sticky, and when she looked in his scrunched up eyes, all she saw was pure hatred. Her baby hated her, and she didn’t blame him either. With the reluctance of someone touching a slimy creature, rather than a baby; Alice attempted to comfort him; holding him stiffly in her arms. But, as she jiggled him around, trying to get a good hold; he let out a sharp cry of anguish that startled her, and made her lose her grip on him. She felt him slipping through her hands, and her last bit of confidence vanished. Tears welled up in her eyes, as she ran back to the crib and dropped him carelessly in. She heard him scream yet again, as his soft head connected with the wooden bars of the cot, but all she cared about was getting away from him, and she knew she never wanted to touch or look at him again.
Racing blindly down the stairs, her vision blurred by hot tears that streamed down her face and into her gasping mouth. She collapsed into the living room and sat down on the carpet, hidden by the black leather sofa. She could feel her entire body shaking, and sweat dripped down her back. She was fighting for breath, trying to collect enough air into her lungs; but this was difficult when she was sobbing. The tears just kept coming, as she pulled her knees up to her chest and wrapped her arms around them; rocking back and forth. For half a second, she realised that this is what mad people do. Then she realised that she must be a mad person too. She must be mad if she couldn’t find it in her to love her own flesh and blood; and even more so because she was repulsed and disgusted by the touch of her own son. Yes, she must be mad.
Alice sat on the floor for over an hour. Her breathing returned to normal and the tears dried on her face, as she felt safe hidden behind the sofa, that blocked out the rest of the world. Nobody could see her, and she could see no one. The crying coming from upstairs had long since dissipated, and for a while she simply stared into space, forgetting she even had a baby.
But she couldn’t stay there forever. She knew that sooner or later she would have to go to the baby. She eased herself up off the floor, her knees aching from being stuck in the same position for so long. She ventured upstairs and visited the bathroom. On her way out, she passed the room. She saw the crib, just as it had been before. She could see one little pink foot poking out from under the blankets, which meant he was still in there. She didn’t know why, but she entered the room and crept closer to the cot to peer in. Her heart was in her mouth, as she waited for the terrible wailing to start up. But no sound could be heard. The baby’s eyes were tightly shut, his mouth closed. His skin was waxy pale; his fragile eyelids faintly blue. He was still. On one side of his head, there was a large, red lump. In that moment, Alice got the craziest urge to touch him. This had never happened before. She never wanted to touch him. But now, she reached out with one finger and gently stroked his cheek. He was cold. But inside she felt nothing. No sadness or discomfort. Instead she just left the room, shutting the door on the baby in his cot, as though everything was normal.
And from downstairs she heard the knock of the midwife at the door, come for her weekly visit.





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