Ok, so I'm cheating slightly today. You might call it a lazy day, although actually I'm trying to be brave (especially with all you writer's out there.) This is my current WIP in progress and other than the A-Z challenge, it's what's taking up every spare minute of my time as I prepare it for the RNA New Writer's Scheme. So I thought I'd share the first chapter of my debut novel with you. It's called, Mother's Love.
Until another day
Bye for now
You reap what you sow. I knew my time would come. I recall the exact moment, on a stifling, hot day in the summer of 1976 as I sat at the kitchen table and watched a fly stick to the yellow Vapona. At the time there was no hesitation in my mind of what I was about to do. But that was a long time ago and it’s wrong what they say about burying the past. It has a habit of finding its way out and I see now I have been sitting at the kitchen table ever since.
Over the years, the more I’ve tried to escape the past - forget the wrongs and put them behind me, hoping they wouldn’t stir - the more they remained, prodding at me every day, every birthday, every Christmas, every time I see and speak to Rebecca. And now, I’m consumed by that sense of fear again, the furtive unrest. The blind unreasoning panic.
All I ever wanted was to protect Rebecca. She was my life. My reason to live again when I thought there was none. I always believed I was doing my best and that anyone faced with the same would have made similar decisions. Then a few months ago, my son, David, sent me a birthday card. Inside the card was a short note asking if he could come and see me, and talk. As my fingers stroked the glitter that highlighted the rose and I re-read his message, I thought of the life I had before that summer in 1976 came along and changed everything, and I wondered, was it worth it? If I had my time again, would I do the same? I knew then it was time to face up to what I’d done.
And I lay here now, oxygen whistling out of the white, plastic moustache positioned underneath my nose, still deliberating how to put it right. Rebecca sits beside me, her long slender fingers – piano fingers I used to call them - absently flicking through a magazine, as she keeps vigil. The sun has bleached her hair a light honey shade and the thick, wavy spirals look as if she’s been riding a motorbike without a helmet. Her sun-kissed skin contrasts against the whiteness of the hospital bedding and walls. Willowy limbs and delicate features belie her strength. She’s stronger than she thinks, and wiser than she knows. I made her so.
Closing my eyes tight, the bright lights of the hospital ward tinge everything orange while my mind wanders as if I’m in a library, flitting across shelves, flicking between books, dipping into pages. Illustrations are my memories, and words, my recollections of the past. Clear, yet disjointed pieces in my mind.
I picture my old council house on the Wybourn estate, Sheffield, surrounded by a four-foot privet hedge. The Wybourn estate was a sprawling mass of matchbox houses with back-to-back gardens but it had heart, our community. People laughed at life and feared nothing. We all looked out for each other. But it was like living in a goldfish bowl, living at the top of the crescent, everybody that walked past gawping in the front room. Net curtains helped give some privacy but the small white window frames didn’t let much light in anyway, never mind that they forever needed washing of the orangey smog which belched out of the steelworks over the years. Thank heavens for the clean air act.
The house had a red brick lower floor, the upper half was grey pebbledash and ‘London’s Pride’ lined each side of the path from the front door to the green painted wooden gate that hung more off than on the hinge and banged whenever there was the slightest breeze.
And there’s Bertie, swamped by the tartan blanket that he could barely stand pressing down on his body, staring pitifully up from our big bed, his face all angles and hollows, and grey. Get the bed warm my love, I won’t be long. My body wills me to sleep, to never wake up but I can’t give in yet. I need to know Rebecca will be alright. I don’t want her to be alone again, like she was that day when I found her…
It was only a short walk round to David and Linda’s two-up two-down terrace on the Maltravers Road. Being only a couple of kids themselves, they were grateful for my help when they had Rebecca. But one day as I let myself into their house and heard her screaming from upstairs, I knew straightaway she was alone.
'Hello, Linda it’s only me.’ I listened for a second, watching the vapour of my breath suspend in the cold air in front of me. ‘Hellooo, is anyone home?’ At first I thought Linda might have fallen asleep or been taken ill. However, in the kitchen, dirty washing up floated in murky, grey water in the sink, scum lapping at the edges. Empty tins and redundant wrappers scattered every surface, and a sour smell emanated from an open, half-empty milk bottle. A stale loaf of bread sat in front of the breadbin next to a tub of Stork, the knife still sticking in it. The front room was the same; old newspapers, unfinished mugs of coffee all over, and a trail of vinyl singles and empty covers led to a new addition on top of the sideboard - a brand new Dansette record player sat - the auto-drop arm suspended mid-air interrupting the stack of vinyl singles, positioned and ready for playing. It must have cost a fortune, and they reckoned they didn’t have any money.
Hearing the baby’s screams become more urgent I ran up the wooden staircase, two at a time, almost tripping at the top, and was incredulous with what greeted me on the landing. One of the bedroom doors had a terry nappy tied around it and had been draped across to an adjacent door, securing it shut to stop the occupant getting out. Not that she could, a one-year-old baby.
‘It’s all right darling, Nan’s coming. I’ll get you out.’ I frantically tore at the knot of white towelling to undo it. ‘Nan’s here, lovey.’ I tried to reassure her through the door. ‘Oh, my God... Jesus Christ...’
My hand went to my mouth, part shock, and part reaction to the stench that hit as I walked into the room. Navy velvet curtains masked whether it was day or night. It made little difference to the baby in the cot on the other side of the room. Except when I pulled the shabby curtains back, she shielded her eyes from the glare of the sun and cried even louder.
'It’s okay, Rebecca, did I frighten you? I’m sorry, darling,’ I tried to console her. It was hard to tell how long she’d been there alone. Judging by the state of the cot, it could have been a couple of days. It was more than a couple of hours. Somehow she’d managed to wriggle free of the rancid nappy and thrown it out of the cot onto the carpet. She wore only a dirty vest. Smears of faeces covered it and her delicate, pasty body. Her little eyes were red and puffed from crying and the effects of ammonia that hung in the air. Slivers of wallpaper she’d peeled off the walls and tried to eat lined the cot. Where she’d picked at the walls the damp of the room had lifted the seams, and the edges of the lime green and brown flowered paper curled up to reveal a sandwich of woodchip and several layers of other garish papers beneath.
Her eyes adjusted to the light and focused, her cries turning into more of a desperate giggle as she recognised me. Her slender arms reached out; a tiny, helpless bird, begging me to pick her up.
‘Oh, you poor lamb. I’m here. Come to Nan.’ Hoisting her into my arms, hot tears sprang in my eyes; a mixture of pity and anger seeing her in this state yet relief that I’d found her. ‘Poor little mite. How could they do this to you, my precious?’ I cried, cradling her in my arms and jigging her on my hip, attempting to pacify her. Precious little girl.
For a moment, I was cradling my daughter, Teresa. The day she died was the day I stopped believing in God. God would never have let her die so young. God would never have brought such misery and grief by taking my precious girl.
‘Come on. Let’s get you out of here.’ I tried to bend, baby still in my arms, to open the chest of drawers and get some clean clothes but I couldn’t manage it. I placed her on the floor but straight away she became hysterical and her arms went up again. ‘It’s all right darling, I’m not going to leave you. Nanny’s just getting your clothes. Here we are…’ I showed her the tunic dress and top. It was horrendous hearing her distress. ‘It’s going to be alright.’ Lifting her over my shoulder, I tried not to get the clean clothes dirty. ‘It’s OK, darling. Hush... shhh... Nan’s here.’ In the bathroom, I wrapped her in a rough towel to try to keep her warm before turning on a tap at the sink. Cold water bit at my fingers so I made downstairs to fill a kettle and heat some water to clean her up. They shouldn’t have had a child, they never wanted her, and David, where on earth was he with all this going on?
Without a second thought, I took Rebecca home with me. Don’t ask why, but I left a note for Linda, telling her where she was. Stupid really. I should have left her to worry herself half to death when she came back and found the baby missing. It was three days later before she turned up at my house, wailing and carrying on. I still don’t know if she’d only just gone home and found the note. She didn’t even ask to see her little girl. Simply handed over two carrier bags and stood there sobbing.
'You can have her, Mam. You can keep her,’ she cried. ‘I can’t cope anymore. And if you don’t want her, put her in a home.’
You might wonder how any mother could do that; give away her child. I wondered the same thing myself many times over the years. Maybe that’s why my search for redemption is fathomless - I’m running out of time, and there’s too much to forgive.
It started long before the summer of 1976, or the time I found Rebecca in the house, back to a time when I had a waist so slim I could span my hands round it. Before Bertie. That’s my only excuse; that it happened before Bertie. Things might have been different if I’d known him then. It was a lifetime ago. A lifetime spent searching for an absolution that will never come. Because the question I keep coming back to is, how can I ask for forgiveness, when I can’t forgive myself?