We do not know why the king went into the cave. Was he hiding? Seeking solitude? Was he meeting a lover? Or an envoy of his neighbour to negotiate a transfer of power? Was he fed up of being a king? I once asked my nursemaid and she told me it was better not to know. I disagreed with her. It’s always better to know.
When Florence’s baby was born dead, she found she couldn’t cry. Not at first. She had known for some time that it was dead. She voiced her concern to Doctor Foster just the week before, calling him to the house to listen to her still, silent belly.
“Nonsense, Mrs Morgan. I have never seen a young mother as healthy as you,” he declared.
He would hear no more of it and didn’t even bother to open his Gladstone bag or write anything down. Before he left her house, she heard him talking to George in his study about how women flapped too much at the slightest thing. George apologised for his wasted time.
The baby’s face was squashed and swollen and covered in scratches made by tiny fingernails. It would have been a girl. She would have been a girl. Florence named her Lucy out loud, but in her head she called her Little Lost Lucy. She was tiny and beautiful to her mother, and Florence held her cold, grey body and sang lullabies under her breath until the hospital nurse decided to separate them. One to the morgue, one to the ward. Florence wanted to go to the morgue too. So much. She clung to Little Lost Lucy with the last shred of her strength and determination, and the nurse had to fetch two more nurses to help her.
When her arms gave up her baby, Florence let out a noise like a wounded animal. The noise left the room, travelled down the corridor, and reached into every ward. All eighty-seven patients shifted in their beds, even the very sick ones. All of them knew that a mother had lost a child. It was that kind of noise.
Florence was wheeled into a ward where six new mothers sat cooing over their living babies. She was expected to recover from her grief surrounded by the happiness of others. The mothers did not speak to her because they didn’t know what to say. Nor did Florence speak to them, but that was because she couldn’t speak. She was afraid that, if she opened her mouth, the noise would come out again. It was waiting there, somewhere deep down in the darkness, like a patchwork dam holding back a lakeful of tears.
Doctor Foster visited. He patted her hand and ignored the glare she fixed on him. Muttered something about weak hearts. Florence closed her eyes tight shut and when she opened them again he was gone.
George visited. He said ‘There, there. Never mind’, and Florence wanted to wrap her hands around his neck and squeeze extremely hard. But, of course, she didn’t. In George’s humble opinion, there would be others. Florence was not quite twenty. George was not quite thirty. Plenty of time.
Florence dared to open her mouth at last. “I don’t want others. I wanted Lucy.”
Little Lost Lucy, her heart whispered.
“Lucy? What kind of name is that?” George said. “Not that it matters.”
Not that it matters.
“Mummy, what’s that lady doing?”
Jenny pushed Tom before her, guiding him past the other shoppers with a gentle, but insistent, hand on his shoulder. The sports shop closed in five minutes, and she had to make sure she got the right golf balls. She bought the wrong ones last time, and Mark had not been happy.
Tom craned his neck to look at the woman as they passed her by. She was holding a sign he couldn’t read, and shouting, her face determined.
“What does… ‘por-testing’ mean?”
The first spots of rain fell, and one landed on Jenny’s nose and made her jump. She reached out and pulled Tom’s hood over his head. Why hadn’t she brought the pushchair? At three and a half he was getting too old for it, but it sure made shopping trips quicker.
“Pro-testing,” Jenny corrected. “When you’re annoyed about something, you can tell everyone why and ask them to help you change it.”
“Like when Daddy is annoyed with you?”
Jenny smiled and shook her head. “Not quite, Tom. Bigger things than that. Come on, we need to hurry.”
The shop was in sight now, in the distance. As she herded Tom towards it, she saw a fit-looking guy in a polo shirt come to the door and flip the sign from Open to Closed.
“Shit!” Jenny couldn’t help herself.
She picked him up now and swung him into her arms, ignoring the sharp pain in her back from her fall down the stairs the week before. Mark didn’t want her to go to the doctors, but she might have to, because it was getting worse. Tom gave a cry of surprise as she began to run towards the shop, every step making her gasp.
The guy was outside the sports shop locking the door now.
“Wait!” called Jenny, “Please…”
This one was a homemade job created for a reluctant reader who was also a massive Star Wars fan! It caused another problem – he was no longer reluctant, but couldn’t read for laughing 🙂
This story is dedicated to all those who breathed their last breath in ‘the war to end all wars’ – if only that were true – and to the memory of Harry Redman, my great-grandfather, who managed to live through it all. Unlike so many of his fellow soldiers.
I was a Saturday Girl once. There was a small cafe in our small town, made popular by a long-running TV series. So many girls from school undertook their job-baptism of fire here, and the kitchen was a seething microcosm of alliances, hostilities and hormones, interspersed with coke floats and cheese and pickle sandwiches.
They pushed me to the top of the stairs and handed me a torch.
“Go on,” said the girl called Suzanna, “They’re on the top shelf.”
I peered down. It was pitch black at the bottom. The light from the cafe filtered down, reducing with every step. I flicked the torch on and gritted my teeth.
This was clearly the beginning of some kind of war.
“Come on, new girl.”
An hour into the job and I was already losing.
This wee story is in response to my early-motherhood days in England, when the rivalry for motherly perfection was knives-out serious. I just thought, wouldn’t it be nice if… INSPIRED My sister flung a cushion […]