Nora leaned into the pram and fixed the Baby’s blanket so that it covered his scaly legs and bulging tummy. She was looking at the blue rabbit motif just above his head as she said,
‘It’ll be fine. We’ll go and get the milk and then we can go home, OK?’
Nothing. No response whatever. His cheeks the colour of fresh blood, his hair matted in stinky baby sweat, he began to bawl.
Nora ignored the people staring, especially the women holding hands with pink and tidy toddlers, who’d clearly never wasted a tear in their lives. One little girl smiled at her as she was dragged along by a woman in boxy shouldered Armani, who was busy texting and having it all.
The Baby continued to cry. His face was a smashed pumpkin, or an asshole, puckered and stained, or an ugly modern art creation in tones of red and purple. Nora looked towards the park to her left and wondered what would happen if she wheeled the pram there and left it. Just left it beside the swings, say, or next to the sandpit. Perhaps a pitiful childless woman would pass by, see the pram and take him for her own. But no, as soon as she looked beyond the pale blue muff draping the pram, she would see the bellowing monster within. She would realize immediately she’d been right all along to shun this reproduction lark, to ignore the warnings from ancient relatives about barren women and the unnaturalness of her baby-free state. She would run like nothing else mattered. She would run because she could, because she was free to run where she chose, enjoying the wind scratching her face, loving the impact a running woman makes, no ties, nobody clawing at her, just her running feet and the sheer freedom of the wind against her cheeks.
The Baby’s hand was grabbing at her now, trying to reach her neck for a scratch. His face was bruised with anger because he couldn’t quite get to her. Nora leaned her face into the pram then, just as his fingers were about to make contact with her skin, she took a step back, just out of his reach. He was shrieking, pawing the air, and drawing blood from his top lip with his one little sharp tooth, prematurely embedded in his lower gum.
‘Ha’, she said to him, swiping his fingers away, and pushing him quickly towards the store.
She turned first to the ladies toilets. She headed for the first cubicle, forgetting her appendage rendered her unable to use her usual toilet even. She banged open the door to the disabled toilet and shoved the pram through before her. Aware of his watchful eyes upon her, she looked straight ahead as she undid her jeans and sat down, trying to work out the last time she had done anything, anything at all, without an audience. As she pulled up her jeans, a scrappy piece of yellow paper, lying on the floor next to the pipes, caught her eye. She patted her pockets, wondering if she had dropped it. She bent down and picked it up. Holding it slightly away from her so that she could read the scrawl:
He’s going to hurt me.
She dropped it in the small, dirty sink in front of her.
She tried to fish it out quickly from the scummy residue of the sink’s last visitor but it slipped from her fingers back into the slime several times before she managed to retrieve it. The moisture had blurred the text but she could still make it out if she screwed up her eyes.
She heard the next-door toilet flush followed by a soft scuffling sound. She squeezed past the pram, ignoring the warning whimpers from the Baby, and spoke to the cubicle door next to her.
‘Is anyone in there? … Hello? Can you hear me? … Are you OK?’
Receiving no response, Nora eased open the door slowly with two fingers of her right hand, her breathing quick and her left hand over her mouth. Lying on the floor of the toilet was an old, once-white anorak, its left sleeve torn from the elbow to the shoulder. The water was still swirling round the bowl and hissing in the pipes.
Nora looked at the note again then ran out of the toilets. As the door was shutting behind her, she stopped suddenly, realizing her arms were swinging by her sides. She hesitated before retracing her steps. The Baby was eyeing her from under wet lashes and he opened his lungs as she approached. Nora ignored him as she dashed back out of the toilets with the pram and looked all around her for the woman who needed help.
She raced down the fruit aisle, her pram careering ahead of her, the Baby screaming within. Mid-week shoppers, mainly creaking pensioners and other women with prams, stopped to stare. Nora touched the arm of a woman in a combat jacket with a double buggy, and showed her the note.
‘Look, someone’s in trouble. They put this note under my door. Did you see anyone leave the toilets in a hurry? Maybe being pushed around by that guy who was standing there, about five minutes ago?’
The young woman leaned back, stroking the head of the baby nearest to her as she swerved the buggy quickly further down the aisle and away from Nora.
‘It’s important, look …’ shouted Nora after her, waving the wet scrap of paper in her direction.
The woman continued to back away so Nora turned to the old couple on her left, who had been delving patiently into the reduced items, trying to gauge which of the bashed apples and mushy bananas might still be edible.
‘See, see this note?’ Nora had to shout now to be heard over the Baby’s cries and the man put his arm round his wife’s shoulder as though to shield her from an intruder.
‘I am not sure what we can do …’ he said, his milky eyes further obscured by panic, as he looked round for assistance.
Nora gave up on them and shoved the pram ahead of her, her eyes everywhere searching for the writer of the note. She barged her way by trolleys, splitting up couples and tripping over the Baby’s blanket which was dangling from the pram.
‘Can you help?’
‘Excuse me …’
‘Did you see anyone who looked like they were in trouble?
‘Please, please stop while I ask you …’
‘I’m only …’
Finally, she stopped in the cereal aisle, the pram covers falling to the floor and the Baby’s screams hacking into her.
‘Will no one help me?’ she shouted, waving the scrunched-up paper in the face of a young father who did not meet her eye, as he guided his sweetly silent toddler out of her path.
An embarrassed-looking assistant, flanked by a uniformed security guard, caught up with her.
‘Is something the matter madam? Can we get someone for you? Is baby OK?’ she reached into the pram and the Baby immediately gripped her index finger and swapped the screams for more sympathetic soft sobs.
‘I don’t need … Look, someone passed this note under the door of the toilet cubicle. I am trying to help her, do you understand?’ She glanced at the girl’s badge. ‘Margaret. Do you understand, Margaret?’
The girl did not answer and Nora remembered suddenly that she knew the manager of the store slightly, he lived with his parents a few doors along.
‘Can I see the manager please? It’s … Jonathan isn’t it?’
Relieved to be able to pass the problem along, Margaret agreed to take Nora to the manager’s office. It was up a flight of stairs so the pram had to be left at the bottom. Nora hesitated then asked Margaret if she would mind carrying the Baby for her.
‘It’s my back … would you mind?’
The shop assistant lifted the Baby tenderly, holding his face close to hers. Nora watched in silence as he laid his head on her shoulder, and closed his eyes.
‘He’s so sweet, isn’t he? What age is he?’ said Margaret.
Nora waved her hand vaguely.
Upstairs, Jonathan tried to get her to calm down, offered her tea.
‘I don’t want tea, this is urgent, that man, he’s going to …’ She tried to claw the facts and present them in a way they would understand, make them see the urgency, the need to act fast and help this woman. Jonathan excused himself for a moment and Margaret and another assistant who had arrived were taking turns to hold the Baby and whisper nonsense in his ear.
Nora’s husband strode into the office.
‘Who called him?’ she said.
Jonathan said he had, looking at her husband and not Nora as he spoke. ‘It’s just, Wednesday’s our delivery day, we are really busy so …’ he gestured towards Nora.
‘I quite understand. Thanks for calling me’, said her husband, taking the Baby from Margaret. ‘There there now, Daddy’s here, Daddy’s going to make it all better.’
Nora looked at him and said with quiet precision, ‘Mummy’s here, Mummy’s always here.’ Her husband ignored her and shoogled the Baby with his back to her.
In a louder voice, ‘Just a pity Daddy’s not here in the middle of the night, or when the filth in His nappy makes you want to throw up, or at half-past two in the afternoon when there’s nothing to do but watch Him drool, and try to remember what it was like to be part of the world.’
Her husband turned his face slightly to meet the eye of the manager, at the same time, raising his shoulders in that see-what-I’m-up-against gesture Nora had watched him perfect for strangers.
‘That’s enough now dear’, he said, finally turning to face her, his fingers gripping the Baby tightly so that Nora could see the whites of his bones beneath the skin. ‘You’ll upset the baby.’
He started speaking to Jonathan in tones too low for Nora to hear but the familiar whispers of ‘baby blues’ and ‘hormones all over the place’ floated around the room. The acne-ridden manager was nodding sagely.
Nora looked from her husband to the manager, then over at the two assistants whispering in the corner. She pulled the note off the desk, ‘Does nobody care about this? This is what … I’m trying to save this woman … She could be …’
The others had drawn into a huddle, the Baby ensconced securely in the middle, his eyes laughing at her, that gurgling noise coming from deep in his throat.
Nora’s bag had fallen from her shoulder and sat halfway down her arm, her bottom lip bore the blackened puncture marks of her own teeth and her mussed hair declared her a witch. She opened her mouth to speak but no words came. Her shoulders dropped, and she bowed her head like a villain. Her husband took her hand and pulled her upwards from her seat, pushing her bag strap back up to her shoulder. She stood where he placed her, biting her thumbnail while he put her jacket round her and patted her.
‘Let’s get you home, love’, he said. ‘Get you settled, nice cup of tea and you’ll be fine.’
I can see my breath swirling on the dirty plastic. My body is tied, my mind is stunted, shredded and raw. Please. There is blood on my tongue. Is anyone coming for me? I can feel his breathing, jagged. I hear his moans. And the roar, the roar of his cries. The sounds of the sea are thundering in my head, the pressure of the waves above me threatening to blow it open. He cleaves his body to mine, I am his. My eyes are open sores, erupting in the half-light. He’s going to hurt me. He’s
Elissa Soave is a Scottish writer of poetry and short stories. Her work has appeared in Gutter (issue 16, 2017); Freak Circus (issue 3, 2016); online at Burning House Press (2016); the Guardian (November 2015); New Writing Scotland (volume 8); and the Scottish school textbook, Working Words. She has had a story shortlisted for performance by Liars League London (2016) and another selected for performance at Glasgow CCA’s stage to page event (2016). She reached the semi-final of the Harpies Fechters and Quines All Woman poetry slam, organized by the Glasgow Women’s Library in June 2016. You can find Elissa at elissasoave.wordpress.com or follow her on Twitter @elissa_soave
–Foreground Art by Milton G. (Paradise Found)
–Background Art by Xavier (abstrkt.ch)