“My spirit is alive and enhanced with joy!”
Jill, trailing hippy scarves and asphyxiating perfume, flings the door
open, gesturing for us to come inside. Then kisses from her sticky
raspberry lips, a matching pair of stains on both cheeks for Kieran and I
as we step over the threshold.
“Darlings!” She sing-songs. “Don’t you just sense the beauty and transience of life?”
frankly, no. Kieran and I are going through a sticky patch, one of the
‘downs’ in the ups and downs everyone promised us marriage would
deliver. Not Kieran’s fault, really. Not mine, either. It’s just that
the temptation to blame - or shift blame - pulls us daily into silent
resentment, or guilt-loaded words that escape from our mouths before we
can stop them, tearing into the innocence of trust. “If you’d listened
to me and slowed down a bit, it might not have happened.” He says to me.
“If you’d been home instead of working late again, I might have got to
the hospital in time.” I say to him. None of this is true, of course.
The doctor told us: “One in three pregnancies end in miscarriage. It’s
nothing you did wrong. The baby simply wasn’t viable.” A medical
endorsement to try again, perhaps in six months or so, he suggests. A
thought to console ourselves with as we avoid the bedroom as much as
possible until it’s time to sleep, although, six months having passed,
it is time to try again. Maybe in another six months, everything will be
all better. The damage of those words healed and forgotten.
it to say, after a day of petty rows (Kieran said some horrible
things), then hiding from one another in our tiny flat, the last thing
we needed was an invitation round to dinner at his loopy parent’s. A
roast, apparently - that is, a nut one - since Jill won’t tolerate
anything that once had entrails in her house. She whimpers when required
to chop a carrot, lamenting its lost destiny and all the baby carrots
abandoned in some distant field as their mother is being butchered on
the chopping board. I picture her leaning over it and whispering, “You
had a bright future, my love. But now it cannot be.” while my
father-in-law rolls his eyes and gets on with bottling his dodgy date
“Gerald is creating in his studio.” Jill confides as we
stand in the hall, her pale eyes bright with an edge of annoyance.
Despite the fact that her spirit is alive and enhanced with joy.
“What’s he creating, now?” Says Kieran. “Mulled frog wine? Bat testicle brew?”
Kieran.” Says his mother. Clearly, Kieran’s jokes aren’t vegetarian
enough. “Your father’s not that bad at home brewing. You only had a
slightly poorly tummy after the elderberry brandy.” Actually, Kieran was
throwing up for days afterwards. But I say nothing.
theory used to be our in-joke - back in the days when we still made
jokes - and remains quite plausible. I picture Gerald in his ‘studio’,
his bottom of the garden lair, cackling over the latest lethal
concoction to slip his wife of a bedtime, a slow, untraceable poisoning
of carefully researched substances that is gradually turning her blood
to a dark sludge in her veins. I see his witching fingers nipping at the
keys of his computer, his eyes greedily drinking in every how-to
poisoning guideline Google can provide. Who says the internet is for
My in-law’s house is vast, a shambling damp-trap of multiple
rooms, each one thickly cloying with petulli and decay. The living room
is crowded with mismatched furniture, odd, ethnic ornaments
enough hippy cushions to get buried under. (If the poisoning option
doesn’t work, Gerald can always suffocate his wife.) There are lots of
photographs, mostly of Jill and Gerald on their India and Thailand
travels, both considerably younger and thinner, both looking happy. Not
pretend happy (“We must embrace the true jollity of life!”), but real
“Can I use your loo?” I mutter. Other than feigning death, it’s my only actual escape plan.
Jill looks delighted. “Of course, darling!”
has recently been successfully nagged into doing it up, so that it
resembles the marble floored bathrooms at the Hilton in Mumbai, where
they had once stayed. (“One gets tired of no running water after a
Locking the door behind me and leaning against
it, I let the tears flow. I remember Kieran and I honeymooning in India,
the pulse and flow of our days, the long nights of intimacy, sticky
with love. The heat, the rain, the card games. (Kieran was a master at
Pontoon.) The beginning of our adventure. Back then, we had scoffed at
people’s warnings about ‘ups and downs’.
Suddenly exhausted and
not ready to return, I close the seat of the purple toilet (where did
they find a purple loo?) and sit down. My tears show no sign of slowing
down, hot rivers of tension, anger and self-disgust that have been
dammed up for the last week. I look up and see, between the statues of a
glum-looking Buddha and a maniacally-starring Ganesh, a childishly
daubed and strangely old fashioned painting of Jesus. He is smiling
gently, apparently at me, His ethnically inaccurate blue eyes are filled
with tenderness. Underneath are the words: ‘Lay up for yourselves
treasure in heaven.’
Best not think about heaven, or I’ll never
stop crying. Our baby had been a little girl. We named her Erin
Elizabeth. Was there a heaven and if so, was Erin there? Or was her tiny
body just maggot food, manure for the roses? I remember the last lines
of a poem I had once read, written for the poet’s dead niece, who had
committed suicide: ‘No longer ours. Kept pure for the dust.’ I drag the
freshly gathering tears from my swollen eyes with the heel of my hand.
Pull yourself together, idiot. I blow my nose and inspect the evidence
of my misery in the mirror. Staring into the shattered self I see there,
I will my reflection to disappear. Without me, I do not exist. It isn’t
the first time I’ve tried to step outside myself, remove myself into
forgetfulness. It doesn’t work. I can never get away from me, even in
sleep; my dreams are exhausting, frantic and guilt-heavy. When I wake
up, I’m hungover with the effort of my starring role. This morning, it
took an exhumation order to get me out of bed.
calls, an edge in his voice. Time to face the horror of nut roast and
in-laws. I’m hardly fit for public viewing. You’d have to be deeply
insensitive or profoundly self-absorbed not to notice that I’ve been
crying my eyes out for the last twenty minutes. Fortunately, Gerald and
Jill are such people.
“What’s the matter?” Kieran hisses at me, seeing my face.
“Nothing. I’m fine.”
to dine!” Jill sing-songs, ushering us into the dusty dining room. She
had cleared a space for four on the huge, cluttered oak table, gesturing
elaborately for us to sit. The detritus of their everyday lays piled at
the other end - magazines, letters, a half-completed puzzle of a
unicorn and empty labelled bottles ready to receive Gerald’s latest
Kieran and I look at each other, fear
sparking between us. During the course of the meal either Jill or Gerald
- or both - will be bound to mention the unmentionable, because Jill is
of the opinion that ‘these things should be discussed openly’ and
Gerald doesn’t know what all the fuss is about.
He has been heard to remark that children are ‘a sexually transmitted disease’.
distract myself, I look around the familiar dark room. On the equally
vast sideboard (which hasn’t encountered a duster for a while), next to
the Tibetan singing bowls, is an old school photo of Kieran’s sister,
Matilda. She is never mentioned these days, having upped-sticks to
Canary Wharf, utterly betraying her Egalitarian roots by becoming a
Hedge Fund Manager. So much for ‘discussing these things openly’.
a flourish, the nut roast is presented. It sits in the middle of the
table, looking defeated and deeply reluctant. I know how it feels.
is talking again, a monologue that doesn’t require much response -
something about Indian head massage and aligned chaqures. Certainly, no
response is forthcoming from her husband and Kieran’s head is down,
concentrating on serving himself nut roast. As Jill’s one remaining
listener, I make some appropriately polite noises while my attention -
and my gaze - wanders. I find myself looking at the framed print just
above Jill’s head, a sombre, pasty portrait of Edward Plantagenet. He
has a combative glint in his eye, staring me out across history. Jill
tells us every time we come round that she is descended in a direct line
from this nasty-faced monarch, while Kieran and his father roll their
She follows my gaze now and says: “When you two do manage to have a baby, he can be proud of his heritage, can’t he?”
stare hard at the nut roast, aware of Kieran’s eyes on me. He is
watching my nails scraping at the edge of the wooden table, a thought in
translation. He is afraid that what I’m thinking may become words,
words that shouldn’t be spoken, exploding out of my mouth. I look up and
gaze blindly at my mother-in-law, her face an unseen blur, hearing only
her casual dismissal of our baby girl, replacing her as if she’d never
I’m afraid of those words, too - so I scrape back my chair and run out of the room.
then I find myself out in the garden. The day is easing itself into the
spectral light of dusk, the sun burning low on the horizon. The trees
are silhouetted against a luminous sky. My heart still pounding, I
breathe in the drowsy, maddening scents of late summer, the mown grass,
the low-hanging buddleia.
A weary peace settles on me like dew, drenching, penetrating. I sit down on the grass.
then I see her, Erin, our little girl. She is young, maybe four or
five. Her ash-blond hair bobbs about her shoulders as she plays and her
blue eyes twinkle with delighted anticipation. She is smiling at me,
telling me everything is alright. The words sound in my head: ‘Lay up
for yourself treasure in heaven.’ “Lucy!”
It’s Kieran, come to
find me. I stiffen, waiting for his rebuke. He hates it when I flounce
off. Instead, I hear him sigh as he sits down beside me. He slips his
arm around my shoulder and says, “Sorry about my mum. She doesn’t mean
“I know.” I turn to him, smiling into his darkened
eyes. “It’s alright, Kieran. About Erin, I mean.” That name has lain
between us like an open grave for months, now. The air seems to quiver
with the shock of hearing it spoken, before absorbing the sound back
into its peace.
Kieran smiles too, uncertain. “What do you mean?”
tell him what I’ve seen, what I now know. “She’s waiting for us. We
will see her again.” I’m not sure if he believes me, but he picks up my
hand and kisses it. He rests his head on my shoulder as we watch the
last bright traces of the day disappear into the horizon, until there is
no stain left of its memory.
A sudden sharp bird cry stirs us both out of our trance. We sigh, get up, hug.
“Sorry about today, Lucy.” Kieran whispers. “I was a pig.”
I smile ruefully. “Sorry about every day for the last six months.”
I cast one glance back into the darkness, where I saw Erin. “Let’s go and face that nut roast.” I say.
The copyright of this post belongs to Alison Stickings. 22.1.15