by Erika Byrne-Ludwig


A feeling of warm wetness all over her body - milk, blood, tears. She might have a shower to wash the maternity smell off her. The baby was asleep. She listened to his breathing, looked at his small open curly mouth. She was still not fully acquainted with him. He was a stranger really. A thought or two rolled onto the bunny rug.

    She sat on her grandmother's chair and called her. Her dewy voice rose to console her as it had done ever since she was born. Her scented absence mingled discreetly with nursery soaps and oils. A silent reply: “No, grandma, it isn't true. There's no magic. Tears hurt. They really hurt. They burn.”

    “You must go through your pregnancy,” she had scolded her then. “Go on, have the baby,” and had embraced her swollen body. “The little bud will grow into a beautiful bloom. It'll delight us both.”

    Her grandmother's promise of helping her had not been kept. Verveine turned to her framed portrait which her usual smile stirred. She raised a hand to touch the picture. Her promise was clenched in the baby's fists.

    She felt a sense of desertion. Grandma was gone. She was the only adult now. Barely so, still a child in so many ways, a schoolgirl. The baby was sleeping. She stood up to watch him, wondered why his forehead was lined. His lips were suckling the air, suckling life. She touched him lightly and startled him. His face shrivelled and his mouth flooded. She let him cry while she took off her clothes.

    In the shower, her bloated breasts sprayed the tiles while, pale and veined, her empty pouch swayed on her young body. A stable smell lingered in the cubicle as if a cow had just calved. With an idle hand Verveine rubbed off the warm exhalations of mammals and earth.

    The baby was still crying, his crimson face grimacing, his needs bursting out. She dried herself next to the crib, put on her bathrobe and fed him. “Hush! Timmy,” she whispered, rocking him until he drifted into sleep.

    The bell rang. “That would be her. And I'm not ready yet.” She felt a sudden surge inside her, her milk wetting her nursing pads. “The counsellor ...” she grunted. She bit her pulpy lips. Fostering out Timmy had been discussed on a day spotted with shadows.

    Like a bell ringing twice, Verveine was caught with the same feeling of helplessness as months earlier. She remembered the words “regrets” and “remorse” uttered by her grandmother. They again bothered her like tears that never manage to trickle out but are always ready to do so.

    Cradled against his mother's wadded body, Timmy had stopped crying. In his eyes still open Verveine tried to look for cues as she saw a long, narrow path ahead. The baby's eyes shone with remaining cries and minute crystals of life faintly animated.

    Up on the wall was a photograph of herself on her grandmother's lap. In the glint of the light the old lady seemed almost alive still, her lips curled in some long remote joy.