Sheila stared at her reflection in the bathroom mirror. Smiled at herself and started to count. At seven liquid blurred her vision. At twelve the lump in her throat started to restrict breathing and the twisted knots in her stomach rolled up again. At seventeen she gave up and burst into tears. She wiped away the stains of her heartache and tried once more. She managed to get to ten. Opening up the cabinet she read the numbers.
One to be taken four times a day. She shook the bottle. Almost full.
“Four to be taken once a day,” she whispered to herself. “Fourteen to be taken once a day. Forty to be taken once a day. One bottle to be taken…”
She closed the cabinet, opened up the bottle, and tried another smile.
During breakfast Roger had said it would be a quiet day at work so he should be fine to get Sheila to her assessment with Dr Chappell. He was sure everything was going to be OK. She was just going through a difficult phase, she wasn’t broken, she wasn’t mad. It was just bad timing and things would work out fine, he was convinced of it.
Unlike poor Sheila.
Being a victim of multiple miscarriages can play with your mind. That’s if they were miscarriages. Maybe Roger had been putting something in her tea. He’d never been particularly paternal. She saw something similar in a film once. He wouldn’t do that though, would he? He loved her. Didn’t he?
With a breezy peck on the cheek he was gone.
Things had become so much easier at the office nowadays, ever since he’d been promoted to a position where he could delegate all the laborious chores to some of the many he disliked. And now people had to suck up to him, life was good. Well, work life at least. He was certain things would go smooth all day.
Unfortunately, he never accounted for Barbara dragging him off to the pub for a management meeting which was, in reality, a thinly disguised excuse for an afternoon gossip. After his third drink Roger started to relax and allowed himself to become distracted by Barbara’s breasts. He thought he heard her mention something about it being either Mandy or Daniel who they would have to let go. But in his mind her lingerie was purple lace, she was leaning back, opening her legs and telling him, I want you inside, take me.
The ping of Sheila’s fifth text message that day softened his heat. By the time he woke from his daydreaming it was time for home. As he jumped into the car he had to look twice at the clock – was that the time? He had to be home in ten minutes, getting there would take fifty.
When street turned to road, and road turned to motorway, that fifty started to look like over an hour – he was in need of a shortcut. He had a choice of two routes, one staying on the motorway he was already on, which was bumper to bumper, or there was the option of taking the backstreets and quieter roads through the area where he grew up as a child. A longer journey, but possibly quicker. He muscled some of the smaller cars out of the way to get to the slip road, suddenly he was off and heading towards back-lanes and alleys.
He was in luck, the council estate roads were deserted. The only problem he encountered was the odd street which had cars double parked, so there were times he’d have to slow down while others let him squeeze past, but he seemed to be making good progress.
As he turned into another dimly lit back lane his phone started to ring. Unfortunately his phone was in his trouser pocket and they were a bit tight. Squirming around in his seat he managed to pull out the phone, only for it to slip out of his hand into the footwell below his legs. Fumbling around and leaning below him with only one hand on the wheel he pushed the phone around with his fingertips, just out of reach. His eyes peered level with the top of the dashboard but he still couldn’t reach, so he dipped a little further.
With it still ringing he finally managed to grip it and slide it into his hand. As he straightened himself back up in his seat he looked at the phone screen. Sheila. He swiped to accept the call. Bringing the phone up to his ear brought his eyes back to the road. He’d drifted left. Straight ahead was the rear end of a parked car, its boot open, then something moved in front of it and Roger realised there was no time to turn. He tensed up and slammed his right foot hard on the brake. Too late.
As the car hit he was thrown into the steering wheel, just as the airbag exploded in his face. Losing his grip on his phone it flew back into the footwell, the sound of breaking glass and crunching metal lasted only momentarily but was then replaced by hissing steam and a muffled moan from in front of him. A long ringing drone of a noise came into his head, as darkness with white flickering lights danced around in front of him. Then the pain kicked in. Face, chest, hand, knees and feet were all sending messages to his brain. One of them saying I’m broken but he wasn’t sure which one it was.
With the airbag in his face he leant to his left to peer round it, what looked like broken eggs were splattered on the windscreen alongside a ripped and squashed loaf of bread. Beyond those was a young woman, trapped between the two cars – motionless and twisted, blood seeping from her mouth. A tingling sensation flowed from the top of his head, down through his face bringing an intense heat, continuing down his throat till it reached his chest to squeeze all air from him. With an immense tension inside his body he tried to release it by screaming at the top of his voice. Then Roger heard it, the sound of softness patting something metallic. The airbag started to deflate revealing the rest of the contents from the obliterated shopping bags spewed all over the bonnet, along with a small baby, on all fours, crawling towards him.
Volts of shock tore through Roger’s body as he vomited into his own lap. He frantically tugged to release his seat belt before fumbling to open the door. He jumped out and immediately realised what the pain was, an electric bolt shot through his body as his left knee gave way and he fell to the ground. On the bonnet of his car the baby, which Roger guessed was about a year old, barefoot and dressed in baggy white clothes, had now reached the windscreen and was pulling at the wipers. For a second Roger worried that it might damage them. Getting to his feet he limped around the front of the car to check the woman’s pulse – he couldn’t find one. Blood was coming out of her ears as well as her mouth. She was trapped between the two cars by her left hip and her feet appeared to be pointing in different directions.
Still on the bonnet, the baby had moved to the edge of the car. It looked about to fall over the side. Roger rushed round just as the baby started to lose its balance, he caught it mid-fall and scooped it up into his arms. The baby looked into Roger’s eyes, reached up to poke a finger in his ear with one hand while the other squeezed his nose. It gripped a bit too hard thought Roger. The baby giggled as Roger tried to hold it away from him. He recognised the odour from when one of the secretaries brought her child into the office while she was on maternity leave, it took ages to get rid of the smell. Pulling itself closer the baby opened its mouth and started to suck on Roger’s cheekbone. Surveying the scene of devastation in front of him Roger reluctantly comforted the baby by patting it gently on its back. He contemplated his next move just as his phone pinged in another text and he felt a slight pricking sensation in his ear. The pain in his knee disappeared as soon as the baby sank its teeth into him.
The volume of the clock ticking was rising. Sheila tried covering up her ears but it didn’t help. Every second had slowed itself down to feel like a minute which was being announced by a hammer hitting stone. Her days spent alone inside a house far too big for two people were becoming longer and lonelier. She didn’t want to miss her appointment with Dr Chappell but wasn’t sure anymore what time she was meant to be there. Was it today? She sent Roger another text message, that was now seven today without reply. She’d just rang him up which he’d answered then hung up straight away. It had now become dark outside but Sheila had kept the lights off, it made her feel more comfortable looking out the window then. Behind her on the cabinet was a bottle of red wine she’d been given by friends for her birthday. She could feel the hairs on the back of her neck reach out for it.
Two hours later the car pulled up the driveway and with the press of the button the shutter smoothly climbed up. For the first time in twelve years there was about to be a car in the garage. Bulging out from the side walls was a collection of clutter, big boys toys and power tools. When the car was inside and the shutter was down it was sitting on a set of Tiger Woods golf clubs, a cordless drill and a bag of clothes meant to be dropped off at the charity shop. Upstairs Sheila listened as the crashing and banging from below continued. Roger had never put the car in the garage before. Then the noises moved to the kitchen where clattering pots and pans broke through the night silence. Sheila put down her glass and tiptoed to the top of the stairs.
“Roger? What are you doing?”
She listened for him to answer but it never came. All she heard was the sound of dragging, like a chair scraping on a tiled floor, then silence.
“Hello. Roger is that you? Who’s there?”
With her shoulder sliding down the wall Sheila glided down to the bottom of the stairs. Tentatively peering round corners she sensed faint ruffles of movement within the house. Light from the kitchen streamed down the hallway. The first thing to catch her eye as she got to the door was the empty bottle of wine she’d left on the bench. The plates that she’d neatly stacked had been moved with one of them broken on the floor. A cupboard was wide open with a ripped packet of cornflakes hanging out of it, the floor littered with the tiny golden flakes. Also open was the door to the garage. When she looked in she realised Roger must have been in some sort of accident. The car was covered in stains with the front bumper damaged and it was hard up against the drinks refrigerator. He’d also driven over her new bike, the one he’d bought to help get her mind off things. That was six months ago, she was yet to ride it. Somewhere behind her she thought she heard a door close.
“Roger, what’s happened to the car?” she shouted out, still no answer.
Moving through the house she checked the study and dining room but found nothing, in the lounge she noticed stains and marks on the new carpets. She bent down to try rub one away with her fingers. On inspection under lamplight was a mixture of slime and blood. The smell reminded her of the time when the drains were blocked and Roger had to get some men to come out to fix them. She was startled by a loud thump on an upstairs floor. She looked up to see the chandelier swaying side to side.
She followed a fresh stain trail that led up the stairs. Roger must’ve sustained some sort of injury, thought Sheila, and this house was going to take some cleaning. At the top of the stairs, instead of leading to the bathroom or the master bedroom, the trail went to one of the other bedrooms. The room they’d twice decorated to welcome a new arrival. The room they’d never used.
From behind the closed door came another thud and Sheila momentarily hesitated whilst holding the door handle. Taking a deep breath to prepare herself she opened the door as wide as she could. The sight hit her straightaway, taking all breath from within her. There was only one thing to look at, and she couldn’t take her eyes off it. A feeling hit her stomach. For the first time in a long time, Sheila started to smile.
Sitting on the floor looking up at Sheila was a young baby, about eighteen months old. It’s white clothes, bursting like they were too small for it, were covered in dark stains and its bare feet dripping blood. Lifting up its arms as if asking Sheila to pick it up, the baby tried to call out.
The joy of having a child sitting in this room flooded through Sheila as she rushed to the baby and scooped it up into her arms. Although its clothes were a soiled mess she could still notice its beautiful baby smell. Sheila held the child close in her arms and gave it a big hug. The baby laughed and giggled as Sheila jumped up and down playfully. Then the soaring in Sheila’s heart was too much to take in. The tears came back.
Five times they’d tried to have children and five times they’d been unlucky. For each and every child never born she’d still given them names. Sheila never told Roger, she kept them inside her closed heart. Their oldest son Mathew would’ve been sixteen now, soon to leave school. She’d missed so much. Pulling the baby close she kissed its forehead as it grabbed Sheila’s ear with one hand and her nose with the other.
“Din-dan.” said the baby as it started to suck on Sheila’s cheekbone just where the tears had fallen. She smiled, closed her eyes and stopped thinking of tears and of heartache, but instead thought of hope and of joy. Her pain finally disappeared when the baby sank itself deep into her flesh.