Connor began to spin stories of future activities with his son, or occasionally, a daughter. Very few of them interested me. He moved on to memories of happy families with his own parents, aunts and uncles. I had relatives I’d never met, both of my parents having been ostracized by them, because of dad’s drunken bellicosity. I had no advice on encouraging a child to pass on from my father.
Our sexual encounters didn’t involve something new every time. Sure, Connor would find places, a stretch of river with punts on it, a railway station waiting room that had featured in a film, the abandoned set of a superhero movie. But I had the impression that they were old haunts and that there weren’t many more left to introduce me to. Being flicked with make-up accessories, or the tails of fly-besieged horses, palls after a while.
I was beginning to remember the role of men in my life. I let them have sex so they liked it and me, and then we went back to our ordinary lives. But that was being denied now. I was being bound to this man by a BABY.
And it wasn’t even a baby.
It was an ever-growing bump.
Sure, there were cute pictures of a heart pumping and limbs moving. People who usually avoided me asked for the privilege of feeling the kick, but that was all the upside. The downsides, well feeling like I wanted to throw up after three bottles of meth and grape juice labelled as red wine and a phall or vindaloo, having my bladder squashed until it was as useless as a dripping tap, having my tits bloated out of recognition, crying out of unjustified enjoyment or utter despair, and never wanting to have sex ever again. Feeling trapped with no possible escape for twenty years or more.
And I was supposed to love it.
But I had lost whatever capacity for love I ever had, if I had any.
At work I resented every compensation case that involved somebody who woke up feeling better than me and demanded thousands of pounds. As that described about ninety nine percent of my caseload, I had also lost my motivation when my need for money was about to grow exponentially.
All for a romp followed by a bump.
Connor, not surprisingly started to take up gig offers that kept us apart and became once more every woman’s favorite man. If he had been pregnant and bloated and a pain in the arse without the usual accompanying pleasure, I would have been off on a round the world cruise, then another. So, I couldn’t blame him. But I did, whenever he sidled back onto the scene. He was there for the birth, holding my hand while silently assuring the midwife that he’d rather be holding hers. But he did look deep into my eyes with all the tenderness and concern of a well-rehearsed Bambi whenever I gave up yelling to grab a deep breath.
And then the bump was gone, leaving me drained, empty and exhausted – to be replaced by a baby, not my first-born son, Mark – not yet that real person, just a BABY.
They put it in a cot with glass sides and I stared at it, wondering how the hell I was going to know what it wanted, what it needed. Apart from having the NHS Ladybird book of Now You Have a Baby recited to me by professional health care workers, I knew absolutely nothing. It opened its eyes and stared right through me and I panicked into a month-long trance.
And then the baby ceased to be the responsibility of the medical profession and was handed over to me, of all people. Me, who had lived alone for five years apart from the dogs and the more than occasional man, and I loved it. Now I was a slave to the lump unplugged. My identity didn’t matter. I had no money, no sleep, no personal space, no time to myself. Long relaxing baths were out, hasty showers were in. There never seemed to be sufficient short bursts of available time to cook a decent hot meal or even get a drink while the food was still hot.
As for feeding the baby, that was a nightmare, particularly when I had to rely on milk powder. I practically had a spirit level out to make sure the scoop was exactly level. Was the water too hot? Too cold? Did the powder dissolve properly? I shook the bottle so hard for so long, I could have been cast in a silent movie. And then there was the time countdown, was it about to go off, suppose it ran out before I had made more. Would the health visitor knock on the door at that moment?
To me I was a hostage to a small body. To the rest of the world I had stopped being me and become Mark’s mum. I began to wear only clothes that were easily washed and didn’t need ironing however sad and saggy they made me look.
On the rare occasions I had the energy to want to eat out, I would exhaust myself researching a restaurant with decent baby changing facilities. And then there was the constant smell of sick resulting from baby’s healthy burp. I was convinced I smelt of sick all the time and I probably did. The natural reaction is a quick dab at the little drool pool with a wet cloth, but the patch dries crispy and with a whiff at least of sick that grows staler by the day.
For what seemed like the beginning of a life-sentence, I was overcome with a sense of duty to care, intensified by my decision to go it alone, and I just didn’t like the small thing that offered no inspiration, no interaction and no feedback on my performance, but just repeated its interminable Wagnerian cycle of eat, belch, piss, poo, scream, whine, sleep, yell out on waking, eat, etc., ad nauseum.
Then one morning, the lump of flesh stretched to an elegant length, wriggled awake against the blanket like a bear scratching its back on a tree, gazed lovingly upward into my eyes and beamed his daddy’s heart-breaking smile at me. All the gratitude to me he felt for his young life and prospects for his future, he channeled mercilessly into that smile, and we both knew we would love and protect each other forever. Hi Mark. Welcome.
Then there was life to be lived. I tried to make sure that every day something new, interesting and exciting happened in his life, however small, perhaps even just moving on to the next page in a picture book to marvel at things that began with a C. It’s amazing how great the world can look through a small child’s eyes while adults are fretting over what isn’t perfect. I loved getting lost in his world, watching in anticipation, as if seeing a great outdoor or sporting challenge as he proved, by trial and error, how many building bricks he could pile one on the other before the tower collapsed.
In this spirit of joy my sexual urges returned with a vengeance and there was only one person whose beguiling eyes I was reminded of every waking hour.
Connor cancelled a short season at a distant caravan park and came to live at an on-call for sex distance from us. The calls were frequent, and I made them only when I knew Mark would be too tired to need anything but sleep, and I had energy to spare.
Connor was enthusiastic about the kid in the photos on my phone, but not so much the one that awoke confused in the night, needed a long cuddle, reassurance that a fictional monster couldn’t get to him and ate into Connor’s conjugal rights time.
Quite simply he wasn’t, as I’d always thought he would be, a dad, not even with his own flesh and blood, his own DNA, the inheritor of his eyes. Take that away and all that was left was charm and smarm and a good fucking technique. But there were lots of excellent fuckers around who wouldn’t have any right to mess with Mark’s head. Perhaps men who would treat him as a son and be proud to share every moment they could with him.
If Connor couldn’t be a real dad to Mark, give up his life for the boy as I had given up mine, then I didn’t want him anywhere near us. I vowed not to call him again and to block his number. He never tried to get in touch again when completely sober, so, I guess he only wanted a shag, rather than an ice-cream adventure with his son.
By the time we celebrated the first four months of Mark’s life on Earth, his father was out of it forever. We had each other and needed no other love.
One morning as I lay in bed with Mark alongside me and the dogs perched on the far end, I looked tenderly at him. He had woken excited about the new day very early, run about preparing, sat chatting, and then he had gone back to a deep sleep and I wrote my one and only poem for him.
You are the Mark of my life
Your breath against my cheek.
Your little hand in mine.
Your hair upon my pillow,
and your warmth right next to mine.
You are God’s mark on my life.
I wake and you’re beside me.
I sleep and know you’re there.
You stir, and I awake.
You cuddle close and sleep.
You are the Mark of my life
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