Familial Loss by Charlotte Derrick

Baby Shoes for Sale

“Life,” your father told you as a boy, “has to be taken with a pinch of salt, and it’s the same for marriage.”

Your pinch of salt is screamin in the middle of the night. Bit over the top on it, like, but hardly a surprise comin from your wife who never seems to stop makin some noise or other to annoy the tits clean off you. And she just goes on and on and fuckin on like it’s to mean somethin. Poor wee Tess, with that fuckin voice on her like a politician. Always the same cuntin thing. You don’t know why you listen to half the shite she comes out with, you really don’t. 

“McDougal…”

Somewhere in those vows you made to her, you agreed to take her in sickness. Aye, sickness in the fuckin head! She’s herself convinced that she gets these awful migraines. She probably has one now. It’s all a load of shite, like, but you’ll be the one to nip to Tesco for her to get her some tablets because God forbid if she got off her fat hole and bothered to make the drive herself. The scandal! Fuckin alert th–

“McDougal!”

You’re not for movin. You’re not goin out again for her. You’re not her slave. What about when you’ve a headache, which is every fuckin day because of her gurnin. And, lo and behold, she’s startin at you by shakin your shoulder, then slappin at it, and then she’s for kickin the duvet off and screamin like a madwoman. You’re ready to slap her one because Jesus fuck, you’re tired, fuckin workin all day to come home to some ungrateful bitch, she never helps and she’s not helpin now, will she jus–

“Fuckin Christ, Tess!”

You fumble for the lamp, but before you can see, you feel the sticky sheets under your hands and it keeps spreadin everywhere, so you’re tryin to ring for an ambulance and reachin out to her in the dim light. She won’t stop her screamin and her blubberin and hittin the sodden sheets caught between her shakin legs and all the while there’s a hint of blame in her eyes and no matter where you’re for lookin, she keeps at it.

There’s a voice squawkin down the phone at you, askin for an address and all those kinds of details, and she starts askin about the condition of your wife and you don’t really know what to say. But never mind, because there’ll be an ambulance ‘as soon as possible, sir’ like that’s supposed to help. You’d love to see how she’d cope with a bloated whale for a wife yappin her name repeatedly into her ear, just in case she forgot it, the cunt. 

You hang up on her and turn to Tess, lookin her dead in the face. You smooth back her hair because it’ll be fine, she’ll be fine, it’s nothin serious, can’t be, you promise her. She collapses in on herself, collapses into you, tryin to catch her breath, but she just chokes on the air because the only thing she really can do is clasp her cunt and smear the gore up her arms as she cries even harder for you.
Lights out, curtains raised, you’re at the hospital with her, but they whisk her away and you’re pushed into a chair by a doctor while some wee doll nurse starts hissin and glarin at you and threatenin you with security. Away to fuck! Cheeky wee bitch, and then you feel the eyes of some woman on you, and you soak it up before politely inclinin your head towards her:

“Yes?”

“Could you please stop that?”

“Wha?”

She lowers her eyes to your feet. 

“That.”

You bang your feet a little harder than what you’d been doin and smile at her. 

“You mean this?”

“Yes!”

“I’m doin fuck all, love, but for you I’ll do anythin.”

She’s sittin with the arms folded tightly across her chest, bottom lip stickin out like she’s five. Grown fuckin woman and all, sittin like that. She’s all these lines set deep in her face, like. Cunt’s probably as dry as the Sahara Desert. You’d not touch her, not even if she’d tits on her that could shelter small children from the rain. You like your women how you like your coffee: with a couple of E’s in her. Nah, you’d not touch her, but it’s not like you’ll laugh in her face, either. Hardly fair on her, like. Her sister or someone’s probably havin their baby ripped out of them. You’ve to be sensitive to these types.
It’s a horrible business, the whole thing, but it could be okay, once you get the thing here and that. It’ll keep Tess busy, might even lighten her up a bit. Thinkin about it gets you all nostalgic about the first scan. Tess got on at you because you were late. She’d that look about her, the one that always made you chuckle. Wasn’t quite a snarl, but she looked like a goddamn bitch of a dog anyway. And this smiley doctor man who’s clearly dead on the inside comes in, shitein fuckin rainbows, and gets right to it, proddin at her cunt and rubbin some gel on her belly that he waves a wand over. He gets to askin about your marriage like a suburban housewife and all. What even is privacy when someone’s paid to look up your box for a livin? 

But then you saw the wee thing on the screen. The doctor started pointin to it, explainin how it was developin well, that kind of thing. It barely resembled a human bein or anythin, but it was there, it was alive, if you think that way, that is. And it was somethin you made, McDougal. You never thought to see yourself as a father, never associated yourself with any of that maudlin shite. It never suited you. But that wee speck was somethin gorgeous, like, and you’d looked at Tess and she was smilin like a beacon. It’d be all right. It had to be.

It’s nice to think about until that woman beside you gestures with her head down the hall and asks amiably enough, “Your wife?”

“Aye,” you say back, lowerin your head, eyes cast down and everythin like you’re in church pretendin to be prayin, and she’s bendin herself down to your level, wantin to give her mind without any kind of 
prompts:

“There’s no need to be like that. Think of how your wife must feel.”

You’ve her on one side and on the other some nurses keep fuckin glancin over and shakin their heads. They’re lookin at you like you’re the scum of the earth because you’re rubbin at your eyes and all. Who the fuck do they think they are? Think they’re fuckin entitled to an opinion. Well, they can go crawl back inside their mother’s cunts, the lot of them; it’s the only place they can go. 
You head on over to the nurses’ station, all fuckin smiles to butter them up with, but their faces are stony, unforgivin, just like your wife.

“Ladies! Would you do me the honour of escortin me to my wife?” you ask.

There’s two nurses behind the desk. One’s a stick, the other a bison. The look they give you, it was like you’d spat on their faces and rubbed in that extra bit of spit to get your point across. You’d like to do that, but you don’t. You want to see your wife this side of Christmas. 

But, of course, you know these types. They’re men-hatin dykes, the two of them. They want all men dead and buried. You’ll give them reason for it soon enough, because you’re for wringin their necks when they start all this glancin at each other shite, gettin on like they’re conspiratin. They’re all fuckin whispers like you’re fuckin deaf when you’re standin right there in all your glory. 

“Sir,” the stick lisps, all big, frightened doe eyes. “Please sit down.”

She turns to the bison who’s noddin her heavy head and lowin her agreement. Aye, good job, Lassie. The stick’d be the best arse licker yet.

“I’m sure you’re just doin your job, ladies, but I can’t just sit around when–”

“She is our patient, sir, and we will do what’s best by her–”

“Just do us this favour, love.”

“She is our patient, and–”

“She’s my fuckin wife! She’s hurtin and I…I can’t…”

“Sir, sit back down and wait,” the bison bellows. 

Your wife needs you and you can do nothin about it. It’s useless tryin to appeal to them. They’re not for listenin, and when you lean into their wee station, they scuttle away, screechin somethin or other to the staff. Drama queens, those women. Christ the night.

You’re back in the chair and the other woman starts pattin your shoulder but you don’t want it. You’ve been waitin ages to see your wife, you should be in there with her, you have to see her or else you’re fuckin useless otherwise. They’re makin you wait around as if she’s scuffed her arm, but she’s not okay, and what was the fuckin point of it, of doin this to yourselves? It’s all so fuckin ugly and pointless and inglorious, buyin all those little shoes and bottles and books by that prick Lennart Nilsson. You’re just made to sit there and fuckin take it like it’s a thing that happens, and you’re tryin to shrug off some other nurses that’re tuttin away because your lungs feel like they’re bein crushed by a velvet glove when you’re supposed to be just fine. They’re tryin to say that this is how it goes sometimes before twelve weeks, but it was over halfway, it’s not meant to happen, why’s it happenin now? Jesus fuck, this room! All the blue chairs and the white walls and the sterility of it, the sombre faces, the squeakin shoes and the coughin and the moanin, there’s the hum of the coffee machine and your wife’s cryin somewhere with her bloodied hands at her cunt.

They make you wait an eternity before they let you in to see her. Her parents were in before you, even the sister was in there with her. They may as well have had the whole extended family campin around her bed for a catch-up, but nah, that’s not the concern. It’s the ma comin out to you. She tells you to wise up before goin in because Tess was a petit fleur that was fragile and delicate. She never said how Tess was as mad as a box of frogs, but that hardly mattered since the phone was constantly askin for her, regardless of how she was, while you got fuck all.

The cow of a nurse who’s there to talk to you, you’re not havin it, because you already know by some admission what she’s for sayin, so you just shuffle on by her to this compacted room. 
Tess is huddled in the bed, lookin much smaller than she is, and she’s a blanket in her arms that she steadily rocks and coos at tenderly. With eyes fastened to that little bundle, she’s not for lookin anywhere else, not yet. There’s presents for it, unopened, untouched, and there’s cards with lilies and peace and poetry. The mantra of ‘I’m sorry’ doesn’t do anythin for her. She doesn’t seem to notice it, only that coal black nose peekin out of the blanket.

“Daddy’s here to see you, my bird. Aren’t you, McDougal?”

“Aye, love, I am.”

Her ma’d been tellin you how once Tess’d come around, she was askin the staff if they wanted a look at her baby. They always smiled and said yes, and she was chattin away to them, sayin how she’d take it home once the doctors cleared everythin. They encouraged it, too, said it’d help her deal with her loss. Of what? Her fuckin sanity? Were these people okay? You didn’t want them anywhere near your wife, not if they were feedin her shite like that to make her feel better. 

You go to your wife’s side and the smell of the thing assaults you when you’re up so close, that cheap perfume of stale compost. But you have to stay there without complaint. You can’t leave her now, not like this. 

It’s the skin that really gets to you, the skin that’s so malleable to the point that the face’s moulded perfectly to her breast and fixed there, unmovin. There’s a peaceful languor to the frozen face. It never felt a thing. It makes you glad that it didn’t hurt the way your wife does now, with the eyes hangin out of her head, red and swollen. She nuzzles its ugly, mangled hands. One of them rests against its cheek. The baby, it’s your baby – your baby that never had a chance to live.

“Daddy’s here to see you, my bird. Aren’t you, McDougal?”

She looks at you now like she’s pleadin and offers the blanket to you. She’s willin, but at the same time reluctant to let go. No real words are passed between you and your wife, just that little bundle from her arms to yours, and you take it and cradle it like the father you were meant to be, but all you’re holdin is a lump of coal. You wait for some wee noise out of the thing, for it to wriggle about or do somethin, anythin at all. You’re whisperin into its blackened shell of an ear:

“Please, wee pet. Please.”

But there’s nothin else to be said. It doesn’t mean anythin, not now. All you’ve left is a little dead person with its stiff, shinin face, and you’re kissin it, you’re kissin the two of them, your broken family. They’re your pinch of salt, because that’s what marriage is, right there, your marriage in all its entirety, and nothin, McDougal, not a damn thing can be done to fix it.

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