She had touched many skins, but none like yours. Yours was the edge of something else. Your skin was your own, but also hers. She would struggle with this as she lay with you, resisting the softness.
One afternoon she pressed a hot mug of tea onto your bare stomach. You did not open your eyes so she held it in place for some time; you were her coaster. When she removed it to have a sip there was a red circle branded on your milk-skin.
She let the cold water run and held you under the faucet. You cried from the temperature change. You remained in this position for a while, eyes on the ceiling, your skin pimpled and bluish like raw chicken. She stood bent over the sink, supporting your head how she was told to, saying the word ‘sorry’ over and over.
* * *
She liked being with him more than she liked being alone. For four days, they did not leave his house. They ate toast, sometimes with baked beans, sometimes with soup. She found it difficult to sleep because she had been doing it too much; she had exhausted sleep. She would lie in the darkness and listen to him breathing. She became very grateful for his breath. She noticed how the sofa could not breathe, and neither could the fridge. She would lie with her ear very close to his mouth, feeling his breath fill her up like honey, or sweet wine. She would wrap her arms around his shoulders ivy-tight, hold hands with herself and consider his wholeness in hers. She would place her hand on his belly (where she placed the mug on you) and feel how he was warm and alive and real under her hand, which was warm and alive and real itself.
On the fifth day, she told him she was pregnant.
‘I’m pregnant,’ she said.
‘What are you going to do about it?’
‘I’m keeping it. Life is very important.’ She told him about the sofa, about the fridge.
‘Right,’ he said.
For the rest of the fifth day, his body became tense when she touched him. He would say ‘yes’ to the offer of tea, but when the mug arrived he would not drink it, preferring to sit upright with his eyes closed.
‘Are you going to tell me that you love me? I’ve been waiting all day.’ She was collecting and emptying his cold mugs into the sink.
‘I don’t want to be a father.’ His lips disappeared into themselves.
On the morning of the sixth day, she ran for three hours until she reached her mother’s house. When she arrived, she was so exhausted that she did not knock, but lay flat on the pavement and waited for rain. It was July, and the rain did not come.
* * *
She would prop you up on the bed and tell you that she loved you.
‘I love you,’ she would say.
You would not respond. You would stare at the empty space behind her head or at the ceiling or at your feet.
‘Do you hear me? I love you.’
Every morning she would perform this ritual until you began to cry. Some mornings she would believe you cried because you knew that she was not telling the truth, or because you did not love her either. Some mornings she would remember that you were crying because you were hungry, so she would feed you and remind herself that you were not hurting her nipples on purpose.
Summer came. She was grateful to the leaves for growing larger; she thanked them for hiding you both in the garden. She was always worried that the neighbours were watching. By this time, you could sit up on your own. She would sit you on the grass and stare at you like she had just found you there.
‘I love you,’ she would say.
* * *
An old school friend tapped her on the shoulder in the supermarket. She recognised the face but could not remember the name. She did not ask.
‘It’s great that you’re pregnant. You look great. You’re glowing.’
‘I know. It’s really great. I really can’t wait. I feel I was born to be a mother.’
The two women stood next to each other and stared at their reflections stacked in the cans of tuna. She placed one of the second-cheapest cans into her basket.
‘That’s not for you, is it? You know about tuna, don’t you? About the mercury.’
‘Oh yes, of course. It’s for my husband – he takes tuna sandwiches to work. You’ve reminded me actually, I’ve got to get some mayonnaise.’
She waddled away, big with you. She paid for the tuna, the rest of her shopping and one of the small, plastic forks that they display by the till. She sat behind her steering wheel in the supermarket car park and ate the tuna from the can. She licked it clean and drove home, swallowing blood-metal-spit and mistaking it for mercury.
* * *
At your six-week check up, they told her everything was fine. They told her that you were healthy and normal and actually very smiley for your age. They told her that she was doing a great job with you. They asked her to complete a questionnaire.
She ticked the ‘no’ box for every question except two, when she ticked ‘sometimes’. The questions, which were not really questions but statements, were things like ‘I have felt anxious or worried for no good reason’ and ‘I have been so unhappy that I have been crying’. She handed the questionnaire to the nurse, who skimmed it and nodded as if to say ‘you passed’. As your mother was leaving a short, hard burst of laughter escaped her throat, but the nurse was focusing on filling out paperwork and did not raise her head. Outside, the sky looked like the dull side of foil.
When you both got home she changed you and fed you and put you down for a nap. She did all of these things mechanically, as if you were a computer game in which she had to complete all the levels. Whilst you slept, she smoked seventeen cigarettes and cried so hard that her neck seized up. She did all of this in the bathroom because she was afraid that the neighbours, or people walking down the street, might see through the windows.
* * *
When your mother’s mother opened her front door to find her daughter lying on the pavement she was mortified. She crouched down and pressed her ear to her daughter’s chest.
‘I am alive.’
‘Well, get up then. You could have at least knocked. The neighbours will see you.’
‘I have been here for hours. They have already seen.’
‘Are you alright?’
She told her mother that she was pregnant. They were silent for a while.
‘Well, who’s the father?’
‘There isn’t one.’
‘Will you just get up and come inside, please.’
Your mother got up and went inside with her own mother. Her back was cold like the pavement, but there was sweat on her forehead.
* * *
‘Not quite yet, I’m hot. I feel too hot. I can’t concentrate on anything else.’
They handed her a tall plastic glass filled with ice cubes. She placed two in her mouth and let them melt until they were small enough to swallow. She continued this process methodically. The last cube melted before she had time to put it in her mouth, so she drank the water instead.
‘Can I have some more, please?’
The nurse sighed.
‘You’ve got to hold the baby, love. Skin-to-skin contact is really important as soon after the birth as possible. It’s vital for the bonding process. He’s lovely and clean now, as you asked. I’m not sure it would be advised to wait any longer.’
Your mother nodded in your direction, then blinked for a very long time. When she opened her eyes you were balanced on her chest, curled into yourself like a comma.
‘Use your arms to support his head, love. There you go, perfect. How does that feel?’
She watched tiny blue roots growing across your eyelids. She listened to you breath in hiccups. She felt your skin steam against hers. Your fat lips opened to the hospital air. The nurse left the room.
‘I only feel more lonely with you on me like this.’
A tear ran down her cheek and landed on yours. You did not acknowledge it; you were used to being wet.
* * *
He told her that he loved her.
‘What do you know about love?’ She asked him.
‘I know that for every day that I feel it about you, I promise to tell you.’
‘Because I think that you need to hear it.’
His head was turned away from her slightly so that the lamplight shone on his closed eyelids. She thanked him for his love, and also for telling her about it. She told him that nobody had ever told her that they loved her before, and he said that he could have guessed.
They went to the pier to eat candyfloss, but in the end they bought doughnuts. She felt the sugar like sand on her lips. She could not stop thinking about him loving her; the words pounded in her ears to drown out the seagulls. She wanted to paint the sky the colour of his eyes. She kissed him until the sugar dissolved. Here, your mother was the happiest she has ever been.
* * *
‘I love you.’
© Saba Sams
[This piece was selected by Sara Crowley]