Bairn screams. He is a fat, dark plum, wet and shiny. Two small pokey pegs stick out of his slimy pink gums. His eyes are tight thin slits. I pull Sucky Ted out from underneath itchy yellow blanket and stick it in the dark hole.

‘Shh, Bairn,’ I say.

Bairn sucks and sucks. His fat little hands pull and grab, always wanting.

I don’t like Bairn and he doesn’t like me. I don’t like his screams and he doesn’t like mine.

A lady with a fast pen comes to the house. She writes on thick white paper attached to a blue clipboard. She asks if I’m coping.

I don’t know what that means.

She asks if I love Bairn, if I want to keep him.

I say no.

Mam jumps up from the sofa and gives fast-pen-lady the good biscuits.

‘She doesn’t know what she’s saying. She’s not been herself since…’

Fast-pen-lady nods, her lips pinched tight.

I do know what I’m saying. 

Sometimes, before I can remember to kick my legs up and out, my eyes close, and I drift down into stink fog.

Black glove with hammer hits my face. Hair dragged, pulled. Mouth hurts. Arms too. Hurt moves down and under and in. It stings and tears and pushes. 

Stink fog has sharp teeth.

I jump awake, touch bite mark with fingers. It’s faded, on the outside.

I wait for fast-pen-lady to pick Bairn up and take him away in her small blue car.

But fast-pen-lady likes the good biscuits. And Mam. And Bairn.

She doesn’t like me.

She looks at me with spiteful knitted eyebrows, then says Bairn can stay.

Mam brings warm milk. She lifts Bairn, up and over.

‘Shh, bonny Bairn.’

I sit on the bed and Mam snuggles up. Bairn sucks and sucks. He grabs at Mam’s hair with fat little hands. Mam says, ‘This is nice.’

I wish Mam would put him down. Maybe she could bath me and wash my hair and we could watch Netflix.

I put my head on her shoulder and stare at Bairn, hoping he will choke.

Lights. Red. Blue. Red. Flashing. Talking, up and around and over.

I’m on the ground, like a dog, tongue lolling, thick heavy breaths.

Voices, black bodies, black hats. Green bodies, plastic aprons.

‘It’s okay, love, you’re going to be okay,’ one of the voices says, a lady, with peppermint breath and a white glove.

A glove.

I scream.

I look at Bairn under itchy yellow blanket, eyes closed, chest moving. I touch his hair. Soft, warm.

Bairn’s name sits like a liquorice drop, sour on my tongue. I can taste it, but it won’t come out. 

‘Bonny Bairn,’ I say. But it doesn’t sound like Mam. It sounds rough and torn.

Mam says his name will come, in time. She says I used to be good at puzzles. Before.

White room. Sharp, clean. Lights. Hurts my eyes.

In and out, in and out. Days float like clouds.

Faces, voices.

Mam says they are trying to fix the thing the bad man did… But they don’t. They don’t fix it all. Because after all the cloud days, hurt comes back. Hurt moves down and under and in. It stings and tears and pushes.

I try to run, to crawl into the sharp, white wall but they put my legs up high and hold me fast.

Bairn screams out of me.

He is a fat, dark plum, wet and shiny.

I don’t know how he got there, or why. 

Mam holds Bairn up to the bright, sharp light.

She says, ‘Oh, he’s so beautiful.’

I look at the ceiling and hum through my tears.

‘Shh, Bairn,’ says Mam.

And I don’t know if she’s saying it to him or me.

© Kathy Hoyle
[This piece was selected by Jacky Taylor. Read Kathy’s interview]