Every night she dreams of those other nights: sheets all crisp and starched, like at her gran’s or in a B&B on those family holidays; or the peony-decorated sheets in her own bed – all rumpled and disturbed by the sliding, pert buttocks of lovers. But that was before. A bed: frame, mattress, and collection of assorted coverings for duvet and pillows. A bed: a place to rest a weary body – bones and muscles relaxing, unfurling into the cotton; to lay the weather-beaten, leaden weight of her skull there – just for a moment – and to feel that sensation of falling into the feathery softness. A bed: that would be heaven.
But she is here again. In a different sort of heaven. In the doorway of the kindly newsagent. The one who always leaves out the day’s spent newspapers and the odd cardboard box devoid of its previous load of Diet Coke or Fanta. Sometimes there’s a can or something –
“Eeeehp!” A gurgle. A faint cry. Too weak to raise a higher, more voluble note in the biting cold of winter.
“Hush-a-bye, Baby – don’t cry…” She rocks the bundle of rags in her lap.
Yes, sometimes her luck’s in and there’s a can of pop, or something for Baby. Like a few nappies. Or a blanket. He’s like family to her, this newsagent. Family to them. Even though they’ve never exchanged names. She’s come here ever since the bank and the supermarket put those steel spikes on the ground in their sheltered areas; she can’t sleep there with Baby. There is an understanding between this newsagent and her; when no one else understands, or wants to understand. He is her saviour.
The newspapers – the big ones with all the big words she can’t read with confidence – unfold with difficulty – great flapping white swan wings in the night breeze – and she scrambles around for a while before eventually nesting, then bedding down for the night, as best she can. She’s always careful with Baby. Baby is all she has left. Each minute she learns. Something new about Baby. About what Baby wants. About what Baby needs. A bed is a safe place for Baby, isn’t it? She has heard stories. But she’s sure a proper bed would be better. For now though, a cwtch is the most she can provide. Her arms cushioning the blows and pounding of the wind that licks away with a thousand coarse, sandpaper tongues at the skin-exposing holes of her tattered jumper. If Baby slips, Baby will fall. Fall onto the ice-hard concrete of the pavement. So she will “hush-a-bye” Baby, cradle Baby, cwtch Baby, rock Baby, cwtch Baby, “hush-a-bye” Baby…
Today, her tiny infant does not wake with her. Baby is having a lie-in. Baby’s face looks serene in the glow of the morning light. The weird static of an old photograph. Worry spreads into the dirt lines on her teenage face, her inexperienced, nail-bitten hands searching for Baby’s miniscule heartbeat, as if it were a needle-sized Holy Grail in a haystack. An impossible thing, yet something she has to believe in. She has no real idea, but to hold Baby closer. Cwtch. Maybe to wait for the kind newsagent.
To the pedestrians quick-stepping around her in expensive, rigid shoes, this figure – the one now day-dreaming of her child falling into the gentle softness of cloud-light bedding – is merely an extension of the shop front. Barely a mannequin. Barely a mother.
About the Contributor
Jane Roberts’ work can be found in anthologies and magazines including: Litro, Bare Fiction Magazine, Firewords Quarterly, Hark Magazine, The Lonely Crowd, Wales Arts Review, NFFD Anthologies, Unthology 9 (Unthank Books, 2017), A Furious Hope (ed. Zelda Chappel, 2017). Shortlisted for Bridport Prize Flash Fiction (2013/2016), Fish Short Story Prize (2015/2016) and Flash Prize (2016); winner of Bloomsbury Writers’ and Artists’ Flash Fiction (2013). She is one third of the Literary Salmon team (Saboteur Awards Longlisted, “Best Anthology” 2016).
Twitter: @JaneEHRoberts / janeehroberts.wordpress.com
The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (Le Scaphandre et le Papillon) - Jean-Dominique Bauby
The editor-in-chief of French Elle Magazine, Jean-Dominique Bauby, finished writing The Diving-Bell and the Butterfly in 1996. After its publication in 1997, he died. When I first read the book, I was a gawky teenager struggling to communicate with the world, speech and body parts all variously at odds with other people. I thought it was an incredible work of fiction: recollections of family and work life interspersed with vignettes and observations from hospital. The protagonist is a man suffering from Locked-In Syndrome after a monumental stroke, communicating his reflections to an amanuensis using only the blinking of one eye. Then I read the foreword. This is Bauby’s memoir, not a fiction. I sought out the French version, not because my French is fluent, but rather that even my younger, gawky teenage self was so affected by the author’s story I had to try and read his original words in their full glory. I had to understand the gravity and force behind each syllable, each letter. For four hours a day for a period of ten months, this man occupied himself in the words of this book. It is the first book that details a life of paralysis of this nature; a meticulous catalogue of what was lost while he still lived, this slim volume has become a colossal and poignant legacy after death.
More from Issue Ten:
- Tracks of Life and Death by Liz Kohn
- A short course of treatment by Tim Love
- Heating disorder by Myriam Frey
- Heirlooms by Rosie Garland
- Mourning by Katherine McMahon
- The Ghost of my Mother is waiting for me in Arrivals by Claire Collison
- Pakistan Zindabad, from Abroad by Hana Riaz
- Adopt a vortex by Han Smith
- Sea Sickness by Eloise Unerman
- British Street Music by Tamim Sadikali
- Pomegranate by Caroline Gonda