Lee gets up from bed and disappears into the bathroom. I can hear the shower and the water hitting the plastic base of the bath and I wonder how it is he can do this every day like nothing’s happened. He doesn’t seem to be affected by any of it, or at least he’s better at concealing it than me. But it still hurts too see him every morning like this, like everything’s okay, like it never happened. How can he carry on like this? How can he resume his life as if none of it matters? How can he eliminate the emotions? Or does he feel anything at all? How do I know what he’s going through? How can I know? And that’s the problem. I have no idea how he feels. What he thinks. What he’s going through. I have no way of knowing because he never talks about it. He never lets me in. He never tells me anything, he just bottled it up inside. He keeps it locked away until he can’t hold it anymore and explodes after he’s had too many drinks. But he’s not letting himself drink like that anymore. He’s permanently in control. It’s been three weeks now and he hasn’t changed. There’s been no indication as to whether or not any of this has affected him. Whether any of it matters. Whether he cares.
He re-enters the bedroom and begins to look through his wardrobe for his clothes. I did the laundry yesterday and know that a couple of his shirts are downstairs on the clothes rail, but I don’t say anything. I hear him open and close drawers and then leave the room again. I put my hand on my stomach and think about how things could have been. I think about what it might have been like. How it would have felt to have a little baby sleeping inside me. Feeling it grow day by day and knowing that there was something more important than anything else, everything else, waiting to be born to prove the validity of love and life. Knowing that from this point on, from this specific, historic, moment in time, the future was something to look forward to and embrace with greater enthusiasm and joy. Knowing that there was someone else to live for. Someone else for whom to struggle on and live each day. Someone to love. Forever. Instead, that prospect and future was taken from me, and now my hand lies on nothing but the remnance of the little I could eat last night. I feel empty. I feel lonely and cold. I feel awful and selfish and horrid for my part in the defining moments of the decision that was made. We spoke and agreed. It was amicable. It was adult. It was sensible. Only now, I regret every second of it. And I hate myself for my involvement. I hate myself for not saying ‘no’. For not expressing my desire to keep it. My baby. To keep my child and give my life to all that it might be. To care. Protect. Love. Unconditionally with no logic and reason and the groundings of reality. To be a mother. But it’s too late now. There’s nothing I can do. I played my part and now I have to live beside the death I caused. The absence of my baby a brutal reminder of my choice to live with greater ease. A burden of my will to kill and carry on. To go to work and eat and drink and rest and play and do the things I want, when I want, how I want, I want and want and want. Me me me. Now. On my own. The thing I want no more. The thing I truly want drifting in the sewers beneath me. Never to know of all the things the earth and sky combine to give. Never to know of all the things we have. All the things we miss. Air. Trees. Flowers. Butterflies. Choice. Opportunity. Life. I took it all away. I took it. Me.
Lee comes back in the room and sits on the bed beside me. I pretend to be asleep and ignore him. ‘I’m going to work now.’ He says. I feel him stroke my hair and move a strand away from my face but I keep my eyes closed and try to ensure my breathing remains regular. I smell his aftershave. Boss. The one I bought him at Christmas, just before we found out I was pregnant. I feel my insides spasm. He leans in. ‘I love you’, he whispers in my ear. I don’t respond. He sits there for another couple of seconds before getting up and walking away towards the door. I hear it close and his footsteps descend the stairs down and out of our apartment block. I hear the car start. I hear him disappear. I open my eyes and roll over and look at the pillow on which his head had slept. I let my eyes follow the crease and curve of the purple pillow case as it folds in on itself by where his weight had crushed. I stare at the pillow and try to will it to give me some of what he dreamt. Some of what he may have released throughout the night. I want to know. I need to know. But nothing happens. I remain facing his pillow and feel a tear escape my eyes as I wish to God I hadn’t let it come to this. I wish I had been stronger. I wish I had spoken to my sister or my mother or someone else, anyone else, someone who may have made me think a little longer before doing what I did. I wish I had not done it by myself. But that was what I wanted. And here I am. Alone.
I stay in bed for another half hour doing nothing and trying not to think, but it doesn’t work. I can’t stop thinking. I can’t stop thinking about almost every aspect of that which shall now never come to pass. What would we have called our child? Would it be a male or female? Would it cry or rest easy? What colour eyes would it have? What colour hair? How much would it weigh? How big would its finger’s be? Would it hold me tight? Would it ever let me go? Would it love me? And then I start crying and can’t stop. I can’t stop crying and I won’t. I don’t want to. I deserve it. I deserve this pain. My body rocks and I can’t breathe and so I lift my knees to my chin and curl myself up as tight as I can. I try to squeeze and force the guilt and hate down into my stomach. Down into the empty pit where my baby should be. I will keep this horrid truth inside me. I will never let it go. I will remember. I will make myself remember. I will never let it leave. Ever.
I finally get out of bed and go to the bathroom. I sit down to wee and look at my flat stomach. I’m beginning to be able to see my ribs as I haven’t eaten properly since the visit to the clinic. I’m finding it hard to put food in my mouth and swallow when I know there’s no longer a little life inside me waiting to be fed. Waiting for me to fulfil my role and nurture and protect it. Lee’s noticed and has told me that he’s worried. It’s about the only thing he’s told me. It should have made me feel better, knowing that he was there for me, looking after me, but it didn’t. I don’t know why and I can’t explain it. Everything just feels different. I get up and look in the mirror. There I am. I turn to my side and try to imagine what I might have looked like with a full and round stomach, but I can’t. My brain won’t let me. I let my top fall down again and splash my face with water. It doesn’t make me feel any better so I walk out and into the kitchen. Lee has left my coffee in the mug as usual and I turn the kettle on and lean against the worktop and wait. Across the room I can see a photo of me and Lee in Toulouse from last summer when we went to visit a friend of his from university. Since then they’ve had a kid. A little girl. Clara. We were invited out to the party but couldn’t make it because of work. We sent a card instead. I see the smile on our faces and it reminds me of how happy we were, but even though it’s right there in front of me and I can see it, even though I can reach out and touch it, I don’t remember the feelings. I can’t recall any of the joy. I remember laughing and joking and drinking wine by the river and being asked about our plans and marriage and kids and all the rest, but beyond that, it’s lost to me. I look at Lee and feel a surge of guilt rise within me. None of this is his fault. He didn’t force me to do it. He didn’t give me ultimatums or argue or proclaim and profess it was a necessary measure in our own survival. He didn’t do it. The only thing he tried to do was support me. Help me. Love me. But I know I’ve been treating him badly recently. I can’t help it. I don’t mean to. I don’t want to. I don’t feel better for it. And I can’t stand it, yet every time I try and control myself and make myself realise what I’m doing and how much it hurts him, it doesn’t make a difference, I still do it. I still shout at him. I still blame him. And yet he never responds. He never reacts. He never yells back. He never curses or cries. Nothing. He just tells me he loves me. More than anything. He loves me. Still. I wish it was enough.
I make my coffee and sit down at the table. I’ve still got another hour and a half before I need to be at work and I look down into my coffee which I hold tight between both hands. I took a week off just after the clinic and told them I was sick. I never explained or told them the truth and I wonder whether it would have made a difference. We never told anyone. Lee never told his family and neither did I. Nobody knows. We just kept it to ourselves in some hope that we’d get through it. That things would turn out okay. I really hope they do, but somehow, I can’t shake the feeling that they won’t. I can’t help but think that what we’ve done has cast a cloud so dark and vast above us, that nothing we can do will make it go away. Nothing will save us. Not now. Every time I see him it reminds me of the child we chose to never have. I see him as a father. Sitting in the chair beside the bed, holding our baby, singing subtle songs as mother and child slowly fall asleep. I see him with vomit on his shirt. His tie with spit and dribble. I see the joy on his face when he holds our child for the first time. I see him look at me. I see us, together, as a family. Only now these images burn away inside me. They scold my brain deep behind my eyes and torture me for all the wrong I’ve done. I don’t believe in God, but I feel his pain. I feel the hurt of a million mother’s grief. I feel their anger when they discover I killed my own. I feel their rage in prayers that question how and why. How could it be so? How could they be granted the miracle of life and choose death? How could they do it? How? But I had no answers. I had nothing.
I sit there and think about the conversation. It’s as clear in my mind as if it was yesterday. We both sat at this table and spoke for hours about what to do. I’ll never forget it. It was awful. I can’t think of anything I’ve enjoyed less. The most dreadful fact of it all, was that the decision, our decision, in which I was involved and said my piece, was for no other reason that the desire to sustain the life we had. And now it seems ironic that it’s a life we’ll probably never be able to return to. It wasn’t about money. We both had good jobs and earned enough to be able to cope with a child and I was entitled to maternity leave and so we would have been okay. Instead, we chose to not have our baby because we deemed ourselves ‘not ready.’ We were not yet ‘ready’ to give up our social lives and lose our time to crying and nappies and sleepless nights and endless concerns and questions. Why is it not eating? Why is it not feeding properly? Why is it crying? Why is it not sleeping? What does it want? What can I do? How can I be better? We were ‘not ready’. I sit there and despise myself for believing this. I hate myself for letting the excuses win us over. Letting the friends and wine and parties and restaurants and good times take precedence over the child we could have had. And now, the real good times that could have come with the tiny features of our baby, are gone forever. The good times of a first smile and the first crawl and first step and first word and first poo and bath and look of love and recognition, were eradicated. It’s all gone. We were selfish. We killed our baby for nothing more than self-preservation, and now, sitting here trying to drink my coffee before work, trying to muster up the energy and will to get through another day, trying to prepare myself for the faces I knew would come in the Red Lion, I now know of real pain. I know how much it hurts. And despite the fact I’ve gone through sickness and witnessed family fade and wither, it was different. It was entirely something else. This was my family. This was my baby. This was my future. This was us. But now it’s not. We decided against it. We decided, together. And now, I’ve never felt so lonely.
Slowly I wash the dishes and stare at the tiles in front of me. I think about all the people I’ve served in the pub and all the pain they’ve hidden. I think of all the times they’ve tried to make it better with a beer. I think about how, at first, I judged them. I remember specific individuals I felt repulsed by. I remember their stories and how they made me feel. I remember who I was. But now I see it differently. Now, even more so after what’s happened, I feel somehow included. What I used to see in their eyes alone now looks back at me. I can’t help it. I don’t know how to stop it. So many times over the past couple of weeks I’ve wanted to drink during my shifts. So many times I’ve gazed at the bottles and wanted nothing more than a large glass of wine. So many times I’ve wanted to kill the voices in my head. I’ve wanted to lose myself to drink and forget about everything else. Forget about the guilt. Forget about the future that my baby will never have. Forget about the choices we will never get to make. Forget about the nurseries and schools and parts of parent life we will never have. Forget about the choice we made. Forget about it all. So many times I’ve just wanted to drink. Get drunk. Forget. Be free. But I haven’t. I haven’t done it. I haven’t poured the wine. I haven’t drowned myself in booze. I haven’t. I don’t know why. But I haven’t. I feel my phone vibrate in my bag as I close the door and lock it. I rest my head on it and breathe in and out. Another day. I turn. I reach for my pocket and take my phone out. I see a text message. It’s from Lee. I open it and read. ‘I LOVE YOU.’ Then I know. That’s why.