Read ‘My Blood, Moving’ by Anna Stewart
He sighed dead loud and rocked back in his chair, trying tae look casual. There were these great yellow sweat patches under his arms and I wanted tae look away, but I smiled tae encourage him coz I knew he was nervous to say something that wasnae very nice tae me.
“So maternity leave starts today then, eh? Now, before you go, I’ve brought you in here to talk about your plans for the future.”
He kindo laughed and we both knew it was embarrassing, the way he was speaking to me wi that voice that wasnae his.
“You’ve been with us for, what, four years now? And plain speaking, Audrey, a lot of those years have been taken up with maternity. Don’t get me wrong: it’s every woman’s right to have as many babies as she wants.”
He laughed, then pulled doon aw the muscles in his face tae get it straight again.
“And it’s not about money. Money doesn’t come into it. It’s about fairness. Look, I won’t go on. I mean, Erica would bite her own arm off to have them. The point is, I can’t have you going off again after this one.”
He breathed oot loadso air and picked up his pen, then started tapping it on the desk, looking at me, no blinking, so I knew I had tae say something.
“I know what you mean, Mr. MacInnes. It’s just coz you know what happened wi that other baby’s just held us back a wee bit. I don’t think me and Boab’ll be having any mair than twa bairns, it’s just I’ll have had the three times off is all, so I’m sorry aboot that. It wis a bit o a waste.”
“No, no. No apologies needed, Audrey. Terrible thing that happened. You needed the time then. I’d just like to know your plans for the future, that’s all.”
“Like I says Mr. MacInnes, I don’t think me and Boab are planning on any mair than twa bairns.”
“Good news, good news.”
Then he stood up, meaning I had tae get oot.
“Of course, we’ll all miss you when you’re away with this one.”
We shook hands, and I knew I’d hae tae wash mine quick-smart coz aw the scratching that goes on underneath that desk.
I sorto waddled oot the room coz I was heavy by then. His wife Erica came up and hugged me in the main office, and carried my handbag to the front door, dead fussy, like she wis really helping. It’s funny though: she doesnae speak tae me the rest o the time, but she seems to really like me when I’m due. She kept looking at my belly and I thought it was a shame, coz I knew he’d never really wanted a bairn.
Erica opened the door and the wee bell made that jangling noise. She put her arm oot kindo showing me which way tae go hame, but I wasnae wanting hame yet so it was embarrassing, coz I had tae walk the way she’d pointed, then go back on myself when she went inside. I wanted a look in the Cancer Research shop up the road, and I’d time because Mum had wee Alec.
That shop’s tiny and I had tae squeeze through aw the clothes rails tae get to the toys. My belly caught on some hangers and loadso tops fell on the floor, but I couldnae reach to pick them up. I could feel that woman behind the counter looking at me making a mess. There wis a toy truck on the shelf that I thought would suit Alec: it had a yellow bucket in the back where he could put stanes and sand and pretend he wis digging. And I saw a nice wee doll for if the new bairn came oot a girl: she had curly hair and a china face wi those painted on eyes and lips, but her body wis soft wi wires inside so you could move her aboot and make her go. I wis stood fiddling wi her legs, and there wis a man looking at me, kindo staring wi this daft smile. So I put the dolly back, then kept my head doon and went tae the till wi the truck. Some men like big women, or women that are pregnant, Boab telt me.
Efter that I went up tae Mum’s flat to get Alec. It’s ay full o smoke in Mum’s, coz her boyfriend Gerald’s on sixty a day. He just sits aroond in that chair next tae the fire, smoking and smoking, and then at night he opens his tins, and sits there drinking and smoking, drinking and smoking. He’s got this big lumpy nose wi potholes in his skin aw roond it, and these fat yella fingers that he jabs intae the fag packet as soon as he’s stubbed ane oot. He doesnae say much, but I had tae stop him lifting his hand tae wee Alec once. We dinnae like each other because o that.
Mum wis sat in her pink dressing goon reading the back o the cereal boxes left fae morning. I put the milk in the fridge so’s it didnae go sour, then gave the truck a wee wipe and handed it tae Alec to keep him quiet. He kept knocking it into aw the dirty plates on the table, making them crash together so yi could hear the mess o the place. Then he was being the truck, and rattling the room wi the sound o it.
I could see Mum wis getting annoyed, so I said we’d better go.
We walked through the park on the way hame. Alec isnae lang walking so I had the pram an all. Coz Alec’s legs are dead wee, you get tae take your time on walks wi him. No like wi Boab, wha goes charging up and doon the place and it’s hard to see anything coz it’s aw whizzing past so quick and you’re just worried aboot standing in dog muck.
The wind wis really blowy and the leaves were circling aboot oor feet fir Alec tae kick. He spotted a tree wi hundreds o them underneath, aw dried oot and orange coz their time wis up. We got oor shoes right in there and stood on them, really lightly so’s tae hear them crack. Then we got blasted by the wind in the middle whar there’s nae trees, just a massive patch o grass laid oot wi nothing aroond it. Alec looked funny coz he wis walking aw diagonal, and I called him: my drunk wee man.
It usually gies me the creeps being in a big space like that, coz I’m just hanging there waiting fir something to hud onto. But the wind wis surrounding us, pressing against oor bodies and pushing oor faces, so it wis okay. Loadso breath wis stuffing up my nose, it wis hard tae fit any mair in. I felt my body battering against the wind, I felt Alec’s hand, and I felt the bairn pushing my ribs and moving aboot the space o my insides. It wis aw good feeling, like I knew whar I was.
Stuff like that I cannie explain tae Boab.
Alec started punching the wind, and he got a bit carried away hitting his chubby arms in the air, ower and ower again. He’s like his dad in that: how he can keep dead focused without stopping to think what he’s doing it for. I could see his hands and cheeks were getting red from being ootside too lang, so I got back on the path tae head for hame.
I wis putting Alec in the buggy, and I saw him: that man who’d been smiling at me in the charity shop. When I looked at him, he stopped walking and stared at us, dead still. Boab wouldo said I wis being daft and it wis just chance, but I thought he musto been following me since the shop. Then I thought how maybe I’d seen him when I came oot Mum’s flat, maybe he’d been waiting aw that time.
Apart fae us and him, the park wis empty.
The gate that takes you to the main road wis a good bit alang the path, but we could make it, as long as he didnae run.
I went tae fasten Alec’s buckle, but my hands were cald and they didnae go as quick as I wanted. I turned my back on the man and pushed the buggy hard. The wind wis hitting Alec’s face, and he started tae cry, but I couldnae stop tae put the hood doon. I had a look behind and saw the man had started walking again, walking fast towards us. My heart wis hammering, telling me tae move, move it, get going, so I went even quicker. I turned roond and saw he wis going quicker too, quicker than me. I started tae run; pushing the buggy ower sticks, lucky they didnae catch, bumping Alec ower roots coming free o the concrete, hurtling past flashes o brown trunk, flashes o orange leaf sliding under my feet and sticking tae the wheels. The man wis running behind, catching up, close now, so quick he wis almost on us. The air wis rushing aboot my ears, trapping me deaf, wi just the sound in my heed o my blood moving.
I wis too heavy. The bairn inside started tearing at my body, tearing inside tae get oot, tae stop. My legs buckled and I fell. Alec’s buggy knocked ower; he wis crying, screaming wi cries. I could hear the man’s feet fae the ground, hollow stomps getting louder, making my head bump on the concrete, and the grass at the edge o the path wis shaking, wi a kindo buzz. Then right in front wis a muddy white trainer, its laces knotted dead tight, a zip dangling fae a polyester leg, and a sock wi the word Adidas. Alec’s screams went rattling roond my chest, and that bairn inside kept tearing.
The man’s mooth wis hanging open, his lips were aw wet, and his breath wis pushing tae get through aw the snot jammed up his nose. I wanted Alec, but I couldnae see him coz he’d fallen the other way, his screams were coming through the back o the buggy; I reached ower and could feel him, heaving through the canvas. The man put his hand in his coat pocket and pulled oot that doll, the one wi painted on eyes and lips that I’d seen in the charity shop.
“Got that dolly fir you, missus.”
He held it oot, too high for me tae reach, then stood staring at Alec, just waiting and swallowing. I wanted him to hold the dolly still so I could see her, but he kept moving her wi his stupid hand. She hovered above, a painted face in the sky, getting dark. There wis a trail going alang behind her fae the engine o a plane; I heard a bird, and that kindo high-laughing that happens when bairns play; and a football being kicked, leather hitting leather.
Then the man dropped the dolly, and ran. So fast, it wasnae long til I couldnae see him.
I pulled myself up, and got Alec up an all. I wiped his face and told him no tae be so daft and crying; everything wis fine. Then I put the hood doon tae stop the wind getting him. I shoved the doll in the bottom o the buggy coz her face wis smashed, and I didnae want Alec playing wi her. I started walking, but the pain held me back and my thighs were rubbing through aw that damp between my legs. So I knew I had to go to the hospital. Too early again.
Coz o aw that she wis quiet when she came oot. Quiet enough for me tae hear my ain skin.
Coz o aw that.
It’s funny the things yi remember; her mute wee head in the midwife’s hand; her still shoulders, leaving the empty space o me.
I felt sorry for Boab efter that. I knew I’d let him doon when I telt him aw the stuff aboot the man wi the doll. He just kept asking: “What man? What bloody man? Alec doesnae mind o a man. Yir ane mither, she looked and never saw a man. There wis nae man!”
And he said it wis my daft heed that did it, like it wis my daft heed the last time. I grabbed Alec and I asked him: “Alec, yi mind o that man in the park that wis running efter wi, the one that gave wi that dolly? Remember that man, and he wis running?”
Alec just looked scared and shook his head, then he went in the corner to draw wi crayons, and Boab went on and on: “Whar’s the dolly then? Whar’s the dolly, Audrey?”
I got back tae work earlier than expected. Mr. MacInnes seemed pleased, even though he kept making eyes like he felt sorry for me. And Erica couldnae stop looking, wondering whar it’d gone. She started asking aboot Alec, and saying I could bring him intae work some days if I wanted coz he would keep me company. But I told her Alec was starting the nursery soon.
“They grow up fast eh?” she said, but in that sad tone, like she didnae hae anything to tell me aboot bairns.
A wee while efter that, Mr. MacInnes pulled me in his office again and started wi all that sweating and pen-tapping. He said he’d noticed I was looking affy pale, and that I was taking a good few toilet breaks in the mornings, and he asked if there was something I wanted tae share wi him. He kept smiling and sweating, and talking wi that voice that wasnae his, and I knew I’d something he couldnae hae, and there was nothing he could do tae stop me keeping it there; stretching my belly and filling my insides. It wis my blood, and it wis moving.