The Smallest Memory
October 29, 2013 § 6 Comments
Chapter One of an unfinished novel
The month before Romy came into the world was hot and listless. Everyone in Norfolk waited for the thunderstorm that wouldn’t come, and Jenny draped herself across the overstuffed sofa and refused to budge. ‘Too hot’, she grumbled, scowling at her swollen ankles. ‘Too big,’ she muttered as she massaged the skin stretching itself tight across her belly.
The days were long and shapeless, and at night she tossed and turned under the crisp cotton sheet in the bed she shared with William. She fretted about the never-ending trips to empty the half full bladder Romy insisted on prodding with her tiny feet, and William took to camping on the sofa.
The River Waveney, a mile as the crow flew from the old house where Romy would soon be born, grew green and turgid in the drought; and the government made it a punishable offence to use anything other than grey water to keep Jenny’s precious garden alive. Six yellow plastic buckets were lined up every day outside the kitchen door waiting to be filled with water full of dirty bubbles for William to douse the roses. But they wilted anyway – their sap leeched by a sudden plague of greenfly; and their leaves, infected by black spot and mildew, littered the soil like last year’s stained confetti.
Jenny took to weeping at the slightest provocation. Tears fell as she watched the bindweed wind itself madly around everything; and she wailed loudly for the dozens of thirsty hedgehogs, out in the daytime desperate for a drink, lying flat as prickly pancakes in the lane.
Ten days before Jenny’s due date the rains finally came. The tomatoes ripening inside the conservatory exploded and scattered their seeds over the glass like insects on a windscreen, and the lawn turned an indecent green. Thunder rumbled crossly every night and exploded in glittering forks along the valley keeping everyone awake. The lane turned into a river, and the septic tank in the orchard gurgled and overflowed leaving obnoxious puddles around the base of the apple trees. The drains outside the house couldn’t cope and turned into small, determined geysers.
Jenny got the baby clothes out, and heaped them into a neat pile next to her favourite blue jellaba she would wear during labour. Then she lined up the homeopathic remedies on top of the bookcase in the bedroom. ‘I’m making a list,’ she said to William. ‘In case you can’t remember which one I’m supposed to have.’
‘I shan’t forget,’ he said gently. ‘And in any case, I’ll just ask you.’
‘You won’t,’ she replied crossly. ‘I’ll be too busy having the baby. And in any case, I might forget.’ She read out the list. ‘Caulophyllum if the contractions stop, Pulsatilla if I get weepy, Sepia for backache – and I might need a back rub as well. Staphysagria during transition if I get really cross and start swearing at the midwife, and…’ she stopped and breathed in deeply.
‘It’s all right sweetie,’ soothed William. I’ve memorized the lot already. You’ve forgotten about the Secale if the placenta doesn’t come out, and the Arnica and the Aconite for afterwards.’
Jenny woke up the next day at ten past six. ‘I’ve got a pain. Right here!’ She prodded the base of her spine. ‘It’s happening.’
‘Try to get a bit more sleep,’ sighed William. ‘I expect we’ve got a while yet.’
Jenny sat on the beanbag in half lotus and waited, but soon the contractions stopped. She went to sit in the garden, but all the weeds made her cross. William made her lunch – which made the contractions start up again – so Jenny got on all fours like she’d been practising in the yoga class. The midwife raced down the drive up in her Ford Fiesta, had a cup of tea, and went away. ‘You’ll be hours yet,’ she announced.
William took Jenny for a bumpy ride on the tractor, but the bouncing had no effect, and the noise just gave her a headache. She was in the bath meditating when the waters broke. ‘Ouch!’ she cried. ‘It’s really coming!’
The midwife came back and made Jenny get out of the bath. She put on the blue jellaba and got back on the beanbag. ‘I’m getting rather cross,’ she said. ‘I feel like swearing.’
‘Good,’ smiled the midwife. ‘Means you’re ready.’
Jenny pushed and the top of Romy’s head came out – then it went back in again. The baby bounced back and forth like a ball on a rubber band, until the midwife reached inside and unlooped the placenta from Romy’s neck.
‘That’s it,’ she said. ‘Push.’
Jenny swore and did as she was told, and at half past midnight, eighteen hours after she’d shown an interest in seeing what the world was like, Romy was catapulted across the room.
The midwife pulled at the placenta and it slithered out on the plastic sheet.
‘Ouch,’ said Jenny smiling broadly. ‘We’re keeping that. We’re going to plant it under a fig tree.’
Jenny got back in the bath, turned on the hot tap, and closed her eyes again. William appeared with a pot of tea and hot buttered toast. ‘Born in a thunderstorm,’ she said to William munching happily. ‘Listen. One, two, three seconds. It’s really close.’
Then the lights went out.