The Paris Baby

December 6, 2013 § 13 Comments


            They decided the child – conceived in his mother’s apartment in Montparnasse – should grow up in the country. ‘I hope this isn’t a terrible mistake,’ mused Finn, pushing gently on the peeling door. There was a splintering sound as the door sprang open, and something small and quick scurried down the hallway into the kitchen. A harvest mouse with ears like mussel shells lay on the doormat with its legs in the air, and the salt stain of damp crawled up the walls and across the brick floor.

‘Do you suppose they’re related?’ asked Martha.

‘Highly likely. Mouse traps?’

‘Cruel. Cats?’

‘Vicious creatures. Nature red in tooth and claw and all that.’ Martha turned her back and stared at the garden. ‘Looks like a life’s work to me,’ sighed Finn. ‘What do we need? Mouse traps, ladder, scrubbing brushes, paint. Wood filler for the windows, a man to fix the damp…’

‘Cats!’ interrupted Martha. ‘Wheelbarrow, hoe, spade, fork, rotavator, seeds…’

Finn put his arm around her spreading waist. ‘Do I detect a potential division of labour coming on?’

Martha had begun to dream. She saw a spotless garden with wide herbaceous borders and neatly trimmed box hedges. She saw blowsy Albertine roses snaking up old apple trees and a line of raised beds full of vegetables. She shook herself. ‘Was miles away. I shall teach the child to garden. And I’ve been thinking.’ She rubbed her belly. ‘I don’t have to go to hospital to give birth, do I?’

‘Course not. My birth was rather relaxed, or so my mother said.’

‘Exactly,’ concluded Martha. ‘I don’t have an illness – just a baby. ‘We’ll do it our way. It will be the perfect birth.’

‘You must slow down,’ said Susie the midwife. ‘Rest. You won’t have much of that after the baby’s born.’

Martha squatted in the garden planting potatoes. ‘Rubbish,’ she scoffed. ‘It keeps me fit. Isn’t that what you want?’

So Martha dug and planted furiously; and two weeks before time – the day Finn’s piano was to be delivered – her waters broke over a sack of onion sets. ‘Blast!’ she yelled. ‘Today of all days. I’ll put my feet up for half an hour. Maybe it’ll change it’s mind.’

Susie arrived and Martha’s contraction stopped. ‘It’s normal,’ smiled the midwive. ‘Back in two hours.’ Martha lay flat on her back in the grass and spoke sternly to her belly. ‘It’s really not a good time. I’d much prefer it if you waited until tomorrow when the onions are in.’

The Paris Baby took no notice and started up again. This time it hurt. Martha’s uterus squeezed itself into spasms, and her back muscles clenched in sympathy. ‘No fun this,’ whined Martha. ‘Like sciatica in the wrong place.’ Then she rolled over onto all fours like a dog.

‘It’s you,’ said Susie. ‘You’re doing it. Mind over matter. Relax, and the baby will be out by teatime.’

But it wasn’t. Even when she did her yoga and her breathing exercises. Martha was too excited to have the baby – and too excited not too. She was stuck. Susie examined her with a frown. ‘You’re four centimetres dilated already and baby’s heartbeat is irregular. Best place is hospital.’

Martha began to cry. ‘Don’t want to. I need some homeopathy. Give me some Pulsatilla, Finn! Then it will come.’

They were in the hospital lift when it happened. ‘It’s coming. Now!’ She snorted, as they passed the fourth floor labelled Geriatrics on the list next to the buzzer. Martha began to puff like a steam train. ‘The Pulsatilla worked. Told you it would!’

‘Just hold on, sweetheart,’ soothed Finn. ‘We’re nearly there.’

‘I bloody can’t!’ she shrieked, getting down on all fours to push.

‘I can see its hair!’ said Finn in a thin, strangled voice. ‘Hang on, Martha. I’ve never done this sort of thing before.’

‘Well press the emergency button then!’ she yelled.

It turned into a noisy and public affair. The maintenance man disabled the lift because Martha refused to get out of it, and the tiny space full of mirrors filled up with people trying not to shout.

‘Don’t push ’til I tell you,’ said a voice in Martha’s ear.

‘Bugger off!’ she shrieked. Martha was making a roaring noise like a rather cross lion. The Paris Baby slithered out onto the floor and lay perfectly still. Finn burst into tears, and Martha felt a jab in her bottom. ‘I didn’t want that. You should have asked first.’ Then Martha burst into tears too.

‘It’s necessary,’ soothed the obstetrician, as if he was speaking to a child. ‘Don’t want you bleeding to death now, do we?’

‘It’s turning blue,’ said a female voice, and the cord was promptly snipped and the Paris Baby disappeared. Martha did as she was told, climbed onto a trolley, and fell asleep.

‘Your little girl’s fine now. Would you like to hold her?’

‘No, thank you. Put her in the cot.’

They put Martha’s indifference down to shock – but the truth of it was that Martha was in the most terrible temper because things hadn’t gone according to plan. ‘It was Susie’s fault,’ she complained. ‘She panicked.’

‘She was only doing her job,’ Finn spoke gently. ‘The Paris Baby could have died.’

‘Hormones talking,’ said the obstetrician jabbing another needle into Martha’s bottom without asking.

Martha began to cry again. ‘I want to go home.’

‘In the morning, my dear,’ he said patting her head. Martha fell asleep and dreamed of her garden. The Paris Baby wasn’t in it. Finn lay awake in the double bed going over the extraordinary event, and wondered – now it was all over – when he was going to get his Martha back.

Any comments – negative or otherwise – or suggestions for improvement, are always appreciated!

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§ 13 Responses to The Paris Baby

  • mikesteeden says:

    Not going to say much other than ‘quite lovely’ – I shall have to read it again…..

    • Rachael Charmley says:

      Thanks, Mike. I think it’s worked as a beginning. It doesn’t have anywhere to go though…

      • mikesteeden says:

        If you used it as a first chapter (notwithstanding the fact it stands alone so well as a short story) you could maybe jump forward two decades and let your imagination roam free? In many respects no having a skeleton to put flesh on and running it as a build as you go has some appeal. I must think about that myself as I am bored with writing to pre-set templates.

    • Rachael Charmley says:

      That’s when you’ll change your mind…

      • Rachael Charmley says:

        Whoops. Replied twice to your first comment. I think I have woman flu. Thanks for that idea – I do tend to do that sometimes, but I lack commitment and staying power – or maybe that’s the grumpy fever talking…

  • I really like the structure of this story, Rachael. You have given just enough detail in each paragraph to allow your reader to create their own image of each character. i feel that the little slices of humour (‘It’s really not a good time. I’d much prefer it if you waited until tomorrow when the onions are in.’) work very well to make your characters realistic. Very well written.

    • Rachael Charmley says:

      Thanks, Chris. I struggled with this all morning, but I think it hangs together and the structure is ok. Thanks again for your astute comments. 🙂

  • Miranda Stone says:

    Some of your descriptions are fantastic, such as the mouse’s ears looking like mussel shells. And I think your characters are very realistic, such as when Finn and Martha both burst into tears in the elevator. I certainly think this story has potential for expansion, if you choose that. Martha’s character is complex, and at times, I found myself disliking her and her headstrong ways. I think there is a lot lurking beneath the surface of the marriage that you could explore.

    • Rachael Charmley says:

      Thanks, Miranda. Martha is the same character that comes up with a different name time and time again in my fragments and excerpts. She is that character that inevitably turns into someone nobody likes or wants to read about. I really should kill her off, but I have an awful feeling she’s a caricature of myself! Thanks for taking the time to read, and I love your thoughtful comments. Have a nice weekend.

  • This is really interesting, full of great images and beautifully written (as always) I actually look forward to your posts and sitting down and reading them, to see where they take me next. For me this encapsulated the detached and sometimes surreal fear I felt when my wife was expecting our daughter..
    Sent from my BlackBerry smartphone from Virgin Media

  • Jane Risdon says:

    I love your ideas and the way you write and the themes are so original. The photos are fab too….thanks so much.

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