Extract from Novel:
By the time we get back to the hotel I’m exhausted so, when Mark suggests a drink at the bar, I shake my head, kiss him on the cheek, and take the lift straight up to our room. Slipping off my shoes and dress, I crawl between the smooth, white sheets in my undies.
A couple of hours later, I wake, my skin is cold and clammy, the bed soaking wet. I reach out for the light switch – it is when I see the blood on my hand that I begin to scream.
The next few hours are a blur. I must have managed to reach my handbag and call Mark from my mobile. Racing up from the bar, the blood-soaked bed must have sobered him as he rang for an ambulance. I remember pain in my belly, and flashbacks as I was carried through the hotel reception on a stretcher. The journey to the hospital – close up faces, an oxygen mask – did I have an injection? – and all the time, that hideous siren. Ceiling strip lighting as I am raced down never-ending corridors and into a bright, sterile room. I hear voices far away, and I am no longer conscious of pain, but I am slipping, down, down…
There is a fluorescent white line. I have no physical body, but I am moving fast. In the distance is a sharp u turn. I get closer and closer, then, at the point of the hairpin, I am being ripped in two. The pain is indescribable – infinite, overwhelming – just as I feel I can bear it no longer, I am falling into darkness again.
Now I am somewhere else – a white room with nothing – no table, no chair, no window, not even a door. Just a bright strip light, flickering above me. Above me? Where is me? There is no body in the room. I exist there in spirit, but not in form. My spirit circles the room several times, checking for means of escape. I am ethereal – I could squeeze through the smallest of spaces, but someone has sealed all edges of the room – not even a pin sized gap remains. My spirit sinks to the floor where it curls tightly into a ball.
But, I have forgotten something… What can it be? I have no body – no need for anything physical, and yet, this nagging voice – ‘you have to go back.’
I can hear different voices – distanced, but I recognize one. Although speaking English, I can’t seem to work out what is being said, but the voice is calm – as if everything will be okay. I open my eyes.
‘Hey,’ he says. I look at him. I remember him, and yet I don’t know him.
‘It’s alright,’ says a voice I don’t recognize. ‘She’s bound to be a bit fuzzy. She’s been out for eight hours.’
Out where? Who are they talking about? I blink a couple of times. The man I remember, but don’t know, has hold of my hand. Then that nagging voice is speaking again, and this time I know it is inside my head: ‘This man is your husband,’ and somehow I know that I am in hospital, and this man – my husband – is holding my hand.
And then I remember: ‘My baby.’
‘It’s okay,’ says the man who is my husband. ‘Our baby is fine.’
I must have slept then, for a little while, because when I next wake, I can smell the perfume of flowers. I open my eyes to a huge vase of yellow roses – a few stray petals are scattered on the bed. I look across the room and the man who is my husband says, ‘Hey,’ and I try to smile. He taps on the door, then holds it open.
‘Would you like to meet our baby?’ he says. A large nurse walks in, carrying a swaddled bundle. I look down at the pretty coffee coloured face of my daughter, long lashes fringing closed lids. Her little mouth is pursed, seeking something to latch on to. I smile.
‘Hello beautiful,’ I say. My voice is husky – not my own. I reach down to take her tiny hand in mine. Her fists open and close like little stars. I feel something rough on the back of her hand and, looking down, I see a heart-shaped birthmark.
I sleep again and, next time I wake, I hear the clatter of cutlery as a trolley rolls down the corridor towards my room. I have been moved from the single room, into a small ward. There are two women in the beds opposite: one is cradling a baby in her arms, the other has a sleeping child in a crib by her bed. I raise my head from the pillow and try to call out.
A nurse comes in. ‘You are back with us. It has been a long time. How are you feeling now?’
I shrug as she takes my temperature and blood pressure. ‘That all looks good,’ she says. She checks my fluids, which are being pumped in via an IV, and nods before moving away from my bed.
‘Please,’ I say, ‘can I have my baby?’
‘Yes,’ she says, ‘baby is due a feed anyway.’
When she goes, I try to pull myself up to a semi-seated position. I am so anxious to see my baby’s beautiful face again. Minutes later the nurse returns, placing a swaddled child in my arms.
I look down at the dark screwed up face and wide indignant eyes.
‘No.’ I say, holding out the baby to the nurse. ‘Here, you’ve given me someone else’s baby.’
The nurse’s face changes from calm composure to quizzical concern.
She lifts the baby gently from my arms then, leaning towards me, she pulls the blanket from the little, angry face. ‘This is your baby ma’am. See his little nose? Just like his mammy’s.’
I shake my head – my heart is racing. ‘No,’ I say. ‘This is not my baby.’
The nurse backs away, the women opposite are staring.
I start to shout, ‘Mark, Mark.’ Everyone is looking at me.
‘Where is my baby?’ I am screaming now, ‘WHERE IS MY BABY?’
Mark comes running into the ward, coffee sloshing from a plastic cup.
‘What’s the matter, what’s happened?’
The nurse looks at him and shakes her head. Two other members of the nursing staff appear. Mark comes to me, cradling me in his arms.
‘My baby,’ I sob. ‘My baby…’ Then I feel a scratch on my arm…
I wake back in my single room with Mark by my side, snoozing in a chair. At the foot of the bed is a crib with a swaddled child. Thank God – it must have been a bad dream. I reach out and touch Mark’s hand,
‘Can I hold our daughter?’ I ask.
He looks puzzled, muzzy headed after his snooze. He stands and moves to the cot. As he puts the child in my arms I look down at the dark little face – short stubby lashes lining closed lids.
‘No,’ I say, shaking my head. ‘This isn’t our baby Mark. Look at her. It’s not our baby.’
Mark lays the baby gently down in its crib and begins to unwrap the swaddling blanket. The baby stirs as he removes the white babygro, but it is not until Mark takes off the nappy and lifts the baby up in front of me, that the child begins to complain.
‘This is our baby,’ says Mark. ‘I saw him delivered myself. This is our baby, Hanna. This is our son.’