This story is the fourth in my nine-part series of literary/women’s fiction short stories. Unlike the other eight, this is the only one which has not (as yet) been published, but I wanted to share this one because it is very, very personal to me, and—for once—I am pretty happy with the strength of my writing in this story. Those who know me in real life know that it’s rare I ever think that!
I want to give this one a trigger warning: the theme is miscarriage, and it also touches on abortion. Please do not read if you think you are likely to be upset by this story. Believe me, I understand.
I’m not sure I can ask you to enjoy this one in the traditional sense of the word, but I hope you can appreciate the narrative.
Always Another One
He stands there at the back door, and he looks at me. That look he’s always had, that goes through me, trying to connect with some part of my soul. But missing.
“It’s over now. You’ll put it behind you. And there’s always another chance. Always another one.”
He squints through the strips of sun that snipe at the window from over next-door’s fence, and I watch his face. Slowly, that look drains away, until he’s more interested in the garden and the new fuschia plants than in looking inwards, at me. And he doesn’t think of you at all.
I want to shut the curtains and stop him looking out there. Out at the world that doesn’t care, except in political manifesto and in textbooks. But I don’t. I pull up a chair next to him as he stands there, and I say I want to talk. But I don’t want to talk to him. I want to talk to you.
I lie here, on my side, while the nurse inserts two pessaries into me. They never warned me about that. Pills, they said. That’s all. You’ll be given a tablet, and then you’ll have to stay in the ward until everything inside your womb has gone away. That’s what they said when I had to make the choice. When I had to decide how to get rid of you. Nothing invasive, I’d said. So this is an unpleasant surprise.
If you get contractions, then that’s good, they said. I don’t remember their faces, the ones in the scan room. Green overalls, white masks and gloves. They weren’t people at all. If you’re used to bad period pains, then this won’t be much different. But I lay here, writhing, my fist in my mouth and tears soaking my cheeks, trying not to make an exhibition of myself in front of the two women in the opposite beds. They are both partly shielded by the swabbed out green curtains that make me feel sick as they sway at the bottoms with the breeze coming in through the window, but they can hear, can’t they? Even if they are so wrapped up in themselves that they can’t see the pain imbibed in every nail mark on my palms and every hole I bite in my lip, trying to stay quiet. Even if they can’t see how my nightie slowly becomes translucent with every patch of sweat that spreads its clammy fingers through the fibres until only my shoulders, and the very top of my breasts still hold the sugar pink of my nightie, rather than turning it into the dirty sludge you can see when it sticks to my skin. Is this what I am? Dirty? Or defective? I want to ask you, but you’ll be gone soon, they tell me. Tell me, is that what I am? Is that why you’re going away?
I feel the urge to go to the toilet. I don’t want to go, but I know I have to. Another degradation. Everything you do has to go in one of these cardboard pans, see? They said. And whatever you do, don’t look inside. They said. I roll out of the bed, my insides being wrung around with a claw hammer, and make my way to the toilet. The soft tissue inside my nose throbs with the stench of disinfectant. It skewers my nose and won’t let it go while I sit there, having a wee. I feel the slip from inside; the bowl makes a noise beneath me. I should have some spit, but I can’t find any. Nothing to swallow with. Is this it, this time?
But the nurse says no, you’re still there, and to get back in bed, and they’ll bring me something to eat. I go back to the ward room, and there’s another body in the next bed to me now, and she’s screaming. Screaming the place down. The nurse comes and tells her: shut up, although she doesn’t actually say that. You’ll set the babies off, she says, although she doesn’t actually say that, either. How cruel, to place us in the room at the end of the antenatal wing. You’re not antenatal, are you? What are you? I know what they call you. Missed, they said. A miss. Lucky this happened, they said. Do you feel lucky? Or do you feel like ripping the sheets off the bed, and throwing the pillows on the floor, and telling them that they’re wrong? That they must be wrong, with all their equipment, and their ultrasound pictures. That you’re you, and I don’t want you to go. I don’t want it, do you hear? Take no notice what I thought when I found out about you. Stay. But they tell me I’m not the only one who’s had this happen to them, and they were all right, after. That they could still have babies. That there’s always another one.
” Not like the abortions in the old days,” one says. She wears a uniform, but it’s not a nurse’s outfit. Not sure who she is, exactly. Unprofessional; thoughtless. But said, nevertheless.
I stare at her, and grip the bed sheet so my knuckles show the yellow where skin meets bone. Insipid; sickly. “But I’m not having an abortion.”
She looks at me with impassive eyes. “No, love, you’re not.”
I watch her leave the room, note the glare she gives the young girl in the corner whose head never comes out of the blankets. And I hear the woman who’s not a nurse mutter to herself, “Same thing.” Unprofessional; thoughtless. Judged, nevertheless. Because I’m not letting it happen naturally, I suppose. Because they tell me it’s the safest way to get it over with. They told him that, and he thinks this is the best way to get it over with, too. To get you over with, they mean.
Is it because I had that thought? Because one day I wanted you not to be there? Is this my fault? This is my fault.
The old nurse who I like comes and asks me what I want to drink to go with my toast. I tell her tea, because the smell of coffee is still playing havoc with my belly, and I hope no one else in the room wants coffee. But the only one who gets asked is the woman opposite, about my age. She’s silent all the time, and I don’t know what she looks like. I wouldn’t know if she died. Died of pain. Died of sadness. Would anyone know? Would anyone care?
I ask the nurse if I can go while she’s shutting the curtains. There’s no light on in the room and we all shadow up against the wall by the light of the corridor. Shadows. That’s what we are. I like the nurse’s face; the bun-like cheeks squish into a smile, even at the girl in the corner that no one bothers with except when they have to. That bun, alive and smiling at me. But it’s a sad smile. “No, lovie,” she says. “You’ll be in overnight because it’s not finished yet.” You’re not finished. That’s what she means. “Have your supper, and try and get some rest. We’ll see how we go in the morning.”
She looks at me with a sad little pucker of her lips. “Are you feeling rough, lovie?”
I nod. They told me it would be no worse than bad period pains. I know now not to believe anything anyone says to me any more. I want to be sick in the cardboard pan. Same cardboard pans that sit stacked up in the loo. I can’t be sick. It’s as if I’m empty. But you cling on.
I told him to go home. No point in him sitting there, watching every contortion on my face, wondering if this is it. So when it happens, finally, I’m there in the dark, alone with you. I clutch the bed and the walls to get me to the bathroom. Do as I’m told and don’t look. Feel a mother’s ache as the pain devours my belly. Come out of the toilet without the cardboard pan, just as I’m told. Leave you to be checked. I have to leave you. Do as I’m told. Because they know best.
I fall asleep; for how long I’m not sure, but when I wake, he’s back beside me, and he tells me that everything’s all right. That I’ll be able to leave shortly. I smile, of course. It’s what he expects me to do. When they let me go, they tell me I’ll need another scan – just to be sure everything’s come away, they say. I nod; they tell me the appointment will come through the post. Make sure you’ve gone away, they mean. But you’ll never do that, will you?
The nurse I like is just going off shift. She sees me and squeezes my hand. Then she says, “It’ll be all right, lovie. You’ll be back to normal before you know it. There’s always -” but I’ve walked away now, leaving him standing with the nurse, biting the skin around his fingernails. He follows me out, and I pretend I know where he’s parked the car. I look round and find him checking his phone. Just like any other day.
I wait. That’s the worst part. Waiting. How long for a stick to absorb liquid? It’s one of those ones that tells you how many weeks gone you are. Or if you are. Detects the tiniest amount of hormone release, even from a week after conception. They’re tortuous; they take forever to work. The little “waiting” symbol flashes at the side of the thumbnail screen. A little egg timer, drip, drip, dripping my nerves down the stick. But, as usual, I’m keeping people happy – keeping him happy. He wants to know. And I’m trying to keep my thoughts happy; or, not happy exactly, but blank. No thoughts at all. I sit on the toilet seat and watch for a signal on the stick. He won’t come in the bathroom, so I’m all alone. Except for you. You are with me. Here we are again, in the bathroom. Waiting.
Will he be pleased, or just relieved? Is it what he wants, really? Or does he just think this is what should happen? He was so cajoling. So insistent. So – desperate. I still have bruises in my back where he dug his fingers in and wouldn’t let go of me. Not for ages afterwards. Just held me there until, eventually, he had no choice but to shrink and slither out of me. He turned his back to me and I tried to put my arm round him and pull him close like I used to, but my arm doesn’t reach round anymore. He’s put on so much weight recently. Me; I seem to be getting thinner. And so we slept with our backs to each other. We do that a lot now. And all I have in the night is you to keep me company. And so I tell you about the text I found on his phone from someone called Lisa. Didn’t know he knew anyone called Lisa. A bland, hello kind of text. It’s nothing, I’m sure. And suddenly I’m sitting there in that room with no light except that from the corridor, and I can feel the woman in my arms, crying, the heat from her body building across my chest and shoulder, and I close my eyes and wonder if she’ll ever get another chance to be happy.
He’s pacing about outside the door. Like before. It drives me crazy; like it’s my fault for not making things happen quicker. Everything’s still intact, working. They said so. There’s nothing physically wrong, so -. Always the chance for another one.
The words flash up on the thumbnail screen. My eyes are so blurred I can’t see from the toilet seat. I need to pick it up. Maybe I should tell him to come and get it. He can read it. It’s another one that he wants. And I’m one of the lucky ones. I can make that happen for him. I reach out for the stick, and I tell myself, “There’s always another one.”
But it makes no difference, does it? Not to you and me.