JASMINE GRAY – SHORT PROSE
When I found out I was pregnant I made a vow that I would tell my baby about everything the world holds. When it was still inside me I mumbled, “Look baby I know you cannot yet see but this is a remote. With remotes, all you have to do is click buttons and through a Bluetooth magic that I don’t really understand, the television – a big black box of stories and noises – comes alive. Can you hear it baby? Can you hear the stories and their noises?”
My bump was the cleverest bump around. When I rubbed my palms across the thick, stretched skin that separated us I’d whisper, “and this, baby, is touch. You’ll know what touch feels like very soon. You’ll be touched as soon as you enter the world and you’ll be manhandled and held and pestered and spend the rest of your life touching” and when the day finally came for my baby to see the world for itself, I parted my legs and pushed my baby out, so violently, so chaotically. I screamed as hard as I could scream so that she didn’t miss a thing
“THIS IS PAIN, BABY. THIS IS WHAT IT FEELS LIKE IN ITS MOST PHYSICAL FORM. IT IS SWEAT AND TEARS AND WARMTH IN DARK PLACES. THIS IS WHAT WE GO THROUGH FOR LOVE.”
And my husband of eighteen months, my baby’s father, thought my little maternal quirks were the most endearing things. He’d listen to me explaining away the heat filaments in the toaster, hanging on every word until POP and the description had finished. He walked away and left us there as I’d already told the baby about toast and plates and butter and spreading by now.
My husband began to sleep through my explanations. He stopped bringing home new things to show baby. Plus, taking baby out was too much of a struggle at the moment. Stopping to explain a lamppost and its differences with a pelican crossing slowed our journeys down and husband no longer tried to leave the house with baby and me.
When my husband collapsed in a fed-up heap, exhausted from all the ignoring he’d been doing, I’d scoop my baby from its cot and carry it over to where its father laid. “Now this baby, this one is tricky, this is a Husband. A Husband is someone you love so much, to think on it makes your legs shake. A Husband condenses your entire life into something small and circular and they wear it around their finger. A Husband is something that you give up your whole world for. A Husband makes you feel no longer yourself. However, baby, you must promise me this – you must never trust a Husband. Husbands cannot conceive the whispers of wives and whispers are what keep wives safe.”
It carried on like this for many months. Me talking, husband ignoring and baby listening. Eventually my baby began to walk and even (occasionally, though not often) talk. One day my husband came home from work early and demanded that we take baby to the beach. Baby had never been to the beach before and was very excited to see new things. We packed the car up with our swim suits and went on our way as I explained to baby how cars function using something-called-petrol-although-sometimes-its-diesel-and-that-is-a-different-story-altogether.
When we got to the beach, my baby plodded forward and looked blandly at the sand. My husband scooped her up and tried to take her into the sea but my baby began to protest. My husband shouted. My baby did not budge. Baby knew what the dark water hid beneath its waves. Baby knew that velvet crabs were typically white coloured skeletal creatures whose pincers were meant to cause pain. Baby knew that sand clings to wet skin and baby knew that things clinging to skin can be at best uncomfortable and at worst, cause a rash. Baby knew about plastic suds and how British beaches get covered in sharp, piercing litter. My husband dived in head first and my baby simply said, “No”.
We drove home after twenty minutes.
My husband began drinking every night.
One night, a few years later, my baby, a taut and erect three year old looked on at her father, drinking Jameson after Jameson and twitching every time my mouth opened. I looked at my poor baby and thought how dreadfully awful it would be for her to be naïve about the risks of whiskey. A, now, frequent member of our home. I started slowly. Explaining using terms she already knew. I began with the potential enjoyment found in drinking. The forgetfulness, the loss of steadiness, the urge to dance. The loose giddiness of the mind. Then I went on to Cirrhosis. Cancer. Gout. I delved into a little more detail about high blood pressure as I thought at her young age, baby would most likely need to know about that the most. I was just about to move the topic to short-lived euphoria and its descent into depression when my husband suddenly interjected. He threw a glass against the magnolia wall and in one swift movement, had his hands tightly grabbing either side of my face, crushing my flesh against the bones inside.
“CAN YOU NOT LET HER DISCOVER ANYTHING FOR HERSELF? DOES HER MIND HAVE TO BE FILLED WITH BLACK AND WHITES? WHY DOES HER WORLD HAVE TO BE POLLUTED WITH DEFINITIONS AND WARNINGS AND WORRIES? CAN SHE NOT BURST ALIVE WITH COLOUR? CAN SHE NOT BE FILLED WITH WONDER?”
My baby stood insipid amongst the smashed glass surrounding her tiny feet. My baby looked up at us. My baby understood.
Jasmine grew up on the borderline between Leeds and Bradford and now works in Liverpool, she writes poetry as well as prose.