What woke me up at twenty past six the following freezing cold morning, I don’t know – I usually awoke to Lucy, fidgeting restlessly in her cot, and then, I would rub my eyes sleepily and force reluctant legs into the cold air of early morning, and I would hear her first indignant cry as if to say –‘Well, come on, where are you? I need my feed.’
Maybe it was the steady quietness of the house that awoke me, I don’t know, but as I listened, I became aware that I was not hearing the usual sounds from the nursery, and I was also aware that I could hear cockerels crowing, far away in the distant farmyard, which stood over the hill from the house. The curtain-less bedroom window displayed a shimmering myriad of frost patterns formed on the single glazing and as I lifted myself onto one elbow to try to find the light on the bedside table, I could again see my breath in the early morning greyness.
Finally, I found the night light on the bedside table, and I clicked the switch so I could see the hands of the alarm clock telling me it was almost six thirty. My first thought was relief. Sheer, blessed relief! Lucy had slept through her first full night! No more night feeds, hopefully. I listened again. It was very quiet. The cockerel crowed again. I’d better check the kids, I thought, I was wide awake now anyway. I’d check them both, and then I’d go downstairs and sit in the quiet of the kitchen with a mug of lovely milky coffee.
Much later, in an entirely insignificant thought as I sat among doctors, police officers and neighbours, nursing my bewilderment like the baby I could no longer hold, I remembered that I’d never got to actually make that coffee. I’d got up, threw on an old nightdress and padded out onto the freezing cold landing. I’d passed the nursery. In what I now know is a bitter irony, I didn’t want to wake Lucy first, and then she’d disturb Neil and then everyone would be awake at bloody half past six. So, I tiptoed into Neil’s room, and he was still clutching his Thomas the Tank, mouth open, eyelids tightly and determinedly shut. I closed his door after switching on his portable heater – we didn’t have central heating in this house and the room was filled with icy visitors- and then I tiptoed softly into Lucy’s room.
It was different. To this day, I will never be able to know how I knew it was different and how I knew immediately there was something wrong. But I did, and it was something awful, something so bad and so hideously dreadful, that even before I reached the cot and found her, I’d called out to Steven. He must have obeyed my screams, because he caught me as my knees buckled and I caught my hands on the bars of the cot, to steady myself as I stared at a lifeless, cold blue body who’d been my daughter.
At some point, some vague distant point somewhere, I’d started to cry, to shout, to yell her name at the top of my voice and I’d reached into the cot to try to pick her up, to shake her, to wake her, For Gods’ Sake!
I screamed at Steven ‘Wake her up!’ but, of course, he couldn’t. He could only stand in the corner of the room, watching the sad little scene through a veil of tears that I hadn’t seen at the time, but years later, they haunt me because as I became trapped within my own grief, I never acknowledged or recognised his.
Dread and despair met headlong in the shallow hollow of what had been my heart. I shook the stiff little form, the lifeless doll who’d replaced my daughter. She must have died in the cold, moonlit night to be so lifeless now. The tiny rosebud pink lips which had whimpered yesterday at the surgery were slightly open, slightly tinged with blue and I knew with utter certainty that they would not whimper to me again. Her tiny baby form was already cold and stiff. I was holding the end of my life in my frantic arms. Neil must woken up, I’d heard him saying ‘Mummy, Mummy’ over and over again as he came into the room, and I felt Steven move away from his tormented corner, his voice crying ‘Oh, God, Oh God,’ and then I heard him tell Neil that Lucy had gone asleep and Mummy was a bit worried and why didn’t they go downstairs.
Then I was alone. I stood alone, in the middle of the room, in the middle of the world, with the light of the waning moon casting its silvery shadows over me while I held my small, dead daughter in my arms.
© Amy J Steinberg 2015
The debut novel – ‘The Fingers Of God’ by Amy J Steinberg is available soon