‘How’s Mummy this afternoon?’. Her tone, sharp as a dagger, pecked my ears as I carefully closed the front door behind her. ‘Hope I didn’t wake you dear’. She had almost woken ‘him’, ring-ring-ringing the bell as though her finger had a stammer. I adjusted the muslin to catch another posset just in time and hushed Baby gently on my shoulder. A super-soft cheek soothed the ache in mine. ‘C’mon through’ I whispered.
Wafts of hand sanitiser pursued me through the hall. I felt her sterility judging every hair of my messy mane. ‘Out, is “he” dear?’. I pacified her with a nod. She perched on the sofa. I sat in the chair. ‘How’s Baby doing?’ She held her arms out. I held Baby close, soothing with a gentle pat. ‘Colic. Won’t settle with anyone else’. I pulled my hair further around my jawline to hide the swelling.
She chirped away over an NHS clipboard, troweling questions onto my impenetrable wall. ‘How’s Mummy feeling?’ ‘Mummy making time for herself?’ ‘Mummy sleeping, is she?’ She may as well be asking an anorexic about their 5-a-day. The doubled edge of each enquiry struck me. I deflected them with fake smiles and polite lies. ‘If there’s anything you want to tell me dear?…’, her attack on pause, I hesitated. A mirage of comfort materialised in the nest of cushions beside her on the sofa. Perhaps she could help. Perhaps I could raise the alarm. Perhaps speaking out was possible, safe. I searched her gaze from the edge of my seat. Tears pricking. Throat closing. Hope rising. ‘I’m here for Baby’s welfare dear, not just Mummy’s’.
Crash. She was the enemy again. Just like that. Post-natal rules now. Mummy’s welfare was no longer Baby’s welfare. In that moment I knew she could separate us. Desperation almost betrayed me. ‘Cat got your tongue dear?’. I smiled and edged back in my chair , ‘Everything’s fine Nurse’.
She twittered on; woke Baby for a weigh-in; coo’ed over ‘how bonny’ Baby was. I spectated with a smile. Every nuanced performance was all for Baby.
From the doorstep I winced as her sensible shoes marched over the gravel in stereo. I waved weakly as she squawked ‘Looking forward to Friday’ like some friend arranging a yummy mummy date. We padded softly back, into the lounge. I held Baby close under my canopy of hair and inhaled a cloud of sweet, milky breath. Here was someone I would die for; kill for; survive for. We were lioness and cub, Baby and I. A single tear spilled out and dropped, expanding into the muslin. I exhaled one brief moment of relief.
Then it was gone. Footsteps on the stairs. ‘He’ was up. My pulse thumped in my ears. Positions everyone! Sour, booze breath rushed in as the door thrust open, denting the wall. The temperature plummeted. I patted Baby into a silent sleep. ‘He’ charged in.
Scene two. Action! Smile. Lie. Hush.