Chapter 18 – Toyota Carolla

Maybe if my mum had read me more fairy stories as a kid, well this would make a bit more sense, but she wasn’t really that kind of mum, not big on baking or reading aloud or doing our homework with us. Don’t get me wrong, she did her best, their was always food on the table, presents at Christmas, money for school trips, all that sort of thing, but it always felt like a of a struggle. She got a bit tight lipped at the end of the month and as we got older we knew better than to ask for stuff, would cuss out the little ones if they demanded sweets on the weekly shop.
My dad wasn’t around much, didn’t really help out, like lots of the men on our estate he just expected the women to get on with it while they talked about going home to the islands, horses that were going to make their fortunes and as the years went past gradually joined the older men playing dominoes in the social club.

And I suppose all of that and the other stuff, the teachers who just assumed they knew how my life would shape up and to be fair, I was following in my brothers’ footsteps – first exclusion from school aged 11, running with a gang, baby buffalo soldier at twelve, the knife incident that pretty much stopped his education at fourteen and so on and so on – he thinks I’m mad – laughs at my car,laughs at me. The odd time he comes up to Leicester, big black SUV, tinted windows, some thin white girl in the back, I know he think I’m a looser. He’s got a couple of kids, maybe more, brings the boy sometimes, expensive trainers, shaved head, little gold earring, gangsta boy.

But the point of all this, all that,is I knew i wanted to be a dad, but I wanted to do it right, decent house, good job, the right woman, make a proper family.

So, I worked hard at school, convinced the teachers, well some of them,that I wasn’t my brother, stayed out of trouble, not as easy as it sounds when you see where I come from and when your big brother has a reputation, standing.There’s always someone who wants to score points, take on the hard man or at least his little brother, so, yeah, I had a few fights, took care of myself, showed them I could be the man, but I studied too, got my exams and went to college.

That’s where I met Janine, she was studying fashion, wanted to be a designer. She was like me, I could see that straight away, I didn’t really know the word for it then, there wasn’t a whole lot of talk about aims and goals in my family, but Janine had ambition, wanted to be someone, properly someone,not like my brother or some looser on reality TV. She wanted to be someone because she was good at something. It didn’t hurt that she was fit too.

We hung out, not really dating for a while, just checking each other out and as the year went on and her friends from school started dropping out, not making it out of bed in the morning. We got tighter, spent a lot of time together and by the end of the first year, we were an established couple.

We knew what we wanted, me,the black man wearing suit, hiring and firing people, her with her own design company, smart flat, sharp car , all the good stuff.

So, fast forward twelve years, still a couple, I work in Human resources – so yeah, I do the hiring and firing and Janine’s working for NEXT, it’s not quite what we dream t of at seventeen, eighteen, but it’s real and it’s good and she’s still fit, so life, yeah, well, its pretty nice .

So,it all made sense, felt right, to do the next thing.The baby thing and by my family’s’ standards, we were leaving it late, but like I said at the start, I wanted to do it properly, make a proper family, be a proper dad.

It was easy, she came off the pill and two months later, she was pregnant and i won’t pretend, I felt like the man, even had a bit of a gangsta swagger going on and then she lost the baby.

Everyone told us it happened sometimes, nothing to worry about, early miscarriage, best just to try again, so we did and she lost that one too.

Third time lucky they said, have another go and I could feel something changing in her,in us.I thought about stopping, we talked about a holiday, getting a dog and then Janine got pregnant.This time I didn’t tell anyone. We stayed in at night, she took some time off work and we waited. She lost this baby at 11 weeks.

And then it all began to go very, very wrong, Janine closed down,started going back to London, a lot, spending time with her aunties, her grandma. Sometimes her phone was switched off for days. I sat in the house, our house and the spare bedroom, the room we had started calling the baby’s’ room, felt bigger and bigger, more and more empty.

Then one day, she was home, bright, bubbly,happy. She said everything would be OK. That we should try again and this time nothing bad would happen.

So, we did. i’m not going to pretend, I wasn’t happy , didn’t know if I , if we, could go through this again, but she seemed so sure, so positive, kept saying that she knew it would be different this time, that everything would be fine.
So, we got into that baby making place again and you know, I’m a man, this is all good stuff. At night, afterwards, we lay in bed, spooning and very very carefully, tentatively, started talking about a baby and us,a baby in our lives, started, for the first time in months to make plans, thought about the future.

She got pregnant and I felt like I was walking on egg shells, creeping over thin ice, tip toeing past the ogres’cave.
But Janine was fine, better than fine,she was good. She kept smiling, floating along, telling me everything would be fine – it was our word – fine and somehow I fell into believing it to and then it was, actually not fine, it was fucking fantastic. We’d got past week 12, she was still pregnant, we were going to have a baby.

Looking back, there were clues, but I never thought, it would have been too mental to even consider,
The interest in Disney, the shiny dust that seemed to always be floating around the baby’s’ room, even the names she came up with – tangleweed, briarpatch, willowherb – if I’m being honest, I just though she was going a bit pregnancy doolally and I was excited, looking forward to being a dad, maybe I took my eye off the ball, but I could never have worked this one out
I mean who the Fuck……………….

Nah, I’m getting ahead of myself, need to tell this in the right order, cos this story, it’s unreal and I don’t even mean that to sound street, this is me, Mr Human Resources talking, not my big brother, I havn’t started chanelling Gangsta boy. No. This story is actually unreal.

The pregnancy continued , Janine got bigger, we bought baby stuff, painted the baby’s’ room and actually that should have alarmed me, I mean, who wants to paint a baby’s’ room dark brown? She was insistent, said it would be warm, cosy, cave like and when I looked doubtful, changed tack, told me it was on trend, that dark colors were all over the magazines for celebrity babies and anyway what would I know.

We went for the scan and I saw my baby, my son, for the first time. Yeah, it was a boy and i couldnt stop grinning, this big fool grin on my face. it was one of the best days of my life.

Janine changed, but I thought it was just the pregnancy, thought she might be worried about stuff going wrong. She seemed wrapped up in herself, spent hours just sitting, stroking her stomach, seemed away with the faeries. The only thing she seemed to care about was decorating the baby’s’ room, but it was weird, the stuff she was getting, wrong. One day i got home and found her putting big, ugly bare branches in vases all round the room and then another time it was fairy lights, miles and miles of fairy lights, wrapped round the cot, the window frames, draped over the bare branches. She looked up at me, smiled and said that the baby would need lots of fairy lights.

I shrugged, smiled too, i just wanted to meet my son, start being a proper family. i could cope with a bit of weirdness and the other guys in the office, well, they all said that pregnancy made women a bit strange, told me stories about their wives, their girl friends and to be honest, fairy lights sounded pretty mild compared to some of the stories they told me.

Janine’s’ waters broke at 2 in the morning, a freezing cold February morning, I had to scrape the ice off the windscreen before we could make it to the hospital. i wanted to drive fast, get there but the roads were slippy, so i drove carefully, stopping at all the lights, keeping to the speed limits and because it was the middle of the night, the traffic lights took ages to change and Janine was doing her breathing and i was trying to stay calm. There was a big coach parked next to me, the interior lights dimmed, most of the passengers seemed to be dozing, their faces pressed against the windows. i was drumming my fingers against the steering wheel, just waiting for the lights to change and i felt, you know the way you do, someone looking at me, looking down at me and there was a woman, the only person awake on the coach and she was staring at me, her face pale, pressed against the glass and then, thank you god, the lights changed and I moved off, headed towards the hospital.

The birth was easy, even the midwives were impressed, said Janine was a natural, four hours start to finish and then, there he was, my son. Troy Zander Scott, 7 lbs 6 ozs and perfect, just perfect. I sat on the edge of the bed, Janine dozing, exhausted, leaning into me and our son lying between us. I couldn’t stop looking at him, dark hair, dark eyes, soft perfect skin.
My son, i tried the words out loud
“my son” and I felt better, bigger, stronger than at any time in my life.

I left them both sleeping and i went home.

I didn’t remember either of us being in the nursery before we went to the hospital, but Janine must have been up there, before we went to the hospital because all the fairy lights were switched on. They looked good and I sat on the floor, teddy bear on my lap and felt like a man.

Janine rang and I woke up, bit dazed, crashed out on the sofa. Everything was good, they were fine, the doctor said they could come home.
My son could come home.

Janine sounded happy, tired and something else, but I was tired too, brain dead and I just said I’d be there in ten, well maybe twenty.

Actually, it was more like an hour because I suddenly remembered that I needed to fit the car seat and it took a while, so I was a bit twitchy, didn’t want to be late, but of course there wasn’t a parking space and there i was driving round and round the car park, looking for a space. There was a taxi, dropping someone off, a woman, she looked really ill, balding, walking slowly, her face grey, tired and i had this moment and yeah it sounds corny, but I had this moment of complete happiness, a count your blessings moment.

I knew I shouldn’t, but i needed to park, i needed to collect my son, so I pulled up in the taxi parking spaces and legged it into the hospital.

Janine was ready, bag packed, baby bundled up against the cold and I picked him up and looked down at him and felt that warm glow again.

And then, because I was anxious, worried that we might get a ticket, get clamped, I told Janine that I’d take the bags and she could meet me with the baby and yeah i haven’t stopped regretting that, not for a single second, but I need to get this finished, tell the story.

Janine took a while and I started to worry, wondered if something had gone wrong, was about to go back in, prayed that the car would be OK and then i saw her walking towards me, baby hugged tight to her chest, bundled in a blanket to keep out the cold. I smiled, but she didn’t smile back.

I tried to take the baby off her, to settle him in the car seat, but she was holding him tight, didn’t seem to want my help and we almost grappled over him and then the blanket fell away and i was looking down and the thing i was looking at was not my son, was not the perfect baby I had walked away from less than 10 minutes before.

This thing was wrinkled, its skin was grey, ears were wrong and suddenly its eyes snapped open, orange, slitted and it was staring straight at me. I nearly dropped it onto the pavement in horror.

Janine was talking, her mouth moving, but I couldn’t hear anything she was saying, she kept patting my hand and I could hear, from a long way away, her voice, saying that she could explain, that everything would be alright and then I was in the car and she was telling me this story and I couldn’t make sense of it, couldn’t take it in.

Her voice was too fast, desperate and the words that were coming out……………
Her auntie, magic, a deal with the faeries….for fucks sake, faeries and how all our babies would miscarry, but the faeries would let the pregnancy continue, magic and we would get their baby and they would take ours………..

I wanted to slap her, I wanted to do anything to make her stop, I wanted to wake up, but I knew that if i turned round that thing would be sitting in the baby seat, my sons’ baby seat staring at me.

Somehow, we got home. I couldn’t even look at her, I grabbed the thing, roughly, and it opened its’ mouth and it hissed at me.

The fairy lights were still on and i wasn’t surprised when i looked down and saw that they weren’t plugged in.

i opened the window and i held it,the thing, by a bony leg and i shouted loudly, told them to come and get their creature because i was coming to get my son.

And then I dug out my mobile and I didn’t even pause, didn’t even think about it. I rang my brother, my big brother and I walked downstairs and got into my car and headed off on my quest.

A mother had her child taken from the cradle by elves. In its place they laid a changeling with a thick head and staring eyes who would do nothing but eat and drink. In distress she went to a neighbor and asked for advice. The neighbor told her to carry the changeling into the kitchen, set it on the hearth, make a fire, and boil water in two eggshells. That should make the changeling laugh, and if he laughs it will be all over with him. The woman did everything just as her neighbor said. When she placed the eggshells filled with water over the fire, the blockhead said:
Now I am as old
As the Wester Wood,
But have never seen anyone cooking in shells!
And he began laughing about it. When he laughed, a band of little elves suddenly appeared. They brought the rightful child, set it on the hearth, and took the changeling away

We all want explanations for happenings that fall outside of our control, especially those that have a direct bearing on our welfare. It is only natural that our forebears wanted to know why some children fail to develop normally, and what our responsibilities are toward these handicapped individuals. The two stories quoted above are part of a vast network of legends and superstitions that give primitive but satisfying answers to these questions. These accounts — which, unlike most fantasy tales, were actually widely believed — suggest that a physically or mentally abnormal child is very likely not the human parents’ offspring at all, but rather a changeling — a creature begotten by some supernatural being and then secretly exchanged for the rightful child. {footnote 3} From pre-Christian until recent times, many people have sincerely and actively believed that supernatural beings can and do exchange their own inferior offspring for human children, making such trades either in order to breed new strength and vitality into their own diminutive races or simply to plague humankind.
These beliefs continued to exert influence well into the nineteenth century, and in some areas even later. Writing in England in 1890, the pioneer folklorist Edwin Sidney Hartland could state: “In dealing with these stories [about changelings] we must always remember that not merely are we concerned with sagas of something long past, but with a yet living superstition.” {footnote 4} In 1911 W. Y. Evans-Wentz, himself a true believer in the reality of fairy life, published an extensive study, The Fairy-Faith in Celtic Countries, which contains numerous accounts of exchanged children. This book, with a new introduction praising the author for his courageous acceptance of “a greater reality beyond the everyday world,” was reissued in 1966. As late as 1924 it was reported that in sections of rural Germany many people were still taking traditional precautions against the demonic exchange of infants. {footnote 5} Finally, writing in 1980, Hasan M. El-Shamy reports: “The belief that the jinn may steal a human infant and put their own infant in its place is widespread in numerous parts of Egypt.” {footnote 6} Views held firmly for a thousand years do not die easily, especially when they appear to answer some of life’s most troublesome questions.

About cathi rae

50ish teacher & aspiring writer and parent of a stroppy teenager and carer for a confused bedlington terrier and a small selection of horses who fail to shar emy dressage ambitions. Interested in contemporary fiction but find myself returning to PG Wodehouse when the chips are down View all posts by cathi rae

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