Later, stomach full, hands still warm from the cupped heat of the soup bowl and with the almost gritty taste of chocolate and marshmallow lingering on her tongue, she lies back on the sofa and considers what she should do next.
The dining room she thinks, that would be easy.
The dining room was a strangely impersonal space, not a room where anyone lingered over leisurely Sunday lunches or sat, nose buried in a book, nibbling on carefully sliced fruits, crumbs of exotic cheese.
Her over-biding memory of the room is in fact not about eating at all. It was the room, in which, for years, she did her homework, books, jotters spread across the table, her father making loud comments about the waste of lights as he passed the door.
But the room is uncluttered, only a sideboard and a bookcase, never more than half filled which will need any serious sorting.
The table and chairs, bought in the 1970s are G PLan, her mothers’ brief foray into modernism, before her fathers’ insistence on good solid, built to last furniture won out and her mother gave up, allowed the house, its contents to stay unchanging, comfortable.
She knows them to be collectible, even covetable and briefly wonders what they would look like in her tiny terraced house, but shrugs the thought away, she prefers the shabby chic, restored items she finds in junk shops, on internet auction sites.
She is not sure what time it is, has forgotten to charge her phone, but rather likes this sense of being disconnected and she reasons, it doesn’t really matter what time she sleeps or works, she has days to get the tasks completed and for someone whose working life has been ruled by bells and timetables, this freedom from clock tyranny is actually exhilarating.
Without really knowing what she is doing, she finds herself pulling the little clipped advert from her pocket. It’s not quaint or funny or even, as far as she knows, in any way connected to her fathers’ life.
“Virol and Milk for Nerves – over 40 million prescribed in hospitals and infant clinics”
She has never heard of the product, assumes it to be some form of calmer, Prozac for [as her year 8 boys out it] the olden days, is not even sure if it’s for women or their children, but its careful placing in the larder suggests that at some level it meant something to her father and so, she leans over to root in her bag, pulls out the notebook and carefully copies the advert onto a clean page.
Virol and Milk for Nerves……………
“it’s the crying really” the woman is gaunt, hands thread over and around each other, a constant twisting of the thin, cheap wedding band.
“When he cries, I just don’t know what to do…” her voice tails off and she stares hopelessly at the doctor, waiting for a pronouncement, a solution.
The doctor, all to aware of the over-full waiting room, the house visits, the paper work, tries, just a little, to hide his annoyance, probably fails.
He shuffles for his prescription pad
“This” he says “This will help Mrs Ummmm” and hands over the sheet.
Her fingers cease, for a moment, their constant movement and she carefully folds the paper, places it in her bag and stands.
He nods reassuringly, hoping that this will speed her exit, allow him to see the next and the next and the next patient.
She is too ashamed to call at the nearest chemist, so walks, on a bitingly cold November day, another 2 miles, just to be sure that she will be safely anonymous and even then, she ducks her head down, refuses to make eye contact with the chemist and of course, the baby has slept throughout the whole errand, the baby always sleeps whenever they are out and about, makes a liar of her.
But the moment, the moment she closes the front door, he starts, a gentle whimper, which she knows will build and build until it feels as if the whole room, the whole house is full of his screaming.
She scoops him from the pram, sometimes, occasionally, draping him over her shoulders seems to help and leaves her hands free for other things and so, while he lies there, a pink, angry and slightly damp human stole, she pulls out the bottle and examines the label carefully
“Don’t be a frayed knot….Virol & Milk….makes parenting easy” and carefully tied around the bottle neck, a tiny spoon.
The baby is getting louder now and quickly, before she can fall into the despair that his sobbing usually causes, she unscrews the bottle and with shaking hands, pours a dosage and drinks it down and to her surprise, it is not bitter, not chalky. It is in fact, delicious, sweet, light, with a hint of strawberries and something else, something, she realises, that is the very essence of summer.
She is tempted to have another spoonful, but the baby’s’ dampness is becoming too pressing to ignore.
As she carries him upstairs, she finds herself, almost, but not quite, humming out loud.
Powdered, changed, face mopped, the baby looks for a brief moment almost attractive, his legs, bicycling madly on the changing mat are comical rather than slightly menacing.
She smiles down at him and is rewarded by a huge toothless grin, she cannot remember the baby smiling before and for a few minutes they are both satisfied to stare at each other.
It doesn’t last of course, within half an hour, she is scurrying around the kitchen, trying to make a chicken pie and mustard mash from scratch [ the deal they struck when she didn’t go back to work – “Be a stay home mum ” said her husband ” I like proper home cooked food”] while desperately trying to jiggle the baby in his bouncer and then she remembers the glass bottle and the dosage – “take one spoon when it all seems to much”.
She evaluates, yes, it is all too much. She puts down the rolling-pin, stops jiggling the baby and reaches across to the bottle and the tiny spoon.
This time, to her surprise, the medicine tastes of…she pauses, tests the sticky liquid against her tongue, yes, the medicine tastes of…Christmas, that sugary, mince meat, satsuma, warm port, brandy butter all rolled into one perfect teaspoon.
She smiles, savours the moment and noticing that the baby is still yowling, she scoops him up, holds him close to her and surprised, he stops crying, the noise reduced to a few hiccups.
She wanders back into the kitchen, looks around at the debris of baking and making, the pastry has dried out, hardened. She should really make fresh and then she captures the very last taste of the tonic and shrugs, there is plenty of time to get to the chip ship, pick up chips, mushy peas and a steak pie.
Her mouth waters at the very thought og food made by someone else.
She grabs the baby and her purse and heads down the road.
Tea is a silent affair.
The baby is happily distracted by a small bowl of beans and rubs them enthusiastically into his hair and face.
Her husband eats, with deep suspicion, poking at the steak pie, cross examining the chips, but he says nothing and when she offers an elderly banana for his desert, he simply stands, sighs and goes upstairs and seconds later, she hears the ping of his lap top powering up.
She sleeps well and when at 2 or 3 in the morning, the baby wakes and fills the house with his early morning misery, she is able, somehow, to simply roll over, deftly remove the duvet from her husband and administer a sharp kick to his shin.
He is shocked into wakefulness, the sound of the baby becoming louder and louder while she snoozes on serenely and finally, feet shuffling into slippers, he pads towards the baby’s’ room.
And then, there is silence.
She doesn’t know what time it is when she wakes, but lies for a moment relishing this new feeling, which she suddenly understands is not being exhausted.
Downstairs , her husband is half-dressed, shirt crumpled, he is used to her middle of the night ironing, bread making, light tidying, seems to have forgotten that only a few months ago, she too would have been rushing around, trying to get out, trying to start that working day.
He stares at her, hands her the baby and walks stiffly back to the bedroom, he doesn’t say goodbye when he leaves.
She makes some toast, puts the kettle on, allows the baby to lie on the Habitat rug whike she drinks coffee and eats toast and damson jam.
The little tonic bottle sits pretily on the window sill, the sunlight catching the deeep purple of the medecine inside.
She smiles and then repeats the doseage advice
” To be taken when it all seems to much”, it is extremley comforting.
She wonders if it is too cold to take the baby to feed the ducks.