Seven Days by Paula David
The back door opened. Steve lingered in the doorway. The heat had drained his energy and reddened his complexion. A long stain of sweat at the centre of his shirt forced my gaze downwards. I knew this moment so well. There was a time when I would have been relieved he was home, grateful for the money we’d have as a result of his toil, indebted to his loyalty. Steve loved me when I couldn’t love myself.
“Hi honey,” he said his hands on my waist, his lips lingering on my cheek. It took all the strength I had not to recoil.
“I’m gonna take a bath, how was Hannah today?”
The door clicked shut at the end of his sentence. I wiped the yogurt from Hannah’s mouth and stroked her cheek. It sparked another crying fit. Her face wrinkled instantly and her mouth opened wide. The cry was deep and desperate. I lifted her out of the high chair and held her close. She wriggled against my embrace. I tried to shift with her movement, to synchronise, to know what she needed, until defeat forced me to place her in the pram. I pushed the pram the length of the kitchen, back and forth, shushing at her contorted face.
How long would I let this go on? I should open the back door, run down the path, through the gate, go left. It would be downhill for several minutes, quick and easy. I held the door handle, tightly, squeezing, twisting, my heart racing, I should do it, I had to do it.
“She screaming again?” said Steve as he padded in from the hallway.
I released my grip the instant I heard his voice and breathed deeply. I felt he could hear my thoughts or see betrayal on my face. I held my gaze down as I returned to the stove, leaving Hannah at the back door. Steve hovered over the pram. Hannah reacted with a scream that shattered any calm I had managed to conjure. I dropped a large metal spoon on the floor. The sound echoed around the kitchen.
“I think she’s getting used to me, come see, she’s a little calmer than last time.”
Steve held his hand out, still looking at Hannah. When I didn’t react, he turned and looked at me. The gaze that meant he could see inside me. He knew how to make me move. I scurried to his side, Hannah still wailing.
“Pick her up that’s all she needs,” he said squeezing my hand just enough to make it sting a little, before he let go.
I picked up Hannah and held her close. Steve put his arms around both of us and kissed us on the forehead one at a time.
“There you see, all she wanted was Mama,” smiled Steve.
He looked so pleased, so genuine; I couldn’t help but smile back. I wanted to believe that Hannah was calmer, but her cries lashed out at me, stinging my insides.
“You put her down for a nap and we’ll eat.”
The moment her head touched the blanket in the pram she was calm, and her eyes began to close. She had exhausted herself. Steve patted my bottom as I bent over to place Hannah back in the pram and the sickly feeling returned. I considered giving Hannah a slight pinch to wake her so that we wouldn’t be alone, but I couldn’t. She had been through enough. Steve began to collect the crockery and the cutlery. The sight of him being useful in the kitchen reminded me when we first moved. I thought I’d finally found the man I had dreamed of since I was twelve years old, tall, strong, eager to take care of me, ready to do anything to make me happy.
“Smell’s so good,” he said pulling his chair in underneath him.
I placed the pork in a serving dish, and arranged the potatoes and greens in separate bowls on the table and then sat down.
“Hear that?” he said.
I looked up and waited to hear something.
“…the sound of our life without Hannah.”
I gazed at the pram. I could feel the tears brimming, ready to trickle. I wasn’t sure if it was sadness, guilt, or love. I held my breath so that the tears wouldn’t fall but a couple escaped.
“Hey, hey, none of that.”
Before I could wipe them away Steve was kneeling down in front of me stroking my back, his cheek resting on my chest.
“I’m happy too,” he whispered.
As if pricked by my own thoughts all at once he held my face in both his hands, anger in his eyes.
“You’re not thinking that rubbish you talked about last night are you, Sarah?”
I shook my head quickly. I knew better than to challenge his decisions. He kissed my forehead, like a father would his obedient daughter and breathed a satisfied sigh. He sat down and immediately started eating.
“We should go shopping, get her some clothes… I’ll go… it’s too soon for her to go out yet…”
I was relieved to hear him say he would shop alone. I knew I wasn’t ready to re-enter our world with Hannah, whose presence reminded me just how different the world would now be, and the difference her presence would make.
Steve’s mouth was so full, grease squeezed out of corners as he chewed.
A piece of pork escaped with his words.
“You drank the last of it yesterday,” I said feeling as if they were my first words of the day, forced, my throat aching a little.
“I’ll have to go to the store after dinner,” he said stuffing a large piece of pork into his mouth,
As soon as he spoke I knew it was time. I would have at least forty minutes He would take fifteen minutes to drive to the village; ten minutes to choose and pay for some clothes; fifteen minutes to get back home. He might even stop to talk to someone. Steve was the town’s handy man, always in demand. Everybody loved Steve. He’d laboured on most of the farms in the area and so had got to know most people personally, in the few months we’d lived in Haveburgh. ‘Such a lovely man, your husband,’ old Mrs Mathews had said to me in the grocers, so many times. She was such a friendly woman, I almost confided in her. I wanted to tell her that Steve had changed so much in the six months I had known him. I wanted to ask her if it was possible to love someone that frightened you sometimes. Finally I’d agreed and told her he had swept me off my feet and rescued me from my empty life. Steve made me feel special at first. I was the most important thing in his life. But now being the centre of his universe seemed too much to bear.
Steve picked up his plate and began to lick it clean.
He gulped a glass of water and burped loudly, wiping grease from his mouth and rubbing it into his jeans.
“If I go into the village now, you can put Hannah down to sleep and then when I get back we can really star to plan our future as a family…”
He grinned widely as he approached for a goodbye kiss. He pulled me into his arms. He was so strong and comforting. His hands caressed my back and then rested on my bottom. Part of me wanted to feel this safe forever and part of me was repulsed by what he had done.
“I won’t be long,” he whispered.
Within a few moments I was standing in the kitchen staring into the pram. Hannah looked so peaceful, so happy, but I knew when she woke the unfamiliar surroundings would start another crying fit. I knew what I had to.
I ran into the bedroom and packed nappies and wipes. I tore my apron from around my waist, pulled my jacket from the wardrobe and rushed back to the kitchen. I packed the formula, clean bottles and bibs. I stuffed it all into the basket at the bottom of the pram, put my jacket on and I was ready.
The sight of the full basket and Hannah, made my heart pound. This was it. If I did this I would never see her again… I stared at her beautiful face. Steve said she looked like me. For the first time I could see it. Maybe Steve was right. Hannah would learn to love us. She would be happy soon. The image of Hannah’s mother’s panicked expression as Steve and I drove away in the van, seven days ago filled my mind and I was confused again. I tucked the blankets securely around her and she began to cry. Her little legs were kicking against the blankets, her arms were flailing around, I patted and shushed, but I could tell that she would be crying for a while. I stared at her face and listened to her cries until my head ached.
“It’s alright I’m here, it’s alright,” I said with finality.
I wanted to say ‘mummy’s here’. For the first time, I wanted to tell her that I was her mummy. I took off my jacket, rested it on the back of a chair, I was about to pick her up when I heard Steve’s truck screech to a halt outside. He bounded through the door. I was so relieved to see him I stood with my arms open.
“Got almost halfway there before I realised, it’s early closing on Monday.”
He scooped up Hannah and placed her into my arms. She relaxed into me, rested her head on my chest, and clung to my blouse. Steve held us both until her crying faded into a gentle breath.
He was right, we belonged together. We would be happy soon.
Paula David completed a Masters in Creative and Professional writing in 2011 at Brunel University. She has performed her poetry all over London and beyond and has had rehearsed readings of four of her plays. She was Newham playwright of the year 2010 and her first novel was long listed for the Virginia Prize 2009. Her first fully produced play took place May 2013 at Leyton Library. Paula loves to create and endeavours to continue.
Her play ‘Losing Sight of Home,’ An ARC funded production will be performed October 11th 2014 Leytonstone Library at 2.45 and 6.30 pm