On a cold evening of February, Elizabeth left her house with a flustered face. The young lady blistered away from the home with a face dominated with blushes, and red patches of rage across the cheeks, with such a grave expression of melancholy and emotional turmoil that you would assume she was late for a date, or some other social occasion which young girls approach with a mixture of anxiety and excitement, which can possess them into changing their soft features into pure and unreadable stone ones.
She was upset. Upset that her home was not her home, she had no real home. She was an orphan and abandoned. With that abandonment came a confidence problem and an assumption of being useless, unwanted and unloved. This assumption led to all adults being users, abusers or simple oafs. Such an attitude could sour the polite and innocent urges of an adult to help a young parent-less girl such as herself. She left with a fluster and bluster of upset for the same reason she always did: she felt unloved, didn’t know how to express that without accusing the adoptive parent of being abusive, and left in a rage when they got they heckles up about their intentions. This time was like all the others in the sense that there wasn’t anything particularly different about it, or even new about it for that matter.
She walked down the street, slowing her pace to match her losing of anger. Her walk slowed and fell into the melancholic swagger of a young man walking to work early in the morning, ready to do his day’s work but not particularly looking forward to the thankless struggle and feeling like his impact was negligible. As she slowed she passed people by in a more neutral way and was no longer noticed. She fell into the normal mode of walking and cleared her head a little with the cold breeze as it made her nose tip and ear tops sting and go red; red like a man’s cheeks when he drinks a bit too much whiskey.
As she continued to walk, she stared at the floor to avoid being noticed. Just wanting to walk herself into a more passive mode. There is something about physical movement that was relaxing. Well not relaxing, but kept the mind busy being passive and made you feel better: the grinding of the walk, the click of her bad knee, the pushing of her toes into the side of her shoes because she crammed her feet in too tight and fastened herself in as if she feared they would fall off at any time; all these things made her forget how meaningless she was, how unloved she felt and how many opportunities to be loved she had thrown away for the sake of her self-respect and pride to be seen as strong.
She would give anything to be born again, to be reborn and try again. Just to try this time, just to swallow her pride and accept the arms that wished to love her no matter their flaws and personal problems. Did she not have personal problems? Of course, then why did she show no mercy for people with problems just like hers she thought. This troubled her and a frown crept across her face, but the cold wind was so intense that it gave her cramp in her forehead and people stared at her as if she had a lazy eye or an eyebrow that was considerably higher than the other. She forced her face back into looking down, burying her chin, mouth and nose into her scarf. At this point she was walking rather aimlessly, she wasn’t actually going anywhere. Well, physically she was moving around with no aim, but her mind was going somewhere: it was going to calm down, return her ‘home’, make a scene out of being sorry and do the same thing the next time she gets upset. She knew it, she always did it and didn’t care enough to stop it in the time of being upset. Only later with reflection did she feel she made a mistake and would say sorry. By now she wasn’t passing anyone. She looked up to make sure she hadn’t accidentally walked into an abandoned part of town: no, she knew the street, but it was empty. She thought to herself how nice it was to have the street to herself, and then countered that thought by suggesting she doesn’t know what she wants or what nice is: just a moment ago she was begging for love, now she is happy being alone. This was her problem. She knew she was fickle, even her apologies were fickle. She regretted saying sorry as much as she regretted getting upset, which was what she would be saying sorry about!
Wishing she could be as fickle as the cold breeze blowing in her face, she turned down an alley. She was struggling to walk as the wind got so powerful she could barely make an advance. She raised her arm to cover her face, doing this made the wind split into two – over and under her arm, one blowing her hair everywhere, and the other flapping her coat like a long winter cape. She pushed against it and made a few more steps, before falling flat on her face into a pile of snow. Odd, she thought, as she fell into it and recognised the feeling of the wet but cold fickleness which made up snow – a delicate extreme. She put her hands forward as she lay there, to get into the position of performing a push up in order to raise her face out of it. She did this and pushed herself back to her knees with her feet hanging back bending her shoes as she leaned into her legs. This wasn’t snow, it was clothing, but it was so wet and frosty from the cold that she mistook it for snow. She laughed out loud at how silly she had been, but it did feel like snow she reasoned to herself.
She didn’t think much else of it and began to stand. As she did she heard a noise which was being made from under the clothes. What was that she wondered? The clothes squirting water after she had rose from it? An abandoned dog? A practical joke maybe? She heard the noise again, and it was definitely coming from under the wet and cold clothes. Hearing it a second time wasn’t a curious mystery like the first time. It was a shock. A shock that left her uncomfortable and overly self conscious. What was she to do? What was she to do when she found out what it was? ‘Oh my God, what do I do? I don’t even know what it is yet and I’m panicking.’ Again, the sound, like a squawking owl calling out to its mother. She went back to her knees and with care began to move the clothing to find what was making this noise which caused her alarm and panic.
As the noise became less muzzled she began to figure out exactly where in the clothes the noise was being made from. A sense of dread filled Elizabeth and she began to quake with self consciousness. She pulled away with care and haste the many folded and unfolded layers. The clothing looked like someone had dumped a pile of laundry, of table clothes maybe, it was multilayered and heavy, hard to work your way through and the cloth itself was thick like bedding.
The noise was now loud enough for the vibrations to be felt on her hands as she pulled away more layers without moving a pile onto another pile, which would have more of a mess and thus more to move. She felt a warmth on the layer she was about to pull off and knew she was about to find out what was under it. Her hands shaking, no, trembling and quaking with terror she took the last layer away. As she slowly slid it off what was inside, she could see steam like what comes out of your mouth when you are warm and breathe in the cold. It was something alive. She felt the warm breath of a living thing against the thin skin of her feminine tender hands. The hands of this young female, barely old enough to mother her own brood revealed the living thing to be nothing other than a human baby. Slowly moving, squawking like an owl’s babe, uncomfortable in the cold and wet. Its skin was blue and the breath wasn’t actually warm, but cold. Her hands must have became so cold that the cold of the babe’s breath actually felt warm. This poor blue babe was clearly in the process of dying from pneumonia.
She went to scream for help as her motherliness kicked in, but she stopped herself. She scooped the babe into her arms and began to speak softly, comforting this little baby boy with his blue nakedness and failing breath leaving him as she spoke to lessen the pain. Before she knew it he had stopped breathing. She stood there for a while not knowing what to do. He was dead? What could be done anyway? Do I give him in to a hospital? Do I put him back? Do I bury him out of respect? She shut herself up and stopped thinking. She took off her coat and wrapped the baby in it, and ran as fast as she could to her home.
She did what any young normal person did and returned home with the dead baby, giving it over to an authority like your parents (even if you are adopted) which then got in contact with a higher authority like the police and handed the baby to them to take care of the investigation and burial. The police only asked for her story once, she told it. She was exact in the details of what happened that evening, and never heard from them about that case ever again, not even for a burial. She thought about it often. Even months later she was still thinking about it. It bothered her for many reasons. An abandoned baby could have grew up an orphan like her, was it a mercy it died? Well no, but these thoughts troubled her because it put her life and situation into context. This worried her about herself, and of course about the innocent baby who lost his life that day because of the world, not by any fault of his own.
What bothered her most is that the cloth that he died in could be cynically referred to as his swaddling clothes, but what new born baby is dressed in clothes that will kill him from the cold and frosty day? What new parent would wrap up their baby to keep them warm, while leaving them outside to die? A bad one yes, but the puzzle was how it was possible even for bad people to do such a thing to a new born babe. She concluded that they would have to be so selfish, that after abandoning him they simply forgot about him and considered it someone else’s business. Pushing their responsibility on to society. Punishing a young orphan girl, and a new born babe for their lack of responsibility and their mistakes. She thought to herself that maybe the swaddling clothes were accurate. They were plain, showing he belonged to no one. No embroidered name, family tree or crest of his lineage and heritage. An orphan’s swaddling clothes, as blank as the slate he was forced to inherent. He made her think about how easily she could have been exactly like that little blue boy. She was grateful she wasn’t, but guilty that she didn’t save someone from the fate that could of beset her if things had happened differently.
Daily this tortured her, she woke up to his blue face squawking his owl like call: begging for mama, asking dada for protection. She stopped eating and being able to sleep. She fell asleep for a few moments and woke screaming and sweaty. She felt like she was dying in a slow poisoned way. Getting weaker by the day, seeing and hearing less day by day as she tortured herself with her vivid memory of sounds, thoughts, feelings and the touch of his cold breath against her motherly hands. Her skin crawled in hatred of who could do this, she felt sick to the stomach. She wanted to vomit up her humanity and flush it down the toilet for the shit it was. When she did dream and it wasn’t a nightmare, she would be sat on a bed in a white room, with a bundle of swaddling clothes in the middle of her bed as she sat and played with a new born baby boy with bright blue eyes and pale white like snow skin. Her lips and cheeks were red as she played with him, he with joy responded to her playing with cat like pleased purrs and ma’s. She woke from these dreams with more tears than when she had seen his blue breathless face in her nightmares. They were always more painful because when she woke she knew she was in a living nightmare where his death had actually happened.
This went on for a few months after the event. She was sick often. Her adopted parents began to worry she was ill and might die. She would spend hours on her knees retching her guts out into the toilet bowl, with her head inside it, not bothering to leave. There was no point when you are just going to find more to sick up, regardless of how much you ate. Eventually her parents called a doctor to the house and she was seen to. She didn’t know what the doctor had said to them after he had checked her, but they looked confused, rather than worried. They had faces of bewilderment and were asked to leave by the doctor. The doctor wanted to speak to her alone.
He sat on her bed and began to explain to her how she was pregnant. A few months gone and was currently suffering from nothing but morning sickness, which is where you purge your system of all harmful foreign bodies (even food) just in case it causes harm to the newly forming fetus. This prevents the female body from rejecting the fetus and stops miscarriages. She was at least as bewildered as her adopted parents. Her eyes wide with fatigue, tears, sickness and wild searching, scanning the doctor’s entire body like two searchlights looking for a safe place to port her boat in a tempestuous sea. Her eyes screamed ‘Save Me!’ She didn’t understand, she didn’t know what was going on. Was she dreaming? Was this the nightmare and the bed with a beautiful baby boy with blue eyes reality? She had never even kissed a boy, never mind been able to get pregnant. She wasn’t sure if she had the physical capacity to even get pregnant yet. She had barely begun having periods. She was befuddled, bewildered, blistered with blushes and black-eyed from sickness. She couldn’t believe it. She excused herself, which the doctor nodded at and went to leave to let her have some space. He closed the door behind him, leaving her alone. She reached forward and pulled the bed sheets up towards her, wrapping it around herself like a new born babe in its swaddling clothes…With new life in her womb, she would be born anew to baptise the world and try again.
*This short story was influenced by the short story ‘Swaddling clothes‘ by Yukio Mishima (1925-1970).