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  • Sheila Claydon

Remembering Rose extract-Chapter 1

I wasn’t expecting the world to turn into such a scary place the moment Leah was born. While I was pregnant I didn’t think much beyond how I was going to love taking her for a walk in her stroller, mainly because it was the only new thing she was going to have. Everything else was coming from the Pavalak family collection. Before I became Mrs. Daniel Ryan my name was Rachel Pavalak, and everyone around here knows the Pavalak girls. There are seven of us, all with children. I’m the youngest, the last to produce, so when Leah arrived she already had fifteen cousins, and my parents had so much outgrown baby stuff in their barn they were threatening to hold a garage sale. Instead they brought most of it over to our cottage and drove away before we had time to unpack the boxes, so buying new things for her would not only have been a waste of money, it would have caused a riot. I did insist on a new stroller though: a red one. “I just want her to have one thing of her own,” I said when Daniel objected to the price tag. “Rachel, your parents have at least three strollers in their barn, all of them in working order, so what’s the sense of spending this sort of money on something we can have for free?” As I couldn’t think of a valid reason I resorted to the pregnant woman’s ultimate weapon. Tears. So by the time Leah was born, the red stroller was waiting for her along with freshly washed piles of second-hand clothes, a crib that had been used by at least four of her cousins, and all the other free stuff I still needed to sort through. Not that it was entirely free. The payback was that I had to listen to the Pavalak family advice, all of it, which is how I learned that the world is a scary place. Until I had Leah I was the happy-go-lucky Pavalak sister. Now I was the depressed one. I know all about crib death, choking on small objects, croup, asthma, eczema, bacterial meningitis, drowning in a bath and the most important thing of all, not letting my baby near a single nut until she is at least five years old, so when I went into the nursery early one morning in May I should have been ready for anything. I wasn’t though, and when I saw a complete stranger bending over Leah’s crib I did what any other new mother would do. I screamed. Daniel arrived dripping from the shower. He was still trying to fix a towel around his middle when he burst into the room. “What’s the matter? Has something happened to Leah?” I had even managed to infect him with my irrational fears and that was a real achievement I can tell you, because before Leah, Daniel never worried about anything. I didn’t take my eyes off the woman as I edged towards the crib. “What is she doing here?” I took two steps forward as I spoke, grabbed her shoulder and spun her around. Daniel’s voice had an edge to it. “Who? What are you talking about, Rachel?” I tightened my grip, or at least that is what I intended to do, but somehow she wriggled free and made for the door. With a cry of alarm, I shouted to Daniel to stop her. He stared at me as if I were mad and then very carefully lifted Leah from the crib and carried her through to the living room. I heard him pick up the phone at the very moment the woman put her finger to her lips, gave me a sort of ‘see you later’ nod, and disappeared. I was staring at the space she had left behind her when Daniel returned. He was still carrying Leah who was awake now and rooting around for my breast. I reached for her, feeling the overwhelming love I always feel when it’s time to feed her, but Daniel didn’t give her to me like he usually did. Instead he lied. “Your mother just called. She’s coming for breakfast. She said something about pancakes.” Daniel is such a bad liar that at any other time I would have laughed but I was too freaked out to call him on this one. Besides, even without the pancakes, I was glad my mother was coming. ** * By the time she arrived Daniel had given in and Leah was halfway through her early morning feed. He hadn’t left my side though, not for a minute, not even to get dressed. He was still wrapped in a towel and his hair had dried in a tangle, a sure sign he was worried. Normally he gels and spikes his hair before he even goes searching for his underwear. Ma came in like she always does, full of breezy, no nonsense practicality, and sat on the bed next to me. When Leah, drowsy-drunk from a surfeit of milk, finally slipped off my nipple, she took her from me and began to rub her back. With an audible sigh of relief my husband left us to it. “Daniel says you’ve been hallucinating again.” She has never been one to mince words, my mother. “He’s going to ask Doctor Gove to call in to see you when he’s finished morning surgery.” “I wasn’t seeing things, Ma. She was standing beside Leah’s cot. I touched her for goodness sake. I put my hand on her shoulder and touched her.” I didn’t mean to raise my voice but somehow it came out as a shout that was loud enough to bring Daniel running again. He halted in the doorway and I saw him and my mother exchange worried glances. I knew what that meant. They thought my brief bout of post-natal depression was back and with it all the paranoid thoughts I’d had in the first few weeks after Leah was born. Great! As that meant they weren’t going to believe a single word I said, I decided there was no point in making things more difficult for myself. Besides, I’m a better liar than Daniel. “I guess I must have been half asleep,” I ducked my head and fussed with the front of my pajamas so they couldn’t see how confused I was. The woman had been there. I had felt my fingers bite into her shoulder, heard her gasp as I spun her around, and yet Daniel hadn’t seen a thing. And the way she left was odd too. That little half wave as if she already knew me, as if we were halfway to being friends. I wasn’t going to work it out if Doctor Gove started prescribing again though. I’d only just come off medication so unless I could outsmart him, Daniel and Ma, I would be back on antidepressants by the end of the day. I heard the relief in my mother’s voice as she accepted my excuse, stood up and walked across to the door. “You’re just tired from all those night feeds Rachel, so how about going back to bed for an hour or two while I look after Leah.” Anyone who doesn’t know my mother like I do wouldn’t have realized she was humoring me. They would have thought she was just looking for an excuse to cuddle her latest granddaughter. Her maternal instinct, always shaky, had finally bitten the dust around the time her sixth grandchild was born however. Nowadays she only turned out when there was a crisis, so the fact that she was here at all was scary. It was still better than being on my own with Daniel though, and trying to pretend that everything was fine between us when we both knew it wasn’t.

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