Clink, clink, clink… goes my drink, drink, drink. Oh, I am so bored! The train continues jostling along its southward journey toward Tavira, and all I can think about is how bad it smells in here. Like grandmother’s week-old chicken stew, unrefrigerated… Alors, just a little over two hours to go. Not long now! I’ve already completed five stretches in various stinky carriages en route – ah yes, I’ve earned this drink.
And this was supposed to be a good journey, a romantic one… one, maybe, even with a proposal at the end, or something similar. Oh, no, no, no… I was mistaken. Bah, things seemed to be fine when we boarded the train in Ardennes, in fact, things were terrific. Our bags were packed, the sun was shining, I had printed all our boarding passes and even made us little sandwiches and packed a bottle of something nice for the way. But... I could just tell something was wrong. The way Patrick looked at me, the way his voice faltered talking about our festive plans for when we arrived… I should have known then. And if I had, I certainly would have gotten off that damn train. The first smelly vessel to carry me to my doom.
Oh, maman… I know you will be reading this thinking how ridiculous. How silly, your silly daughter is. Just another row, and we’ll patch it up. But this time, it is different. When we arrived in Seville – only one more train on our pilgrimage to go – Patrick turned to me with those narrow eyes he gets when he’s about to say something problematic, and swiftly informed me that he could go no further. He took one look around the square, lit up with festive flame-throwers and flamenco girls, all wearing these Mediterranean elf costumes, and he strode away. Yes, he strode! He called back over his shoulder, “Je ne te veut plus…” and then, he was gone. Poof. Fin.
I had three hours until my next train, so naturally, I sat down on the train platform and wept until I couldn't breathe or see straight. When I came to, just before last boarding call, a sweet vagrant man placed a bunch of wild flowers, the most vibrant shade of red I had ever seen, in my lap. I took his small act of kindness as a sign to go on...
And now, here I am, on another damn train, watching the ice melt in my glass. I drank the bottle I brought, and then I ordered another, and another – but none have made me feel any better. Neither bottle has shed any light on why my future fiancé has abandoned me. As I write this, I watch the Atlantic ocean pass along the south coast of Portugal, and all I want to do is open the carriage portal and fling myself upon the rocks below the rails. The window is, of course, dirty, but the sea, oh mon dieu, the sea is the perfect shade of blue. It is, in fact, Patrick’s favourite colour, sea blue…
She had wanted a baby for a decade, since her 23rd birthday. Her desire started the year she returned from Paris, where she had worked as a fille au pair for a beautiful family, who introduced her to a city and a way of life she quite enjoyed. Where she got a taste for caregiving and found that not only did she have a knack for it, but that she rather loved children, especially the really young ones. She thought about that year often enough; looking back on it with a sort of sad longing, a nostalgic eye that let her see things as she wanted to remember them – as she wished they had truly been. Romantic and heart-felt, through rose-tinted spectacles. Had she, they, had that baby then, things would be different now. Her life would have taken a different course altogether.
She shakes those thoughts from her head and takes another sip from her water glass. Cucumber and mint. Her hands are recently moisturised, and her fingertips leave ever-so-slightly greasy marks on the side of the glass. Another twinge in her belly, a reminder that he’s there. Or she. She doesn’t know why she’s started calling it a he, when there’s no way to be certain either way. She’s early, only five or so weeks.
Why had she not had that baby 10 years ago? Wrong place, wrong time. Wrong man? The question mark remains, as does his presence in her life. The occasional voicemail or email, with undertones of fondness and familiarity only ex-lovers can share. She thinks of his parents – father and stepmother – who had found their way back to one another after living large chunks of their adulthoods with other people, having families with other partners. Then her husband died, and he divorced his first wife and, as first loves sometimes do, they found their way back to each other. Now they live on a yacht and sail around the Mediterranean together. She strokes her stomach idly, wondering if that could ever be them. Whether her baby will ever meet him. The man that once upon a time was going to father her children.
But that was then, and this is now. And she’s happy now, isn’t she? She thinks about it as she takes another gulp from her glass.
Will she be a good mother, she asks herself out loud. She’s still clutching her stomach, wondering if the baby can hear her. According to the App she downloaded on her phone the day she found out they were expecting, their baby began developing what will become his ears just yesterday. His, again. So maybe they can hear her already? Her partner laughs when she reads the updates to him. He’s done this before – “this isn’t my first rodeo,” he often reminds her.
For a moment, she fantasises about what it might feel like to stab herself in the stomach. Whether she would feel it, whether the baby would, through the amniotic fluid. Or whether it would act like an airbag might in a car accident. She has infrequent thoughts about hurting herself, which have only intensified in their vividity since she found out she was pregnant. Maybe it’s because of the lack of sleep, or the hormones, she thinks. Maybe it’s because she’s absolutely fucking terrified. She knows that she would never do it; she knows she will not hurt her child. Not ever.
“I’ll look after you like my mother never did me,” she coos to her stomach. And she really means it. Weeks pass, and with every day, this protective feeling grows, as does her stomach. She knows it’s clichéd, but she relishes this feeling: of having purpose, of changing, of becoming a mother, finally.
Until she wakes to find blood in her underwear, and to feel a terrible cramping across her back. Her partner says not to worry yet, but she knows. Deep down, she knows it was too good to be true, knows that her time for mothering is not now. And she thinks back to her evil thoughts, and wonders, did I make this happen? Did I hurt you, before you could become a ‘you’, did I do what I promised I would never do?