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Falling For Finn
By Celia Bryce

 

Simone looks down at her sleeping baby and wills him to open his eyes and look at her. Right now. Really look at her. Like babies should. She wills him to keep his side of the bargain and she will try to keep hers. To fall in love with him. Like a mother should.

But Finn keeps on sleeping, as babies do.

She pulls-to his curtains feeling empty as an eggshell. Her head, her heart. Everything. She can’t even remember Finn’s birth.

‘Everybody forgets the labour,’ her mother told her, just this afternoon, ‘it’s normal. You just remember them handing over that gorgeous little bundle and well - look at him,’ her face broke into a smile, her eyes filled up and she stroked the soft spot on Finn’s head.

Everyone loves him, Simone thinks, a wave of sadness marooning her.

This afternoon, Simone was glad to see her mother, glad to see anyone who would take the baby from her. Simone made tea, cut sandwiches, smoothed jam between two rounds of sponge from the shop. Her mother meandered into the past and all its glories.

‘You were a terrible baby, mind you. Just as well Finn doesn’t take after you,’ she nuzzled his ear. ‘Though you’ve got Graham to help out. I had no-one.’

It wasn’t strictly true, but Simone’s father was a Navy man, spent most of her childhood away from home.

She hears Finn sigh. It’s a little heave of air which comes out lightly, soflty. Simone listens. Such a small sigh travelling from Finn in his padded cot to where she stands at the window. What strength, even in his sighs, she thinks.

She remembers the strength of Finn’s grip. The doctor at the clinic had

demonstrated it, pulling him up from the examination couch, so that he sat like a little Buddha, only bent and crumpled. Finn’s tiny hand grasped a finger, gripping it tight, and his small back curved and his head flopped forward. It had frightened Simone to see it. All the care she took to make sure Finn’s head was supported, as they’d instructed in hospital. And there was the doctor not even worrying about it.

Simone looks down into the deserted street below, the rain falling into beams of street lighting. Did he suspect that she didn’t love her baby? Does her mother?

She’d been pretty pointed about Graham having to help so much and him having a job to go to. Does she sense the fear every time Simone picks up Finn? Or notice that she prefers to make tea, run around with the vacuum and let grandmothers dote? Or that she lets Graham spend all of his spare time doing for the baby?

But all women love their babies, why should Simone’s mother think that she doesn’t?

The rain falls harder now and Simone begins to cry. Even screaming nightmare babies have mothers who love them. Finn doesn’t scream. He sleeps, feeds well and is a model baby. An absolute dream. Content, is how they describe him at the clinic.

And altogether, they are content, Graham, Simone and Finn. They have a nice house a nice salary and a car. All of Finns things are new, expensive and her home was is neat as a pin. But she doesn’t love her baby. How does she not love him?

Simone rubs away tears with the back of her hand. She tries to remember being handed a gorgeous little bundle and can’t. Finn wasn’t gorgeous. He was red, wrinkled and messy.

She goes back to the cot and lays her hand gently on Finn’s blanket, feels the fluttering of his chest. She watches his mouth pucker up into a tiny O, watches the white line around it appear then disappear. Wind, she thinks.

Over roast chicken earlier Simone told Graham that she couldn’t remember a thing about the birth. Over coffee she admitted that she couldn’t believe that Finn was really here or that he belonged to her.

Graham, tired after a busy day, took her hand and laughed.

‘Don’t be silly, of course he’s yours. I saw the birth remember. Here stands your witness. Well. Sits actually. But here I am, That baby is yours,’ he laughed again. Simone took a sip of coffee and felt silly. The coffee was too strong and she put it down.

‘It does take a bit of getting used to, I have to say,’ Graham went on, ‘I didn’t dare tell you but on Saturday, I left the pram outside the Co-op. Completely forgot,’ he shook his head. ‘Can you imagine?’

Simone remembers the amazed look on his face, that he could forget his own child. She can only imagine what it would have been like if Graham had left the pram outside the Co-op. Forgotten him completely. Come home, eaten dinner and watched the football. At what point in the match he would have noticed? Half time? Full time? The late night highlights over on the other channel? Would she have jogged his memory?

She closes her eyes and remembers talking to her ‘bump’ for months and months. Talking about the world and everything in it, leaving all the bad bits out. But there were still enough good things to cause an excited little kick and squirm about. She loved Finn when he was a bump. What’s happened?

She goes back to the time he was born. The time they handed her the little green wrapped parcel. He seemed frighteningly weightless. Warm, damp and weightless. If I let him go, she’d thought, he’ll fly to the ceiling and hover around the strip lighting like a child’s balloon. He’d be quite safe up there, hovering.

She smiles at the picture. If she’d said anything then they’d have certified her.

His size worried her. From the minute she began the daily routines. What if she hurt him? What if he slipped from her grasp as she bathed him. He was so tiny. The midwives held him like a bendy toy, they were so confident. She held him like a stick insect. For weeks. As if something inside him might break and it would be her fault.

‘He’s filling out,’ she was told her in the clinic at four weeks. ‘Feeding him yourself still?’

Simone admitted that she wasn’t.

‘That’s fine,’ the woman said, ‘whatever you’re doing it’s working!’ She gave Simone a warm smile. There was nothing in that smile to hint that she knew that before her stood a mother who did not love her baby.

‘What a beautiful boy,’ the other mothers told her. ‘How is it that boys always get the longest eyelashes?’

They’d looked at their little girls, all apparently wanting in the eyelash department. But their mothers didn’t mind. They loved their babies.

She looks at Finn now. He does indeed have the longest eyelashes. They rest on his cheeks like butterflies on a summer leaf. She moves the shade on the small lamp. It has teddy bears dancing round it. Still tears roll down her cheeks. She wipes them away with the back of her hand.

‘Finn,’ she whispers, ‘I’m sorry.’

She lies down on the small bed in Finn’s room, stares at the ceiling.

Simone feels the night close in around her. It’s a lonely feeling. Every now and then she is aware of Finn, aware of his breathing and his little noises. He’ll need a feed soon. She’ll just lie here until he wakes, feed him and then go to bed, try not to wake Graham.

On Saturday last they had the christening. A big affair on a mild autumn day.

Graham looked smart in his suit and everyone turned out to witness the bringing of Finn Michael Brady into the church. And Finn Michael Brady didn’t complain or fuss or squirm about when water was poured over his brow. He didn’t screech when all the aunts and great aunts, wreaking with perfume and sherry cooed and crooned and passed him here and there.

A model baby. A dream of a baby.

And Graham telling then all how hard it had been but he’d coped. And threading his arm around her waist, kissing her cheek. They all laughed at the joke and topped up their wine glasses. Simone pinned a smile on her face, remembering how Graham had almost fainted at the birth. He was told to sit, head down, between the part where Finn’s own head appeared and the rest of his small body emerged into the world. Yes, it was hard for Graham.

A car drives past the window sending its light through the curtains. It drifts across the walls like a spectre. When Simone was a child, staying at her grandmother’s house, one summer, she’d woken up at night and such spectres were drifting across the bedroom walls. They swept over the big oak wardrobe and the arm chair. The dressing table with its oval mirror and its dust. It sent shivers down her spine.

She wanted her mother. Wanted to feel her arms around her, holding her close.

But her mother had gone away, on holiday and she was staying with her

grandparents. Days were fun but nights were fearful. Nights were full of dark shadows and odd noises. Frightening sounds from the street outside. Bottles breaking and men shouting and swearing. Grandma’s house was near the pub. How she wanted her mother then, resented her going away.

Finn begins to snuffle. Here comes that half-hour of twitching and stretching, of waking up and realising he’s hungry. Simone goes downstairs to warm up a bottle.

It’s midnight and yet feels later. She washes the dishes from dinner and cleans the work surfaces. She rinses out the nappies and sits them in the washing machine, pours in powder and sets it going. All the everyday things she’s done since bringing Finn home.

‘You shouldn’t be doing that,’ people told her, gazing down at the baby they’d taken into their arms and not showing any inclination to give him back, ‘this is your time for the baby.’

And they loved him and wrapped him in their good wishes. They touched his hand with silver. Aunts and neighbours, grandmothers and cousins. Finn. The first of a new generation.

Today she introduced Finn to her park. The one she’d played in as a child. It was steeped in golds and reds and the pram swept through fallen leaves.

She sat on a bench and watched more leaves dribbling down from their branches. Simone has always loved autumn. She looked into Finns pram. Warmth emanated from beneath the hood and Simone thought how cosy and protected you are.

‘It was different then,’ she told the warmth, ‘we brought bread to feed the ducks with and they’d come swimming up as soon as they saw you.’

Finn went on sleeping.

‘Now, they’d run a mile. Swim a mile.’ She smiled then and looked at Finn. ‘Ah, what do you care about ducks, when you’ve got these?’

She rattled the row of pink elephants marching along the elastic thread on his hood. They began to dance and rattle, but Finn slept on.

The bottle should be warm enough.

Simone finds that Finn is awake and lying there, staring at the coloured card she always leaves in his cot. The first thing he sees when waking. She’d found it weeks before his birth and decide that colour was stimulating. She wanted a stimulated, happy, intelligent child and the colour card would be the start of it.

Finn continues to stare at it, his fist jammed into his mouth, sucking away at his fingers.

Simone lifts him out carefully. He is heavier, more bulky than before. Of course he would be. But somehow the space in her arms feels comfortably full now, no gaps for him to fall through. She wraps him in a blanket and sits in the chair, the bottle warm in her hand. She tests it on her wrist. It’s still a bit hot.

Finn looks up at her. His eyes big in his small face. He stares at her like he did the coloured card, as if fascinated. Simone stares back and blinks, amazed that he wants to keep looking at her. Outside another car sends its spectre around the walls but Finn is not distracted. He continues to stare at Simone. And she forgets the bottle in her hand, forgets that she is holding a hungry baby and goes on staring into Finn’s eyes.

And then he smiles.

It’s a whisper of a smile at first and Simone mirrors it. Finn keeps on smiling and his smile gets bigger. Simone’s smiles gets bigger until they beam at each other.

And it’s like a volcano erupting inside her heart. All that was buried there rises like lava to the surface and warms its through. It doesn’t stop there. The warmth radiates through to her toes and legs, her arms and fingers, her back, her head. Filling everything that was empty. She is full to bursting with love for Finn.

Simone wants to shout at the top of her voice, shout for Graham to come and witness this huge glorious smile that is for her and her alone. But she doesn’t shout. Finn’s smile is like a treasure just found, a treasure she’s been searching for in dark frightening places. She wants to keep it all to herself. And Finn’s smile goes on. Simone’s smiles goes on. And the milk in the bottle cools.

 

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