A short story by Natasha Sinclair

Rose’s pale, freckled cheeks flushed as old heavy redbrick walls came tumbling down. Ruins and rubble crashed within her belly; she fought not to show her unadulterated distress. To swallow the thick vomit that had risen, now tickling and burning the edge of her throat. Her palms were hot and sticky as she buckled her daughter into her fuchsia pink unicorn princess car seat.
For weeks Lilly had been chatting fondly about a new little girl in her nursery class. The little girl with curls just like her own, only hers were black. Rose was delighted for her daughter’s happiness. Initially nervous the prospect of sending her to the nursery in the city at first, but she settled and made friends quickly.
  It was just the two of them. Rose wasn’t used to other people looking after her daughter, other than her best friend, Sylvia, who also lived on their quaint little tree-lined street. They were preparing for a big move for Rose’s new job, she needed the time to get organised, and the nursery was the best solution for them both, it also got her used to that kind of routine for starting school the following year. That day on pick up, Lilly enthusiastically pointed, “Mummy, that’s her there, my friend with the red ribbons in her hair. Over there with her Daddy, look!”
  Rose’s past hit her square in the gut that day. There he was, ever the dotting ‘Daddy’ her Lilly would never have, never know. That was six weeks ago.
  Throwing her bag to the side and sitting back on the dark green wooden bench. With great pride, her heart ached with love as she watched her young daughter run toward the swings. The playpark was quiet this time of day; it was just the two of them, as it often was. One last trip to the city park they loved before they left for their new lives together.
Taking in the air, Rose delighted in the smell of fresh-cut grass on this Beltane day. The gloriously intoxicating fragrance of wild blooms danced within the cut grass scent – summer on the verge.
  Watching her glee filled daughter giggled as she swung her little legs excitedly back and forth. Blonde shoulder-length curls wild with innocence and life. She could almost see the summersaults of her tummy at the edges of her innocent laughter. I’m so lucky, Rose thought. As she watched her daughter at play, she began to think of the girl’s father…
…the way he held her as if she was the only other person in the world. The way he kissed her neck with such tenderness, such hunger.
  After that last night almost five years ago she had to cut it off. She told him that he meant nothing, that he never had, that he was just there in poor timing, poor judgment. She told him that she hadn’t loved him, that she wanted to and wanted it to be true; it wasn’t. She lied and showed him how cold she could be when there was no love there – putting on the show that they both needed to walk away free. Too many years had been spent drifting back and forth, with casualties in between and it had to stop. She knew that he would never just stick with her, and she had to pretend that it was meaningless to her, for him to move on and not look back. She had no choice but to damage his fragile ego.
Rose was a liar. She loved him madly and always would, but she needed him to forget about her. The wicked circus of passion and hurt was something that Rose could no longer be a part of. She didn’t know it for sure then, but he was a liar too.
  She didn’t know then that that final encounter with that love left her with a baby in her belly. Would it have changed how she shut the door if she knew? She didn’t think so. He would’ve felt trapped – fuelling hate in the love they had once shared. Resentment and she was the one with the womb, natures life bearer so it would be her fault. She didn’t want any of that. The door was closed, final and that was that.
  “Finally,” sighing “a seat!” Putting her candy-striped beach style bag by the side of the bench, Clara sat down perched in front of her own daughter removing her sky-blue cable knit cardigan. “Off you go then, have fun.” This little girl ran off, skipping and jumping towards the big red slide with her own darker curls bouncing as she went.
  The two women politely smiled at one another, turning back to watch their children.
“What a day so far. It’s all go when they are this age, isn’t it? I don’t know where they get the energy, especially my Elouise; she eats like a sparrow.”
Rose laughed “I know, little bundles of raw, untamed energy, aren’t they. Lilly is the same; all go all the time, always thinking about what’s next. Oh, to be four, eh!”
  “Aww, your little girl’s the same age as mine, such a cute age.”
  “Cute and crazy.” Rose knew the girls were the same age, of course. To Clara, though, Rose was simply a stranger in the park, just another mother.
  She laughed, “For sure. My husband has El for a few hours on his own when I’m at work, and he’s burst. All he has to do is her bedtime routine.” They both politely chuckled.
  “Is it the same way at your house?”
  “Oh no, not mine, It’s just us girls.” Rose warmly smiled. Before there was a chance for that awkward response, she sometimes got from other mothers who had spouses, and she quickly threw in, “That’s just how we like it.”
  While her mind would sometimes veer into a fantasy of what could have been especially on rough days, she was sure that those specklings of ‘what ifs’ that had occasionally plagued her were just that, fantasy. She knew well enough that that raising a child with a partner was far from perfection, especially with her own childhood as a decent reference point, as it is for many. A child of an unhappy marriage that stuck, only for the children. Children of an unspoken war, the excuses that kept their miserable parents trapped together. Instead of each other, they resented the children. It wasn’t worth it for any of them.
  While it was hard being everything for her daughter, Rose and Lilly were for the most part happy. There was no one in their lives who could resent or disappoint them. No father to let Lilly down and ruin her idea of all men if she were to be inclined towards them.
  “It feels like it’s just us at times too,” Clara said, shaking her head gently. “Believe me, even when they’re around, everything lands at the mother’s feet. He’ll have to pick it up a gear when this one comes along though. At least that’s what I keep saying.” Clara rubbed her left palm over her small belly, diamond rings sparling in the late morning sun.
  Rose laughed politely, not showing just how tired she was of hearing the same ugly blind sentiment. Often from strangers. She preferred being alone at the park, quietly getting lost in the dazzling display of such innocence at play before joining in herself. This while the rest of the world rushed by beyond the trees and green gates. Rushing to the end of the line, without taking time to breathe while they still could, before there were no more choices left.
  The two young girls seemed to have made instant friends as they laughed, playing together on the yellow seesaw. The girls had played before; this was a knowledge one of the mothers held. Such can be of little lost details when responsibility is passed between different adults and institutions from an early stage in life. We can’t honestly know the lives we lead when apart.
  Rose loved watching how easily her young daughter befriended others, how she always saw the good in people; free of any judgment or prejudice. Life hadn’t ruined that innocence yet, that freedom to be so completely natural. How we should emulate them, the freedom of childhood, not the other way around. Society seems so intent in training the beauty and wonder out of them only for the continued destruction of us all.
  “I’m Clara by the way.” Clara smiled at Rose, offering her hand.
  “Rose.” She smiled back shaking Clara’s hand awkwardly, she was never any good at such formalities, but she tried not to be rude. “So, when are you due?”
  “Oh! Not for ages yet, dating scan is tomorrow, so early days still.” The excitement was apparent in her voice; her grin reached up to her sparkling blue eyes. “We’ve not told anyone yet, waiting until after tomorrow and we have the date. I could burst!”
  “That’s cute. Your little girl will be excited when she finds out about being a sister.”
  “Oh! I can’t wait to tell her. She loves playing with her baby cousins, so think she will be delighted. Do you want to have any more babies?”
  “Ahh no, I’ve lucked out with this one over there. I like the idea of having another little girl at some point. I’m not sure I have it in me to do those baby and toddler years solo again.”
  “Yeah, that must be hard. The right guy might just be around the corner.” Clara winked.
Chuckling, “I don’t think there is such a thing as the right guy, maybe just the right time!”
  “Mummy! Mummy!” Elouise called excitedly running toward the bench. “Lilly loves unicorns too! Can I have Uni to show her.”
  “Sure, Sweetie.” Reaching into her bag, Clara pulled out a well-loved Navy and Red glittery unicorn stuffy and handed it to her daughter who skipped back to the seesaw towards Lilly.
  Reaching down for her bag, Rose pulled out a clear plastic Tupperware tub with a red lid. “Fancy a chocolate orange muffin?” Offering the open container. “I made them yesterday, they’re Lilly’s favourite, but I’m not the biggest fan of orange flavoured things myself.”
  “They look amazing! I wish I had the time to bake. I would love one. Lilly has good taste; Chocolate orange is my favourite too.”
  Taking a small bite from the lavishly frosted muffin, “Mmm these are really tasty, you’re a great cook, your little girl must love helping in the kitchen. She’s a lucky girl.”
  “Thank you,” Rose smiled, though it didn’t quite make her eyes that were struggling not be transfixed on the muffin and Clara’s plump pink lips as their children continued to play innocently in the play park before them. The girls were now having turns each gleefully pushing each other on the swings with Lilly’s toy Unicorn.
  A few bites in and Clara begin to try clear her throat. Fumbling to grab a bottle of water from her bag Rose, opened it quickly and handed it to her, “Here, have some of this. I’m sorry if they’re a little dry.”
  Taking a drink and clearing her throat “Thank you, and no, not at all, it’s not the muffins. Eating it a little too quick maybe – that frosting is to die for!”
  “Aww you’re sweet to notice, it’s a new recipe I was trying.”
  Clara finished the muffin with a little more of the bottled water.
Coughing “The water tastes a little salty, I’ve never noticed that with this brand before. It’s maybe just those peculiar pregnancy taste buds kicking in.” She laughed
  “It’s probably just the Ketamine I laced it with!” Winking and laughing, Rose carried on, “You know what we teach our kids, never take sweets from strangers in the park!” She mocked playfully.
  Going along with the joke, “I know right, it’s funny how we have to rethink everything when teaching our kids, isn’t it? Things we do ourselves, we have to mind our own habits.”
  “Very true, Clara. How are you feeling now, your throat ok?”
  “Yeah, I don’t know what that was, sorry…” Tapping her chest frantically, Clara’s eyes began fluttering involuntarily, and her head began to nod, pulling slightly to one side.
  Rose moved in closer, putting her arm carefully around Clara’s shoulders with a rolled-up jumper, placing it behind the upper part of her neck and head.
  “I D…d…..don….whhhh..” Clara was overcome with drowsiness, and she slurred sleepily with the fine edge of panic. Though she could barely express it, Rose knew only too well how panicked this woman must be as her helpless eyes tried to remain fixed on her young daughter playing obliviously on the swings.
  “Don’t worry about her. I’ll take care of yours as if she is my own. She is, after all, my daughter’s sister.” Whispered Rose. With that, Clara lost consciousness there on the green park bench as her daughter played blissfully before her.

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