bursting out of me. The world goes black and quiet for a moment – the eye of the storm – before I’m stretched to infinity with a pain that now, compared to my game of Snakes and Ladders with him , seems bearable.
The large, masterful figure looms over me, watching, laughing, spit collecting in the corners of his wide, hungry mouth as I split myself in two, his shiny boot nudging my hip, his hands creeping where they shouldn’t. The head’s out. No pain for a moment, just me with two faces, one of them squirming, squinting between my thighs, the other thrown back, flushed, exhausted.
It makes a noise. A squeak. I heard it and felt the tiny vibrations shiver up its body inside me. Then, with one final griping pain, the rest of it suddenly comes out in a rush and slithers in mucus and blood onto the quilt. I grab my baby roughly so that he can’t get a hold of it first. I press it to me, without even bothering to look at its unfolding body, urgently hiding it from the figure that is kneeling beside me now, easing me back onto the quilt, his thin lips searching for mine, his smooth, moisturised hands creeping around my deflated belly.
I press the baby’s mouth to my nipple and realise, as its grey legs pound the unfamiliar space in anger, that I have a baby girl, born on the first day of the New Year.
Something else glides out of me, warm and thick and smelling of raw liver. I leave it lying between my legs and, with his finger pressed on his mouth to silence me forever, the figure vanishes, leaving behind the faint tang of pipe tar on my lips.
I wrap myself round my baby to keep her warm, praying that he won’t come back. I’m shaking. The quilt is soaking but I pull it up over my shoulders anyway. I’m too tired to move and as I’m falling asleep I realise that because of Uncle Gustaw, my daughter must be my cousin too.
Robert had instructed Jed Bowman to come back in half an hour. The client wasn’t pleased, his already ruddy cheeks flushing, his cold eyes darting over Robert as if sizing up which bit to thump. Robert clicked the reception door locked as Jed left so that he and Tanya wouldn’t be disturbed. Den was out at a meeting all morning and Alison, his PA, was off sick so it was just the two of them.
‘Right, pick up the phone.’ Robert felt a pang of guilt as he addressed Tanya like an impatient teacher would address a disobedient child. However competently she’d managed Fresh As A Daisy for Erin on Saturday, she’d be clearing her desk by the end of the week if she didn’t get hold of Ruby’s birth certificate. He stood over her as she dialled the number.
‘Put it on speaker phone.’
‘Good morning, Northampton Register Office. How can I help you?
‘Hi,’ Tanya replied. ‘I’m calling about an application for a copy of a birth certificate.’
‘Hold, please, while I transfer you.’
‘They’re always busy,’ Tanya protested, covering the mouthpiece with her hand as her boss stood glaring down at her. His dark hair, stiffened shoulders and deep chest barricaded by crossed arms told Tanya that he wasn’t budging until she got answers. Having worked as Robert’s assistant for many years, she’d always thought him a reasonable man.
An electronic voice told them they were number five in the queue. While he waited, Robert re-read the letter from the General Register Office: ‘. . . unable to issue a copy birth certificate from the information given . . . no record found for Ruby Alice Lucas . . . DOB 1/1/92 . . .’ The details were correct. No doubt. He wondered if Ruby had another middle name that he didn’t know about, that never got used, or if Ruby was indeed a nickname. He would ask Erin. He needed facts.
As they moved forward in the automated queue, Robert considered that Erin might have given Ruby her maiden name after the split from Ruby’s father – a defiant act of completely cutting herself off from the man she didn’t love any more. He could imagine