retarded wasnât it, on that island before the river reached the sea at Port Lake? Roley felt more than his left foot faltering. Since childhood thereâd been stories about Lassiter. He knew that whenever the lighthouse beam hit the windows the lunatics began to howl. The sound of the sharks moving through the mullet in the river in the summer made them that much worse. Theyâd escape then, charging off into the water, only to always be washed up drowned, their heads as big as whales by the time they were found because theyâd started out anyway with water or worse on their brain.
âBefore the mother bonds,â Matron Hinley was saying. âAnd it can all just become like a dream that never happened.â
âNo son of ours is going to any such place,â burst out Roley.
âBetter wait till you set eyes on him,â said Ralda.
âIs Noey alright? Can I go in?â
âIt wasnât such a long labour and sheâs had some breakfast. Havenât yer, Noh?â said Ralda, following the matron into the room. âSheâs had a bit of toast and butter.â
When Roley first looked at his wife he saw her lower her eyes in shame. He felt the thinness of panic in the noon air. Noah looked aged and blown, as if she was a sprinter pushed to gallop too many furlongs. He wouldnât have been surprised to see blood gushing out of her nostrils all over those sheets as white as wedding-cake icing.
âIâll leave you now to talk,â said Matron. âBut as itâs a mongoloid boy thatâs been birthed, only one choice.â
In the throes of his disbelief Roley thought, what would that old battleaxe know? Mincing so painfully out of the room like a fat bull on a set of feet too small for its weight.
âThing is,â Noah began, âthe feeling is we should give him up right now. Today. âFore any âtachment can develop. Havenât even let me give him a feed or see him again. But listen, I can pick out his voice amongst the others wailing. Heâs the one screamin.â
âScreaming for his mum, isnât it?â he said, but for a moment he just couldnât think because his mind was so full of fear at this inexplicable turn of events.
In Noahâs exhausted mind, hazy still from pain and fatigue, was rising an old and urgent chantâ The butter box boat, the butter box babyâ for in the brief look sheâd got of the newborn before theyâd bundled him up and away she could see him alright. Uncle Nip. Even though his face was an idiotâs. Like God had steered him all the way back up the Flaggy from the sea where he was long ago meant to have tipped over.
That Little Mister. Going against the current like that, all his limbs, his little fingers, feet and face. All filled up with water. And the colour of river water in his eyes too. Greeny-blue and sooty just at the edges. The exact opposite of Laineyâs little blue sapphires.
It was too late to think about not bonding. Because of that Uncle Nipper one, she already had.
âI told that Matron no baby of ours is going into no such place.â In his panic Roley also looked down.
âBut you havenât seen it, Rol.â He would see its eyes and know, she thought. Heâd see its baby Uncle Nipper-after-a-spree eyes.
âWait here, Noh. Iâll be right back.â
With Ralda leading the way, anxious not to bring that matron back out, he crept along the corridor to the nursery, which he could smell even before Ralda opened the door. Tears and fear, that was the smell.
They had put his and Noahâs baby right away from the others, as if he alone were contaminated.
âDonât say we didnât warn you,â Ralda was saying, her forehead as creased as that which was screaming there in the hospital cradle.
Now God, he prayed silently, what kind of a birthday present is that meant to be? It looked like it was about to explode, as a