‘Is there a heartbeat, can you hear a heartbeat?’
She felt her doctor’s cool hands on her belly. It allowed her to keep her fears at bay.
‘Yes, all’s well.’
She knew she was not afraid for the baby, but for her sanity. Being pregnant had not been something she’d planned or prepared for. Anything out of the ordinary made her concerned and edgy.
‘What’s got into you? Your pregnancy is fine, all is good, and the baby is doing well.’ Her doctor reassured her.
The doctor was her rock. She knew she could trust her. Her doctor was kind and patient. It was one of the reasons she chose her. From the first time she visited her, still debating whether to keep this pregnancy or not, she felt safe with her. Her doctor was her lifeline to sanity. She called her ‘Grace’ in her mind.
God knows how much I need it.
Though fully informed about her situation, the doctor never pressured her in any direction. She only gave her space to articulate her fears, doubts and questions while offering the medical information she needed or the various options she had.
In the end she’d chosen to keep the baby. She knew her doctor would honour her promise to be by her side all the way through the pregnancy. She needed a friend who would not judge or criticize her for her life decisions.
But today was different. Today she felt a tone of disapproval about her fears emanating from the doctor, as if it was not normal to be afraid for your unborn child.
‘Do you want to tell me what’s troubling you?’
If only she knew…
‘Is it possible to hear your baby talk?’
The doctor blinked in surprise, then smiled. ‘I don’t know about hearing your baby talking, but we know it’s good to talk to them. It creates a bond.’
‘So, I’m not going crazy if I hear her talking to me?’
‘No. You’re not. I’m happy to hear you are connecting with your child, even in your circumstances. By the way, how do you know it’s a ”her”? You didn’t want to know the gender.’
‘She told me.’
Her doctor chose her next words carefully. ‘I see. What else has she said to you?’
‘You don’t want to know. You’ll just think I’m going crazy.’
‘I’m your physician and friend; everything that affects you is part of my job.’
She stared at her doctor, too ashamed to respond. Instead, she gave her a shy smile. She hoped it would be enough to stop the doctor from prodding. She started playing with her wedding ring, rubbing, and twisting it to cover for the silence between them.
The silence seemed to stretch between them. She wanted to tell Grace everything, but the words seemed to stick in her throat like fish bones. Finally, the doctor sighed, glancing at the clock.
‘That’s all the time we have, I’m afraid. My next patient is waiting. Maybe I can come by your place tomorrow and we’ll go out for lunch? Oh…scratch that, I know you can’t.’
‘No… that will be great, but I’ll text you when I can and where.’
She got off the treatment table, brushed down her dress and walked out.
Back at home she realized how late the time was. She looked around the house, checking it over. It was in an impeccable order, there was nothing out of place.
She went to the kitchen and took out some Tupperware boxes she had prepared that morning. She started warming it in the microwave, double-checking the time.
‘Mum.’ A small voice whispered.
She focused on the microwave going round and round. She refused to listen to the small voice emanating from deep inside her. The voice grew in volume.
‘No,’ she answered in her mind, forcing herself to stay calm. ‘You’re not real.’
‘I am real,’ the little voice said, ‘and I think you know that too.’
‘What do you want?’
‘You know what I want.’
‘You’re not real… you’re not real,’ she kept repeating in her mind, ‘I can’t do it’.
‘Well… he’s coming… he’s always on time… you better be ready…’
‘Stop it … just stop it!’ She took a deep breath and tried to calm her heartbeat that ricocheted around her ribs like a caged bird.
‘Silly woman, you can’t stop me… I’m you’
‘Hey honey, I’m home!’ Her husband’s voice was light as he called out this stereotypical sitcom line. ‘What a day. I need my beer.’
She put the plate on a tray, fetching his Budweiser from the fridge. She poured it into a glass, making sure no drop was spilled. She checked the food she’d heated up. Not too hot and not too cold. Just the way he liked it. She plated up the food, ensuring it was presented well. Her husband liked his meals laid out properly. ‘You eat with your eyes first,’ he always said.
She carried the tray through to the living room; her husband was already plopped on the sofa opposite the TV. She set the tray down on the coffee table in front of him and remained standing, waiting to hear what his complaint would be this time. When there was none, she turned to leave.
‘How was your check-up today?’
‘Fine. The baby’s doing well.’
She did not add her own fears about the baby. Who would believe her if she told them she’s afraid the devil is growing inside her? That was the stuff of nightmares Hollywood put in shiny silver packaging and charged four ninety-nine a month on the streaming platform of your choice.
She walked back to the kitchen and made a small salad for herself. As she chopped and washed lettuce, she felt the slice of the knife on her finger. It did not hurt. She’d become numb to pain a long time ago. As she watched blood well up from the wound, that voice cut through her thoughts again.
‘You have a choice. Get rid of him.’
‘No. This isn’t happening.’
‘it’s kill or be killed and you know it.’
‘No!’ She murmured, ‘He’s got his problems, I know that. But he’d never …’
The voice did not answer and somehow it was even worse. What if the baby was right?
She tried to return to making her dinner but was unable to keep steady. She sat down on a kitchen chair and reached out for her bag. She rooted through it, searching for her iPod and earphones. She grabbed the iPod plugged in the earphones and blasted the music in her ears.
It worked. The music distracted her and meant she could breathe easier. The music pumping in her ears, she took tentative bites of her salad. He’d insisted years ago she keep her figure, so she wasn’t allowed to eat the same food as her husband. She dreaded the inevitable weight gain of pregnancy. She concentrated on the music, rather than the bland food.
Suddenly: pain. An open hand hit the back of her head, hard. She almost fell off her chair with the force. The salad bowl fell from her hands, smashing on the kitchen tiles. Stupefied, she removed the earphones and blinked, thoughts reeling. Her husband was standing over her, his face contorted with fury.
‘Are you deaf? I’ve been calling for you for five minutes!’
Too late. Her husband was on a roll. He balled up his fist and brought it down again; forewarned this time, she managed to dodge so this time, but not fast enough. She cried out as his fist connected with her collarbone.
‘Please … don’t!’
No mercy was forthcoming from her husband. Hours later, she felt safe enough to get up from the floor, knowing he had left the house to go to his usual bar. The one good thing she could tell herself during his fit of rage was it blocked her from hearing the baby talk.
‘I told you, you need to get away from him. If you ever want me safe you must get rid of him …’
She knew she had to leave him. But where would she go? Her parents would certainly not take her. She had no profession, no income and nobody who would help her. She heard about organisations that help women like her, but she was too afraid to approach them for the fear of someone seeing her going in the building. She couldn’t even look online or on her phone because he checked them daily. Even erasing her browser history would bring forth his suspicions and yet more rage.
No. It was no use, she was stuck with him. Besides, she still remembered the times before. Before he was sent to that damn war. Before he came back as a shadow of his own self; before the devil had taken his soul. She still longed for that young man who was her loving partner who always made sure she was taken care of.
‘He’s not that anymore. you don’t need him!’
She got up from the floor, her body screaming with pain. The black bruises were appearing on her arms that had covered her head as he’d rained down blows on her. She dragged herself to the bathroom and started filling the bath. She added salts to help soothe her sore muscles.
Once the bath was full, she slipped into it gently. Each movement she took was a balancing act between pain and bravery. As she submerged in the warm water, that voice pierced her thoughts again. She took a deep breath, held her breath and sank down to the bottom of the bath so that the water would cover her ears.
She was disappointed again.
Kill him… kill him… kill him…
No matter how long she held her breath underwater, she could not block out the voice. Unable to hold her breath any longer, she emerged from under the water.
‘No.’ She hissed to herself, ‘No!’
Finally, the voice was quiet. She allowed herself a few more minutes in the warm relaxing water. Exhaustion after her husband’s attack overcame her. She drifted off into sleep.
She woke up an hour later. The water was cold. Shivering, she got out, wrapping herself in a bathrobe and looked at her face in the mirror. As expected, she had a black eye and a cut on her temple where his ring hit her. She combed her hair in such a way that would cover it. There was nothing she could do about her eye, except remain at home until it healed.
She walked into her bedroom, hoping he had not yet returned from his nightly drinking binge. To her relief he wasn’t there. She could slip into her bed hoping to find relief in her sleep.
She was fortunate that night; sleep came easily to her. She found herself walking in a forest through the mists. She knew she was dreaming.
In the dream, her body felt the chill around her. It was no ordinary forest, and she knew she had to find a way out of it otherwise she would die. Every step she took the trees and the mists closed on her. She wanted to scream; she opened her mouth to scream but no sound came out of it.
‘If only I could get out of this mist, I’ll be able to wake up.’ She thought.
She started ploughing her way through the mist, only to discover the harder she struggled, the stronger the threat became. She was suffocating. It was as if something, or someone, was pressing against her chest, preventing her from breathing.
She had to find a way out of this dream.
Her arms pushed through the mist. When she finally got through it, instead of waking up, she found herself trapped within cobwebs. As she thrashed against the webs, she felt something sharp in her hand.
She grabbed it, using it to cut through. There was a rhythm in her movements; she could hear some distant music that helped her move and cut the webs. Her whole body was twitching and swirling as if she was a dancer cutting through air. With the beats, she became clear of the words that accompanied the music.
Kill, kill, kill…
The webs finally gave way. She fell onto the forest ground, breathless and shaking. She prayed she would wake up from this strange dream. She sensed something sticky and wet on her hands and body. She opened her eyes and a scream tore from her lungs as she awoke.
All around her.
It was everywhere.
She was back in her bedroom. She could hear her baby calling to her.
‘You’re free. no more devil, only me…’
Her bedroom looked as if a hurricane had swirled through it. The sheets on her bed were tangled, torn, and smeared with crimson. She glanced at her hands. They were dripping with blood. She whimpered in fear as she caught sight of something at the foot of the bed.
Her own private devil.
She knelt next to her husband’s unmoving body. She wanted to check if there was a pulse but had no energy or courage to do it.
There was only one person who could help her.
She dialled the number. In less than fifteen minutes her doctor was beside her. She knew she didn’t have to explain anything to her. Grace knew the devil inside of her had taken care of the other one in front of them right now.
‘Is there a heartbeat, can you hear a heartbeat?’
‘No. All’s well now.’