Chapter no 47

Then She Was Gone

I first brought the baby to see you when she was about six months old. I dressed her up in the most spectacular outfit: a cardigan with a fur collar of all the things. It was in the sales at Monsoon. And a tutu. And shoes! For a baby! Quite ridiculous. But this baby was the prettiest thing you’ve ever seen and I wanted her to really dazzle the life out of you.

The day I brought her to meet you I had the butterflies. I’d called you to warn you that I was coming. I wanted us to be made welcome, for a friendly cup of tea to be poured for me, for you to be ready.



It was a sunny morning, a hopeful day, I felt. You answered the door in a horrible jumper. I’m sorry, but it really was. You never were the snappiest dresser, we had that much in common, but really, this was off the scale. A Christmas present from your horrible daughter, no doubt.

You didn’t look at me. Your eyes went straight to the baby in the car seat that I was holding. I watched your face, I saw you absorb her, this fat-limbed, tawny-skinned, dark-haired plum of a child, so different from that scrawny, miserable thing your wife had made you. You smiled. And then, God bless that bonny child, she smiled right back at you. She kicked her little satin-shod feet. She gurgled at you. It was almost as though she knew. As though she knew that everything hinged on this one moment.

You ushered us in. I put the car seat down on the floor in your lovely kitchen and looked around, enveloped immediately by the sanctity and niceness of being back in your personal space. And strangely I felt more like I belonged there in that moment than I ever had when I was your girlfriend. You made me the cup of tea that I’d dreamed of you making for me. You passed it to me and then you crouched down by the car seat, looked up at me, and said, “May I?”

I said, “Please, go ahead. She’s your daughter, after all.”



You unclipped her straps and she kicked those little feet of hers and held her arms aloft for you. You plucked her out softly but securely and you brought her to your shoulder. I think maybe you thought she was younger than she was, because you hadn’t seen her when she was a newborn. But she showed you that she was a bigger girl than that and turned herself around in your arms, held her hand against your cheek, tugged at the straggles of beard on your face. You made faces at her. She laughed.

“Wow,” you said. “She’s lovely, isn’t she?” “Well, I’m a bit biased of course . . .” “And she’s six months, yes?”

“Yes. Six months on Tuesday.” “Poppy. It’s a pretty name.”

“Isn’t it?” I said. “And it suits her, I think.” “Yes,” you agreed. “It really does.”

You blew a raspberry at her then and she looked at you in utter delight. “And how’s it been?” you asked. “How’s it been for you?”

“It’s been . . .” I plastered a stupid smile on my face and didn’t mention the endless, nightmarish nights when I’d be in her room two, three, four times with endless bottles of milk. I didn’t mention how sometimes I’d put her in her cot for an hour and sit in my kitchen with the radio turned right up so I couldn’t hear her crying. And I certainly didn’t mention the time I seriously toyed with the idea of leaving her on the steps of the hospital just like your own parents had done to you. “It’s been amazing,” I gushed. “She’s a real dream. She sleeps all night. And she smiles. And she eats. And, honestly, Floyd, I can’t think why I didn’t do this a long time ago. I really can’t.”



You really liked this response, I could tell. Probably in your head you’d had me painted as a terrible, sexless aging crone that you were best shot of. And suddenly here I was in your kitchen, looking well (I’d been to the hairdresser’s and made them take my hair back to its original copper. It was the first time I’d been to a hairdresser for anything other than a trim in about twenty years) and with this drop-dead gorgeous baby that I was clearly in love with, like any normal woman would be. And I could feel you then, I really could, reevaluating me, reconfiguring your prejudices. I could feel that we still had a chance.

I stayed for an hour and a half and when I left (at my behest, off to a fictional friend’s for supper), you came out of the house with me, holding the baby in her chair. You insisted on strapping the chair into the backseat. I watched you adjust the straps on the seat, making sure they weren’t too tight around her fat little arms.

“Bye bye, gorgeous Poppy,” you said, kissing your fingertips and placing them against her cheek. “I hope I see you again really, really soon.”

I smiled inscrutably and then drove away, leaving you there on the pavement not knowing where you stood with anything.

And that was exactly where I wanted you.

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