Or Nothing At All
hardly hear the door close behind you; it seems some distance
off and you focus on the diminutive blanketed body close to your
breast. You notice the pink blanket; take in all the fibre, the
way the pattern runs in and out of the plain pink and white. You
move your fingers, clear the blanket from the body, and look at
the petite off-white features of the baby.
for a while, the nurse had said. Its best not
to leave it too long. And all the while you were gazing
at the package she held closely in her arms as if it were your
birthday and she was about to offer you a gift.
can I be alone with her? you asked, not taking your eyes
from your daughter, not letting one second pass away from the
sight of her.
nurse pointed to a room along the corridor. Youll
be alone there. No one will disturb you. You walked with
her to the room and as she opened the door a smell hit you, which
momentarily made you feel nauseous. Take your time. Be positive,
Clara. The words hung around you like shadows and seemed
to move with you as you walked to the chair by the window.
holding the baby and standing by the window, you want to look
at every inch of the pale features until they are branded into
your memory, sealed into your mind never to be lost. The stillness
tears a small hole in your heart and slowly worms into your very
depths. You hear far off sounds from the traffic from the road,
the sounds of voices along the corridor, the faint murmur of your
heart beating against your daughters head.
it a girl? you had asked excitedly as the last push had
eased things for you.
a voice replied. And there was a slight uncertainty in the voice.
A controlled panic seemed to be in the air. Bodies moved away
from you, your daughter was whisked off across the room, and you
stared at them as if it was a game and you were being left out.
the matter? you asked, sitting up in the bed, sensing a
panic rising in your voice. Is there something wrong?
small head is motionless as if your daughter was sleeping. A name,
you ask, she must have a name. And you rush through all the names
you and Richard had gone through, but none seemed to suit the
You look away from the face and look at the orange curtains. A
name now seems so important; seems as important as anything ever
will from this day onwards. You look out at the grey skies and
shudder. The room seems so large now that you feel as if you were
a small speck in a large universe that is spinning out and off
to nowhere for all eternity.
babys not breathing, a nurse had said. We need
to take measures. And then she was gone and no one seemed
to know you were there, as if you had been forgotten, a mere onlooker.
isnt she breathing? Cant you do something? you
asked. But no one seemed to hear you. The room was full of bodies
moving and rushing and you were sitting there staring at them
like a ghost watching a drama unfold from some other sphere. Help
her, you said. Your words seemed to drop to the floor and
then they had gone out of the room and you were alone, staring
at the door, taking in its whiteness, the bland whiteness that
you will never forget.
you say to the room and the baby in your arms. Rachel. Mummys
here. You move back from the window, turn, walk towards
the bed, and sit down. The white features are so still that it
seems to you as if Rachel is holding her breath like a child in
play, pretending to be diving under water. You move your finger
along the cheek. The sensation of touch. You want to hold her
for always and not let her go. Want to wrap her inside your nightgown
and run off with her away from all these interfering people, and
eyes, and opinions, and just find a small area to look and talk
and listen to the babys silence. You kiss the forehead gently
as if you were afraid to waken her. The tiny nose seems so perfect.
The closed eyes like sealed parcels. You want them to open, to
reveal to you two small eyes of blue, alive with interest and
wonder. You want the sound of breathing to begin from Rachels
chest. But nothing happens. All is still. Rachel? Mummys
here, you whisper. You breathe in deeply. The sounds outside
the room are as nothing now. The traffic far off out side seems
a world away.
open the blanket and look at the tiny feet. They are slightly
curled. You touch them with your finger as if you might tickle
them into life. But they do not move. You stare at the small thin
legs. And for a moment, you imagine they kick into life and a
wail from the throat of Rachel will bring a deep intake of breath,
but it doesnt happen. Only stillness.
You take Rachels hand, open the tiny fist, and recall a
doll you once had that you loved that had hands just like these.
You want the hand to squeeze yours, to have the tiny finger surround
your finger and hold on to it and squeeze and squeeze until you
could barely even think of it anymore and move your finger away
as if you had been electrocuted.
had Rachel been conceived? you wonder, moving your finger
over the cheek once more. That weekend when Richard was home from
Saudi Arabia. He had to return again and he said to make the most
of it and had booked you both into that hotel by the coast where
you had had your honeymoon. Yes, you say, that was it. That weekend.
Seems ages now. Seems almost a waste that time in bed together.
That laughter and fun.
from the corridor come closer and the door opens. Are you
all right, Clara? the nurse asks from the door.
nod. Words dont come. You fold Rachel close to you and search
for words. Just a little more time, you say.
must take her from you soon, she says. It isnt
going to be easier by holding her for too long. Then she
goes out and her footsteps go down the corridor and silence returns.
is Mummy to do, Rachel? you ask. You look around the room,
at the bare green walls and empty beds. Your eyes go off to the
windows and the grey skies outside. You stand up, carry the baby
along the floor, and stand looking out for a few moments. I
cant let you go off alone, you murmur to the room
and baby. You hold Rachel to your breast, and with a free hand
you pull wide the window to let in air. You try the door that
leads onto the balcony and it opens. You sense a thrill of release.
You walk out onto the balcony and breathe in the air. The baby
is pressed tight against you as if it were about to seek a dug
to drink, but it is motionless and you sense a fullness in your
look over the balcony at the area below. It seems so small a world
down below. The greyness seems so depressing. Not even the weak
sun can move it. Looking at Rachel, you kiss her lips. Feel the
coldness and want them to open and cry. But they are still and
pink, slightly purple.
one hand holding Rachel, you climb the steel bar and sit on the
balcony wall looking at the far off horizon. How far off it all
looks. Grey and dull. Lifeless as Rachel. You lean forward and
hold tight to the parcel like a child leaping from a wall in a
game long forgotten and far away.
Collett is a fifty-eight-year-old poet who has been writing
since 1972. He has had two slim volumes of poems published in
1974 and 1978. Since that time he has had poems printed in anthologies,
magazines, and newspapers.