My landlady knocked. The book, warm from my hand,
closed where my reading paused. She had a desperate,
gulping expression like the first life to develop
lungs in the race for evolution.
‘There’s been a delivery for you,’ she said.
She has brought it in whilst also leaning on her
stick. The child seat looked expensive. The kind which
was on a wish list, a down payment on a dream we once
had. Cramped and washed away in a deluge of bloodied
tissue, serenaded by a throbbing gristle choir.
My curiosity shifted between one moment and the next.
The phone was in my hand but my ex had curated her
life so there was no trace of me: a cardboard box in
the shed next to the half painted miniatures of lizard
The hopeful toolbox gathering a film of dust.
My eyes. Her overbite. My nose, which she used to
like. It would turn those fond memories of me into
sentimental ammunition to execute me.
Fatherhood was a wound which never healed. Now it was
ribboning blood, and on cue, he opened his eyes, then
his mouth and screamed.
He was Dash. He would always be Dash. My sinuses
throbbed against the piercing cry as my landlady put
her hands over her ears, vomited what looked like
instant porridge onto the wooden floor and the dogs
protested in horror. The car seat was in my arms and
we were both in my room, the door closed as firm as my
The decades since my own direct experience with babies
crashed into the pressure of too many options and no
idea what he needed. The cool blue and green tubs
offered nothing relevant in terms of nutrition.
Sweating with the panic of a trapped animal, I checked
to see if my pitiful bank balance can even handle a
baby. I left empty-handed except for the marrow-deep
ache which crawled into my head and it was all I could
do to not cry.
I cried anyway. People looked at me as I ran back to
him from the shop. Women sneered, men looked away, but
their amused contempt was nothing compared to the
self-loathing in my head. There was something which
looked like a baby in my room, waiting for me to feed
him. My legs shook with exhaustion as I ran up the
stairs and saw him laid on the bed, thin legs kicking
in the air. The air stank of spoiled milk and rancid
‘You were only good for tea and sympathy, and I don’t
drink tea,’ he said.
His words throbbed in my skull as I stood against the
door, eyes filling with tears.
‘No wonder she doesn’t talk to you, you’re not useful
to her,’ he said.
His toothless smile and boiled quail’s egg eyes sent
bile into the back of my throat.
‘Terry cuts her hair, Gary’s a builder, Unwin fixes
her computer. What did you do?’ he said.
The atavistic insecurity wanted to make me silent, but
there was still some courage in me even as the soft,
pink tumour squirmed on the slate-grey weighted
‘I loved her,’ I said.
His laugh whipped across my back, stung until my eyes
watered. The tears which had accompanied the birth of
my first living child were celebratory, but these were
a reaction to the horror which pulsed and spat spite
into the air.
The pillow on the bed offered itself like a hateful
samaritan, but the idea of using it to smother the
twisted little homunculus made my gums itch with
disgust. Dash tried to lift his head to look at me.
‘You wouldn’t dare,’ he said.
The challenge in his voice was bold, covered in
curlicues of dark hair. It took my legs out from under
me. Making a mask of my hands, I breathed in the
cologne of failure, hoping when I looked again, Dash
wouldn’t be there. The heated, metallic stink of my
cigarette and coffee breath, duty-free and instant,
like so much of my post-relationship life, hung in my
He had sat up, his torso lengthened to support his
head, which was still acromegalic. The smile was a
suspect’s lineup of an overbite, resting on his lower
lip. My mask went back on, and I breathed until the
need for a cigarette had me search my pockets. My
hands were furred, pale crabs craving tobacco.
‘You’ll give me cancer,’ he said.
Growth had given him a smirk of derision. With shaking
fingers, I held the wizened roll up to my lips and lit
it, feeling the nicotine soothe me.
‘You are fucking cancer,’ I said.
He laughed, and the urge to reach out and slap him was
overwhelming. This made him laugh even harder as the
burning tip of the roll-up whispered how much he would
scream if I jabbed it into his hateful face. Heaven
smiled at the screams of a burned child, but the idea
brought tears to my eyes.
The tears blurred my view of him, but he had
mushroomed, augmenting each of his monstrous cells
until his fontanelle pressed against the ceiling. His
odour became more intense, rough digits jabbed into my
nostrils, grabbing my tongue like it wanted to wrench
‘I know all this, but I loved the idea of us, and
you,’ I said.
He raised the ridges of flesh which could have been
eyebrows and chuckled.
‘Not enough to deal with the things that killed me,’
Her body had managed it without my help. She met my
tearful embrace with a slight flinch, which I
pretended not to notice. She wept for herself, and
then we pretended to carry on for a few months
afterward. Denial cost me two jobs, then the
relationship. She had sat there, at the side of the
bed, turned and told me ‘this’ was making her feel
ill. She had spat the word, as if describing a lump in
her breast and made me cry again. This room was a
cocoon of downwardly mobile convalescence, and still
the fumes of the past leaked in and made everything
There was silence until he left. The shuddering didn’t
stop, even as I pleaded, then screamed at the top of
my voice for everything lost in the fire of my anxiety
and her indifference. She claimed this was tough love.
Well, it was tough for me but she moved on before I
moved out, retreated to mountains of notebooks and
endless gazing hours at the soothing patterns of
bleeps on her phone.
Back from the hospital with a white paper gift-bag of
medicine, like the parties they never invited me to,
in the room which was cleaned like a crime scene or an
exorcism. Closing the door and believing this would be
a wonderful story to tell people whom my weakness did
not appall someday.
My landlady knocked.
There were other women and their sins to account for.
Turning on my side, I reached for the white paper bag
and wondered how many pills I could take before she
opened the door and told me what was waiting
My landlady knocked. The book, warm from my hand,