The taxi pushed its way into the continuous stream of traffic, the wipers almost failing in their task as the unremitting rain all but blotted out the road.
Joanne sat in the back seat and silently cried. Gentle sobs, held in with great effort tensed her fragile body, as the hot salty tears flowed ceaselessly over her pinched cheeks.
She absently wiped her hand over the condensation as she turned her face to the side window. As if some pretence at normality would fool the driver, she could feel his eyes watching her in the rear vision mirror as she silently prayed there would be no conversation. No questions, and above all, no words of sympathy.
She fumbled in her handbag for her purse and clutched it tightly before opening it. The photograph bore the scars of Alan’s anger, she had used Sellotape to repair the damage as best she could, but the destruction had been so deliberately vicious that some of the pieces had been much too small to even be noticed as she had tried to rescued them from the bedroom floor. The baby’s face was intact. Well, very nearly so. One eye was partially destroyed. Joanne had tried using a pen to ink in the missing pupil, but had forever regretted it.
She held the photo to her mouth and lightly brushed it with her lips, not kissing but nibbling at it, as though she was plucking at living flesh. She could almost feel the soft and warm elasticity of the baby’s skin, but the soft gurgles of delight seemed to be just beyond the range of her hearing. She was sure the sounds were there, but no matter how hard she strained her ears the most beautiful noise in the world remained just a tantalising memory.
The taxi moved off slowly as the traffic lights changed to green. Joanne hadn’t even noticed they had stopped, but the sudden motion broke into her reverie. She put the photo on the seat beside her and watched the traffic beyond the swishing wiper blades for a few moments. She found their movement strangely hypnotic and vaguely wondered why the two blades didn’t become entangled with each other, after all they did appear to touch now and then.
She felt for the photograph as the deluge continued, she could see the raindrops bouncing off the bonnet and the drumming on the roof was deafening. She half smiled to herself, glad that the external noise precluded any thought of conversation by the driver.
When after a few moments her searching fingers failed to find the picture, she looked down at the seat. It was empty. She looked on the floor and moved the small, battered suitcase at her feet. She lifted her purse and handbag from her lap and frantically searched through them. She slid along the seat and ran her hand along the join between the backrest and squab, but no photo.
Joanne took a few deep breaths to calm herself and then carefully and systematically searched everywhere once again. The picture, her last and only connection with the baby, had disappeared into thin air. She closed her eyes and tried to remember the little face, she tried to remember the dimples, the moist bee-sting lips, the little hands that gripped so tightly. But the only image she could see in her mind was a poorly repaired photograph with a scribbled circle where a beautiful eye should have been.
Her eyes snapped open as the tears overflowed once again, her bowed head hiding her face from the driver’s concerned glance. She half expected to find the photo in her hand, but wasn’t unduly disappointed it wasn’t there, maybe without it she would be able to truly remember.
Remember what though? The happiness she had felt when Alan had finally found enough courage to propose? The perfect joy which had engulfed her when the doctor had confirmed her pregnancy? The agony of her prolonged labour, but tempered with Alan’s constant attention and encouragement? The moment of birth, the laughter mingled with the tears, and hearing his first cry. The strong and healthy yell of protest at being introduced to the world?
Joanne could remember all of it. Every single moment was etched deep into her mind, except for her baby’s face. Try as she might she just couldn’t see her baby’s face. She could visualise the photograph, but when she tried to remember that sweet little face there was just a blank, a void, an empty space. Like the emptiness she had felt that warm spring morning, the day that the birds had stopped singing. Forever.
Joanne remembered that day. How could she ever forget it. Six weeks and three days after giving birth and her baby didn’t want to wake up. She had held him close, desperately trying to warm the cold, ivory-like skin. She didn’t understand why the little arms were hanging loosely, or why the tiny mouth didn’t want to suck at her engorged breast.
It had taken both Alan and the doctor a long time to convince Joanne that nothing could be done for the poor little mite. And it was only after the undertaker had taken her baby away that her shock had turned to anger, she had slapped Alan across the face. Accusing him of thinking more of his sexual urges than the welfare of her baby. If he hadn’t forced his attentions on her she would have been up earlier, and her baby would have been all right.
Bewildered and confused, Alan felt as though he had killed his own child. Something snapped in his mind and a red mist descended over his eyes, it only took him a few minutes to take all of the baby’s clothes and toys and bedding into the garden. And even less time to burn them. He burnt the birth certificate and the photo album and when it was done he snatched the last remaining picture of the baby from Joanne’s hands and tore it into tiny pieces in front of her, before scattering them around the room and running from the house.
Joanne looked up as the taxi driver announced they had arrived. She got out, glad he had parked under an awning, and paid the fare.
She stopped and turned around. The driver was holding an old and damaged photograph out to her.
“You left it on the seat.” He said.
Joanne looked at the picture for a long moment before replying. “That is just a silly memory of long ago,” she said. “I’m on my way to see my husband, he had a stroke twenty five years ago. Had a bit of a shock.”
She turned and walked through the automatic doors and followed the signs that would lead her to Palliative Care. And smiled inwardly as she remembered the handsome young man bouncing baby Alan on his knee. Both their faces were a picture of happiness.
© Peter Ryan 15/07/1997