In Wild Blue Yonder, Scarlett uses her light to heal for the first time when she encounters a new mother who is in pain. I always wondered about that mother: who she was and how crossing paths with Scarlett may have been significant in her own story. So I decided to revisit the healing scene, and explore how it is to be healed by a Cerulean…
This, thought Hina, was a really bad idea.
She’d known it before she’d even left the house. When she was packing the changing bag with nappies and wipes and sleepsuits and colic drops. When she was bundling the baby up in his snowsuit. When she was wrestling the travel system into the car boot. When she was strapping him into the car seat and then into the car and then trying to concentrate on driving and not his little snuffles and murmurs.
It was bad enough being with him at home. Out and about: that involved so much faff. And she’d made herself visible – people could see her. Judge her.
She’d done two circuits of Newquay town centre so far. If she kept walking, the baby kept sleeping, and she could look away from him and pretend she was her old self: striding down the street confidently, out for shopping and a coffee. Only she wasn’t striding confidently, she was shuffling painfully, because every step hurt.
The midwife at the hospital had told her she’d barely feel the Caesarean scar as it healed – she’d be so wrapped up in her beautiful baby. The midwife at the hospital was a liar.
They all were.
No one had told her motherhood would feel like this. If she’d known…
The whole year she’d spent trying for the baby, and then the pregnancy: the nausea, the exhaustion, the swelling, even the little bit of pee that leaked when she sneezed – she’d coasted through it all with a smile, in eager expectation of the bliss to come.
But labour was not bliss: the pain, the fear, Ali just standing there, doing nothing – then the medics everywhere and the rush to theatre and the crushing helplessness. And afterwards, when they put the baby in her arms, it was like the anaesthetic they’d injected into her was permanent. The primal rush of love and joy she’d been promised by the films and the books – absent. She just felt numb.
In the buggy, the baby stirred and let out a mewling cry. She looked down at him and tried not to think, I never should have had you.
‘Shush,’ she said, jiggling the buggy a little.
She walked on. A flash of green in the corner of her eye drew Hina’s attention. She looked, and for a split-second she felt pity at the sight of the hunched, miserable woman in the green parka. Then she realised she was looking at her own reflection in a shop window.
This was a bad idea, she thought again. I should be home. Hiding.
‘But the problem with hiding from yourself,’ she muttered, ‘is that wherever you go, there you are.’
‘Sorry, dear?’ said an elderly lady, hobbling right into her path.
‘Oh, er, nothing,’ said Hina, forcing a smile as she tried to manoeuvre around the woman’s walking frame – the wheels on the buggy had a mind of their own.
The lady peered into the buggy and then smiled warmly at Hina. ‘You do well to chatter away to him, love. Nothing a baby loves more than his mama’s voice.’
Hina forced a smile.
The woman was opening her mouth to say something else, and suddenly Hina was sure that she was going to lose it, right there in the street, and scream at this sweet little old lady.
‘I’m going in here,’ she said desperately, and pointed at the nearest shop. Then, using all her strength and heedless of the hot pain unleashed in her scar, she forced the buggy to turn and barrelled into the sanctuary of the store.
Inside, she quickly realised this was no sanctuary. It was a clothes shop, the biggest in town, and full of girls and women rooting energetically about for a bargain or blow-the-budget treat. She started to back out, but her way was blocked by a girl and a guy walking in, so she scurried forward – and promptly got the buggy entangled in a rack of jeans.
‘Here,’ said the guy from behind, ‘let me,’ and he bent down and quickly freed her.
‘Thank you,’ she said as he stood up.
He smiled at her, but then his brow furrowed and he looked at her intently. His eyes were disconcerting: cloudy grey, and piercing. She had the unnerving sense that somehow he could see into her; that he knew she wasn’t a loving mother, but a cold, unfeeling monster.
She backed away, into a display of handbags, and he reached out a hand to her. But suddenly a voice across the shop called, ‘Jude! Over here,’ and he pulled his hand back and turned and walked away.
She felt strangely bereft, watching him go, especially when he reached his companion. The girl held up a shirt and asked his opinion; he said something that made her roll her eyes, and then they laughed. Their easy way with each other reminded Hina of the old days with Ali. The old days! The baby was only six weeks old, but it felt like an eternity since she and Ali had laughed like these two.
Not that it was Ali’s fault. He was as thoughtful and supportive as ever, and so happy to be a father at last. But worried about her, she could tell.
The thought of Ali made Hina reach out a hand and grab a pair of jeans from the nearby rack. She was imagining his reaction when he came home from work and found her in new clothes. He’d be made up she’d treated herself. He’d squeeze her tight and tell her he was so glad she was feeling like her usual self again.
Before she could change her mind, Hina weaved her way across the shop floor to the doorway beneath the huge TRY IT ON sign. Head down, she’d marched most of the way across the room beyond before she realised her mistake. The changing room was communal, just one space crowded with girls prancing about in their underwear. A year ago, she’d thought little of changing in this room. But that was before she had stretch marks and wobbly bits and a grotesque scar.
She should have done an about turn and marched straight back out: she had no intention of trying on the jeans now. But in that moment she just didn’t have the energy. She was tired, bone-achingly tired, and it felt like someone was stabbing her repeatedly below her naval. Sinking down onto a bench in the far corner, she pulled the buggy in front of her as a barricade and she let the tears come.
‘Excuse me,’ said a voice nearby. ‘What do you think of this top?’
She looked up and saw a blond girl standing next to her, modelling a halterneck. It took a moment for Hina to place her as the friend of the grey-eyed guy.
‘Oh, um, very nice,’ said Hina. It did look good. It brought out the vivid green in her eyes.
‘Cheers!’ said the girl. She peeked around the canopy of the buggy. ‘Ah,’ she said. ‘Isn’t he darling?’
Hina glanced at the baby. He was sleeping soundly still. ‘Thank you,’ she said quietly.
The girl pointed, and Hina glanced down to see she was still clutching the stupid jeans.
‘Oh,’ she said. ‘Well. I don’t know.’
‘I like the diamante detail.’
They had diamantes? Hina hadn’t even noticed. ‘I suppose,’ she said.
‘You going to try them on?’
Hina looked around the room. A loud, orange-skinned girl was fishing for compliments from her mates for her fake breasts, bulging out of a two-sizes-too-tight dress. In fact, Hina was pretty sure her own breasts, swollen with milk, were far bigger and perkier, but not in a million years would she strip off and compete.
‘How about this,’ whispered the blond girl conspiratorially. ‘I’ll cover you while you whip them on.’ She stretched a dress into a makeshift curtain. ‘See?’
The old Hina would have laughed at that. She’d have liked this girl even – maybe even been her friend, had they met in different circumstances. The new Hina said simply, ‘Thank you, but not today. I don’t think I feel up to it.’
‘Okay,’ said the girl brightly.
Too brightly, thought Hina. There something off in her tone.
Discreetly, she watched the girl as she changed into another top. She noticed how the girl’s hand trembled a little as she adjusted the shoulder straps. She saw how her eyes blinked rapidly and her teeth kept worrying at her bottom lip.
Hina realised, quite suddenly, that this pretty, confident, friendly girl was no more okay than she was. Something deep down inside was haunting her.
Words came into her mind, as if whispered in her ear by a guardian angel:
You are not alone.
A wave of feeling washed over Hina. Relief, that was it. And in its wake: hope.
She had to get out of there; she had to think. She’d walk down to the beach, let the sea breeze blow away these past weeks. There was a cafe. Maybe she’d get a coffee.
‘Nice,’ said Hina to the girl, who was frowning into the mirror as she deliberated over a lacy black vest, by way a goodbye.
The girl smiled a thank you. Hina smiled back.
Then she stood up and set to work releasing the stiff brakes on the buggy. There was a knack to it – Ali could do it in a single move – but Hina had yet to master it. She dug the toe of her boot into the release button. Click.
She felt like grinning. It was such a silly little achievement, but it was something, at least. A tickling on her back distracted her.
‘Oh – hang on a sec,’ said the girl, ‘you’ve something… let me just… a little spider, I think… come here… nearly got it… almost…’
Her hand was dancing about on Hina’s back, and Hina craned her neck to catch a look in the mirror and see what the heck was going on. She couldn’t see any insect, only the girl’s hand chasing about so quickly it was a dazzling blur.
‘Got it!’ declared the girl triumphantly and she backed off.
‘Er, thank you,’ said Hina, a little bemused.
The girl collapsed onto the bench, head down, and began fiddling with her belt. Her hands were trembling terribly now. Hina stood there for a moment, wondering whether she should say something. But she didn’t know what to say, so she settled for a silent, You’re not alone either.
Hina was halfway across the room, neatly whizzing the buggy around a pile of discarded clothes, when she was hit by the realisation that something, something pivotal, was missing.
No, he was fine, she saw. Still sleeping, the little lamb.
Changing bag? No, dangling off the handles.
Then it hit her: the pain. It was gone.
Bringing the buggy to a gentle stop, she carefully tensed her abdominal muscles. Nothing. She clenched them, hard. Nothing!
Endorphins – nature’s painkillers. That must be it. Maybe the midwife hadn’t been such a liar after all; she’d told Hina that a change in mood could trigger a change in physiology.
Hina took a moment to send a prayer of thanks heavenward, for the temporary reprieve from the pain and for the chance encounter with the girl. Then she walked on, chatting to little Hari, because she knew he loved nothing more than his mama’s voice.