Wonderful lasted for the rest of the night. Rilla finished the 4 or 5 mouthfuls of prunes, washed it down with some mummy milk, and, after burping loudly from both ends and having a clean nappy, fell asleep practically before she was in her cot. She still looked tiny, in the great wooden expanse of posts and rails, but she was almost too big for her Moses Basket. I’d have to get a playpen, soon… thoughts trailing off, I went back to find Richard, and we had a good long chat over what turned into the best part of 3 bottles of wine. It was far too late for him to go home, by the time we’d finished, so Richard decided to stay over. As my king-sized bed was more than adequate sleeping room for both of us, Rich slid into bed with me (after checking to be sure that I was ‘decent’; my long-sleeved, linen nightgown with its almost comically pastoral pattern of lambs, butterflies, and ducks was apparently suitable) and within minutes, I was asleep. I assume Richard was, as well, since when I woke up the next morning, it was to the sound of the shower running, and a hint of murmuring from the baby monitor that necessitated my attention.
Oh. Sweet. Isis.
When I walked into the room of my darling daughter, my little lamb, my sweet sunshine, the smell almost knocked me down. It was barely 6 a.m., and Super-Sleeper was, in fact, still dozing—but she was also covered in soft, blackish sludge, from her waist to her ankles. Fighting back the urge to gag, I ran to the bathroom, grabbed her baby bath, and, stripping her down as gently, yet swiftly, as I could, I placed her into the tub itself. Carrying it back to the bathroom, I set it on the massive countertop (real marble, royal blue, I chose it myself) and began running the water in one of the sinks (I have his and hers sinks, so what, it would be too much empty space otherwise—I’m telling you, my house is ridiculously spacious). When the water was the right temperature, I placed the baby bath, with Rilla still inside, under the stream; she made a startled face, looked at me like I’d gone nuts, and then, realizing she was having a bath, began to gurgle and stick her fingers under the water.
Richard, who must have heard Rilla, had turned off the shower almost instantly, and as soon as he’d given himself a cursory rub with a towel, he nipped into my bedroom, and grabbed a dressing gown (his dressing gown, he keeps it here along with a few other things, I might have mentioned). Stepping back into the bathroom, he took a look in the sink, and, nose wrinkling at the smell, asked, “May I assist, in some way?” I shook my head, and continued sponging Rilla off, and periodically tipping the baby bath up a little, to let the cloudy brownish water run into the drain. He opened his mouth as if to make a comment.
“Don’t,” I said fiercely. “Don’t even say it. All babies have days like this. She’s been like this before. There’s no reason to assume it was the prunes.”
“Of course not,” Richard said, biting his lip and trying not to chuckle. I gave in, and let out a breathy laugh myself.
“Although I will admit,” I said, shaking my head, “It does look quite a bit like prunes, even coming out this end,” and as Rich cautiously inhaled, he added, “Smells rather sweet, as well.”
“All babies have naturally sweet-swelling bowel movements. It’s the result of their bland, liquid diet,” I quoted primly, and then, catching his eye, gave up and laughed again. Looking down at Rilla, I said smilingly, “But maybe I’ll give you some banana, next time, eh? And maybe you can wait another couple of weeks before you start on solid food.” Rilla, no doubt unaware that I was talking about curtailing her food intake, just giggled and splashed happily, in water that was finally starting to be more clear than brown. By the time Richard left (“I’m off work today, but I need to stop by the office briefly, shall we meet in town for lunch?”) Rilla was clean, dressed in a bright red jumpsuit covered in blue and purple flowers, and drinking away at the breakfast nature intended. Richard and I had agreed to meet at noon in a less-than-busy section of town, and find either a quiet pub or a little café, so once Rilla had finished breakfast, I took a quick shower, and went to find something to wear.
Setting Rilla on my bed, I fenced her in with a 3-sided wall of pillows, and propped her into a sitting position facing my walk-in closet. Nipping in and out several times, I showed her a variety of outfits; oddly enough, I wanted to look my best for this little outing, because it felt like ages since we’d gone anywhere. Holding up a burgundy suit that most of my magazine editors had seen me in, I asked, “What do you think? Too formal?” and honestly, it looked like she nodded. “Fair enough—what about this?” I asked, holding up a pair of jeans and a semi-sheer, short-sleeved white blouse, with a bright pink vest for underneath. “Not quite right for a beautiful summer’s day, is it?” I asked, and Rilla, again, gave me a look of agreement. “You’re such a clever girl,” I said fondly, while holding up 2 or 3 more outfits, and seemingly being encouraged to discard them as well.
Then, from the depths of my closet, I pulled out an ankle-length, teal-and-purple, paisley-patterned skirt—it was decidedly boho, and not the kind of thing I wear too often—and Rilla burst into delighted giggles. Surprised, I turned to look at her, saying, “This one? Are you sure?” but her happy look of excitement brooked no disagreement. I slipped into the skirt, an off-the-shoulder peasant blouse (in white!) and a pair of strappy sandals, added a woven leather belt and some fantastic, belly-dancer-esque earrings, and pinned my hair away from my face, but still down at the back, with several tiny, ornate bronze clips.
“Light make-up today, do you think?” I asked my personal stylist, and I took her joyful gurgle as assent. Very well. Black mascara as usual, but I swapped my black eyeliner for navy blue, and my usual red or fuchsia or purple lipstick, I swapped for rose pink. It took me about half an hour to pack a bag for Rilla and dig out an old denim satchel I used to use for outings to the beach (it looked good with my outfit, actually) and then, after changing her nappy and grabbing a couple of soft toys, I perched a floppy white sunhat on Rilla’s head, plopped her into her pram, and strolled out the door.
“We’re gonna do a little shopping, before we meet up with Uncle Richard,” I explained, as if she would be wondering why we were leaving so early. “Mummy wants to buy some new towels for the bathroom, and a cover for the sofa—but don’t worry, that’s not your fault!—and she’s also going to get some paint for the kitchen. And maybe order some new chairs and a new table. What do you think?”
Chattering away brightly to Rilla, admiring my new, softer look in shop windows, buying over £500 worth of home wares, and eventually having a very nice lunch with Richard, all allowed me to push thoughts of my mental health as far to the back of my mind as they would go. Unfortunately, when I woke up at 3 a.m. the next morning, a strangled cry trapped in my throat, and the memory of a blonde man with cruel clear eyes boring into my skull, the thoughts returned. Once I’d got my breathing back, I boiled the kettle, made myself some strong English Breakfast Tea with lots of sugar and milk, and sat down at my computer.
Everything you need to find, you can find on the Internet, I reasoned—although doing a search for ‘shrinks’ near my postcode probably wasn’t ideal. What was I looking for, then? Finally, I settled on the word ‘therapist’, and from half-3 until nearly 5 a.m., I browsed a list longer than my arm. Then, to kill time, I had a bath, cooked some breakfast, got Rilla up, did some housework, called Richard for a quick chat, and finally, at 1 minute past 9, I rang one of the numbers on the list. Then I hung up. Then, calling myself a tool, I rang back, and waited, feeling like an emotional cripple and a mental disaster.
The scariest words I will ever hear, were the chirpy, somehow soothing tones of a receptionist who actually sounded blonde, as she smiled a polite, “Dr. Kilpatrick’s office, how may I help you?” into the phone.