Flight and refuge

He drove without stopping, trying not to think.  If not for the fear of waking Lily, he would have turned on the radio full blast, to drown his thoughts.  Mile after mile, exit after exit, Marnie's face drifted before him, each time different - by turns radiant; sorrowful; laughing; wistful; smiling, and, by far the worst, puzzled.  But always Marnie's face.  Had he not been driving, with his tiny daughter in the car, he would have squeezed his eyes tight shut to block out the images. 

Around full daylight he reached the outskirts of what appeared to be a small town.  He took the exit and slowed the car, looking for somewhere to take refuge, to plan what must follow.  He checked the mirror.  Lily was still sleeping, her tiny hand curled and snuggled under her chin, a half smile curving her little pink, perfect mouth.   He dreaded her waking, knowing her eyes would first seek out Marnie's face, and he knew he would be a poor substitute.  He couldn't even give her the comfort of her favourite toy, Bunkie.  The battered old yellow rabbit with one ear was still half hanging out of her cot, now miles away.

Cruising slowly along unfamiliar streets, he looked for a place to stop.  Lily would need feeding when she woke.  He would find somewhere first and then worry about that.  What had he taken on?  Coping with his own self-inflicted loss, along with the inescapable distress of the infant in the seat behind him, suddenly seemed impossible.  Why was this happening?  Just a few days ago, he and Marnie had been a blissfully happy young couple, enjoying an ordinary life, and the steep learning curve of first-parenthood.  They had both witnessed Lily's first uneasy, wobbly steps one short week ago.  He saw Marnie's face once more, her radiant smile and the pride in her eyes at this wonderful new talent exhibited by the little daughter they both adored.

As if she knew he was thinking about her, Lily woke, first with a whine, then with a cry.  Oh no.  Not yet, please go back to sleep, poppet, he thought.  He drove a little faster in the hope it would lull her back to sleep.  But in the mirror he could see her already start to stretch her chubby arms and move her head from side to side, the usual precursor to a full-on wailing session. 

He slowed, and stopped the car.  Checking up and down the street as he got out and moved into the back seat.  There was nobody around - too early for people to be stirring from their beds yet.  He unbuckled the harness and lifted the hot, drowsy toddler onto his lap.  She looked around her, then at him, and her face crumpled when she realised it was him, not Marnie, holding her and she out a plaintive wail.

''Ma ma maaaaa''   She cried, and he felt her pain and distress right at his core. 

''I know, sweetheart,'' he whispered.  ''I'm so sorry.  I'm so sorry I'm not her.  I want her too, but we can't have her anymore.  She's gone, darling, she's gone and we can't ever have her back.'' 

He cuddled the sobbing Lily close to him, rocking backwards and forwards and stroking the back of her curly head, over and over, until he felt her fine hair become wet with his own tears.

A shadow passed over the roof of the car, unseen by father or child, though a shudder passed though them both as they sat there in inconsolable sorrow.

The End

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