Catriona Savage was the victim of a combination of her mother's selfishness and her father's indifference. Of, course, they were not her real parents. Her birth parents were Colin and Marie Pleasance, two people who were neither selfish nor indifferent.
Eighteen and a half years earlier, Madge Savage had given birth to a beautiful baby girl. On the same day, Marie Pleasance had given birth to a slightly more beautiful baby girl.
Madge and Marie were in adjoining beds in the post-natal ward, and Madge was not slow to notice the difference in temperament between her neonate and that of her room-mate. She was even less slow to notice the uncanny resemblance between the two newborns. Some people say that all babies look the same. But a mother can always tell which child is hers. A mother recognises the smell of their own baby.
Madge took a lot of interest in the newborn baby called Bella. Her Cat had slightly prettier ears than Marie's Bella, but that was probably the only thing in her favour. Exquisite ears, one of the midwives on the ward had said, when she handed the mewling child with the screwed up face to her in the delivery room. She had expected the face to stop being screwed up and unpleasant by the following day, but, if anything, it was worse. She might have coped with that, but the brat was continually crying. It was an irritating cry, too, a constant whine. She looked at the face and winced at the idea of the next few months of having to listen to that awful noise. She looked at the placid face of the baby in Marie's arms. That baby never seemed to cry at all. Her face wasn't screwed up and unpleasant; had probably not been unpleasant even in the delivery room, she imagined. But when the babies were asleep, they looked incredibly similar. Even Marie had commented on it. ''They could be twins, Madge, couldn't they?''
The day they were due to be discharged home, Marie had risen early and packed her case, then gone for a bath. Madge looked at the sleeping Bella, and the sleeping Cat, with her screwed up face, and then at the plastic identity bracelets on their wrists. In those days, these bracelets were simple, thin plastic, easily stretched. Pink for a girl and blue for a boy. There was no security tag on the child's ankle which would sound an alarm if the child were removed from the ward. This innovation would not be developed for years yet. Just one bracelet on the wrist.
She fiddled with the bracelet on her own baby's wrist, wriggled her finger underneath it, stretched it as far as she could, then worked it over Cat's screwed up fist. Then she went over to the placidly sleeping Bella, Her bracelet was already loosely fastened, so it needed less stretching to remove it. She slipped Cat's bracelet over Bella's loosely-clenched fist, and onto her chubby wrist. Then she picked Bella up, put her on the bed, and picked up Cat,and put her into Bella's crib. Minutes later, Catriona Savage was wearing a bracelet which proclaimed her to be female infant of Marie Pleasance.
When Marie returned from her bath, she looked over at Madge. She was feeding her baby, who seemed quieter than usual, thank goodness, then she went to Bella's crib. She thought that Bella looked a little troubled, in her sleep, but dismissed it as wind. She dressed, then sat on the bed, and waited for Colin to arrive, to collect her to take her and her beautiful Bella home. Colin and Marie said goodbye and good luck to Madge, and made their way to the car. As Marie held Bella close, she imagined that her newborn didn't smell quite the same as before, but thought it was just her imagination. She knew that new mothers' hormones were ''all over the place'' and could play havoc with their senses. Colin stroked Bella's head and said he'd never noticed before just how beautiful her ears were.
Sid Savage arrived at the hospital half an hour later, in a foul mood. Like his wife, he didn't relish the prospect of months of sleepless nights with this fretful and unpleasant-faced infant, and had been dreading the moment he had to take it home. He was pleasantly surprised to see that the child was quiet, even though she was awake, and that its face looked relaxed, for a change.
''You got the right kid, there, Madgie?'' he said, sneering, as he picked up Madge's case.
Madge just smiled, and followed him to the car park, carrying her sweet-faced, sweet-smelling, sweet-natured Catriona.