The Fower Quarters: 07 - A Very Special Child
Author(s): Sheena Blackhall
Copyright holder(s): Sheena Blackhall
Paddy's Sundays were spent at the Crown and Anchor, wiping the froth from a glass of stout with his luxuriant blond whiskers, those very whiskers that had originally inflamed Joan's desire for him; He'd greatly resembled a woodcut she had seen of Caractacus, (that Celtic warrior-king who led the Welsh against the Roman legions) drawn by some Pre-Raphaelite artist with a passion for the studied noble pose. How ridiculous, in retrospect, the things that attract one human being to another. Paddy had turned out nothing like Caractacus. From the whiskers down, he'd proved to be one hundred percent walrus. Even his sweat smelt vaguely fishy. Every day he dragged himself home from the pub and beached himself peacefully on the sofa - very like a walrus; very much a walrus. When Joan came back from the office, there he would be, lying prone, a huge bull walrus with magnificent whiskers, rolling his huge brown walrus eyes limply in her direction.
"What's for tea, dear?" he'd ask. She would visualise herself tossing him a raw haddock, as she had seen circus trainers do, before she clumped through to the kitchen to chop the vegetables. It wasn't as if he paid his way. He was only a glorified ornament really, a decorative matrimonial appendage. Once, she'd just stopped herself from absent-mindedly dusting him. The mortgage, the bills, the household expenses all came out of her salary.
"You wouldn't take a man's giro off him, would you?" he would grunt plaintively. "After all, I do dig the garden. .."
Certainly, somebody or something did dig the garden, that was an undeniable fact. Strange though that the garden was ridged and furrowed so symmetrically, so mechanically and so well. She was still trying to work out how Paddy's friend Neil contrived to get a tractor and plough through the small garden gate. Maybe they hitched the plough to a Shetland pony. Maybe they bribed an entrepreneurial mole to do the deed. She refused to believe Paddy had put foot to spade, since he never broke sweat, not even at their most intimate moments, which fortunately were becoming increasingly rare. At such times, the fishy-sweat stench of him reminded her uncomfortably of a childhood visit to the seaside in Majorca, when a friendly octopus had wrapped itself round her leg in the manner of an amorous corgi. At such times, however, his skin glistened wet and clammy, much like a basking walrus, very like it indeed.
She would have put up with him even then if it had not been for his distressing sociability. Cats drag mice, vermin and dead birds in from the wider world. Paddy dragged in impecunious dossers and charismatic chancers of every description. In the early days of the marriage, she had complained about this habit. And then, of course, she'd been given the guilt trip - no expense spared; the top of the range, made to measure, bespoke guilt trip.
"Well, if you were able to have kids, I wouldn't need to have friends in. And it's not very Christian of you, is it, to turn folk away who're suffering? What would all your nice, middle-class Christian friends think if I was tell them what you're really like? If I was to spill the moral beans about you? And after all, isn't it better to give than to receive?"
"But not when I'm the only one doing the giving," Joan would mutter to herself. Yet Paddy's gregariousness wasn't exactly a ground for divorce. True, Paddy drank. True, Paddy was unemployed for most of the time. But so was half the city. And she didn't mind him being drunk. Drunk, he slept. No clamping of octopus tentacles round her breasts. No demands for food, for heat, for attention. Just a basking walrus that she could step round and over like an old log. Getting a bona-fide husband had been something of a coup at her age - she'd been thirty-something when she married - it was like a safari hunter finally bagging a prize tiger after an unconscionably lengthy stalk. Unfortunately, husbands weren't actually like tigers. Once you'd caught and skinned them, they didn't obligingly sit intriguingly before the fireplace like a trophy of the chase. No, they dragged in all manner of interesting reptilia, like Lazarus the tattooed raver from Dunoon, high on Ecstasy; or Mumbling Molly, the kleptomaniac granny with alopecia that Paddy had befriended on a park bench; or Pea-Green Nightingale, a busker from the Harbour, whose nickname Joan couldn't work out until she stripped the sheets from the guest room after he upped and left with her new video player and a canteen of cutlery.
The Pea Green incident had galvanised her into attending the infertility clinic. Paddy had been seen first, a very quick assessment. With Joan, however, the consultant had taken a great deal longer. If they did have a child, Joan reasoned, Paddy would have a focus in life. He could be a house-husband. He wouldn't have time to pub-crawl or gutter-dredge. Like a damaged Airfix model plane, her marriage could be glued together by a child. True, as a relationship it would never soar like an eagle, but it might manage a couple of turns round the runway like a hamstrung Pegasus.
The consultant, Dr Typhon Necropolis, was an international infertility expert whose family had settled in Britain during the Turkish-Cypriot troubles. She was quite struck by his eyes; they were exceptionally powerful and penetrating, very black, very luminous, the pronounced curve of the eyebrows also sleekly black, as if painted in by a fine brush. His hair, however, was grey, but thick as a sheep's fleece, cropped and feathered like a classical statue. Throughout the consultation she had the ridiculous feeling of being opaque, as if he could see straight through her, as though she were made of glass. It wasn't an unpleasant feeling; in some ways, it was wholly pleasurable to lie there and let her fantasies gush like a fountain. And Dr Necropolis drank in her every word.
"Infertile women have wished for children from time immemorial," he remarked. "For all sorts of reasons. You are, I can tell, a very private person, a person who thrives on quiet, a person who needs her home to be a sanctuary. Such a person would need a very special child. A very, very special child indeed," he reflected.
After a few moments' thought, he turned to face her. "Would you consider being inseminated by donor sperm? When the husband is fertile as his test has conclusively proved, I wouldn't generally offer this. But perhaps, my dear, a replica of the husband would not be your best option - given the circumstances..."
Had she shown too much of her marital dirty washing? No, no with something as important as the birth of a new person, it was important to get it just right. Dr Necropolis's patient shuddered, suddenly picturing two walruses on the sofa instead of one. Or even more unthinkable, twin walruses. A human zoo.
"I like the idea," she said vehemently. "Very much."
Two weeks later, she returned to the consultant's room. He was dressed in white from head to toe as he bore the test tube of sperm from its sealed, antiseptic vault. He spread a white linen sheet over the examination table, and assisted her up. She felt euphoric and had to fight off her totally irrational idea that the consultant's practised movements, as he delicately cleansed and prepared the mouth of her vagina to receive its gift of life, were somehow mystical and ritualistic. In a strange yet compelling way, the steel table, draped and swathed immaculately in white, had became an altar upon which she lay as a willing sacrificial victim.
"This won't hurt at all," he remarked. "Just relax. I know it's a very mechanical procedure, but try not to tense against the metal."
In barely more than a second it was over and the consultant was removing the thin sheaths of latex from his hands, like peeled skins. He dropped them smartly into the wastebin and with a light smile turned to face his patient.
"You should know in a few weeks if the process has been successful," he remarked. "In the meantime, try to distance yourself as much as possible from your little problem."
Distancing herself from the walrus, and the human flotsam it dragged in from the scummy tide of humanity, proved easier than she'd anticipated. Her days were spent at her office and most of her evenings at talks, lectures or libraries. It was ridiculous though to pay a monthly mortgage, plus bills, for a house she only entered to sleep in.
"Divorce him!" said one friend emphatically.
"He'd claim half of the house, then," she replied. "Besides, he does keep the garden extremely tidy."
"Poison him," said a second, "and bugger the garden."
"Prison doesn't appeal," she remarked ruefully.
"Encourage somebody to run off with him," suggested a third.
"He's far too lazy to be unfaithful," she sighed. "And would you want a walrus on your sofa?"
Each weekend since the visit to Dr Typhon Necropolis's consulting room, Joan had taken herself off on her favourite ploy, exploring the past.
That particular lovely Sunday in May, it was the turn of the Epona Stane to be visited and scrutinised. As with many of these pagan stones, the early missionaries had tactfully incorporated it within their proselytizing fold. In front, the carved horseman, his long hair pulled back in a mare's tail, was deeply cut into the withered, lichened stone; but the back was a mesh of intricate scrollwork which some mason-monk had later chiselled finely into the shape of a cross, so grafting the new religion to the old. A tiny dilapidated church stood to the east of the Epona Stane while to the west lay the kirkyard, bounded by a low, mossy dyke, with the long, glistening furrows of Marsgian farm rising black and wet and sharp behind it.
She knelt to peer at the stone, surprised at how kind the centuries had been to the pagan warrior seated on his strong hill pony. He was almost as fresh and as clearly carved as the day the sculptor had fashioned him. The interlaced cross on the other hand was much eroded, and seemed to be crumbling back into its original element. As she drew her fingers lightly over the pagan figure, a rowan to the left of the stone shuddered suddenly as thin spears of rain pierced the clouds and then shattered into a glitter of raindrops, tarnishing the tree's bridal blossom and turning it to a parody of its early promise and beauty. As the months passed, the rowan would bear its rich fruit in glowing clusters of red but just then it stood alone and forlorn against the sudden onslaught of rain.
No need, Joan decided, to catch pneumonia in pursuit of the past and wisely she moved into the disused kirk for shelter. Its roof and windows were dusty, worm-eaten, draped in cobwebs, yet still intact. The rain might tap with its myriad fingers, but would not be admitted. The door was stout, painted a hideous pink, but the interior had been systematically looted. Local farmers had long since carted off the pews to dismantle and recycle them as shelves or firewood or even children's cribs - a reincarnation that the church's creators would hardly have relished. The church had been the centre of the farming community up to perhaps forty years ago. Then, its spritual functions had combined regularly with secular pursuits when the tiny building had doubled as hall and mini-theatre. There was even a faded poster from the early 1930s, listing village performances.
The eagle-crested lectern was still standing, though covered now with hen droppings and an accumulation of dust. To one side, below a peeling parchment Cradle Roll, lay a large wicker basket. The intensifying rain continued to dribble bleakly down the window panes. To drive home just then through muddy country lanes would be no pleasure. On the other hand, it was dry and comfortable in the kirk building; idly, Joan Christie lifted the lid of the basket and began to explore the contents. Inside, she found the contents of a dressing-up box par excellence - enough for an entire repertoire of roles: blonde wigs with heavy flaxen pleats; midnight-black witches' capes; a pierrot mask with a single tear painted on its ghostly face. There were velvet padded pantaloons for pirates, magnificent Jacobean Court dresses, Spanish ruffs and paupers' rags. Rich man, poor man, beggarman, thief, thought Joan.
And then, almost at the foot of the pile, she uncovered a costume that she knew she simply had to try on, just for a minute - a pelos, the white, plain yet stately robe of a Greek matron. It would just be for a moment, simply make-believe; pure pretence; a momentary step back into the age of Pegasus, the great winged horse; into the age of Classical reason and calm; the age of beauty and rationality, the cradle of civilisation.
No one was about; there was no one to spy on her as she stepped out of her twentieth century clothes, and into the cool pelos. It could have been made yesterday for her. It fitted her shoulders perfectly; it clung to her breasts like silk - but there was something odd in the way it swung loose below her breastbone. It was far too voluminous there. And then she realised why it was so expansive. The woman who'd worn the dress had been heavily pregnant. Just wearing the dress made Joan's own womb quiver, as if life was stirring there. Closing her eyes, she clasped her hands together across her midriff. The pulse beneath her palms fluttered like a butterfly, trembling like water running over shingle, as if now there were two heartbeats within her.
Feeling curiously flustered, she pulled off the dress and stepped back into her own casual outfit of jeans, T-shirt and trainers. Carefully, she replaced the Greek robe in its wicker box where, in the dim light of the church, it seemed to shimmer and glow momentarily. The rain, she noticed, was over and gone. She could drive home now; she'd seen what she'd come to look at. On the way back to her car, she stopped again at the Epona Stane. Strange. The first time she'd knelt beside it, the rider's face had been quite featureless - a blank. She was sure there had been no eye in the handsome profile. But now there was certainly an eye there: calm and clear, focusing steadily ahead into the future. Well, she'd probably not noticed it before. It had been quite a long, tiring journey after all.
Some days later, she returned to Dr Necropolis's consulting room for a routine check-up. "I'm delighted to tell you," he said, "that you are now most certainly pregnant. And, as you are one of my special patients, I should like to undertake the delivery of your little one personally, if you're agreeable with that."
The months leading up to the birth were anything but delightful though. Far from distancing Paddy from his dubious acquaintances, the imminent arrival of a brand new Christie caused him to bring still more waifs and strays back home with him from his hours in the pub. During the final three months, Joan's self-esteem plummeted as she sat at home on maternity leave, feeling constantly sick and queasy. For hours on end, she would lie curled up like a dormouse on the marital bed, staring with a sense of alienation and despair at the willow patterned wallpaper, losing herself in its paper foliage.
"Well, you can't expect a man to put up with that kind of behaviour," Paddy mumbled aloud. "You've turned into a real wet blanket since this pregnancy business started. I'll be right glad when it's all over."
Only the occasional visits to Dr Typhon Necropolis's surgery cheered Joan up. "The birth is very near now," he told her. "I think you'll find it's all been worth it. I believe you'll find the birth of this special little one will solve many of your problems. Science, and genetics especially, are breaking new and exciting ground. Tomorrow's - generation will be tailored to the needs of the individual parent, and people are so different, so very, very different, in their hopes, their lifestyles, their expectations, as you have found out already, my dear. In case of complications, I suggest that you book yourself into my clinic nearer the actual time and then I'll induce the birth and monitor it precisely. After all, given your husband's, er, somewhat casual attitude, he might not be the best caretaker when matters become urgent."
Just as the conception had been mechanically arranged, so Science and Dr Necropolis planned the birth with military exactitude. The labour was exhausting but under expert hands the climax came surprisingly quickly. With a cry of relief and agony, Joan gave one final push and the newcomer slid into the world amid its tangle of cord and blood. The consultant deftly tied the cord and lifted the new-born child over to a gleaming metal dish filled with gentle, lukewarm, antiseptic water. Then he wrapped it in a clean white blanket and placed it in the crib. Exhausted from her labour, Joan fell deeply asleep. Dr Necropolis bathed his patient's forehead, pushed the little cot beside the mother and sat down quietly to await her wakening.
Thirty minutes later, Joan Christie opened her eyes. Her offspring was mewling, making that unmistakable whimpering for food that every mother recognises, that sound that causes the nipples to prick erect and the sweet milk to flow. The good doctor lifted the baby up to meet its mother. "A very special infant," he said. "He will love and guard his mother like no other."
Joan gazed on her baby, first in wonder and then in love, lifting the tiny bundle up to her breast. The suckling mouth that nuzzled her milky breast was muzzle-shaped and black, with just the beginnings of fur on its tiny face. The pear-shaped amber eyes looked up at the mother adoringly - six pear-shaped amber eyes, from the three small canine heads. Each suckling mouth, with its row of razor teeth, was incredibly gentle and soft, set in its black, silken-textured face. Lifting open the swaddling, Joan could see that the tiny creature had four, perfectly formed legs, each padded with velvety paws.
"He will guard his mother fiercely, that one," said the doctor. "I think you will find that such an offspring is ideally suited to your needs. His sire is Cerberus, who guards the door to Hades. He faces west, and east, and north. Nothing and nobody gets past him. Have you thought of a name for the little one?" he inquired.
"Filius Cerberi Christie," the mother replied firmly. "A very special name for a very special child!"
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The Fower Quarters: 07 - A Very Special Child. 2021. In The Scottish Corpus of Texts & Speech. Glasgow: University of Glasgow. Retrieved January 2021, from http://www.scottishcorpus.ac.uk/document/?documentid=552.
"The Fower Quarters: 07 - A Very Special Child." The Scottish Corpus of Texts & Speech. Glasgow: University of Glasgow, 2021. Web. January 2021. http://www.scottishcorpus.ac.uk/document/?documentid=552.
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