There was the enamel pail of blood. She couldn’t think what she had done with it. She hated the thought of someone else emptying it.
Was that what it meant, lifeblood? Placental, uterine. She had seen the blood drop out of her into the pail. It came with the force of an ending.
And the pain. Her lower right side. The gush of the blood. Thinnish, not thick. Not like anything carrying life.
Violet opened her eyes.
She had been carried. Down the stairs. Yes, Fred had been there.
She thought of her nightie, sopping wet. Someone had brought the motor car, must have borrowed it from Reg. She had been concerned about the blood but Fred had already thought about towels and blankets, that was good.
She was in a day-lit space. The large windows were criss- crossed with brown tape. Nurses passed and the floor shone under their shoes. The walls were thickly painted and white.
Fred was there.
He’d been holding her hand but now let go. He filled her field of vision, a thin smile on his lips. He looked tired.
You look tired.
Your mother’s been round, he said. Everything was fine. At home, he meant.
Maybe her mother had emptied the pail. She must have moved it from the landing where Violet had crouched down. It must have clattered and slopped. All that blood.
She should have seen to it. She would have known. A dark reflection, a depth of loss.
Fred was talking about Reg and the Morris, and Father Lewis had dropped by.
He was meant to be on exercise, that was right.
Elizabeth had packed her some things, he said. He indi- cated the suitcase at his feet. Her sister would know what she’d need. A mirror, clean clothes, her bedjacket with the tie at the neck.
Had he collected their rations and told Mrs Oldman to save him some eggs?
Vi. You just need to rest.
He took her hand again in his. His hand was square, thick.
Violet? he said.
She thought that if she stared straight ahead, she could keep it all in.
You know the baby’s gone?
See her, there? Yes, you.
Pram Boy, pill-boy, you know who.
No flood for you,
no gush or release
of blood into water,
filaments and threads.
For it is you who will be carried
while the others are shed
(I’ll take the one with the curls, your mother said).
Violet slept some more and when she awoke some of the others were up and about. She recognised it now, the same ward she’d been on before. Birmingham Women’s Hospital. Nothing to do with the war.
It was later when the doctor came. Violet pushed herself up and tried not to wince. The pain was immense.
Just a few stitches, Mrs Hall.
He was clipped and matter-of-fact.
I’ve spoken to your husband. You were aware of the pregnancy, yes?
Ectopic, the doctor said.
An egg, fertilised, but attached to the wrong place. Growing all the same and for weeks.
About fourteen, we think. That’s quite a stretch.
Violet cast her mind back. Missed periods, skipped beats. October it was, Fred was on leave. And she could hardly believe it had happened straight away. She was one week late, then two, then three. Then time slowed right down. Like cocking your head to catch a very faint sound.
And she’d watched the nights draw in, the trees lose their leaves, thinking all the time about next July.
July 1945. A summer baby, bright blue skies.
There’s one more thing.
The doctor coughed.
It seems that it was twins, Mrs Hall.
Violet felt the air hauled out of her lungs. She couldn’t take it in. There had been two of them, holding on.
Two children at once?
What a handful! she thought, until she remembered they were gone.
Gone, Pram Boy, done for, through.
Not you though, Pram Boy, son of a Pole.
Son of a soldier with his gun.
So let’s just say
(for you will always get your way)
it’s for the best.
Coo-ee cuckoo, find your nest.
Had they held on to her, or she to them? It didn’t matter, in that wrong place. The enamel pail, its dark blue rim, and the thin metal handle with the wooden grip. She might have rolled up her sleeves and plunged her hands right in. Searching in the rust-tinged liquid.
The doctor was looking through her notes. Saying something about her history of cysts, the removal of her left ovary a couple of years ago.
Perhaps her mother had been in. She would have known what to do. Cold water, not hot. She would have got down on her hands and knees and tamped the stains with a cloth. Then she would have carried the pail downstairs and rested it on the mat while she unlocked the back door then poured it out.
Into the drain in the yard, with the suds and the silt and the dirt.
The foetuses had been surgically removed, the doctor said. Along with her womb.
Violet blinked. One of the other patients shuffled slowly past her bed.
There was a pause.
You’ll understand that you will not be able to bear children, Mrs Hall?
He looked suddenly small, like an awkward schoolboy in his collar and tie.
Thank you, Doctor.
Violet smiled politely. The doctor nodded and moved on.
Photograph © Baron Chandler
Read Alex Hyde’s Notes on Craft, on domesticity and the gestures that make up a life.