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In the first winner of our My Biggest Secret flash fiction competition, Jennifer Harvey explores the secret of motherhood. The competition is part of our latest Book Club, for Ben Fergusson’s thrilling debut The Spring of Kasper Meier. You can find out more about the Book Club, and Ben Fergusson, here.
She has made herself vulnerable. This is her first thought when she touches the new-born’s skin.
Someone lays the child upon her and it nestles there and seeks out her breast. It is all bloodied and nothing but instinct.
“It’s a girl” they say, but she only half-hears it.
Looking down at the suckling child she thinks “what is this?”
She will go on thinking this, though she will never say it out loud. Because that is not how these things are done.
The child is given a name. Abigail. Father’s joy.
She thinks about that and wonders if perhaps they have seen through her after all.
Just in case, she perfects a calm and understanding smile that hints at nothing, though it does not fool the child.
“Abigail” she reminds herself. “Its name is Abigail.”
She does all the things which are expected of her.
She walks in the park, pushing the stroller and chatting with other mothers.
She bakes sugar frosted cakes for birthday parties. Learns to knit.
She reads books at bedtime and coos lullabies when nightmares come.
She soothes cuts and bruises and takes delight in every crayon scratched drawing that is presented to her.
She is a good mother. People tell her so.
And she nods and says “thank you”.
The child learns to keep its distance. To seek comfort and solace elsewhere.
“A daddy’s girl,” she explains to people. “Apple of his eye.”
But she is not jealous. Just curious as to how it must feel, this “father’s joy”.
“Why can you not love this way?” she asks herself.
The answer coming back at her like an echo.
“Because you don’t know how.”
Love is a thing you learn. Even if you cannot feel it. You can watch how other people go about it.
It is touch, she learns.
Over and over again. You must touch. With fingers, lips and eyes.
Things you dare not say or feel. All of this can remain hidden. All you need to do is touch.
So she touches the child. Strokes its head. Kisses its brow. Exchanges tender looks.
And sometimes she re-imagines her own mother. Feels these things as if it is she who is being touched.
Feels the joy of it even though the memories are not real. Just wished for moments.
But there is a joy in them she cannot quite explain.
“So this is how it feels” she thinks.
“My name is Abigail” the child tells her. “Abigail.”
They look at one another and she nods and finally gives in to it.
“Yes, it is. You have always been that way to me.”
Father’s joy. Mother’s joy.