You: An Outsider’s Perspective

You: An Outsider’s Perspective

You were a dream come false. I woke up smiling. That was a rare moment when I felt free of you, when the walls weren’t made of you and I didn’t see you curled up in the spirals of my eyes. But soon I saw you again. You are always stuck out in front, a shadow I cannot keep up with; slithering and suckering, a prolapsed organ ahead of me.

Ever since I killed the baby, I’ve been thinking about you a lot.

While we were trying to conceive, my mind was on different things. My word, was there a lot to think about. I bandied about with thermometers for a while (and you have to get a special type), but soon I just couldn’t be bothered with that; sticking it into my backside while Luke fetched me a cup of tea and the morning was shaking all the folds from its face.

After that, I moved on to these special sticks that you pee on every month, when you think it might be time. A smiley face would beam at me – affirmative – and I’d wave it at Luke so he could get his dick powered up.

I took vitamins and massages and meditation, and I dialled down the drinking and the binge-eating and senseless sex, and I was so caught up with it all that I scarcely knew what the end prize was anymore – although we often held each other and wept and felt very insignificant and useless and like we had failed at something, failed at the ultimate something.

Of course, back then, you were around, but it felt very normal, very unobtrusive if I’m honest. I saw you as draped over my skin, suctioned into the ins and outs, the folds and undulations of my body. You were cling film, cellophane, chainmail liquid. I could even smell you sometimes, like very damp earth where a fire had died. You were just there, don’t you see?

Just there: like you had been from the earliest times I remembered, when Mum and Dad told me about the beginnings of time and the sculpting of the universe and your benevolent light that let us all be revealed. You were All Things Bright and Beautiful and you were Christmas pudding and chocolate eggs and the “I do” of a wedding.

I talked to you every night. “I hope I am good. I hope I am good enough. Thank you for looking after me and keeping me safe and keeping my family safe. I trust you to help us along and keep us on the right path. I ask nothing of you but love. I love you.”

Very occasionally, you would talk back, with your form pressed to my form, with the enormity of everything slurped up into an indivisible me.

“Don’t worry about the baby thing, don’t worry about work, don’t worry whether Luke fancies that woman from work or not. Everything happens for a reason. I am watching over you, protecting you. Have faith in the light. Just keep looking to the light.”

You were quite chatty when you wanted to be.

Yes, those were the days. I remember a time when the world just seemed to make sense. It was all a lesson, like being in school. If you worked really hard and aced all your tests, then of course you would eventually graduate.

I pictured dying as a mortarboard tossed up into the inner workings of the cosmos.

I didn’t want anything out of the ordinary, of course not. That would be like taking Ancient Greek when everyone knew you just needed the English and Maths. I wanted Mum and Dad and Sasha to be well and safe and happy. I wanted to move out but not live too far away, to visit every other weekend. I wanted a job that paid OK but didn’t make me covetous. I needed it to satisfy in a vaguely numbing way. I wanted to meet a man I loved enough to see me without makeup on. I wanted that man to become my husband and for us to grow a family and to watch them grow a family and then let us pass on with enough seeds in the ground.

For some reason, I was stuck in a year. Why wasn’t I allowed to get out of this year?

That morning with the needle, you were like the heat of the hob or the slow burn of fever. There you were: just an inch or so apart from me, stretched out from my skin, that constant, unremitting heat that hurts but is never the all-consuming scream of fire.

Oh, they mess around with your hormones until you don’t know who you are. You’re a puppet who suddenly has a hundred more strings and you’re being yanked everywhere, everywhere tugged and taut and tense and fraught. Everywhere. Every day, I rammed that needle in, felt it penetrate my skin: cold. Luke was pottering about in the kitchen, units banging, water hissing into the kettle, the click of electricity. You were hovering around me, a force field, such force. You hiccupped forwards, backwards, forwards, backwards. I carried you like that all the way to the hospital, where the doctor leant into my face until he was all eyes and said things like “It’s just a little procedure” and “You’re only under for ten minutes”. And it’s true, it felt like no time at all. Luke drove us home and there was a rough burn between my legs. I lay down, feeling dizzy, as his breakfast turned to dinner and the smells wafted into the bedroom, but I could not shake off the hospital, and all over my body was that cloying, anaemic reek, that clotted, creamy curdle. Less than a week later, we were back for the embryo. Afterwards I lay on the sofa, too scared to move in case I frittered a minuscule life form away. You shook over me, convulsing, while I cradled the cushion and pictured my womb opening up like a flower around a bee. Fifteen days later, the blood.

It happened again and again, over and over, round and round, back and forth. It didn’t matter, I trusted you. I spoke to you every night, the words fluttered around the room like butterflies. There was a beauty in those moments, I was topped up with the brilliance of love, with creation. We had a purpose, I had a purpose.

So when it was “Yes!”, there was a mighty explosion in my head, another universe expanding, a second big bang. Luke and I cheered over a Chinese takeaway. He rubbed my belly like a genie’s bottle, wishing for things, future things, all the things for our child. Our trees had grown together, we were rooted in this world with a branch shooting out towards heaven, the promise of possibles. You had sucked everything back into me, I swallowed you whole. How could I have known, how could I have possibly known? No, no mother’s instinct. Oh screw that, go fuck yourself.

“Luke. What are we going to do?”

“I don’t know.” Oh his face, his face.

“It’s still here, inside me.”

“I know.”

“What are we going to do?”

“Honey, I don’t think it’s a life. For anyone.”

“But it is a life. He’s alive.”

“He’s alive but it’s not a life.”

“Oh god. I can’t, I really can’t.”

“Honey, he’s not going to reach his teens. Maybe he’s not even going to reach school age. He’ll be in pain, constantly. They said it was bad. It’s really, really bad.”

Bad. Like rotten apples or gangrene or maggots or shit. Strung up into the everything. Every single thing braided together.

When we staggered outside the clinic, they were waiting with their signs. Mum and Dad stopped returning my calls, for a bit. Apparently they found it too hard. They didn’t believe in our actions, you see. It wasn’t your way. It wasn’t something you condoned.

I called out to you then, but I didn’t get an answer. You weren’t in me anymore, but you were all around: inescapable and outrageous.

Ever since, I see you differently. You are not only light, but shadow. You are the iridescence of a rainbow and the maelstrom of a tornado. You are the womb and the wound. The world is a tightly wound clock and how you love and holler to hear us tick.

Here, for example. Me lying in bed, with the trees having another asthma attack. I can see them through the window. They sway back and forth with the leaves coming out in raspy gasps. Winter is choking them, and it reassures me. You even do this to the ones you love.

Yes, now you are gone from my silhouette, I can get a better perspective on what you look like. You are not a beam of light or an old man with a beard. You are this. You are all this. You look like cupboards and cups and rose bushes and drains and a stain where the cat was sick. You undulate through it all and it’s no wonder you’re sometimes not seen because you’re just there, you’re just there, and you can hardly see the tremors.

I said to my mum once, “Well, he killed his son like I killed mine. Why does he get heaven and I get hell?”

And my mum hissed “How dare you?” and shut down the call. Our relationship is rocky at times, I must admit.

You see, I’m not even sure if you created this reality. Perhaps there’s something else out there. Maybe there’s a bigger you, a better you. You’re a few rungs down the ladder. There’s been a different boss, all along. Maybe one from a different religion, maybe one that’s not even been thought of yet. No, none of this makes sense. Why? Why all the rules and retribution? I don’t even want to look at you.

You whimper a bit late at night, when I refuse to give you attention. I turn my back on you and I can feel the ripples over the covers, but I keep my eyes shut and I stay rigid, I stay absolutely rigid. I hold out an arm to Luke’s back and I know that whatever happens afterwards, I will disappear from this world with love, with absolute love for the people that do their best, even when they fail miserably, even when they are lying in the gutter with someone’s wallet in their hands. We are all just trying and dying and never making the grade.

I already know that today I will spill my coffee and lose an important piece of paper and I will swear at someone when they push in front of the queue. And in my head, I will want to punch them in the face. Later, I will walk past a homeless person with my eyes on the pavement. And I will say, “Sorry, I don’t have anything”, and the ten-pound notes will stay in darkness. They will come up later when I buy a dress, I will so badly want to buy a dress, to own that dress and feel beautiful again, even though I know the dress won’t dress the wrinkles. My phone will light up with a friend’s beckoning call and I shall let it sink to voicemail.

Throughout the ebbs and flows of this daily day is you. You. You are always in the background. You were there when I pushed that lump out of my most personal place, my most vulnerable place, and it was already blue, it was the colour of a blue bottle. How I loved it. How I loved him.

Now you linger, you lurk, you look through me with a superior radioactive beam. How many children have you kicked out of the nest? Perhaps I’ve always been a cuckoo egg. But I refuse to give up on the world, to let you rip me from it. This is my only world, now, there is no other, or yet none that I wish to have. My revenges are small and almighty.

For Luke didn’t leave me and I didn’t leave him and we have sex every week, without fail: good sex, happy sex, sex where we both orgasm and lie entwined for a long time afterwards, stroking each other’s hair and smelling our bodies, even though we know it does not serve this world, does not keep it inhabited, cannot satisfy you. We do it simply for pleasure; for the here and the now and not the hereafter.

The smell of gardenia, the beat of bass in a bar, a just-washed duvet on nakedness, that sunset in thunderstorm. Oh god. My god. I want it, I still want it.

For the rest of my life, I will eat toast with jam and honey and Nutella and anything sweet that I can smear on it and it tastes so good, so irresistibly good. I look forward to it every day, every single day, washed down with tea and the butter on my fingers, with the crumbs on my mouth. I suck off the butter and I do it for you.

Sophie Hopesmith

About Sophie Hopesmith

Sophie Hopesmith is a 2012 Atty Awards finalist and her background is in feature writing. Born and bred in London, she works for a reading charity and co-hosts a literary podcast called Papertrail. She likes comedy, poetry, writing music, and Oxford commas. All of her favourite films were made in the 70s. Sophie's debut novel, Another Justified Sinner, was published by Dead Ink Books in 2017.

Sophie Hopesmith is a 2012 Atty Awards finalist and her background is in feature writing. Born and bred in London, she works for a reading charity and co-hosts a literary podcast called Papertrail. She likes comedy, poetry, writing music, and Oxford commas. All of her favourite films were made in the 70s. Sophie's debut novel, Another Justified Sinner, was published by Dead Ink Books in 2017.

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