A FREE short story by Colin Devonshire
“Stop the car!”
“Pull up now. Look,” Mary Dawkins pointed ahead. Her husband strained, peering between the headlights, leaning forward to the steering wheel. The small lump of not much, formed a bumpy black patch in the road, taking shape as they neared.
He slowed, then stopped next to the bundle of rags.
Mary leapt out and ran, sluggishly followed by her husband.
“It’s nothing dear,” he called. “Rubbish somebody threw from their car.”
Mary bent and touched the cloth. She froze, then relaxed and stretched her hands. Touching the cloth. She bent closer.
“Oh, Richard, it’s a child.”
Richard ran the last few steps to her side.
“My God,” he said.
The tiny body lay motionless.
“What should we do?” asked Mary, looking up at her husband.
He bent and felt for a pulse. Turning his head and peering into his wife’s eyes. Mary couldn’t get air into her lungs, gasping, coughing and panting, waiting for a sign.
His face changed, he looked from child to wife.
“A pulse, I can feel a faint movement.”
Tears ran down Mary’s face, she wanted to hug the child.
“No, no, be careful,” he said, holding her back.
They gently lay the child on its side, stroking, until its chest moved. Then they spread the limbs wide.
“A beautiful child,” gasped Mary.
“It’s a boy.”
“No, wait, he or she is wearing a torn skirt.”
“A girl with a crew cut?”
“But alive, thank God.”
“We must get her to the hospital,” said Richard.
Mary was sitting on the road with the child’s head resting on her thigh.
“Have we any water in the car?” she asked.
Richard leaned across the rear seat, grabbing a plastic bottle.
“Don’t worry darling, we’ll look after you.” Mary’s whisper was quiet, Richard heard it.
“No, dear, don’t even think it, we can’t.”
Memories came flooding back.
Twelve years ago, Mary was silent, laying on a sterile grey and white hospital bed. Staring at the ceiling.
“Darling, please speak, talk to me, to somebody to anybody,” said Richard. He was beyond tears their baby had died, it hadn’t even been born. He could do nothing for the girl, but he was determined to save his wife.
The Pastor left, shaking his head.
Richard grabbed him. “Don’t tell me you have given up on Mary?”
“What do you want me to do? I’ve prayed, we’ve all prayed. Mary doesn’t need me. She is beyond my help.”
“You are a man of the cloth, how can you give in so easily?”
“Mr Dawkins, I have ministered to her for two full days. She hasn’t spoken, not one word. Staring with sightless eyes. I have other parishioners to deal with. Sorry, but you need a psychologist.”
The Dawkins’ wealth had taken a severe hit, with the fertility and all the medical treatment. There was little left for a head doctor.
Mary had to leave the hospital. Their savings had dried up.
“So what? They were doing nothing to help,” thought Richard.
For days, weeks, and now months she sat at home watching day times soaps. Richard worked, hours didn’t count sales did. He grafted hour after hour. The phone was never out of his hand, the doors he knocked, the hands he shook, leading to a survival package. Barely enough to feed them.
On return home each day, he began preparing the evening’s meal. Sometimes he cheated and purchased a ready-cooked dish. His wife didn’t care.
“Hello, darling, dinner is in the oven,” she greeted him with a rib-crunching hug. Hair tidy, clean frock and spotless apron.
“What’s happened to you?” he beamed. Expecting to see empty Jack Daniel’s bottles littering the floor. But no, a smiling new wife met him.
Dinner was a feast, roast chicken with all the extras. Extras also followed them to the bedroom.
She tugged at his belt. Panting as she pulled and poked.
“Wait a minute, please tell me what has suddenly changed?”
She huffed, struggling with his buttons.
“I’m going to be a mum, you are going to be a father.”
“And how do you work that out? I haven’t touched you for months.”
“No, but tonight you can.”
“You haven’t answered my question.”
“Oh, can’t that wait, I’m so excited, I could burst.”
“Stop it. Answer me now.”
“You remember my sister?”
“And her daughter?”
“Of course, what about them?” Richard asked.
“My sister doesn’t want to be a grandma. And she doesn’t want her daughter to be an unwed mother.”
“She wants to be an aunt,” Mary gushed.
“You mean, we take the baby?”
“Yes, I’ve already accepted. In five months, we can pick up a newborn babe from a maternity clinic tucked away in New York.”
The happy life returned to the Dawkins household. The days crept nearer the baby’s birthday.
“Fox news reporting from outside the city. A crazed religious fanatic torched a clinic for unmarried mothers. Killing all inside, we are unsure of the total number of deaths. The fire service has doused the flames. But there is not much left standing we will report…”
“Oh, Mary, I’ve some terrible news,” wailed Mary’s sister down the phone.
Years passed the broken hearts never healed, an acceptance deadened the pain.
“But Richard, look at her, she is a gift from God,” Mary said, pleading with her eyes.
Mary hugged the child, as she stirred.
She coughed, opened her eyes, and looked at Mary. The little girl relaxed, comfortable, without a question in her eyes. Pure love and gratitude welled. Mary knew she would never lose this child.
“We need to talk about this,” said Richard.
“Get us home, little Tulip needs a wash and to eat some food.”
“Yes Tulip, look at the motif on her rags. A purple tulip, it’s a sign.”
Richard knew he had no say. The future was changing, without him.
Tulip stirred and smiled at her saviour without a glance at Richard. He drove home.
“You find something for her to eat, while I bathe her.”
“Mamma?” Tulip said.
“Oh, darling, yes. You can speak?”
Days flew by.
“Surely somebody is looking for her?” asked Richard.
“Maybe they are. Don’t you dare say a word, okay?”
“But we can’t keep her, she is not ours.”
“We can say we adopted her.”
“She sure as hell is not our child, look at her skin, for Christ’s sake. And you can’t adopt children without paperwork. Fuck me.”
“No profanity in front of my baby.”
“And she is not a baby. How old is she?”
“She doesn’t know. But I think three or four?”
“Why does she keep twitching, have you not seen her tic?”
“She can’t help it.”
“No, but why?”
“Well, I don’t know, do I?”
“She is a pretty girl, sure to be prettier when her hair grows back,” said Richard.
“It is growing, look.” Mary stroked the sleeping girl’s head.
“Is she grey?”
“What do you mean?”
“Look, between her temple and ear, on the right side.”
Mary shifted the girl to her other side.
“No, that’s talc.” She brushed her hand across Tulip’s head.
“It’s still grey. Why is that?” asked Richard.
“Is that why her head was shaved?”
“Nobody would chuck out their child because she twitches and has grey hair, do they?”
Tulip’s tic was a gentle shake of her head. Her head jerked, side to side, it happened when she spoke.
“My birth mother has old beliefs. She didn’t like me,” Tulip whispered.
“What about your father?” asked Richard.
Tulip ignored him.
“My mother was a guzzu believer,” she said.
“What is guzzu?” asked Richard.
“Please tell us,” said Mary.
“Mother was a duppy.”
“What are you talking about?” Richard nudged the child.
The child growled like a wounded puppy. Her eyes burnt into Richard’s.
Richard stormed out. He flopped into his favourite chair and snatched Phoenix New Times. Grumbled as he glimpsed the headlines. There was an article about a Jamaican lady winning a cookery competition.
“Jamaican? I thought I’d heard those words somewhere before.”
The paper hit the carpet as Richard searched his pockets for his phone. Google never let him down. ‘Duppy’ – evil spirit, ‘guzzu’ – black magic.
“Mary, we need to talk, about Tulip.”
“So, she has a Jamaican father or mother?”
“We can narrow the search for them.”
“They don’t want her.”
“Darling, we can’t keep her. We must contact the authorities.”
Mary slept in Tulip’s room, Richard spent a sleepless night alone.
“Tulip, darling, what are you doing?”
“I’ve been looking at the garden, pulling weeds. Would you like me to care for the plants?”
“What a terrific idea, do you like flowers?”
“That’s great, your father will be pleased. He has gone to find a school for you.”
“Hi, all, home again, with good news. The local junior school wants to meet us all. Tulip will be tested, if all is okay, they will allow her in. At least until we legally find what has happened to her parents,” Richard smiled.
Mary and Tulip’s smiles were not as broad.
The next day they turned up at the appointed time at the school.
“Hello young lady, Mr Dawkins tells me your name is Tulip?” The headmaster said.
“How old are you?”
“I don’t know.”
“Not to worry, we have some tests, we’ll soon find out what class to put you in, okay?”
Papers and pencils were dished out, an hour later collected back.
The headmaster scratched his head.
“Tulip has done exceedingly well. At the youngest, I would say four years old, at the oldest, the figures say, six. My suggestion is that we place her with the five-year-olds? Happy with that? How about I ask my assistant to show you all around?”
Mary and Tulip followed the trim, cheerful lady. The head signalled Richard to stay.
“I couldn’t help noticing the involuntary twitch when she speaks. What do you know about that? And, sorry to mention this, but she may need her hair dyed, saves any bullying.”
Nodding his agreement, but with no answer.
Richard was silent on the short trip home, Mary and Tulip couldn’t contain their excitement.
“Mary, I’ve never seen you dye your hair, do you know how?” asked Richard.
“Of course, I know how, why?”
“The headmaster is worried Tulip gets bullied because of her grey hair. He thinks we should dye it?”
“What? Is he mad?”
“No, but he wants to save any problems. She is joining halfway through the term, all the kids have their friends already. What harm can it do?”
“I guess so.”
“Tulip dear, you start school tomorrow, I know you are excited. Would you like me to colour your hair?”
“Haha, you can try,” Tulip said with a smirk.
Her curly hair was washed, the black sauce applied. Then washed out.
“There, beautiful,” Mary was proud of her handiwork. “Let’s get you to bed, early to rise and all that.”
“Let me offer Richard a coffee before bed?” Tulip said to a stunned Mary.
“You can. Be careful, it’ll be hot. That is the first time you have done anything for him. Why not call him dad too?”
“Dad, would you like a coffee, before I go to bed?”
“Wow, thank you, Tulip. That is lovely.”
“Ouch,” said Tulip, shaking her hand.
Her nail and the tip of her thumb had touched the hot drink as she placed it on the table.
Tulip turned and scampered upstairs. Flopping under the duvet, she cuddled her teddy bear.
As Mary bent to kiss her goodnight, she noticed the blotchy stain on the bedding.
“Goodnight dad,” Tulip shouted.
Mary tested the pillow, it was damp, black stained her fingers. She went to wash her hands, before joining her husband in the living room.
Tulip sat up and beamed into the darkness. A scream powerful enough to crack marble shook window glass in their frames.
Richard was foaming, soundless white bubbles dripped from his chin. The froth like shaving foam cased his mouth. He shook his rigid body, ankles to neck, as straight as scaffolding. He then rolled across the sofa, back and forth, then folding in two, a birthday card packed away for memories. Rolling onto the carpet, blood bubbled, then dripped from his wide-open eyes.
Tulip studied her thumb’s blister and grinned. Shaking her grey and black hair as she settled. The racket of ambulance and police alarms failed to disturb her sleep.
End of Prologue.