It all went wrong within seconds. I should have known. I shouldn’t have started it.
Tess got home earlyish tonight, in time to kiss Alfie good night just as he drifted off to sleep. We even managed dinner together, a stirfry with a satay sauce I found online and made from scratch, just call me Delia, and afterwards settled down to this American series we’ve been trying to marathon on and off for weeks. It’s to do with a family of serial killers – at least I think it is, I tend to drop off within minutes of it starting, so in truth I haven’t a clue what it’s about. But it’s nice just to sit on the couch with her, in companionable silence, watching something – in theory, at least – together. I even pulled one of her feet onto my lap and started to rub it, and was rewarded by a sigh of pleasure from the other end of the sofa.
So naturally I had to ruin it.
The crying baby has been at it again all day today, and it’s been doing my head in. Alfie’s been fractious; never fully kicking off, but always on the brink of it, and at times it’s felt like Grumpy Babies in Stereo. When the American woman told me there’s no baby in the building, I weirdly enough stopped hearing it for a day or two, and had actually started to wonder if I’d imagined it altogether. But today it’s been back, so the American woman is havering.
I mentioned it to Tess, and for some reason heard myself saying that I was a bit worried, that maybe I should think about calling social services or something. Which I hadn’t actually been thinking until I blurted it out, but as soon as I did, I realised it was true. Obviously I’m no expert (yesterday’s BritPop dinner triumph notwithstanding), but there’s something not right about this baby’s crying. Even on Alfie’s grouchiest days it’s never quite so shrill, quite so incessant. Quite so… desperate.
Even as I write this, I get a horrible feeling in my stomach at the thought of it.
Anyway Tess — she dismissed it. Muttered that babies cry, it’s what they do, and as I tried to describe better how this crying is different, I could feel myself getting defensive. It’s true that I wasn’t around so much for Alfie’s infancy, City law firms aren’t big on bathtime, but I’m home with him now, and I’m not a moron. I know that babies cry, and I know that this one’s crying isn’t normal. So I snapped, and she snapped, and this fragile truce that’s existed between us since we decided to move to Sweden and start again was shattered into a gazillion pieces.
And then it got worse.
Somehow she wound up demanding to know if I wasn’t handling the stay-at-home-parent thing, if this was some convoluted excuse for us to give up, go home, and I was so horrified I was fully speechless for a second. This has got nothing to do with me and Alfie, me and Alfie are fine. Finally I yelled something or other back and she accused me of wanting us to go back to the normal, traditional way where I went out to work and she stayed home and —
“And you fuck the neighbour while our baby naps?”
It was as though my finger slipped on an over-sensitive trigger and the words shot into the room, reverberated around the silence. Tess flinched as though physically hit. She was standing over by the window, where Alfie normally hunkers down with his trains, and I was by the door and it struck me that we were as far apart as we could possibly be while still being in the same room.
The silence stretched on for eons. I couldn’t even think. Couldn’t take it back, didn’t know if I wanted to.
“I don’t want to go home,” I choked out finally. “It’s working. This. Me and Alfie. It’s fine.”
She nodded shakily, the guilt and fear and horror in her eyes sawing at my heart, and it was then that I heard tiny footsteps scampering down the hallway. I couldn’t stop myself from snapping ‘now you’ve bloody woken him’ even though it was me that shouted. I stormed into the bedroom, flinging the door open and slamming it behind me, and Alfie sat up in bed and started to cry.
I sat cross legged on his wee camp bed at the foot of ours and I pulled him onto my lap and buried my face in his curls, trying to stem the torrent of horror that was washing over me. What now?
Have I done it? Is this it? Is there any going back after admitting that I know, have known all along?
Somehow, in the midst of this crashing cacophony of thoughts, a little sliver of one managed to worm its way through.
The bedroom door.
I opened it.
It was shut.
Alfie couldn’t have run down the hallway then fully closed the door behind him.
I woke him by coming in to the bedroom.