July 2017 Winner

Fear of Fatherhood

Kevin Doyle

I attempt to yell again from the bottom of my throat, and I do try, but the words get stuck in my Adam’s apple. I’m so stiff it feels like I’m wrapped in a Mummy costume, my arms pinned by invisible bandages. My stomach feels like a washing machine on full blast, swishing around and around, with fear. I’m sat bolt upright; my skull lying against my bed headboard. I know I’m paralysed but I continue to attempt movement again but it’s a fruitless exertion. I watch the back of my chicken legs retreat towards the landing in small steps, with my four-month-old daughter Sarah over this person’s shirtless naked shoulder, my shoulder. I can’t turn my head to any side, but I know my wife isn’t in the room to make this nightmare safe instead of sinister. Thirteen years together attracts this knowing telepathy. I can’t see Sarah’s light blue eyes that are like the sky in Spain on a thin aired summer’s day amid the darkness of this early April three thirty morning. I can imagine they are full of their usual positive innocence but with a drop of haunted distress in them. I wish her eyelashes, so similar to a baby spider’s legs, would attack that stranger, and poison him.

There’s a sudden immense white flash, like someone with the biggest camera in the world has just pressed the click button. Bleary-eyed, I just about see amongst my black and white spotty vision, my daughter being thrown over the bannisters with a force similar to a gym goer throwing a medicine ball to the floor with full force. The other me, vanishes out of sight.

I finally screech, my lips no longer feel superglued together. I break free from the prison of my bed. I sprint to the bannisters, and look down over them. The stairs have disappeared, but Sarah is floating in mid-air around a darkness that must only have been ever seen in space. But, there’s no bright stars or colourful planets here. The speed of her descent picks up just as fast as left over minuscule food bits washing down a sink with the tap on full blast. She keeps whirling around and around, her eyes shut, towards a twirling black hole. She vanishes.

The stairs return to normal as I take them two at a time. The kitchen door is open. But, it’s day time now. My Dad is sitting on our wooden kitchen chair with a black leather seat as a cushion, munching on a chocolate digestive biscuit, and drinking black coffee. This other me who threw my daughter into the unknown hole, is sat opposite him in the other kitchen chair. A forcefield is blocking me entering the room. No matter how many times I run at it, I bounce off it. Beyond the kitchen, out in the back garden, I can see Sarah’s legs kicking. She’s flat out in the grass that’s growing an inch by the second. My vision stays on her. My ears eavesdrop to the conversation in the kitchen.

‘We’ll bring her to Spain,’ Dad says, with a smirk knowing somewhere inside himself that’s going to annoy me but make him happy.

‘Bit early for that, Dad, she’s only four months old,’ I reply, shoulders curved, my eyes wandering towards anything but his eyes.

‘And what about schools?’

My stomach clenches.

‘Jesus, Dad. Haven’t thought about it.’ I sigh through my nose, it sizzles in my chest, burning it.

‘You’ll have to register her for something as soon as possible, places fill up fast.’

‘You’re right, Dad. Will get on it.’

‘It’d better be a proper school and not one of these new age Educate Together nonsense.’

The other me doesn’t reply to him.

Another white flash, this one softer, and I’m back into the realism of this early morning. I open the kitchen back door which leads onto my garden. I look everywhere for my daughter, but I can’t see her. The grass is at a normal length, trimmed down from the terrifying growth I’m sure I witnessed only moments earlier. I check the shed, every bin, and through every gap that’s available. I find nothing. Blood rushes from my body and fills my outer skin with ripe tomato rage. I see something in my peripheral vision in the sky. It’s a red winged bird the size of a young child, with a slither of yellow across the bottom of his wing. This feathered foe with small sharp button eyes holds my daughter from her vest as delicate as a lioness holding cubs with her mouth. After many more glides of taunting and teasing around the dark sky, he gives up and sits on top of the chimney on a house diagonal to mine, without Sarah in his rotten beak. The bird puffs out its chest like a bodybuilder, and flies into the darkening empty night. I drop to my knees, and cover my face with my palms, crying hysterically into them. My shoulders jumping up and down, a spasm has just erupted in them. Getting up from the moist grass, I spot Sarah. She’s on the window ledge upstairs in my bedroom. Her violent cries can be heard through the thick window pane.

I dash back into the kitchen, through the hallway, and stomp the soles of my feet up the stairs, going so fast my legs burn. That flash of white light is back, more like car headlights beam on full blast than a camera this time. After my vague vision turns back to normal, my bedroom is a café.

I’m with my work colleague Lauren, who’s a year from retirement. I watch this other me, again in astonishment, from my bedroom door.

‘Ah, that’s a beautiful picture, David,’ Lauren says, eating a scone with lumps of butter mixed in with jam.

‘Thanks, how’s your grandchildren?’ I say, leaning forward as she searches through her phone for pictures of them.

‘Jessica’s talking about boys. Getting boobs. And she got her first period last week. Painful.’

I sup on my overly expensive peppermint tea. The hot water burns but soothes my throat. I’ve never self-harmed, but that’s the closest I’ve ever got to it.

‘There she is from five years ago at a Halloween party.’ Lauren extends her right arm straight out to my face, and continues to eat her scone with a fork in her left hand.

‘Fantastic,’ I say, with a smile.

‘You lose them around eleven,’ Lauren looks up at me, abandoning her food.

‘What do you mean?’ I reply, my eyebrows squeezing together.

‘You’re their superman for now. But, at that age. Eleven, maybe twelve. They turn towards their friends, teachers. Anyone but you. Enjoy it while she’s still so small.’

I take out a picture of my daughter under the table, to confirm her innocence. I stare into her smile. It reminds me of a warm apple pie, it makes my tummy feel warm, fuzzy and soft. Her cheeks could be confused with a marshmallow when pressed on with a thumb if blind folded. I rub my index finger on the screen, and twinkle her nose.

‘Teenage boys are the worst,’ Lauren says.

I can only see her dyed blonde hair now, her eyes firm in her mini laptop.

‘What do you mean?’ I hope my voice doesn’t sound confrontational.

‘The twenty-four hours’ access to anything, no matter the content, has their brains ruined and they expect. It was just a kiss behind a tree in my day. They swarm around teenage girls like bees to honey.’

My alarm clock goes off. It’s six thirty am. I move the over powerful heavy sheets off me that should be banished until the winter comes. I make my way over to the basket attached to our bed. My daughter Sarah is waking from her sleep, her little eyes trying to open wide. Her head turns to the side towards her mother. She begins to open her eyes. The faint urine smell mixed with the rubber from her nappy suggests she needs a change, and the blue tick right down the middle confirms this intuitional suspicion. I lift her up over my shoulder, and I whisper into her ear that she’ll always be mine and nobody, or anyone or anything is going to take her away from me, ever. I change her nappy, wipe her soft skin with a baby wipe. She’s fresh, again.

‘Child snatcher,’ my wife says.

Sarah begins to scream for food. My wife, with squinting eyes from lack of sleep, scoops her up from the changing mat, by the neck, and shovels a bottle into Sarah’s mouth. The process is done as easy as fitting a key into a lock. I lay my head against my pillow. I’m about to check the news on my phone but this morning, I leave it aside. I close my eyes and put my hands interlacing behind my head. Recalling. That other me.