• Vol. 02
  • Chapter 03
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Circles and Lines

Your baby, they said, is seriously ill.
      All she can remember now are the nostrils leaning over her as she lay in bed trying to make sense of these words. The nurse’s nostrils were like a horse, the consultant’s a perfect paisley tick, and the flat lines of her husband’s as he held her hand so tightly that the blood stopped flowing to her fingers and she had to free her hand and wave it between them until the feeling came back. Flap flap in the wind, he’d say later, when they could laugh about it, trying to replace that moment of terror with a happy story to tell their now healthy son when he was old enough.
      But while her husband remembers her flapping like a seal catching a ball, she remembers the way his nose closed in on itself as if he wasn’t letting himself breathe. The white skin on her hand. How quickly they had forgotten to touch each other without pain.

On the train to the hospital in London she lets her gaze soften until the telegraph poles stop standing separate and proud but instead merge into one black line, blocking out the lines in between. It’s how Gestalt therapy was created, she remembers the counsellor saying, that realisation that humans will always long to complete a pattern, to see a full ring even when it’s broken.


Circles and Lines

Wherever she goes these days, she searches for ghost-writing. As she ambles down to the Thames, she spots lines just visible on an abandoned factory – Japanese Parts for Japanese Cars. And Morgan’s the Friendly Ironmongers, paint-peeling off from the side of that now smart house, the former shop window now bricked up. COURAGE! An old brewery sign shouts out over a council estate she’s circling round to get to the river bank. There the paths are straighter, and she walks with one hand stretched out as if she’s on a rowing boat, trailing her fingers in a sun-warmed lake. It’s a shock to touch instead the arm of a Chinese tourist, to see her own scared white face looking back at her through the camera lens that is suddenly twisted around to face her. She runs on, leaving that trace of herself behind, the touch on the shoulder, the ghost in the lens.

After she’s seen the consultant, her fingers circle her wrist, her thumb meets her index finger. She is completing herself.
      Your baby. A happier story.
      Then when she’s ready, she follows the yellow line on the hospital floor until she reaches the ward where her husband waits.