At a remote farmhouse on a windless night all was quiet, even the animals were settled, only the muted sound of legs moving in straw and the blowing and sighing of the cows in the barn could be heard.
A young pair were seated at a wooden table in the kitchen staring into empty wine glasses happy in their tiredness. The dog on his mistresses’ lap had his eyes shut. Even the fire was drawing its last breath of oxygen behind the iron guard and everything would remain so until someone had the courage to drag weary bones to the almost painful nightly rituals of security and tooth hygiene, before the reward of sleep.
“What the….”said the young man, alert enough to penetrate the mind of his almost sleeping wife.
“Mmm?” the weary woman stirred uncomfortably. Not moving yet just hoping it would come to nothing.
“There it is again!” he said calmly, opening the top half of the door with his ear cocked to the left. “Yes again, there it is again. It’s a cat, no, no a kitten or something?”
“Please close the door Peter, all the heat it leaving. I hear nothing and I see nothing, I want nothing but,” she stopped for a big yawn, “bed.” She sighed, raising her head off her hands to look at him through creased eyes.
“Yes, again, again, come here, please Annie. Maybe it is not a cat, no wait, it almost sounds like a baby crying. I am not joking, really!” Peter beckoned her with a finger up to his mouth for her silence.
“You can be so cruel sometimes Peter Beck.” She woke up and turned on him, pausing for effect, “What have we talked about all evening –oh yes, that would be right, our seeming inability to have children. Very funny, very cruel Peter Beck, I am off to bed.”
She got up agitated and awkward from the wine and warmth, stumbling towards another door.
Peter rushed to his wife, held her and whispered, “No Annie, that is not me, and you know it! Here take this coat, I will get mine. It might be an animal in distress and I don’t want to frighten it away. Please, I am so sorry, it is coincidental to our talk. Please, please Annie.”
She got up, wiped away a stray frustrated tear from her tired leaking eyes and headed towards the half open door. Sometimes she hurt this man because she was so angry at her body for not responding to her own needs. Without a thought she slipped on the blue coat he was handing her that was once a fashion coat with a hood but had become conditioned by the ravages of farm life.
“Peter! I am….sorr.” His look of forgiveness relieved her from furthering the sentence. He put a finger up to his mouth again, holding out his hand.
It was exciting to them to go out into the dark after eleven pm, they never did. Even though there was no evening routine on the farm, going out at that time, unless for the animals it was not done. They ploughed into their unexpected adventure.
“Why didn’t Alfie bark?” Annie questioned.
“That is a point?” replied her husband, stopping and thinking for a second. “Perhaps he can’t hear it? No way, he hears everything.” This made him pause, holding his wife’s hand.
“Peter, why do we live on a farm and own a Pekingese who I have to cook for as he won’t eat dog food and doesn’t much like relish going for walks, don’t farm dogs round up sheep?” she joked.
This lightened Peter’s thoughts as they went out a little further.
He looked round with fun in his eyes, “There needs to be no explanation for Alf, he is just a love dog and we don’t have sheep remember! Please can we just get this show on the road!”
“Might I point out that I haven’t even heard a note of this show so far!”
“Annie, please come and listen.” Peter insisted now.
They stood there, they waited, both hearing the sound and then stepped on into the cold night.
They took a few steps and then paused and listened again, hoping for a clear direction.
“Oh my God,” cried Annie, “That is a child, I am sure of it, and a young one. Oh my God, where is it? Pete where is it? We have to find it! How could someone leave it here? Perhaps its’ mother was young and hid it from her parents. Perhaps it was abandoned here. Oh God Pete!”
Peter responded with his finger to mouth gesture.
His own paternal instincts had also kicked in and he had begun to run, left, right, and into the cow barn towards the chicken coop, across the yard again, back towards the house. The noise seemed to move further away every time they were close to it. It seemed to play games with them, they could hear it clearly, run towards it, and then it appeared to come from somewhere else.
“The wood Annie, it is coming from the Wood.”
“Yes.” Her heart had started beating faster and faster, the tranquillity of the previous half hour lost forever now.
The wood surrounded the farmhouse on three sides mainly by large oak trees but fortunately, Peter had made pathways into it from all sides. They stared at the different paths wondering which one to go down.
“Let’s split up,” he called to Annie.
“No, no, it is too dark. Let’s go together.” She insisted, clinging to him for breath more than anything.
The sound of the crying infant grew louder and louder until they were both holding their heads in their hands as though their brains were being crushed. They found themselves holding tighter and tighter as though a force stronger than both of them had entered their bodies and was attracting them to each other like a powerful magnet.
Peter, who rarely cried, started weeping and sank to his knees pulling his wife to the floor with him. They seemed to fall into a deep sleep on the floor of the wood, a dark bleak heap of human exhaustion, tangled up together like a twisted sleeping bag.
Annie stirred first. Her legs ached from the position she had fallen into. Her first thoughts went straight to her husband, sweaty faced and sickly looking in the early dawn.
“Peter, wake up, please love, this is my fault. I should have been less, oh I don’t know, please wake up Peter, please,” she pleaded. She wanted to slap him as she was afraid in the silence.
She managed to untangle herself from him a little and reluctantly checked for a pulse. Then she heard Alfie barking in the background, barking to be heard and agitated by something, very agitated. She checked Peter’s neck for his pulse again.
Suddenly, he moved his arms almost hitting his wife in the confusion to find her properly. “I am awake, I was never asleep, I tripped or something.” He said defiantly.
“Yes, but look at the time Pete, it is almost morning, look at the light through the trees.” She started to cry softly, very softly until he sat up and then stopped, the tears frozen to her face in alarm as the sound of the baby started again.
“Oh no, no, no!” she whimpered, untangling herself fully.
It was coming from the farmhouse. Alfie was barking at an intruder.
“What the…!” Peter shouted. They found themselves running, holding one another up, but running fast.
In front of the iron grill before a solitary glowing ember lay a trembling baby, still red looking as though just born, crying faintly now. The baby appeared to be completely naked but looked like a silver Christmas bauble, absolutely covered in silver and white glitter. Alfie had some on his nose and was now sneezing uncontrollably.
“What the…!”Peter repeated yet again.
Annie just stared, she wanted to pick it up, feed it, clothe it, wash it, anything it, but as it was shining so brightly she did not know what to do or whether it really was a child?
“What is it?” was all she could manage.
“It’s a baby, here Alf, come away from it now.” Peter was too shocked to move.
They both stared at it for what seemed ages.
“How did it get in here?” He said soon after.
“I don’t know. Alfie leave it alone please.” Annie started to cry again. She couldn’t do anything for it, “Phone your father immediately Peter.”
“No, no wait, Annie, perhaps its’ mother brought it into the house while were outside and she may still be here?”
She thought for a moment. “That does not explain why it is covered in silver and white…muck! Why would a mother leave a baby covered in that? I mean what is it? Please call your father Pete. It needs help, actually look, he needs help, he is a he.” The word help seemed to alter things and in that simple moment her defences collapsed and the little shiny baby was safely in her arms and heading upstairs.
“Annie wait, the dust could be important to find the child’s mother! I will call my father.” He shouted after her, running up a flight of hollow creaking wooden stairs.
“There is dust everywhere, in it, around it, if they need evidence they can take it from that. This child will die if I don’t help it. He looks as though he was only born an hour ago. Look Peter, take a good look, pretend it is a calf for a second, look it is only just born. His eyes are half closed and look at the sticky stuff from the mother, that must be why the glitter is sticking to it?” she gasped swaying from one brain wave to another.
Peter lowered himself over the minute human being.
“Oh…,” Silence, “You are right?” Silence, “We heard it crying over four hours ago though?” He shivered and lowered his head to the toilet seat as nausea swept over him, even after everything this still made him feel embarrassed. He wanted to be alone and gestured for them to exit. Annie shocked him out of it.
“Never mind that now, find a blanket for him. Anything, a towel. We need cotton wool. Baby’s always have cotton wool near them for some reason and baby lotion too, there is some on my dresser.” She was blurting out the first baby related things which came to her.
The sound of the running water and the comfort and nostalgia of a steamy bathroom seemed to bring some normality to the situation. Peter obtained the softest cuddliest towel from the airing cupboard and laid it out on the floor ready to swaddle the baby, who had stopped crying and seemed to have resigned himself to his first peculiar glimpse at life. They fussed again over the temperature of the water, and how warm the milk should be to feed him. Luckily they had a supply of sterilised bottles which were Annie’s cousin’s baby who had been a recent visitor and forgotten to take them home. Then they worried whether it could stomach cow’s milk which they decided to water down a bit with boiled water. The child took whatever was coming to it, making no noise at all.
“Oh look Peter. Its eyes are opening a bit! Oh he is so adorable!” Annie cooed, made for the job.
“Is it definitely a boy, I could hardly make it out when it looked like a Christmas cracker!”
“Oh course he is a boy, a gorgeous, lovely boy!” she carried on cooing at the tiny figure in her arms.
After some rummaging about in the attic Peter managed to locate an old wooden cot he had slept in as a child. It had a rather worn hand painted Womble on the headboard which his mother had attempted to copy from an Orinoco poster they had put up on his wall as a baby. He managed to erect it and laid the tiny mattress down covering it with an adult size sheet as they had not baby sized belongings in the house. Yet.
“There,” he gasped tired out.
His wife handed him the baby and set about re-arranging things like a mother hen. She removed the grown up sized pillow Peter had put at the head end.
“Babies don’t have pillows.” Was all she said, as a matter of fact, not in a scolding voice.
The small boy was warm, milked and asleep before he reached the cot. He looked contented to be there with them, totally oblivious to all. Oblivious to estranged Mothers and future anxieties his untimely invasion may cause.
Annie was at the wooden table again with Alfie on her lap staring happily at a full glass of red wine, glowing all over, just as the baby had been in his peculiar silver costume. Peter was on the telephone.
“Dr Beck speaking,” uttered a surprised and sleepy voice. He was used to answering the phone from a deep sleep and had all but mastered the art of appearing more awake than he ever felt in the middle of the night.
“Dad, it’s Peter.” He said hesitantly.
“Oh Christ Peter. I’m off duty. What time is it? Oh for goodness sake son it’s 5.30 a.m.”
Peter mimicked him down the phone and Annie waved her hands in amusement at him to continue.
“Yeah, I know Dad, can you come over right away, it’s the thing is, we’ve found something.”
“Found what?” he scowled and Peter could hear the rustle of his huge feather down duvet rustling as he was climbing back into bed. “What is it Peter.”
Peter mimicked him again. “Someone left a baby in our kitchen tonight. It is only a few hours old and we need the police and a doctor. Preferably you, now Dad, right now!”
He could hear the enormous duvet being thrown somewhere and a fearsome grunting from the other end of the telephone as his father’s somewhat tall but ungainly frame hauled itself to its feet.
“Ok, two seconds!” the phone clicked cold.
The young couple waited on the step at the bottom of the stairs listening for any noise coming from the new nursery. Peter’s head resting on Annie’s lap as she stroked his hair. His head felt very heavy, perhaps heads are heavier when a person was extremely tired? Fortunately, the couple had been about to embark on their first holiday since taking on the farm three years earlier and so they were not obliged to do the morning duties as they had help coming. However, Peter forced himself up, he wanted his routine, the routine he had hoped to abandon for a few weeks. He now sought comfort in his animals and the pleasant surroundings, he needed to be outside.
“I will be with the calves if you need me love, I need fresh air and I will check if the mother is out in the yard or somewhere.” He slammed the back door and Annie winced. She did not really care and dragged herself to the warmth of their big Aga and put the kettle on to make a strong pot of thick coffee. She then took her steaming cup and sat back down on the old splintered stair case with Alfie who had snuggled his little Peke nose into her slippers. She would creep up now and again to admire the sleeping boy in the Womble cot.
“Wow!” she thought, not wanting to think that soon the temporary baby would be gone.
Soon after, the noise of a car filled the yard and Alfie got up racing to the door, silenced quickly by Annie, who ran after him, her thoughts firmly elsewhere.
“Sean,” she said, hugging her father-in-law, and then she started crying and babbling to him about collapsing in the yard and the baby noises and the running. “We couldn’t find him!”
“Where is Peter?” he was worried about his son
They discovered him looking under some bushes searching for the baby’s irresponsible mother.
“Ah, there you are son.” He said softly in his deep voice, “Show me the damage.” Leading them both back to the house.
“Oh no, I forgot to phone the Police,” wailed Peter angry with himself.
“Done!” Said Dr Beck.
They showed him a healthy sleeping baby wrapped in a fresh towel looking very pleased for himself. The Dr lent over him and then opened the towel to inspect him. He checked him over and moving him from left to right as though he were a precious antique. After a thorough examination of the little boy he said:
“One fine baby and my goodness he looks almost identical to you Peter when you were born. It is truly uncanny the likeness! How extraordinary.” He stopped his examination to look a little longer. “He is a good five hours old though. Sure you got the timing right? I will have to take him to the hospital to be examined properly and the Police report will be filed and then there will be an appeal to the mother before he’s probably fostered out somewhere.”
“Annie shivered, “Couldn’t he stay here until his mother is found. We have fostered older children in the past year remember. Just until his Mum turns up?”
“Well if you think you could take him on then we will go through the appropriate channels and see what happens.” He hugged his daughter-in-law tightly and gave her a knowing look. He smiled and hugged her again. He had always thought she would make a great Mum to any child be it fostered, adopted or God willing her own.
“We will see.” She looked at peace for a moment. Then turned her attention to her husband’s pasty and tired face.
“Oh Pete, show Sean the strange dust by the fire place that he was covered in.” she said drying her tired moist eyes.
They explained the whole story to the Doctor over another cup of coffee. They had to repeat it several times before the bewildered man could take it all in.
“Sounds nonsensical to me. So you go out at 11 p.m. and then you fall asleep on the floor of the wood and then wake up all mixed up together and then find a baby on your kitchen floor covered in Fairy dust or whatever it is? Say again?” He would interrupt the story over and over trying to understand.
The police arrived, thankfully, and Annie and Peter had to repeat the story several times again to rather cynical looking officers before they were allowed to have any peace. The dust was collected for laboratory testing and the dog was inspected by the local vet who had arrived to see a calf. The vet gave Alfie the all clear and said he had just got some irritant up his nose.
“It won’t do the dog any harm but how extraordinary to find a baby covered in this stuff. It looks like chalk mixed with Christmas glitter or sparkly fake snow. What a strange thing for the mother to do?” The vet trudged back out into the yard towards the barn looking back at them from time to time as if they were all wrong in the head.
The presiding officer informed them that they would have to go down to the Police Station and repeat their statement and help with the appeal for the missing Mother.
“So much for our holiday.” Said Peter looking vexed. He was already so tired from the last three years of hard graft getting the farm at all viable and had been so looking forward to a rest. He had so many plans for the farm and the last thing he really needed were any interruptions. Although they could eat and pay bills they both knew that they needed to expand and they had planned to discuss everything during their “holiday”.
“What about the baby?” Asked Annie to the friendly officer.
“He is going to the hospital with your father now. Thanks for taking him in and everything. We will let you know what happens naturally. I hear you may foster the little boy, how great. You may need to go to court at a later date if the mother does turn up and you will need to make your testimony. Your story is a bit confusing so have a think about it, you may have been disorientated by the dark and the shock of the whole situation. It is quite a bizarre story but you don’t seem like people who make up tall tales so please gather your recollections. At the station by four p.m. please, now you look like zombies, go and rest.” Said the office who tapped his hat and walked away briskly.
Annie and Peter closed their door listening to the howling of the official vehicles speeding away. Without a word they got ready for bed and were both asleep within ten minutes.
Peter woke first at about three p.m. and Annie, who he knew was utterly exhausted, was nowhere to be seen. He took a few moments to register this and then sat up confused knowing instantly he was alone in the house besides the dog who was licking his paws noisily beside the foot of the bed. Without wasting time thinking about it he got dressed, wishing for a shower, but not wanting to waste precious time.
He was out in the yard in seconds. Oliver, the student who helped out on the farm in the holidays waved to him and he half acknowledged him but he was in his car and away to the hospital before he fully understood his own actions.
There was Annie on a deep plastic coated chair looking straight ahead.
“Annie, what are you doing here, honey?” he said sympathetically, he could see she was partially in a trance. “We have to go to the police station in twenty minutes, what is happening?”
She hesitated, her rather greasy light hair sticking to her temples and shrouding her face at the sides like a bobble hat. Her eyes red from crying and she looked sick or sickened by something.
“I had to come and see the baby, you know, to find out how he was. I don’t know what it is but I don’t just want to foster him I want to adopt him if the mother doesn’t come forward. He is just so beautiful and he does look like you. I just got taken with him. You saw him crying when he left me and he didn’t cry once when he was in my arms. I won’t take a no, I won’t compromise, I, sort of love him.” She fell forward with her head on her chest breathing deeply. She couldn’t explain her emotional outburst at all.
Peter just held her and said nothing, oddly he did not want to say anything and he did not care anymore, he just wanted everything to feel normal again. Whatever else happened seemed irrelevant he just wanted his wife to be happy even if it meant a monumental decision to be made such as a adopting a baby. None of them were really thinking clearly.
“Ah, Peter,” said a confident voice behind him.
“Dad,” he acknowledged, relived to see his Father.
“Take Annie to the station will you and make your statements. Go easy on the part about falling asleep in the wood, won’t you. Just tell them where you found the baby and at what time. Keep things simple.” Advised the Doctor. He looked back at his son and daughter-in-law and sighed heavily wondering if they could cope with any more difficulties. He always felt taking on the farm was too large an undertaking for them. He looked at his watch and headed towards the exit.
Shortly afterwards they were at the station and the officer in charge seemed to acknowledge their fatigue so he took their statements quickly. Annie was too sleepy to say much so Peter played down the peculiarities of their experience and put their collapse down to a bad bottle of wine which probably made sense all round. There was no escaping the Christmas dust but the police just told them it would be analysed and it should not overly concern them.
At home they sat in front of the kitchen fire which was a large inglenook with an open cast iron grate, sitting on their rather old sofa which had seen better days. They did not talk much just sipped their drinks and felt warm being together with the dog flat out on the rug near them, glad to be there again. They glanced at one another sporadically smiling slightly, wordlessly comforting each other.
There was a knock, and Dr Beck let himself in, patting little Alfie on the head. The dog did not bark at the Dr as they were good friends, despite Sean feeling that he was a wholly inappropriate dog for a farm! He plonked himself down next to his son and patted his knee sharply.
“Well,” he said, “Switch on the local news.” Glancing up at the old Grandfather clock which said six, local news time. The clock didn’t chime properly, it growled. “Must get that clock fixed son,” he mumbled, something he mentioned on every visit. It had become more endearing than annoying.
The news reader looked terribly grave informing the viewers of pay cuts and job losses. Then the news they had been waiting for. No mother had come forward or been found for the little boy discovered at the farm house just outside their village. The news reader announced that the little baby boy was doing well and that the hospital had named him Christopher because he had the appearance of a strange glitter that the boy had been anointed in. It was mentioned that the family who found him had decided to foster the child as they were already registered as foster carers should the mother not appear before the baby was released from hospital. The name of the hospital was mentioned and a spokesman for the family hoped that the mother would soon come forward and that she too may need hospital treatment.
Annie smiled for the first time that day, hanging onto the words, no mother found as yet.
“Dad, you look wrecked, stay here tonight.” His son urged him.
His father climbed out of the sofa which gave the impression of sucking people down into its comfortable depths and shook his head. He straightened his blue jacket and felt in the pocket for his car keys.
“No, thank you both, your mother is due home tonight and I want to be with her this weekend. We’ve had a few disagreements lately and I think I ought to go home, at least in person. The mind will return after a good night’s sleep.” His sigh was from somewhere deep within him. “Look after Annie she looks unwell, just fatigue I expect, she will be all right tomorrow. Anyway you will need sleep if you are taking young Christopher in, babies tend to take over. Are you sure you want all this, it is a terrible passion killer. Believe me.” He got up laughing at his own joke.
He then turned to Peter as they passed out of the door into the yard together.
“Help her breathe son, she is holding her breath.” His father let go of his hand and took off a bit shakily stumbling into the Buddleja and disturbing some midges hovering in the early evening sky.
“You need to rest too Dad.” Peter laughed and waved his father out of the drive.