Chapter One: Tilly’s House
The most arduous journey ever undertaken by Man is the passage of birth. The unborn leaves one realm to enter into another. And this one is like no other. It is earth. A mired place full of endless journeys...It is foretold after birth comes knowledge. But this is a grave oversight. For it is clear to see the innocent beheld knowledge long before the start…
Christine considered herself a fast walker, but she found she was making an effort to keep up with her companion, Lydia.
They had emerged from Regent’s Park underground station - just a little over five minutes ago - and had entered into what seemed like a cul-de-sac harbouring a short row of houses on either side of the road. But this particular street did not close off at the end but gave way to a pedestrian crossing leading to one of London’s oldest parks.
The two women did not engage in conversation - there was no need. All the introductions and pleasantries had been exchanged on the tube ride up. Instead the pair sped past the grand white Georgian houses that beamed like blocks of salt against the purple night sky.
The arcane street lamps positioned on both sides of the road flickered on. That was when Lydia spoke. “Ok. We’re almost there now,” she said, glancing over her shoulder. She smiled politely at Christine and pointed ahead. “Its four doors down. The one with the planters of flowers around the entrance.”
Christine gave a brief nod and quickly pulled level with her glamorous guide. Her name was Lydia ‘something’ ‘something’ she had politely informed her earlier. Her double-barrelled surname will certainly take some getting used to she had quickly concluded. And Lydia ‘something’ ‘something’ she observed was exactly the same height as herself. She looked about her age too
'Mmmm 29, 30, or possibly 31 - like me.’
“I have to thank you again for coming out this evening,” Lydia said suddenly. “I know we’ve never met before this,” she trailed off before continuing. “My cousin said you were a huge help to her and her partner - you saved them from a ton of grief.” Her immaculately tweezed eyebrows shot up as she said this.
Christine didn’t know what to say, so she just smiled back in response. Making polite conversation was strenuous enough, she found, let alone having to do it with some conviction. She was spared, however, as her companion suddenly veered off the pavement and began to mount the soaring white pillared steps. Christine was less than a pace behind her. The onyx black front door rapidly arose ahead of them; impervious and secure. While the brass-plated door number gleamed away in the background. And flanked on either side were two ornate lamp-holders which emitted a fiery glow; searing her vision even after she had blinked a few times.
‘No.24…24 of what? - Shoot!’
Christine realized she’d forgotten the address she had hastily scribbled down earlier. But of course there was nothing that could be done about that. She was here now.
Lydia only had to ring the doorbell once, the woman who answered was clearly distressed. Her bright blonde hair looked like it had been run through with a rake. She was slender and attractive. She was wearing skinny jeans and a tightly-fitted white top. Her bright blue eyes jumped from Lydia to Christine, then back to Lydia again.
“Hello my darling - you came sooner than I expected.” She received Lydia in a shower of coos and air kisses and then she quickly turned her attention to the pretty black girl standing in the doorway.
“Tilly this is Christine…She’s…”
“Hello Christine - do come in,” Tilly interrupted. “I hope this is not too much of a bother. I suppose Lydia has filled you in.” Before Christine could answer the air was suddenly slashed by a piercing scream followed by a gurgling wail. A sound, which could only be skillfully executed from the delicate lungs of a newborn.
Tilly rolled her eyes. “He’s awake again.” She sighed as she looked to the ceiling.
However while the baby continued with its screams of rage, or so it seemed, Tilly led the young women in the opposite direction. She walked them through a labyrinth of magnolia-washed corridors and checkered marbled flooring. “We won’t go to him just yet,” she called back. “My nanny, Maria, is with him, and besides, I would like a quick chat with you.” She glanced over at Christine as she said this.
All three of them had to duck slightly as Tilly guided them down a small flight of stairs which led into a bright and spacious living area.
The baby’s squeals of protest had long since been lost within the fabric of the walls.
Tilly waved her hand. “Please, sit down. Would you like some tea, co...?”
“Tilly. You look terrible!” Lydia said her wide, hazel-grey eyes keenly observed the figure in front of her. “Haven’t you slept since the last time we spoke?”
“I have but very little,” Tilly groaned a response. “If you think I look terrible I suppose, everyone else must think so too.”
Christine briefly listened in to their tête-a-tête, before their voices gradually phased into muffled sounds in the background.
She took a closer look at Tilly. She didn’t know what she was looking for. The blonde woman pacing up and down in front of her was rubbing her thin gold chain as though she were counting rosary beads. On closer inspection Christine could see that Tilly was not as young as she had initially thought. Although she did have a breezy countenance about her; flitting from one side to the next like an indecisive teenager. However, there was no doubting that Tilly was a new mother. The lack of sleep showed up like crescent moons underneath her eyes and judging by her heaving chest she was still actively breast-feeding, as well.
‘Stop this now’ she immediately chastised herself 'What am I? – A mind-reader? I’m here for a different purpose’
“Christine?” The sound of her name abruptly ended her private analysis. She looked to Tilly. “My son, Ethan is two-months old,” Tilly began. “You might find this hard to believe - or maybe not - considering your experience, but since the day he was born Ethan has not slept for two hours straight! Something’s interrupting his sleep.” She stopped talking and looked to her friend Lydia, whose gentle nod urged her to continue. “I-I have no idea how this works, but please can you look at him? I understand this is what you do - help babies?”
“Yes, it is what I do,” Christine replied her cheery smile hiding a sudden bout of self-consciousness.
“And if you don’t mind me asking,” Tilly enquired, “do you have any children of your own?”
“No. I don’t.” Christine answered Tilly. Her wandering hand found a loose strand of hair which she quickly tucked behind her ear. She found it quite impressive how one of her ringlets always seemed to smuggle its way out of her tightly secured bun. She softly cleared her throat. “Now. Just before I see him I have some questions for you - nothing serious,” she added, noting the look of discomfort on Tilly’s face, “just a few standard questions.” She coughed. “Are you the primary caretaker of Evan - Ethan?”
“Yes” Tilly replied, “But like I said I do have a nanny - Maria - who helps out every so often. It’s so that I can attend to my other duties, as you do, you know, they don’t just get up and do themselves!” she said with a nervous laugh.
However Tilly stopped pacing and sat herself down on the nearest couch facing Lydia and Christine. Both of the women took this as a cue that Tilly’s story was just getting started.
“You see, Maria is new. She’s only been with us for two weeks. I’ve had three nannies in the space of two months. The last two were utterly useless. Within a week they handed in their resignations because they couldn’t deal with the constant crying. Though, to be fair, they were well on their way to receiving their marching orders,” her wide eyes blazed back at them in silent fury, “I mean – seriously! How can anyone profess to be a professional if they cannot figure out why a three-week-old baby is crying his lungs out? In short, what are they teaching these so-called specialists these days? Are they just giving these qualifications away?” She paused. “I’m so sorry,” she said in a fluster. She sighed and slowly wiped her face. “I didn’t mean to raise my voice. But Ethan is a beautiful baby - absolutely beautiful. I just don’t know what on earth, is the matter with him?” She turned away wistfully. “Other than the crying, he really is the most adorable thing. He looks just like my father,” she said there was no disguising her pride. “He was a colonel in the Coldstream Guards you know. He was a very fine man, what they call a true gentleman. He passed away six years ago. When I look at my son I see him, which is bizarre, but I guess these things happen.”
“Yes. Bizarre indeed!” Lydia cut in. “But, why not tell Christine a bit more about the problem?” she said rolling her eyes.
“Yes of course,” she quickly turned to Christine. “Since his birth, Ethan has not slept…Well… not consistently. He wakes up every two hours, or so, howling as if he’s in pain. But, more noticeably, his crying becomes more erratic in the early hours of the morning. We can’t see that there’s anything physically wrong with him, but there’s definitely something the matter with our son.”
Christine was instantly moved by Tilly’s apparent despair. She was all too familiar with the complete desolation parents felt, especially, when their babies cried incessantly.
“Carry on,” she smiled urging her to continue.
“Aaarrrrghh” Tilly groaned in frustration. She rubbed her eyes and sniffed, “I really thought I was prepared for childbirth...but…I didn’t foresee any of this! Nothing has turned out as I thought it would. I put on a brave face for everyone around me, even to my husband, but nobody knows just how stressful this whole ordeal has been for me. Before I gave birth I gained a horrendous amount of weight: puffy face, swollen ankles, varicose veins - the whole sodding lot! I hardly had any energy to do anything else - it was torture! Then a week before Ethan arrived I developed haemorrhoids. Can you imagine? I’ve never had any kind of venereal disease in my life, and then - here I was - with warts the size of grapes!”
“Tilly! It’s not the same -” Lydia interrupted.
“Well it might as well have been with the way it made me feel!” she sobbed to her friend. “It was the most uncomfortable experience of my life. But despite all this I still persevered. And finally, at last, Ethan was delivered by C-section - my request of course,” she hastily added, “but still a very horrific ordeal. I was unable to do anything after the operation. I still have a scar from where they cut me open and I don’t think it will ever go away. And please don’t get me started on the breast-feeding - it was an absolute nightmare! Apparently, Ethan wasn’t one of those babies who latched on right away. Whenever it was time to feed him, it felt as though I’d permitted a piranha to suckle on my nipple. Afterwards, all he had to do was yawn in my direction and I’d break out in a cold sweat. I can’t believe mothers go through this!” She wailed looking about her, but she continued to forge on with her traumatic report. “And now, my beautiful baby has arrived. He’s finally here! But look at me? I haven’t slept for weeks! I’m still 15lbs overweight, I have engagements to attend, commitments to fulfil, a husband to take care of, and a baby that consumes every waking moment of my life. Where does it end?” she breathed, “I don’t think it does,” she said answering her own question, “But who am I to complain?” she asked looking at her guests but not seeing their faces. “I have HELP for God’s sake!”
“Oh Tilly,” Lydia said rushing to her friend’s side. “You’re just having a bad day - that’s all! You’re just having a bad day.”
Lydia didn’t dare to look at the visitor in their midst but quickly suggested that she take her guest to see the baby. “Yes. Yes of course,” Tilly promptly nodded, she took a big gulp of air and then led the way…
Once more Christine found herself walking back up a short flight of stairs, through winding corridors, then out into the foyer. They then proceeded up another staircase which brought them onto another landing. All the while, Christine’s eyes drank in the paintings, portraits and other stylish chintz afforded by those not short of money.
A few moments later the three women quietly approached the nursery. The door was slightly ajar.
“She’s probably trying to lull him back to sleep again,” Tilly whispered.
From the outside the women could faintly hear the soft murmurings of Spanish being spoken to the baby, it seemed, who was not quite sure he wanted to listen as he whined away intermittently.
Tilly lightly tapped on the door before entering. “Maria, I’ve brought someone to look at Ethan.”
Whether it was the sound of his name, or the bright light which came flooding in from the landing, the baby howled at the sight of them.
“Oh no - there he goes again.” Tilly took the baby from Maria, who did little to hide her disapproval. Their intrusion had undone an hour of her good work. She was certain the baby was well on his way to a blissful slumber.
As soon as Christine stepped into the sumptuous dwelling space, the sweet, soft, scent, of baby cosmetics immediately embraced her like a warm hug: Powders. Balms. Oils. Lotions. She was no stranger to these signatory fragrances, it was almost distinct to all good homes with newborns in them. The room was avidly adorned with pale blue, and powdery white apparels; it looked like she had floated onto a patch of uncharted sky. The nursery was, no doubt, a demonstrable labour of love for the parents, as Christine could evidently see. It would seem no amount money was spared when they set about creating this stupendous place of Zen. She paused to take it all in.
Seriously Christine. Don’t they know? My mummy’s arms is the only room I want to be in, and all the playground I’ll ever need.
Christine quickly brushed off a smile – this was not the time for reflecting. She hurried over to the middle of the nursery, for there - in the midst of all that cloying loveliness - was a red-faced, fair-headed baby, refusing to be comforted. “If it’s alright with you I would like to be left alone,” Christine said without taking her eyes off the baby. “Is that okay?”
Light brown eyes, met pale blue ones. After a moment Tilly answered her. “Okay” she said softly with a nod. “We’ll wait for you downstairs.”
She gently handed the baby over to Christine and watched as the young woman caressed her son’s back and walked over to the rocking chair.
Tilly made a point of switching off all the lights on the landings as she and Lydia made their way back to the living area.
“Where on earth did you find her?” Tilly enquired a little later, as they sat with their cups of Darjeeling. She blew into her already tepid cup of tea.
“She’s a friend of my cousin Jilly,” Lydia replied. “She and her partner, Matthew, are quite fond of her. When you told me all about the problems you were having with Ethan I mentioned it to my cousin, since her son is roughly the same age as yours. She then told me all about Christine, and the rest is history.” She paused. “Jilly made me swear not to tell anyone about her - except you of course,” she added somewhat guardedly.
However, for all the attention Tilly was now showing her, Lydia might as well have said. ‘With the sky caving in!’
Tilly, being Tilly, hadn’t taken in much of what her friend had just said, but absentmindedly remarked. “And she’s got lovely eyes, hasn’t she? She’s quite exotic-looking - don’t you think?”
“Yes. And she’s here to look at your baby. What are you getting at?”
“Nothing,” Tilly said a little wounded. “I was just saying she’s quite attractive, that’s all. Mmmm very nice complexion,” she continued.
“Tilly, I believe she’s mixed - ‘mixed-race’” Lydia answered. Swiftly noting just how few non-white people she actually knew herself. Lydia gave Tilly a sideward glance but said no more. Instead she took a moment to study her friend. Tilly was talking, but she wasn’t sharing. She was looking, but she wasn’t focusing. Her friend seemed to be crawling into herself.
Were these the signs of postnatal depression? Lydia wondered. She had heard a great deal about this clinical malaise in the media.
Growing increasingly uncomfortable with the silence she decided it was best to keep on talking.
“How’s Rupert coping with fatherhood? I bet he just loves being a daddy,” Lydia smiled “What time does he get home?”
“In an hour,” Tilly replied with little cheer. Her eyes were focused on nothing in particular.
Lydia tried again. “Forgive me if I sound a bit dense here...” she began, “but have you taken Ethan to see a specialist, or what do you call them – a paediatrician?” She hesitated. “There could be an internal problem…Something wrong with him - on the inside?”
Tilly groaned. “Lydia. Don’t you think that’s the first thing Rupert and I did? “She slowly dragged her hands through her tousled hair. “At first they suggested it might be a bad case of colic.”
“Colic? I thought only horses got colic”
“Well, surprise, surprise. Babies get it too!” Tilly snapped. “Naturally, we bought all the medicines that are out there, and of course, nothing worked.
Kimberley, our first nanny, suggested we change Ethan at least three times during the night. Apparently, some babies have trouble sleeping in heavily soiled nappies. But of course - that wasn’t it. I later read somewhere that it could be hunger bringing on the tears, so we increased his feeds from three- to five-times a night, and still - nothing!” She flung herself forward in heightened exhaustion. “Seriously, Lydia. I’m at my wits end! I don’t know how much more of this I can take.” She fell silent. “Lydia, don’t laugh. But I get the feeling Ethan is trying to tell me something. Something, I’ve overlooked or I’m not seeing,” she mumbled. “Something’s disturbing his sleep…”
Lydia was certain if the conversation continued in this vein she was likely to slit her own wrists. She promptly changed the subject. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen your house this unoccupied before,” she casually remarked looking around her. Her eyes roamed upwards and connected with the un-powered TV screen which hung sullen and remote like a spellbinding portal in the wall. She looked to the spray of white orchids elegantly arranged on top of the pristine coffee table. “I must say, it seems positively empty without your wine-guzzling lackeys floating from room-to-room.”
“Oh that,” Tilly drawled. “They’re not lackeys, Lydia, they’re my friends’ darling. We have an understanding,” she answered nonchalantly. “We are all mothers now - sorry! Present company excluded,” she added for her friends benefit. She gave her a humourless smile. “I know hanging out here is no night out at Chinawhites, but as soon as you give birth your priorities change. Nowadays you’ll find me assessing nappies - not nightclubs. And you know what Lydia?” she said looking at her friend in all earnest. “I’m okay with that part. It’s just the not knowing part that really drives me crazy! I have no idea what I’m doing, and because of that I’m in a constant state of worry - I’m a terrible worrier as it is. I just wish there could be a book on this sort of thing, you know. I swear I’d follow it to the letter. But this…” She shook her head, her weary eyes trailed over to the window. She ended one conversation and began another. “I was told everybody loves the weekly tea-parties that I hold. But even that I’ve had to scale back on, due to the way things are at the moment.”
Lydia almost choked swallowing down her laughter. “You’re not exactly serving tea there, Tilly.”
Tilly smiled. “No. But that’s not the point. These gatherings mean the world to me. I’m part of a group, not just some rich man’s wife. And darling, we’re not just drinking and gossiping - okay, maybe we are a little bit - but it’s all harmless, really. I like bringing people together, that’s the thing that keeps me sane...” She didn’t say anything more. She carried on staring into her cup with a look that was miles away from her tea.
This time Lydia did sigh out loud.
God give me strength! Maybe it was time to embrace the silence
Lydia put down her own cup and walked over to the French windows.
Night had begun its gradual descent across the city of London. Looking into the dark did little to quell Lydia’s growing unease. “You know. You shouldn’t expect miracles,” she suddenly blurted, intuitively sensing that Tilly, like herself, was probably wondering what Christine was doing or, albeit, performing upstairs with the baby.
They didn’t have to wait much longer. At that moment Christine appeared.
Without looking to the left or to the right of her, she quickly headed towards the marble-fitted fireplace. She turned around and leaned a little awkwardly on the mantelpiece. From this angle, Christine was able to face both of the women dead on. At the same time, Lydia drew away from the window and placed herself at Tilly’s side. From an onlooker’s point of view the subtle movements played out like a game of chess.
Christine cleared her throat. “Th-These are his words, not mine.” She continued. “The champagne...”
She paused and then started again. This time without stopping. “I don’t like the champagne. The bubbles in the breast milk give me indigestion. If you do insist on having a tipple in the evening, then might I suggest you have a glass of that Rioja you occasionally have. None of that ‘New World’ drivel, as that gives me heartburn. But that Rioja. Yes, now that’s a good find!
I had no idea my crying was causing you so much grief. So after tonight, I won’t cry anymore, only, when I’m hungry or feeling cold. However if I do get indigestion, I’ll indicate by lifting my legs and scratching my face. Speaking of which, it’s high time I had my nails filed down again, don’t you agree?”
The ensuing silence was loud. The ubiquitous term: catching flies, sprung to mind as Christine calmly watched Lydia and Tilly gape back at her.
Lydia broke the silence with her query. “Is this some kind of joke?” she said in a blaze. She turned to her friend, whose usually creamy white complexion took on a greyish hue. Tilly looked frozen but opened her mouth to speak all the same. “Yes - yes it is good,” Tilly answered, as though she was in a trance. “Its 1982”
Lydia looked incredulous. “What’s 1982?” she demanded. She looked about her as though everybody had suddenly gone raving mad.
“That Rioja,” Tilly answered. She slowly turned her head back to look at Christine; her eyes wide with disbelief. What she said next seemed to hang in the air for eternity. “Thank you.”
Nobody moved but Tilly began to relax. One could literally see the tension rise up and float away from her like a spirit hurtling towards the next world. Nonetheless, Tilly maintained a knowing smile, a smile she was doing quite badly at suppressing. “Ethan - my father!” she called out emphatically “He’s here. He’s right here!” Her eyes wide and sparkly she continued to stare at Christine in a strange kind of wonder. “Oh my God…They’re all here…”
Yes Tilly! That is correct! The world may think you dim, but believe me, you’re a lot quicker than most. For your father - our Ancestors - haven’t completely left our lives as many have been led to believe. On the contrary, our Ancestors are very much alive, and they have much to say - and the babies are in the prime position to say it! But who can hear their tiny, miraculous voices? Well as it turns out one exceptional person can. One specially selected soul, with this unique ability to do so...
“Did he say anything else?” Tilly asked looking on with excitement.
“Nothing I wish to repeat.” Christine answered her, apologetically. Deadpan.
The smile froze on Tilly’s face.
Indeed, there is nothing remotely cutesy about baby-whispering, as the world is about to witness. Nothing cutesy about it at all…