Chapter Nine: The Best Kept Secret
‘Why do I do this? Why do I always do this to myself?’
Christine flinched at the grey reflection that grimaced back at her. She was brushing her teeth like the afflicted. Of course, there was nothing wrong with her mouth - it was her head which was out of sorts.
‘I should have stopped at the second glass,’ she chided herself. She briefly thought of her mother who, when it came to alcohol, was the complete opposite. It was never a point of discussion but Christine was sure her mother had a shot of sherry every night whilst taking in her soaps, a pint of Guinness on a Friday over the ironing, a glass of wine after Sunday dinner and a G&T at social gatherings. And all those times, Christine had never seen her mother drunk, tipsy or under the weather due to the ravages of alcohol. Her mother never binge-drank. It was something she didn’t approve of: ‘Young women acting like men’ she’d say: ‘What nonsense! If The Lord Almighty wanted us to drink like them, then there’d be no order in this world I tell yer! God knows you can’t run a household let alone a country if you’re ossified and full of the fear.’
‘Ossified’ and ’full of the fear’ were well-known Irish phrases which made Christine smile whenever her mother used them. All the same, her mother was probably right. She was many things, but a ladette wasn’t one of them. She paused in front of the bathroom doorway. She thought she was going to be sick but the feeling subsided.
‘Ahhh I will never drink like that again!’ she promised. A promise, of course, she would never keep.
On the way to the tube station Christine always made a brief stop at her local newsagent. Years before, she used to buy herself a newspaper but then they started to give them away. So instead, she stocked up on her usual: a bottle of water and a carton of orange juice.
When she entered the shop a heavyset Eastern European man was stood at the front of the queue. He was asking the shop owner for directions. Neither was listening to the other. She headed towards the freezer section but became distracted by a glossy tabloid screaming the mornings must read news: ‘Commons Powder Attack on Blair…’
Within seconds Christine had submersed herself into the story about the Prime Minister being pelted with purple paint in the House of Commons.
“Good morning,” beamed the shop owner, “Do you want the paper too?”
Christine had been served by him so many times she didn’t have to look up to see that he was wearing the same checkered granddad-style jumper over a mauve shirt. He was Asian and a little rotund. She hadn’t given him an answer but he was still smiling at her.
The tiny shop was densely stocked with premium prices stamped across every item.
‘If he needed a reason to be happy,’ Christine smiled thinking to herself ‘this was as good a reason as any’
“Oh I’m sorry. Just the water and orange juice for me, thanks.” She swiftly returned the newspaper to the top of the counter.
Unbeknown to Christine, on the front page of the recently returned paper there was an interesting story running down the left-hand column. It was a report about a real life baby-whisperer, resolving dilemmas across the city of London. The story went on to say that the full identity of the woman had not yet been disclosed. But the newspaper concluded that this was only a matter of time…
Christine popped her beverages into her handbag and continued with her journey into work.
Brian Henderson was the first person to greet her that morning. He was the magazines’ junior sub-editor. He handed Christine a cup of tea, in a coffee-branded mug. “There you go girl!” he winked. “Tea. Milk. No sugar. Did you get in okay?”
“Yes, fine thanks Brian,” she smiled back. She placed her tote bag on top of her desk and fitted her body-warmer around the back of her chair. “How about you?” she asked knowing his response was going to be anything but short.
“It was okay,” he said puffing his cheeks out, “although, for a minute there I thought I left my travel card in my other coat pocket...”
Brian was one of Christine’s favourite people in the office. He was a lanky, bespectacled, foreign-language graduate, with brown shoulder length hair and a passion for ‘real’ music, or so he professed. Christine smiled and looked on as Brian began - with much animation - to regale the office about his mis-adventure into work.
“You see, men don’t carry handbags so there aren’t many places to look are there?” he gestured, shoulders hunched, palms out wide. “They weren’t in the back of my jeans and I thoroughly checked my coat pockets as well. I realized I had to turn back home.” He paused to suck in a lengthy amount of air. “Now…at this point I was fuuuu-ming…”
Christine didn’t hear the end of his story, her phone rang. A woman with a crisp Scottish accent spoke up. “Hullo am I speaking to Christine Shore?”
“Miss Shore, my name is Silvia Moore. I’m a producer at Four Live. Do you have a moment to talk?”
’Four Live?’ Christine immediately recalled the well-known TV programme. “Yes, I have a moment. How can I help you?”
“I understand you have a very special ability to communicate with babies...”
“I know you might not want to discuss this at the moment,” the voice rushed on, “I understand the circumstances but I was wondering if we can meet up today or to-”
“Sorry - I have to stop you there! I don’t know where you got this number from bu -”
“You understand what babies are saying!” the producer cut in. “This is mind-blowing stuff! Don’t you want to…?”
“I think you’ve got the wrong information. I can’t help you – sorry…” Christine’s apology signalled the end of the conversation. She hung up in haste.
“…And that was how I was able to get into work on time,” Brian cheerily concluded. Christine looked up to catch him bare his youthful grin at his semi-captive audience. There were a few laughs and aaaahs as everybody swivelled their chairs back towards their workstations.
Christine also gazed back at her bleak, jam-packed, computer screen.
A TV Producer wants to talk to me? Oh my God - it’s got out!
Her heart began to scurry like a drowning rat. And there, in the midst of her personal turmoil, she warily recalled events from her past…
For some people, letting the world know that you possess such a unique gift would seem like the obvious way to go. It’s not that Christine didn’t entertain this idea. In fact, after the initial shock had worn off, she told her mother everything. And much to Christine’s surprise not only did her mother believe her, but she also encouraged her daughter to keep talking to as many babies as possible.
“I knew it! I always knew you were going to be someone special,” her mother cooed. “And I’m not just saying this because you’re my only child.”
Christine rolled her eyes. Naturally, mothers with only one child feel compelled to relay this cornball statement.
“So, you don’t think there’s something wrong with me, or anything like that?”
“Something wrong with you? Oh no my darling” Her mother couldn’t conceal her joy. “Don’t you dare begin to think like that about yourself! God gives us many blessings, and that’s exactly what you are my dear - a blessing to your generation.”
With that said, Yvonne Shore (the proud mother of Christine Shore) didn’t waste any time. She confided all to her nearest and dearest cousin Kelly O’Reilly: Christine’s aunt. Who then went on to tell Father Michael, the parish priest. And somehow whispers got around the church about a young girl with a special gift that allowed her to hear what babies were saying to the world and to each other…People talked, people pondered and people listened. But the interesting thing about people and special phenomena, is that people don’t really have it in their hearts to believe…Those that did supposedly witness Christine holding conversations with their babies, devoted a little time convincing others of her special ability. But for those who told, as much as those who listened, it was always there simmering in the back of their minds, the sneaky suspicions:
Was this some kind of stunt?
Is she really doing this?
Is this really happening?
No matter the assurance of the truth, there was always niggles of doubt disrupting the peace like a pebble knocking around in a shoe.
But in spite of herself, the young Christine began to feel very special about her new abilities. Naturally, her mother had something to do with that. She wanted Christine to feel good about herself and what she could do. But her daughter’s heightened sense of security was not to last. A friendly conversation between three teenagers put an end to that.
“Have you heard? There’s a girl in our school who can actually hear what babies are saying!” Tamara Mitchell had stated, as she hurled an empty soft drink can into the outside bin. Tamara was Christine’s closest friend at the time and many said the two girls were the spit of each other. Except for the fact that her hair was a few shades darker than Christine’s.
“Yeah, I heard something like that. My mum was talking to my dad about it the other week.” It was Sara Fox who answered. She was the tallest of them and wore steely braces which looked like train tracks. Christine quietly admired the way Sara held her cigarette. It looked like she’d been doing it for years and years, and not something they had all adopted in the last few months.
‘Big’ Darrell, the only boy in their group, looked around disgruntled. “Yeeeaaah I did too,” he waded in with his authoritative drawl. “But if you ask me, that ain’t right that - that’s just dead freaky!” He shook his head and kissed his teeth. Darrell didn’t smoke like his female companions, Christine observed. Instead he held it right up to his lips and he squinted when he puffed, as though he was smoking something a lot harsher than tobacco. He took another drag of his cigarette. “I also hear the girl’s…you know. A little bit ‘loops’…well, she has to be. Every night she has sex with the devil and that’s where she gets her special powers from.”
“Really!” The two girls giggled. “So she’s getting it on with the devil, is she?”
“Yep, that’s right!” Darrell nodded. “Plain and simple. If you possess any kind of supernatural gift it’s because you’ve done some kind of deal with the devil. That’s the way of it.” He looked slightly offended by their blindness to his truth. He stamped out his cigarette. “You see, all the devil wants to do is use and abuse. And that girl, my friends, is definitely being abused!”
“Use and abuse?” Sara frowned. “And where exactly is that bit in the bible?” she said giving him an accusatory stare.
“Uh…I-It’s there somewhere,” Darrell said sheepishly, “I’ve just said it differently - that’s all! Besides, she’s just got to be weird - she’s just got to be!” he hollered in his defence. “She’s doing something wrong, that’s why she’s all wrong, the girl’s in the wrong - and that’s wrong!” He said hoping his explanation would put an end to it all. He began picking at his teeth removing clumps of spicy star-vader’s crisps he had demolished at the start of the break. “In a way,” he continued, “it kind of reminds me of that girl from that film with the strange powers. You know the one - ‘Carrie!’ Did any of you see it? It was on last night.”
Tamara answered with a tsk, “I really wanted to watch that but my mum said it would give my little brother nightmares.”
“I missed it too,” Sara added flashing her train-track braces. “What channel was it on?”
“BBC One” Darrell and Tamara both answered together.
“Do you know what?” Sara stared at them, she said it so suddenly she half-startled herself. “I tell a lie! I think I know who they’re talking about! You know the girl who can speak to babies? I think its Sharon Robson - in Miss James class.” Her face lit up in light of this new revelation.
“What? Sharon Nobson in third year – haaaaaaa!” Darrell laughed so hard as though it was the funniest joke he’d heard all year. “Nah! Get real Sara. I know she looks strange with all that eye-liner and multiple piercings but I don’t think she’s the one…” Darrell paused. “To be honest, I heard she was actually in our year…What do you think Christine? You’ve been awfully quiet.”
The three of them turned to look at her.
“Yeah…emmm…probably our year,” Christine mumbled and then suddenly found something of great interest on the ground to focus her attention on. Her apparent lack of engagement drew puzzling looks from her friends. Tamara stood up. “Okay guys,” she ground out her cigarette on the concrete wall. “Let’s change the subject can we? Stuff like this gives me the creeps...”
That interesting discussion between friends on their lunch break, hit Christine hard. In under an hour she had learned some of life’s toughest lessons. The first one being that; doing something different - even if it was for good - could instantly make someone an object of ridicule and fear. To Christine, the reasoning was unjust but it seemed that there was nothing that anyone could do to change that. And the second lesson was that; many people were ruled by fear, and she found that she was no different! As soon as got home she swore to never communicate with any more babies again. Neither would she listen to their ridiculous plans they had for the future. She was done with it all - absolutely done! And this time she meant it.
She chose to keep quiet and quiet she would remain…
And over the years, watching the media’s comical reports on the supernatural, and the public’s reception of it all, she was glad she had made the decision to keep quiet. There was indeed a very good reason why it was said: silence is golden.
But Christine was not made of stone. As she matured she grew bolder. And every so often she would venture out of her safe zone to help parents in distress. Although she did try, she couldn’t altogether ignore the thing that made her special…
But right now, as she slowly peered around the office, it seemed that it had finally caught up with her. And the timing couldn’t be worse.
What if it comes up?
No it won’t!
Oh yes it will, Christine. Your sweet son Jerry…Your dead son Jerry…
Christine couldn’t bear the thought of her son’s death being dragged up, then paraded for the public to mull over. She could almost hear their frivolous voices; snide, insensitive, and completely ignorant of the facts.
‘So, she can hear babies - can she? But she couldn’t hear her own? What a shame! If she could, maybe things might have turned out differently for her. Who knows?’
Her hand instinctively flew to her stomach.
She wasn’t ready for this yet. She wasn’t ready!
“Are you alright?” Brian asked. He was standing in front of her with a handful of printouts. He was going to say something else, but then thought better of it.
’She might be a little distant at times. When she gets like that, just leave her be,’ a colleague had warned him once.
He plonked himself down at his desk and pretended not to notice as Christine slipped out of the office and headed in the direction of the toilets.
And things didn’t get better for Christine as the day progressed. Another journalist had somehow got a hold of her mobile number. He said he was from the Daily News and unlike the producer, who had called earlier, he was not as easy to fob off.
Absentmindedly Christine had confirmed she had met the mothers and babies he was talking about, and somehow let him know where she worked as well.
When they say a good journalist can get a signed confession from a saint - they weren’t kidding!
As someone who worked in the industry, Christine should have known better. She didn’t wait for the reporter to finish before hanging up on him. She had already said too much.
Before arriving home that evening she had calmly considered jumping off the A1′s Suicide Bridge - twice. And thought about stepping in front of a racing car on a dual carriage way. Of course they were silly, meaningless, notions, not seriously considered at all. But sat on her sofa, with the curtains drawn, she fed her melancholy with vitriolic delight. And placed by her side was her habitual steaming hot drink: brandy, whiskey - a cup of hot Lemsip – it was all the same to her. None of them were hot enough to char her pain, so in time, she just settled for tea.
She found thoughts of the extreme often had a soporific effect on her well-being. As soon as the calm had taken over, she let her head gently fall onto the cushion. And after some time had passed she allowed herself to get lost in the sweet memories of a little boy. A boy so pretty many mistook him for a girl. But of course he was not. He was Jerry Sebastian Chairo. He was her son. Her only child. And he was only four-months old when she was forced to say goodbye. ‘Take me!’ She cried when she held her dead baby in her arms. ‘Take me!’
So wretched. So robbed. So enraged that she was allowed to live, to see her baby die…
Meanwhile, some 20 kilometres away in London’s busy Docklands, was a man sittingon a beige and cream couch. He was facing the television set, but he was not watching it. A woman was pacing up and down the room talking as she went along. She is blonde of medium height. She is tired and unhappy. She holds a newspaper in her hand. She gently shakes it as she speaks. She stops pacing and looks to the man. He’s wearing a shirt which seem a little too big for him. His collar lie on his jumper like crumpled petals and his grief hangs off him with the same panache. The woman resumes talking, and stops again. The man turns his attention to the woman’s face. He slowly shakes his head, he rolls his eyes, but utters a response: “If this is what you want Kelly, then we’ll find her,” he says.
Kelly, the woman pacing up and down the room, carries on talking. She seems unfazed by what the man had just said. I guess, in some ways, it didn’t really matter. She had already made the decision to do what needed to be done on behalf of them both. You see, it is not a matter of difference but one of accord. After all, there’s no end to what a desperate mother will do to save the life of her dying baby, is there?