The little girl on the swing looks sad. Her mother is speaking into a ‘phone, its blue glow lighting up her drawn-in eyebrows and cheap mascara. She’s gesturing wildly with her hands, arguing, cursing.
I’m embarrassed for her, for the little girl, who sits waiting for a push, dangling skinny legs from denim cut-offs and shabby sandals. Her face is a little dirty, but pretty still. Her fair hair tied in two long plaits down her back.
She looks a bit like my Sophie. She has fair hair, too. Beautiful and silky. She sits neatly as I brush it and tie it into plaits every morning, singing our favourite song together. Then we walk to this playground, and she squeals as I push her, begging me to Push harder, Mummy. I don’t look at my ‘phone, or make a scene. I pay attention. I enjoy every moment, being with my little girl, my baby, my daughter.
It was the doctor in A&E who told us we had to let her go. Told my husband; I’d stopped listening. I’d just stood in the doorway to her room, humming our song, over and over. Later, when I asked why the machines had stopped making their noises, and Sophie lay pale as the starched bed sheets, my husband said I’d missed my opportunity to make any decisions. That he’d had to do it for me.
The girl’s mother has gone to the far corner of the playground now. She’s speaking with another mother who stands holding a takeout coffee, a drooling toddler at her hip.
You have to understand, Mrs Baxter, you’re 40 now, the doctor at the fertility clinic had said. It’s unlikely that you’ll be able to conceive any more children. You’ve left it a little late.
The girl is scuffing her sandals against the black pitch beneath the swing in an effort to push herself back and forth. She’s trying to gather momentum. She has a purple bruise on the inside of her elbow.
I start to walk over to her, checking to see if the mother has noticed, but she’s oblivious, a long cigarette dangling from her mouth now, as her friend’s toddler starts up a howling bawl. I think I’ll just give Sophie a push on the swing. Or maybe she’s had enough, and would like to just go home now.
I’m not going to miss my opportunity to take her home with me this time. I’m already humming our tune as I reach the swings.
Kate Jones is a freelance writer based in the UK with writing credits in varied magazines and websites, as well as genres, including The Real Story, Reflex Fiction, The Nottingham Review and Feminartsy. She is a regular essayist for The Short Story and editorial intern for Great Jones Street. Make friends with her on Twitter @katejonespp
Image: Laura Aziz