Flo W Ryder is 31 and lives in London, UK after moving between Brighton and Sri Lanka. She studied medical anthropology at UCL, London, and yoga teaching and therapy in India. She now specialises in yoga therapy for gut health. She is also a portrait and mural artist and has also written articles for UK and Sri Lankan magazines as well as her personal blog where she also writes poetry.
NUTMEG: Confessions of a narcissistic hypochondriac
She looked in the mirror, but she didn’t see a face. Her eyes zoomed in and slowly traced around her hairline, scouring the skin for blackheads and pimples like CCTV cameras sensing criminal activity. They moved over her eyebrows, scrutinising each hair like an army major checking his troops are standing inline. They followed the T-bar line down her nose, and she winced at the sight of a pregnant pore. Full, fat, beige: everything she despised. Her gaze briefly softened as it fell onto her undeniably full lips, but brittled again as she fine-tuned her focus on the tiny sharp lines lacing each labia. She opened her mouth to reveal an off-white that made her gasp and sigh in horrified disappointment. She slammed her eyelids shut and recoiled. No, not a face, but an image of imperfection goaded her from out of the glass.
V fled the bathroom and dived into her bedside cabinet. She grabbed her sea kelp, vitamin E and spirulina supplements and gobbled them up greedily. For “dessert” she squeezed out a tasteless cream bleach into what looked like a mini ice-tray and stuck one on each line of her teeth. She held her mouth closed with the determination of a police officer harbouring a convict, and as over-secretions of saliva slipped down her throat and dribbled out of the corner of her mouth, she found a little comfort in the hope that after an hour her teeth whitening kit would would make her beautiful again, well, at least a shade closer.
V worked 9am-5pm, Monday to Friday as a civil servant in the Town Hall of Piechester. She left for work at 8:15am in her little (easy-to-park-easy-to-clean) smart car, and returned home at 5:30 – 6pm, depending on the traffic. Her routine had been the same for 5 years. To kick-start her daily regime, at 6am her IPhone 7 was pinging with activity. She didn’t need to set an alarm. Health blog updates, and Google alerts silently squawking the latest diet and exercise tips, were being amassed from the far corners of the ether-world and stuffed into her external cyber-brain-box device. What would today’s algorithmic allopathic ringtone bring?
On this particular morning, on the very instant of regaining consciousness, her arm moved faster than her lifting eyelids and swung for the flickering filament to shove the azoic blue light into her line of vision. What new discovery had fought its way through the endless ethereal ethernet channels? What sales pitch of somatic science had ridden the backs of the latest trends, zeitgeists, fads and fashions in response to the worldwidewaves V had sent out on search engines like siren songs calling for exploitation? What was going to make, or ruin, V’s day today?
Her eyes hastily met with an update on the benefits of nutmeg. Her cerebral cortex was stimulated by the name of that nostalgic little spice that jazzed up her rice pudding back in 1995 at Granny and Granddad’s cosy cottage in Cornwall. Her heart rose as she read about the myriad health benefits: good for digestion, for neutralising bad breath, for the brain, the liver, kidneys, skin, sleep… Everything she needed, she suggestibly surmised. Nutmeg had her name on it. Barely blinking the sleep from her eyes, she logged into her Amazon Prime account and ordered a kilo of the all-things-nice spice to be delivered the next day.
She moved onto the next website alert, and found out that she probably wasn’t getting enough Chromium. She jumped out of bed, squeezed 15 minutes of pilates into 10, 20 minutes of yoga into 15, washed her hair only twice and briefly circled her supposed cellulite prone areas with a hard bristled brush, she could come back to that later, she assured herself. She downed a cocktail of supplements and luckily had some of her green juice left in the NutriBullet. She must pop into Holland and Barrett before work and stock up on the C-stuff.
The next day, she eagerly awaited her nutmeg delivery. She had taken half a day’s holiday to wait in for her package this morning. 10:00am looked up at her from the screen of her mobile phone; the 4 hours she’d been up already seemed like weeks, and she’d scrubbed her entire flat with bleach to pass the time productively, but deep in her heart of hearts, she knew Amazon wouldn’t let her down. Sure enough, at 10:02am the familiar face of Preston, the Wednesday courier, arrived at her door with a parcel.
“Hi V, how are you? Think it’s been nearly a week since I saw you last?”
“Hi Preston, not bad thanks, yes, I bulk ordered the aloe vera, and found a few things on the high street. Shops are finally clocking onto the good stuff.” She grinned with genuine glee, then quickly closed her lips to hide her teeth. She still wasn’t convinced they were white enough to be seen in public, especially by someone she saw as regularly as Preston. In the split second of her lips parting, Preston had to squint his eyes and take a micro step back as her incandescent smile burned into his retinas. He was instantaneously reminded of last Friday night at ‘Wenzdayz’ night club when he was throwing up under the strobe lights.
As Preston handed V her package, he watched her sore red hands reach out anxiously. The smell of strong bleach leaked out of her apartment door and he winced in mirror-neuronic empathy for the raw sting she must be experiencing at this moment. He waited patiently while she signed her electronic signature. She made the machine look so heavy. He glanced discreetly at her skinny body, ludicrously awash with an inch of fake tan. At least the extra layer of weight might keep her BMI in range he thought, half sympathetically and half sardonically. Her yellow hair frayed over her oppressed face like an overly-ironed curtain. She handed back the signed bulk of plastic and metal with a brief “thanks” devoid of eye-contact, and ran inside. Preston shuddered with pity and walked away.
Inside the screamingly clean walls of V’s apartment, she ripped open the plastic outer wrapping of the parcel and lovingly lifted out the bag of ground nutmeg powder like a new born baby. She pulled her over-night soaked chia seeds from the fridge and sprinkled a few well heaped tablespoons of nutmeg over them, added a spoon of Manuka honey, put on her morning breakfast meditation mantra, and tucked in. It tasted strong but good. “Familiar in flavour yet nouveau in form”. She must add this to her blog, she thought. As the glucose induced serotonin eased V into a near state of semi-serene calm, she ran her eyes languidly over the back of the packet. Suddenly, she froze.
Her focus caught on a phrase like barbed wire. Her pupils dilated with an arousal of pure fear. She nearly choked. She dropped the spoon and stood up, letting the chair tip back and crash to the floor; bruising her delicate calves… “WARNING: Too much nutmeg can be fatal”.
She darted to the bathroom, stuck her fingers down her throat and regurgitated every last meg of nut. Exhausted physically, and emotionally, she sat down on the bathroom floor and cried and cried and cried. Maybe she should just eat it and die. Trying to be healthy was all just too confusing! With a head full of bleach fumes and tears full of nutty nostalgia, she collapsed upon the cold hard tiles. The snowballing trauma of incessant episodes of hypochondria had finally caught up with her. She was utterly exhausted. Underneath her clinical cleaning routines, her bombastic beauty regimes and her seemingly sociopathic dietary requirements, her state of mind was as painfully loose as a hang nail.
Since her mother died of untreated diabetes when she was just 10 years old, V was flippantly diagnosed with anorexia nervosa and OCD. For years, little V sat watching her mother’s apron gunt grow and grow as she devoured the barely edible insides of infinitely unfolding packaging. Her mother, obsessed with the taste buds on the tip of her tongue, seemed oblivious as her own legs blackened, then greened, then yellowed and finally rotted away beneath her.
V was forcefully exposed to this daily horror show as though her eyes were being pinned opened. Brief breaks from surveying this slow “sweet” suicide were only awarded to her as orders to run to the shops to stock up on “supplies” of shitty excuses for food were screamed at her over shouts from soaps and serials on the gogglebox. As a result, V grew up compelled to keep her own blood sugar down by only eating the absolute minimum when she felt faint with hunger.
Her father took an alternative route to the grief of losing his wife by drinking and drugging himself into oblivion. All day he would get high and play violent video games, ordering V to bring him coffee, booze and cheap maize snacks. Did this guy know how to party or what? V approached her teenage years watching him slowly disintegrate into the festering carpet of crusts, crumbs, ash and ends. Whilst she slaved after him she learnt to look after herself, well, she learnt how to survive, and how not to die.
She peeled herself off of the tiles with a pathetic push and struggled to her feet. As she verticalised her spine her stomach somersaulted and her brain fell back down again. Urgh, I must call in sick, she thought, although she was just feeling so rough she fell on the sofa and fell back asleep.
Six sorry hours passed in silence, her limbs warmed yet her body ached and shivered. Past traumas, new stress and myristicin squirmed around her feathery mind like weevils on a spider’s web. V began to dream, or was she hallucinating? Some of the nutmeg had not been completely jettisoned from her gullet and it sunk into her otherwise empty stomach lining and into her bloodstream. Since she had piled on so much of the stuff, there was still plenty to effect such a small specimen of a woman. Mixed with the strong bleach particles wafting up her nasal flue, a potent chemical compound alchemised at the point between her eyes.
The vision was so vivid…
A shaman came, he was brown and round and proud. He told her that the key to all her health problems and woes could all be cured by just one simple task. It seemed so obvious, so perfect, so pure. Drink the blood of an unborn baby. The information resonated with a moral-less morse code logic intrinsic to V’s over-analytical thought processes.
After a few hours had passed V waded through the theta waves and arrived on the shores of consciousness. It was mid-night, exact time unknown. The blackness pounced on her as she lifted her heavy eyelids rendering her visual cortex useless for navigation. How strange it is to emerge from the sea of subconscious without seeing your feet step onto the sand. She followed her tactile system instead and groped her way along the walls, feeling for the familiar protrusion of the light switch which she eventually found and pressed down upon with a nervous finger. Even that was an effort for her feeble phalanges.
The brightness stunned her and she stood still, shocked by the immediate as well as the recent. What to make of it all…what to do next…?
“PING.…PING..PING ……PING!!” went the iPhone next to V’s crumpled pillow face. She’d barely been asleep when bull-shit beautifying business notifications shot at her like bullets firing from a masochistic machine gun. Guns, germs and coltan were the new weapons of the modern age. But today V was not interested in the soft sell of supplements. Within the split second she awoke she knew it was the hard stuff she needed. She reached for the phone, silenced the squarks, then opened the GP surgery app and booked an 8:30am appointment with Dr. Hyatus.
Since her initial jump start, it took V all of the 2.5 hours up to get up and get herself to the appointment which was just a 5 minutes walk away (she had deliberately moved to a flat located close to the surgery, for peace of mind). Her body ached like she had been squeezed through a washing mangle and back again. For some reason she forgot the spicy OD and surmised that she must have the flu… Or some sort of infection? God, sepsis maybe?? Maybe she fell asleep too close to the toilet and an iota of E-coli found its way into the tiny raw splits that had formed in the crevices of her knuckle skin that the alcohol gel she used 45 times a day had caused?? Meningitis?? Lymphoma??? Despite her fatigue she was panicking. She could barely dress herself let alone adhere to her usual morning routine of tan, tablets and trimtum-tea. Her limbs were shaking and her vision was blurred. She needed help NOW.
She flopped out of the flat and found her way to the surgery by pure muscle memory. Her mind was full of frightening fog. She fell into the reception and onto the desk. “Oh hi V, yes I saw you had booked in, back again so soon are we? Awwww,” the arbitrary greeting came from the woman on reception who had been steeled for such an entrance.
“Doreen, I feel awful, I think I’m going to die,” replied V, bursting into tears.
“Yes, you always do love,” Doreen pursed her lips so that they resembled a cat’s anus. “Take a seat and the doctor will be with you in a mo, and don’t worry,” she patronised, “you’re the first on his list”.
Doreen was used to V tearfully falling onto her frigid lap, it happened once every week at least. She felt sorry for her to some extent of course, but she was a pain in the arse to be honest and didn’t half take up a lot of resources, let alone appointments. In Doreen’s humble opinion, she thought V just needed a few good hot meals, a brisk walk in the countryside, and probably a good seeing to, but what was she to know eh? Anyway, she was just paid to book people in, what happened behind those closed clinic doors was not really of any interest to her.
Although… V did look an especially pale and clammy side of grey today and she hadn’t arrived wielding her iPhone like a town-cryer’s scroll, openly reading out all the symptoms she believed she was experiencing to the entire congregation of patients and practitioners whilst elbowing her way to the front of the queue. Doreen glanced over and saw the pencil line of a person rocking and staring at the walls. Ooo-er, she thought to herself, maybe there was something actually wrong with her this time.
As she sat to wait for her appointment V’s gaze got caught onto the expanding white washed walls directly in front of her like a deer in headlights. In a brief moment of clarity, she tried not to let panic, or the whiteness, consume her completely, so she closed her eyes and tried to breathe deeply. The focus was back on her body. Hang on a minute, her bum felt numb. Or was she floating? She checked the chair was still beneath her. Indeed, something solid was there. She daren’t look down to confirm exactly what it was in case she threw up. People wafted past V leaving trails of themselves in her line of vision. In her palinopsial peripherals, she noticed them melt into seats around her, merging into a mono-mass of colours and coughs.
Through the meaty mist, one woman snagged V’s bleary eye. At first, V didn’t know why. She closely followed the woman’s trailing trajectory travel across the room and lower itself into a seat next to V. V’s hackles bristled. There was something important about this woman. V couldn’t make out any facial features through the delirious distortion, yet this woman’s body shape didn’t melt away into the seat like the others. It stayed round and proud. She was pregnant.
A rush of adrenaline shot through V’s veins. Panic? Excitement? What was it? Only in this instant of this natal recognition did last night’s vision return to V’s consciousness, well, near consciousness. The shaman’s words were suddenly so clear in her head again – “drink the blood of an unborn baby”. The words had no real audible voice, no accent, no language but the Shaman’s message was the only thing that made sense amidst this swamp of brain sweat V was experiencing. They gave her an ounce of strength, a gram of relief, an iota of hope. Was the solution to all this suffering sitting right beside her? For a moment V stopped shaking and stared wide-eyed at the woman’s bulging belly.
“Mrs Gintub?” called Doreen from the archway connecting the reception to the waiting room. “The obstetrician is ready to see you.” Preggo got up and hastily walked away from V’s mouthwatering stare towards Doreen, glancing back at V with concern.
“Is she alright? I mean, should she be sitting here with all the “normal” people?” she whispered in an accent the Queen would be proud of towards the ever-open ear lobes of the arse-lipped receptionist. Seizing any opportunity to gossip, Doreen put her arm closely round the expecting Gintub and led her into the clinic room. “Don’t you worry my love,” she whispered back in her hoarse suburban twang, “she’s in here all the time; we know how to handle her, total hypochondriac that one, harmless of course. Bless her.” Doreen felt a genuine pang of pity as she refocused on the featherweight threat over her shoulder. Must get my angina seen to again, she deduced.
V shook herself as preggo and her precious bump disappeared from view. How could she even think such horrific, abhorrent and evil thoughts. Even if it could be justified, she reasoned that it would probably be logistically impossible to carry out an act of blatant cannibalism, especially in public and in broad daylight. After 10 minutes Mrs Gintub re-entered the reception area smiling smugly. “Thank you doctor!” she called behind her, “I just knew there was a perfect little person in there!” She gambolled out of the door into the sunshine and into a Mercedes Benz convertible waiting for her outside.
That baby’s going to be born with everything it needs, V considered enviously. V was unsure if she’d ever experienced maternal love, if she had, it was long before the female that spawned her had discovered Maoams and marshmallows; beyond V’s memory anyway. Despite the painful pangs of jealousy, she knew she must try and retune her heart strings to be “happy” for the “perfect-little-person” and its privileged life ahead. You will just have to rely on the doctor and healthcare system, she told herself, they must look after you – by law at least.
V was called into the doctor’s office by Doreen who showed her in whilst rolling her eyes in perfect tandem with Dr Hyatus’s. A subtle routine they had perfected over the last couple of years. V had never noticed.
“So my dear,” said the hairy fat man in the short sleeved checked shirt, “to what do we owe the pleasure of your presence today?” He smiled patiently and handed V the floor.
“There’s something terribly wrong with me, I’m hoping it’s just the flu or something, but it could definitely be something more serious – I probably need blood tests… I’m struggling to breathe, my pulse is racing, my heart just… oh god!” She clutched her chest.
“Ok, ok” said the doctor kindly, “Let’s have a listen”. He wheeled his chair, with a little too much mirth, across the floor towards V and applied one end of his stethoscope to his ears and the other to V’s bare bony back which she had prepared for him automatically.
“…And my head is pounding, my muscles are aching…I can barely see! And I’ve been hallucinating! Yes! Terrible visions!” Her exclamations were conveniently muffled by the earpieces the doctor was wearing so snugly.
“Are you urinating ok?” He asked routinely.
“Ummm, maybe, I can’t remember…I’ve been terribly nauseous…and actually vomited!” She remembered just in time. The kidneys were the last thing on her mind, but oh god, maybe he thinks she has kidney failure! She’d read about the dangers of that on the internet. “I probably need some strong antibiotics don’t I?” She pleaded.
“Well you don’t have a temperature…your pulse is quick but regular…have you tried taking a few deep breaths my dear?” He demonstrated some deep breathing and she joined his rhythm, slightly calming as she experienced a brief moment of human connection. “There, you see? Anxiety. That’s all. It’s only anxiety again isn’t it? Just take an extra diazepam, you should have more than enough from the last prescription. Go home and relax. When I’m feeling a little wrung out, Mrs Hyatus cooks me my favourite comfort food: egg on cheese on toast. I have a hot bath, a cup of cocoa, maybe with a dash of Disaronno” he winked, “ feet up and watch the snooker, and there we go, back to normal. I suggest you do the same for yourself.”
He knew V lived alone, and felt a little regretful for mentioning his Mrs. “Now off you pop.” V did actually feel calmer. “Are you sure?” She begged. “I just felt like I was on death’s door this morning! I do feel a little better now…do you think I’ll really be ok?” “There’s certainly nothing sinister going on, I can assure you” assured the doctor. He smiled with the professional technique of a stage magician and V was momentarily convinced. He turned towards his computer and started typing, or seeming to.
V stood up and started to walk towards the door. That was that, she supposed. Her breathing had certainly steadied so she no longer felt her heart was in trouble and the room had stopped spinning. She nipped in to the lavatory to test the urination situation. As she limply lowered herself down to the bowl making full use of the hand rail, she came into direct eye contact with herself.
Directly opposite the toilet was a full length mirror. Who the hell wants to watch as they relieve themselves? How is this useful, even to disabled people? She, and (most of) the rest of the world, wondered. She looked at herself and couldn’t have felt more ashamed. Not only were her pants round her ankles and her eyes lolling to the back of her head, she was reminded that she had forgotten to apply any make up to her greyed out face, or to fine-tune her frazzled hairs. And what on earth was she wearing!?
Adequately satisfied that she was pissing in a straight line, she darted home with her head down. Once inside her own sterile sanctuary, she ran a bath. Obviously there was no way she would dream of the doctor’s disgusting dietary recommendations, you only had to look at his hanging waistband and jangling jowls to see the consequences of Mrs Hyatus’s version of “love”. But perhaps she could follow part of his advice. He certainly seemed relaxed. Numbed maybe. She’d settle for that.
She opened a bedside draw to reveal neatly stacked lines of diazepam packets and popped a couple into her freshly scrubbed and gelled hand. Filtered water washed them down her eager gullet and she slid into her lavender and epsom soup. V’s eyelids began to droop as the nape of her neck dissolved into the hot water. The scented steam increasingly entered her nostrils as the space between them and the water gradually grew smaller.
Suddenly she heard a familiar voice. Or felt one.
A windy wet whisper wound around V’s wispy white blonde hairs, erecting them around the back of her delicate neck. She gasped inwardly and shrugged her shoulders towards her ears to counter the cringeworthy sensation. This sudden motion caused a tiny tidal wave of water to gloop over the edge of the bath and splash onto the tiles.
Whhell? Whhhat…are…you…whhhaiting…for? The effervescent empty voice vibrated over V’s bare body, cooling her skin like the top of a hot cup of coffee being blown before sipping.
She shivered and looked around for its source. V knew that behind her left shoulder there should be nothing but white wall, yet her strained rectus muscles positioned the lenses of her eyes to capture the suggestion of a smile nestling in the rising steam. Her headache migrained.
The smile began to mouth words: Yesss child…it’sss ok…I can sssee you are suffering, I can feel your pain…I’m trying to take care of you…let me help you…I know that you need me to…and I know that you want to help yourself…just listen to meeeee…take my advice…The air and water rippled in unified resonance.
Holograms and hieroglyphs of figures and figments danced above the water behind V’s back, coaxing her to spin round, left, then right, to get a better view of what the hell was happening in her bath tub; salty suds spewing in all directions.
“Who are you? Where are you? What are you? What’s happening? What is it you want me to do??” She frantically fired her FAQs in the general direction of the steamy dream scene lording it up in her lordosis. Finally, like a genie from a very wide lipped bottle, the steam streamed upwards and formed the little fat frame of the shaman she had envisaged in yesterday’s nutmeg led reverie. His hue umbered in the glow of V’s 100% natural beeswax candles. At this moment, she surrendered to the steam scenery and lay back in the bath to watch the shamanic shape unfurl, now straight in front of her and as clear as a cunning plan.
Ssseeeee….it’s only meeeee…. The salty, soapy shaman reassured. I know you had a bad day, but I know you also sssaw the sssolution, the golden ticket to Well-ville, the delicioussss, yesss DELICIOUSSS, recipe for perfect health. Specks of soapy spittle flew at V’s face, her eyes squinted and squeezed in defence. It felt like there was a blade in her brain, slicing through her optic nerves. The shaman’s smooth little belly jiggled as he chuckled, amused by V’s ungraceful reaction to his return. Yet, somehow this smirk subconsciously comforted V and she allowed the warm bath to welcome her back into its cradling embrace. Her head pain quietened as her inner ears relaxed to listen.
And why shouldn’t you have some nourishment? Hmmmm? Why is it always the lucky onesss? The wealthy, healthy bastards who don’t appreciate the luxuries they have attained ssimply by being born…they don’t appreciate the life they have been given, do they? They’ll abuse it, they’ll abuse themselves, their bodies, minds, health, they’ll just take it all for granted. They’ll use and abuse the love, life and happiness served up to them on a golden plate, and fed to them with a sssilver sssspoon. Why can’t YOU have a little piece of the perfect pie? Hmmmmm? YOU will cherissshhh it, appreeeeeeciate it, won’t you? I know YOU will.
And you only need a little bit… He grinned like a Cheshire Cat.
V couldn’t help but agree with the shaman’s wisdom, he was a shaman after all. She’d read about them on the back of a packet of maca powder. They were the medicine men in tribal communities where all the best products were coming from these days – quinoa, tiger balm, shark fins and snake oil: all those expensive essentials. Just a little bit? She asked silently. Her now elongated longing eyes emphasised her desperation which had already stripped her of any shame. She even forgot she was naked and sat up without noticing her tiny tits bob on top of the bath’s lukewarm meniscus.
Just a sup! He replied in equal inaudible volume. A sup for you and a sup for me. His eyes, like conkers, glinted cheekily in the candlelit bubbles and shot a rainbow beam of prismed light straight through V’s hollowed and aching heart space. With that flash she sat up spluttering.
She looked around to see the rippling bathwater had stilled. The calm after the shamanic storm. She rubbed her eyes and ears in disbelief. It must have been real…she could still feel it. Her skin was still goose-pimpling, although admittedly the bathwater was now stone cold. She’d lost time again, how long? Who cares, she thought. The shaman had spoken, and he was the only one who had ever given her any attention. His secret smile was now impressed in her consciousness and seemed to provide her with comfort whenever she visualised him in her mind’s eye. The secret they shared gave her hope and purpose. Why shouldn’t she take back the hope that was ripped from her life by her neglecting parents? Why shouldn’t SHE have a life worth living?!
She wasn’t afraid anymore, she was determined. She finally had support, a friend, a father. But first things first. She jumped out of the bath and onto the internet. As she threw open her Mac laptop, entered her password and honed in on the home screen, her eyes glanced at the digital clock in the top right hand corner: 6pm? That can’t be right? She can’t have been in the bath for over 7 hours?! But she didn’t consider this conundrum for too long. She was on a mission and it began where it always began. Google.
After typing in phrases like “unborn baby blood” with words like “drinking”, V eventually came across the practice of “placentophagy” – the eating of the placenta after child birth. She found that “99% of animals eat the placenta after birth to get more nutrition, increased mood and better energy levels”. Sounds perfect, she thought. She needed all of that. She also found that many Asian cultures are in the habit of this practice, claiming that it “can help the mother and baby to bond”, and “aid relief from post-natal depression”.
Of course, that was of no use to her, but apparently the reason for the improved mother-child connection is that the nutrients in the placenta can elevate levels of ‘oxytocin’; she’d heard of this hormone before. It was said to be the endogenous love and hug drug that increases lactation, but is now believed to be released simply when humans hug. She always felt she had been starved of this at birth and ever since. Well she wanted, and deserved, some of that.
And then she found the kicker. The stamp to seal the deal. Celebrities, January Jones and the Kardashians were now endorsers of the practice. She knew she’d heard of it somewhere before! And if these women were doing it, these magnificent alien bitches from planets only accessible through satellites and magazines, then she must do it to become just like them: images of absolute success and perfection.
However, this was all post-natal. Her shaman was telling her to go pre. Fresh stem cells In Utero. It sounded like a posh nouveau way of dining, like Al Fresco, she amused herself with the idea. Her empty belly licked her lips. The fresher the better. She couldn’t argue with her personal little guru-nut. She liked the sound of all those fresh juicy stem cells. Her mouth watered, bearing in mind she hadn’t eaten since yesterday breakfast, which of course didn’t really go down that well. Nothing else she could think of would sate her now either. Not when there was foetus to fry!
Despite being momentously encouraged by her internet research, she was at a loss as to where to begin her cesarian culinary expedition. And we ain’t talking salads. She needed inspiration. And there was only so much she could do with internet research. Even youtube was disappointing in terms of baby-blood-food-porn. She tore herself away from the laptop table and for the first time in 48 hours felt she could function calmly. She got herself ready, each part of her routine now followed to a T. She even made a cup of trim-tum tea and sipped it through pursed lips as her oat milk and apple cider vinegar face mask solidified on her gaunt face.
She stared in the mirror as she patiently wiped the white hot GHDs over her, now essentially crunchy, white wisps; not really noticing as the broken strands sprayed up around her head like a peliferous golden aura. Now, her gaze just glazed over her imperfections and picked at pock marks as though she could see her transcendent transformation already occurring. One sup and all blemishes would be banished. She glowed with anticipation. Her glassy grey eyes moistened with delight.
She carefully dressed herself in her favourite garms: wet look leggings which made her legs look like the inner tubes of biros and a white T with the words, ‘Don’t hate me because I’m beautiful’ written across the front. She smirked to herself at her own choice of clobber. It seemed so apt, for once. She finished her tea, went for a wee, picked up her door key, and prepared for a spree.
Outside the Autumn wind was still blowing, but her bare goose-pimpled arms didn’t bother V today, even though she usually suffered so terribly from the cold. This time the goose-pimples reminded her of the shaman speaking to her, helping her, soothing her. They were the warmest cuddle she had ever felt.
She drifted towards the doctor’s surgery, half consciously tracing the steps back to the source of her initial excitement. 7pm. The surgery was now closed. Access denied. Or was it? Her mind sought through scattered thoughts for a contingency strategy. It wasn’t hard. Her eyes flicked onto the digital door code. She had been here so many times and often been the first in the queue as Doreen, or one of the other desk jockeys, had opened up at 8:00am sharp (not a minute earlier, mind). Because of her regular visits she realised she had memorised the door code that had been lazily tapped in by fingers still heavy with last night’s Lambrusco. At this hour of a morning, V was always as alert as a five-eyed fly.
So she tapped it in. Muscle memory bypassing moral code. 1969 – was it supposed to be funny? The connotations made V feel nauseous. The door buzzed softly and in she went. No alarm. Nothing. She stepped inside with caution and was instantly engulfed by the darkness and an overwhelming smell of stagnant sorrow. Her visual and olfactory sensations were emphasised by the vast emptiness of the normally stuffy space.
Is this what ghosts smell like? V wondered as she inhaled the leftover traces of illness and worry. Maybe not ghosts. Maybe just the holes people tread into the world with their heavy footed problems; impressions of infirm left in stillness. Despite the heavy atmosphere, V’s hyper mind pinched her attention back to the task in hand. She headed for the computer on the desk and got behind it. Instantly it felt like a space she shouldn’t be in. She loved it. It was the space that stood in her way every week. A hollow obstacle. A solid gap. It was the sacred space in a chalk circle of bureaucracy that shut her out with a Kafka-esque exclusivity.
With a sigh of satisfaction, she sat down in the ‘driver’s seat’. Not before spreading out a plastic disposable apron, of course. She wasn’t stupid. She had seen the detective programmes. DNA gets everywhere. She grabbed a pair of sterile gloves from a box on the desk and expertly slipped them on. She turned on the monitor and after a few minutes of tensely watching the bastard cursor spin like a methodical maniac, she was into the database.
Shit. Password protected. She looked down and saw a handwritten post-it taped to the screen saying “Password for database: Fleetwood Mac”. She would have guessed it anyway considering their bloody broken record background music choices. That or Enya. She scrolled down the list of patients to “G” – Jennifer Gintub.
The Grove, Hambleton Cottages, Hyswith, HY328N.
Hahaha! So far, so good, and way too easy.
Hyswith wasn’t too far. She could get the 44 bus straight there from outside the doctor’s surgery. It was no Merc, but it would have to do for now. V, stood impatiently at the bus stop, alternating her stringent stares between the road stretching into the distance and the electronic sign updating the bus times. 2 mins, 1 min…the lonely wait allowed her to notice that her limbs were shivering and her teeth were chattering. Yet, before she could succumb to her limbic system’s urge for shelter, headlights loomed from the far end of the road bend. Here was the 44 in all its small town glory. Warm relief enveloped V in recognition of its arrival.
She stuck out a handful of flickering fingers, and then, for a strange moment, for some inexplicable reason, she felt invisible, as though the driver could not see her. It was getting dark, but the bus shelter was lit up and she was standing under its harsh white bulb. In a moment of panic she waved her arms ferociously and shouted “STOP! She saw the driver’s eyes lift in sudden recognition and screeched to a halt beside her. Had he seen her before he heard her? Was she fading away? She felt like she was disappearing. She needed it soon: the baby, the blood, the life.
She jumped on as the doors hissed open. “Return to Hyswith please”, she told the bespectacled yet solidly built male driver and pointed a £5 note at the plastic shield between them. Despite her dramatic entrance, he remained unstirred. With his eyes fixed on the road ahead, he took the note, and mechanically issued the change with a few heavy fingered button pushes. It fell down like a tragic win at an end-of-pier casino hall.
V scooped up the change and scrambled to the back of a bus, groping for the poles to steady her sparrow-like gait as the bus took off with an ungainly thrust. There was no one else on the bus, just an empty crisp packet scratching its way around the floor and a fly buzzing steadily above a sticky spillage underneath the fold-up seats. How is it not effected by the momentum? She thought, envious of the fly’s individually volitioned velocity. She flopped down onto the threadbare seat and scooched over to the window side. She was glad no one else was on the bus: no witnesses.
She stared through the condensation on the window and caught sight of her feathery reflection amongst the dark spiky shapes of trees and bushes lining the country roads that were taking them further away from the town centre. Her sunken saucer-like eyes stared back at her through the worn surface of the perspex glass. Jennifer would never have got this piece-of-shit machine to her high-end Hyswith home, she sulked.
The bus hurtled ahead with the numskull driver at the head-end. Sure, he was the brain of this dire contraption yet the whole entity was on autopilot. V had another sudden wave of panic: had she been overlooked? Forgotten about? She saw a sign for Hyswith hurtle past, illuminated by the headlights, and pulled herself up from the corner shadows as though emerging from a reedy swamp. She staggered down the crumb encrusted aisle, finding a bell to press on the way down. “Ting”, it went and the bus obediently halted to another sudden stop. The driver kept looking dead ahead and V glanced at him to check he was actually a living, breathing being. Inconclusive, she decided. The doors hissed open and she hopped off. The bus rattled off without her like a bat out of Hyswith hell.
Relieved to be on firm footing once again, V felt her hernia settle back down in her stomach. She got out her iPhone and opened up google maps. She’d saved the address and now all she had to do was follow the blue dot. There was a stillness in the air that she hadn’t experienced in the long time she’d been living in the city and for a magical moment the smell of damp leaves and dew lifted her attention from the little blue locus. She heard rustlings of unseen species in the bushes and despite her twitchy reactions, something sweet and long forgotten stirred in her sternum. Oh that anxiety, she assumed, it doesn’t half pull on the heartstrings. For a while now, anxiety was all she could remember feeling. Her head promptly hung back down in its familiar position above the iPhone.
A few steps along the road, a fairy-lit gravelled path rolled out in front of her like a terracotta carpet. She saw the calligraphic and ivy-entwined sign for “The Grove” welcome her from the right. No, she thought, I mustn’t go directly down here. They’ll see, or hear me. She saw the house at the end of the gravel drive and followed the hedge row to the left until it led her to the side of the house. She screwed up her eyes, held up her scrawny arms and plunged into the bushes…
…her twig-like limbs fought their way through the dense hedgerow and the dense hedgerow fought back. Eventually, V rolled out the other side into some sort of geometrically aligned herb garden. The delicate moonlit beauty of the silver rosemary and invigorating perfume of oregano was lost on someone who only consumed herbs in tablet form, rarely tasting flavours as the encapsulated dried and powdered plant material bypassed the tongue and headed straight into the stomach and bloodstream. Furthermore, her tainted intentions for being amongst the charming chives kept her eyes on the nearing prize. Crouching behind an aromatic shrub just large enough to conceal her tiny twiggy body V peeped through its pretty plump leaves to a well-lit window a few yards in front. Watching the framed glass like a TV screen, V saw a dramatic scene commence.
There she was, Jennifer Gintub. She was almost too real in front of V’s eyes. She was walking into her kitchen, baby bump abruptly leading the way. Yet there was something different about her energy, the way she was moving. It wasn’t the light-hearted gallop that V witnessed parading her around the doctor’s surgery. No, it was a limp-legged foot-drag that brought her into V’s view. Her head was hung low, weighted by a very heavy brow and bottom lip. Following her closely was a man, her husband, the man who had brought her into the Gintub with him. He was right up her backside, and as she moved away from him he grabbed her arm and spun her round to face him.
Even through the double-glazed glass meters in front of her, V could hear the man’s bellows binaurally beat his wife in the face. Trouble in paradise? V smirked, with a hint of guilty glee. Jennifer’s eyes were screwed up and her head pressed back in a vain attempt to escape the vocal blows. He had her held by the collar of her silk shirt and as he finished shouting he shook her away from him and she fell onto a chair and burst into tears. V hadn’t been able to hear exactly what the severe expression of wrath was about, but it was as extreme a telling off as any she had witnessed on any of her beloved soap operas. She was thrilled.
In the next moment the front door to the left wall of V was swung open and the harrowed husband stormed out and down the gravel path. Although V’s body may have been in full view if Mr. Gintub had looked to his right, this time V knew for sure that she was invisible to him. The husband got to his overly sized Range Rover parked in the driveway, started the engine and sped off recklessly down and around the hairpin bends. V looked back to the tele-esque screen. Jennifer was in pieces on the kitchen table, her bulbous belly stuffed underneath it as she held her head in her hands and sobbed. After a few moments she got up and went to the larder, into the fridge, and yanked out a bottle of Pinot Grigio. She unscrewed the lid, grabbed a glass the size of her currently inflated uterus and poured in half the bottle of wine. She sat back down at the table, stared at the wall with eyes clad in mascara-clumped eyelids, and began gulping.
Disgusting, thought V. What a bloody waste, and how irresponsible! Suddenly the once mouth-wateringly delicious foetal blood tased like pickled gerkin brine on V’s imagined taste-buds. That can’t be good for anyone, the baby, me, or even her. V sniffed in disappointed contempt. She should stop her. This was surely the time to act before too much damage was done. It was why she was here after all, wasn’t it? Yes, the time was now or never. The adrenal driving force of desperation shook off V’s invisibility and she scrambled to the front door. In mere moments a plan had formed in her mind and she was ready.
Another button, another bell to get her through to the next level of her Nutmeg mission. “Bringgg!”
Jennifer Gintub jumped out of her Pino-ed pineal dream state at the sound of the exuberant doorbell. How drunk must she be not to have heard someone walking up the heavily gravelled garden path? She wondered with a little concern and looked into the bottom of the fish bowl she’d just drained. It can’t be him already, he’d be with her, by now, and anyway he had his door keys with his car keys…who could it be?
Her now calmed, almost apathetic demeanour heaved her heavy body from its slumped sitting position and screeched the chair legs along the real oak floor boards as she stood up. She sloshed and waddled her way to the door with an ungraceful Grigio-ed gait, pushing against frivolously dressed unnecessary side tables like a half-cut gondolier making his way down river. As V was about to impatiently ring the bell again, Jennifer wrenched the large wooden and steel door open just enough to stick her charcoal tear-stained face through. She looked V up and down with unselfconscious caution.
“Yes?” She ventured with a curious smirk. This scratched, spindly figure looked vaguely familiar, but she couldn’t be bothered to wrack her brains as to where she might have seen her before. The domestic despair coupled with the baby booze goggles gave Jennifer a somewhat ‘devil-may-care’ attitude towards this sorry looking stranger. She looked totally harmless.
“I’m so sorry to disturb you, um, madam” said V, using her naturally frantic speech and dishevelled appearance as tools in her ploy. “I’ve just crashed my car a mile or so down the road and I can’t get back into it to get my mobile, coat, or anything! Can I please borrow your phone to call the AA? I know it’s getting late…if I could just come in for a few moments, I’d really appreciate it. It’s so cold out here.” Her lip quivered on cue.
“Well I suppose so,” responded Jennifer, feeling a little sympathy for this poor unfortunate soul. What a silly girl, probably swerved to avoid a pheasant or something pathetic like that, she surmised. To her own surprise she was also suddenly desperate for some female company. She opened the door widely and motioned to V to come in. This gesture revealed the yummy bump in all its juicy glory.
“Oh wow, you’re pregnant!” said V with feigned surprise, and walked in towards her.
“Yes yes, 8 or so months now.” She reeled off the verbatim lethargically as she closed the door behind V.
The house was warm, woody and littered with golden lamplight. V slipped off her tatty plastic ballet pumps and felt her tiny tired feet melt into the soft woollen carpet that lined the hallway, like shrews nestling into their fluffy burrow for a long winter of hibernation. A warm shiver wiggled up her spine and her forever furrowed brow relaxed.
“Would you like a cup of tea…or glass of wine?” dared Jennifer who was brazenly pouring herself another.
“Why not” joined in V as she followed her into the kitchen. Jennifer handed V a fishbowl of her own, testing the strength of her feeble wrists. V lifted it to her mouth with both hands and sipped at the rim. A green tinted glow washed down her gullet and (as sensitive as we all know V is) she instantly felt at ease. A little rosy colour even graced her hollow cheeks.
“Delicious!” she gasped.
“Should be,” retorted Jennifer, “it’s from his special collection, fifty quid a bottle or something ridiculous,” her chin wagged mockingly. “Might as well enjoy something of his,” bitterness started to reach the tip of her tongue. “Not that I have been able to lately of course,” she pointed to her belly, “but tonight it was totally necessary to calm my frayed nerves! God knows what stress can do to a baby, and me!”
Suddenly she got on a roll, and it just felt so good to release… “Why shouldn’t I think of my needs hmmm?! All he thinks about is his needs, I mean, I know I’m obviously not my sexy, slim, sensational self when I’m this huge whale and can’t even see to shave my legs properly, let alone anything else, but does that really mean he should be able to go off shagging the next tanned, blonde, size 6, 25 year old who comes along. I mean, he even thinks he can justify it! Says I’m making a fuss, and my role is to bare the children and not ask questions!”
She slumped back on the chair and began sobbing again. She had completely forgotten why V was there, and just finally felt able to vent some spleen, or womb, on this seemingly friendly face.
“I’m sorry darling, god, you must think I’m a total state, and a terrible person! And to be honest, I am! He’s always telling me I’ve not eaten the right food, or done the right exercises, and that I’m harming the baby when I have a nap…as well as telling me I look dreadful in everything I wear and should make more of an effort with his friends even though I’m exhausted. He says he finds me repulsive when I’m this size and is sending me on the baby-weight boot camp when it’s born. All our friends know what he’s like but they wont say anything as he’s the chair of the country club and they all want to keep their memberships! I just want to leave it all behind – him, the club, this life, but he says he’ll leave me with nothing and make my life, and the baby’s, hell if I try to divorce and shame him. He’s a mason from a high up family background in law too so god knows I wont get a penny! But the child will have a good life with his money if I stay with him….Ooooohhhhhh I just want to die!!” She sobbed until she gagged.
V watched and listened and was genuinely moved to outrage. What a fucking arse hole. Is this how the other half live? Is this what she was aspiring to? Is this the perfect marriage? Family life? A nonsensical wave of guilt washed over her. She was suddenly sorry to be slim, in her 20s, blonde and fake tanned to a crisp. With all her dyes, bronzers, bleaches, exercises, diets, vitamins, was she trying to be the sort of girl a man like that wanted to run off with? Is that the dream? Is that the love she was searching for in place of the love she lacked in her early life? This poor pained person in front of her was carrying the purest piece of untainted life in her belly and this is how she was being treated?? Too much was happening in V’s heart, she couldn’t work it out, she just suddenly didn’t want to be all of that anymore….
Instead, she found herself rushing over to Jennifer Gintub and wrapping her arms around her. “Oh you poor thing! He sounds like an absolute sack of shit, and this is all so wrong and unfair! You shouldn’t be treated like that at all! You are so beautiful just how you are right now, and you are so important!” She didn’t know where her words were coming from, the warm green glow settled around her heart centre and her tongue became loose and liberated. She started to sob with Jennifer. They hugged and shook and sobbed together, V’s rickety frame and wispy hair encasing Jennifer like a home-made halo as she stood over the seated pregnant woman.
Eventually, running out of steam, Jennifer looked up at V and stopped crying. “Thank you darling” She said recovering some composure. “Oh gosh, you don’t need all this! You need the phone and to sort your car out and probably get home to your boyfriend or family, they’ll be worried about you!”
“Actually I live alone, and am in between boyfriends, and well, umm family too at the moment actually,” V confessed. She laughed nervously but felt less ashamed than usual. “And oh er, the car is, urr, ok, it’s just on a grassy bank out of the way, no need to hurry really” she remembered the atrocious lie guiltily. “I was just cold more than anything.” She added honestly.
“Well let’s get you warm at least!” Jennifer jumped up clumsily and grabbed a cardigan from the back of a chair and wrapped it around V. Instantly, the cosy cashmere engulfed V like a living creature’s nurturing nuzzle.
“Oh wow, um thank you, this is lovely, a bit too lovely for me”. She would never take this off again if she could help it, she thought.
“Nonsense, it’s just an old one of his. He probably doesn’t even know it still exists! And why don’t you stay here tonight with me? The spare room is all made up and he won’t be back until god knows when! Pete, our driver, can take us both into town in the morning, we’ll sort it all out then”. Her face screwed up, “He’s with Melissa tonight – I even know her fucking name! Ugh! Disgusting!” She held her brow in shame then looked up to smile pleadingly, “it will be nice to have some friendly company, I do get so lonely since we moved away from my family and friends and into the town where he grew up. He says it will be good for the baby to know where its father comes from, and go to the school he went to and all that crap.” She looked back at V and lifted her expression sweetly, “What do you say?”
All the evil in V’s mind started to evaporate as she looked at the bedraggled desperate female in front of her. A strength came over her heart that she had never felt before. For the first time in her life, someone needed her. It was invigorating. Life flooded through V’s veins like Iguacu falls. “Ok!” She agreed and beamed a wide smile. Jennifer’s face lit up!
“Oh perfect! I know it’s a little strange, but what the hell, maybe its fate that we met like this. Just let me know if you need anything, a bath, whatever. Oh and we may as well tuck into these!” Jennifer went to the larder and after a moment of rustling and reaching, and knocking bottles over with her protruding belly, she pulled out a beautifully hand-painted wooden box. “I’ve been saving them for a time like this…it’s just not come up! They’re from a friend I met travelling in Indonesia on my gap year yonks ago. She was from Bali, we kept in touch and she became a chocolatier!”
Jennifer carefully lifted the wooden lid off the box. “Wow”, said V. “They look super special, are you sure you want to have them now? I don’t think I’ve ever seen such luxurious looking chocolates.”
“Yes, I’m certain. It’s perfect. She told me to share them with a dear friend and enjoy them. This was before she knew I was married and pregnant. For some reason, I didn’t want to admit that I’d settled down and became a housewife, she was so exciting and liberated.” Each woman picked up a chocolate from the beautiful box. They were the colour of mahogany and dusted with unrefined sugar and sea salt…and something else…something aromatic, a little bit spicy, and a little bit familiar…
Each woman looked into the other’s eyes as the delicious delicate treats entered their welcoming gobs. “Oh wooooowww!” They said together through slow, deep orgasmic giggles. “That’s ridiculous,” said Jennifer as she grinned a big brown-toothed grin.
“That is the best thing I’ve ever eaten” said V dreamily, a tear coming to her eye. They languidly gobbled up a few more chocolates each. Chuckling and chiming expressions of pleasure.
Suddenly there was a banging at the door. They both swallowed prematurely and were shook out of their shared sensual sojourn. “Oh god, I recognise that bang. He’s drunk.” Jennifer got up to look through the window, as she did so, V casually looked at the back of the box of chocolates for the ingredients, mainly out of habit but this time also out of intrigue. Her eyes widened with aghast. ‘Nutmeg’ was the familiar spicy flavour.
“You’re not coming in!” Screamed Jennifer through the glass of the kitchen window.
“This is my fucking house!!” Came a muffled yet still almighty roar from the front garden.
V was shaken from her chocolate shock and got up instinctively to see what was happening, this time from within the TV screen with one original protagonist now on the outside. It was as though she had entered the Big Brother house. She was certainly trapped in a modern-day dystopia.
“Oh god, he’s in one of his states,” whimpered Jennifer as she double locked the door and put the bolt across. “I’ve got someone here with me!” She called out in desperation.
“I bet you fucking have, you fucking whore!” His slurred public school enunciation increased the vulgarity of his profanities. “I’ll kill him and I’ll kill you!!” He started thumping on the front door after his fumbling keys fell to the floor in drunken vain.
“Shall I call the police?!” V offered, frantically trying to suppress the spiced high rising from her belly to her brain by rummaging through her little handbag, forgetting her lie about it being locked in her fabricated crashed car. She couldn’t find it anyway. An extra surge of alarm washed over her and every hair on her body stuck out of her like a million splinters. Her heart pinched and punched her intercostals as though it was trying to break free from its cage of ribs.
“Oh god no, they’re all on his side!” spluttered Jennifer. “Just help me with this!” She started pulling an antique armchair from the drawing room into the hallway.
“No! Let me do that,” V dismissed her personal painful panic and instinctively relieved the pregnant woman from the heavy task. She harnessed her entire, albeit minimal, bodyweight to the lug the solid wood chair to the front door. Fear fuelling her meagre muscles.
“Christ, don’t let him see you!” shout-whispered Jennifer. “With his whisky goggles on you’re probably his type!” The double edged sword of this statement was too sharp to experience as an insult right now, instead V felt it as a genuine warning. She grabbed and heaved any chair and table she could find to barricade them in.
“You can’t do this you cunt! You can’t keep me out!” Came bellows from outside. “I’ll rip my son out of you and bury your fat, useless body in the garden!” He started to throw his own heavy mass at the door. The locks clanged but the door stayed fast. The sound of gravelly skids inferred a run up as he tried again. The door clanged and a hinge screw leapt out of the aged oak. The women gasped and hopelessly scrabbled for more resources.
“Stop it! Why are you doing this?!” Cried Jennifer. He didn’t respond. They heard footsteps running on gravel away from the house.
“What’s he doing?” V looked to Jennifer. “I, I, ur, do not know.” She replied with a distant tremble in her voice. For the next few moments a deafening silence ensued.
Suddenly they heard the loud rev of an engine. “His bike!” Screamed Jennifer. Headlights lit up the house through the hallway window. The warm amber lamplight was transformed into white heat. The engine roared and to their absolute horror, Gintub’s Harley Davidson motorbike crashed through the antique front door, tearing it off its hinges and snapping through the heap of furniture like twigs underfoot. The bike fell on its side as he flew off it and landed amongst the rubble; he had got in.
V and Jennifer held each other like the doe caught in headlights that they truly were. Gintub picked himself up and stood proudly in front of them. Despite his dramatic entrance, his demeanour was now calmed by the satisfaction of his first victory. “So you’re a fucking dyke now eh?” He smirked at his cowering wife in the shivering arms of an effeminate ball of silly string. His off-kilter eyes shone bright red as he leered at them, “I’ll destroy you both!” He yelled in another fit of rage and launched himself towards them.
V fell down and scuttled away from the incoming violence. Gintub grabbed his wife by the throat. His face intruded into her face and he spat words straight into her mouth: “What the hell do you think you’re doing?! You can’t get rid of me!! I own you! You belong to me! My woman! My WOMEN!” He looked around but V was out of sight. He turned back to Jennifer, held her at arms length with one hand and punched her hard in the face with the other. She moaned as the pain soared through her bruising cheekbone, her lip cut on her own teeth. She could feel her baby cry inside her.
V’s blood was effervescent. Her skin was bursting with pure outrage at the injustice she knew was not only Jennifer’s but deeply her own as well. All these years she’d tried to please this monster in its many forms, eventually becoming a monster herself, and now it was destroying the nourishment she needed in front of her very eyes. The veil was lifted. The fog had cleared. Amidst the sounds of blows and howls, she scrambled up to her feet. Alone, she knew she was no match for this fully grown male. However, she knew she wasn’t alone. In her head a familiar fatherly voice was vehemently cheering her on; holding up her arms and leading her into the kitchen.
The Nutmeg shaman was alive and thriving inside her. NOW V! NOW! YOU CAN DO IT! THIS IS THE TIME! IT IS NOW!
Without the need for thought, V wrapped her skinny fingers around the neck of the super-sized bottle of Pino Grigio standing on the table and ran back towards the horror show in the hallway. Just as Gintub pulled his bloody fist back for another thump at his pregnant wife, V yanked back her little arm with a spice-fuelled-super-strength, raised the bulbous bottle high over the man-monster’s sweat-dripping head and brought it crashing done with the weight of a 20 stone sumo-shaman behind it.
The bottle smashed into a thousand pieces leaving V stood clenching the bottle neck and gritting her teeth. Gintub rolled onto the floor, trailing blood from his head all over the cream carpet. Jennifer jumped back in surprise. Through her pain she grinned at V, “Well done! You got him!” as though he was a pernicious pest with a lethal sting. She then slumped on the stairs wheezing, whining and clutching her precious abdomen.
But V wasn’t listening. She turned the bottle neck around in her hand and stood over the scrambling man on the ground. It wasn’t over. He turned to face her. “You little fucking bitch!” He screamed up at her clutching his sodden, aching head. V’s eyes glared down at the damaged beast. “What does my wife want with an ugly little anorexic whore like you anyway?! I’ll bend you over and snap you in half with my….”
Luckily, he never finished the end of that sentence. Instead V stuck the jagged bottle neck straight into his gnarled features. He tried to scream but only gargled his own blood. She pulled it out and felt his flesh suction into the cylindrical tunnel of glass in her hand. She stabbed him again, catching an eye. He gasped and gargled in grotesque fits. His arms flaying around in pathetic attempts to stop her. She did it again and again and again. He fell down and she kept doing it. His face, then his throat, then his chest: swing, stab, suction, gargle, until he had completely stopped moving.
As his heavy body sank into the once super-soft, now sodden wool, V alighted from his body on which she was kneeling and looked at what she had done. She was ecstatically relieved. And ravenously hungry. She turned around to see Jennifer standing in catatonic shock behind her. But it wasn’t the bloody mess of the monster-man oozing a rainbow array of bodily fluid into the luxuriously carpeted floor that had widened her eyes and dropped her jaw.
“My waters have broken! The baby is coming!”
It was as if the monster-man had never existed. As though nothing obscene, abusive or violent had ever happened. And as though nothing else on earth could matter at all. V beamed the biggest smile she had ever allowed on her face; its fluorescent rays putting Jennifer in the spotlight.
“Oh my god!! That’s amazing!” They grinned at each other in a moment of pure joy. Then both women looked around themselves at the hot bloody, splintery mess they were standing ankle deep in. “Well I suppose an ambulance is out of the question,” said V, almost wryly.
“It’s too late anyway, it’s coming now!” Jennifer was gasping in agony; crouching in amniotic fluid.
“I’ll boil some hot water,” said V naively, “and urmm…wash my hands.” She looked down at her dripping red hands, then snapped out of this distraction of disgust and threw the bottle neck over her shoulder onto the twitching corpse. She dashed into the downstairs toilet and threw open both faucets. She could hear Jennifer swearing and deep-breathing her way to the kitchen. She grabbed at the Molten Brown hand-wash on the basin, pumping away at it like it was the one that needed CPR. She furiously scrubbed at her hands, staring hypnotically as the marbling blood and water trickled down the plug hole. Quite beautiful, she thought.
She dried her hands on the the mauve hand-towel, bringing it with her as she dashed back to the labouring widow. Jennifer was looking for something around the back door in the kitchen. V filled up and boiled the kettle. “What are you looking for?” She called out to Jennifer as she opened all the cupboards looking for a large bowl. “The key! To the back door! I need to get into the garden!”
“The garden?” Asked V. “Why?! What do you need from out there?”
“My herb garden. I want to be in my herb garden. I want to have the baby there.”
“Whatever you say,” said V. “We can go this way,” and she led Jennifer through the whole in the front wall. On the way out she grabbed a huge fur coat and wrapped it around Jennifer’s shoulders. Carefully, but with haste, they walked around to the herb garden, where V had started the evening’s drama by creeping into Jennifer’s life only hours ago. As they approached the neat array of fragrant herbs and delicate flowers, something black and shiny caught V’s eye. Her iPhone. Luckily, Jennifer hadn’t noticed it so V stamped it into the earth with her bare feet. It sank easily into the soil.
It was dark and the air was still but the moon was full and high and sending down vibrant beams of silvery light, just enough to light their way into the green patch of grass in the centre. In the twilight, the scent of sweet basil assured Jennifer of their arrival in the right spot and V felt intoxicated as the myriad magical aromas penetrated her once fraught and foggy aura. “Here,” said Jennifer. V helped her lower her quaking body onto the soft turf. She sighed with joy as she landed. “He would never have let me do this! He wanted a caesarian in the hospital. He said we were to-posh-to-push!”
“We?!” Scoffed V. Happy knowing that Jennifer was where she wanted to be, she ran back into the house, poured the boiled water from the kettle into a clean washing up bowl, grabbed all the fluffy towels she could carry from the clean laundry pile, slipped on some slippers she found by the door and ran out smothering herself cosily in the towels and her new favourite cardigan as she did so. She arrived back at Jennifer’s side just a few moments later.
“Are you warm enough?” She asked.
“I’ve never been so hot in my life!” Sweated Jennifer. “Ok, great,” V smiled. She’d never been so happy as she rubbed Jennifer’s back and laid out the towels around her. Jennifer had kicked off her blue knickers and they hung on the oregano bush like a flag. “It’s a boy isn’t it?” V asked kindly as the undies rang a bell.
“I don’t actually know,” replied Jennifer. “I told him it was a boy because he wanted a boy so badly I couldn’t face finding out it if it was a girl. I can’t imagine what he would do to me, and the baby if it was!” she exclaimed hysterically crying and smiling in relief at the change in circumstances.
Suddenly instinct took Jennifer huffing and puffing onto all-fours. V helped her then started to rub her lower back in circular motions. Her eyes started to fixate on her own hand as it appeared to leave trails. Her vision was warping in the dark moonlight. Suddenly she saw the shaman in front of her, sitting amongst the rosemary, smiling. He started to sing to her. She joined in as if she had known the song all her life. Her voice was sweet and soothing. Jennifer’s face began to relax from its pained grimace and her breathing slowed and deepened. The song, the circling massage and the deep belly breathing all synced in a steady rhythm. V moved behind Jennifer’s hips to ‘centre stage’ and held her hands between Jennifers thighs. There was a groan followed by a head, then a scream, then a body which fell neatly into V’s outstretch towel, and then a load of other stuff V assumed was the placenta (after all her internet research earlier that day).
Jennifer let out a huge moan and then a big heartfelt laugh. She looked between her legs to see her healthy baby, wrapped in a white fluffy towel, being shown to her under her protective body. She carefully manoeuvred herself into a sitting position, lifting her leg over the umbilical chord, and sat down to hold her baby. V handed the baby to its mother, herself still in a serene state of song and ceremony. “It’s a girl,” she announced softly. Jennifer smiled through her tears.
They sat for a few hours altogether. V had gone in to the house to get cushions and pillows to make a comfortable make-shift bed as Jennifer was reluctant to leave the garden. Eventually, Jennifer and her baby fell asleep under V’s vigil. The sun started to rise, bringing with it an unseasonable warmth to the garden, and shedding daylight on the birthing arena.
The placenta glinted on the white towels. Can’t hurt, thought V, and she scooped up a piece in her fingers and shoved it into her mouth. It was no less revolting that other superfoods she had tried. Could be soaked chia seeds in coconut milk with a touch of salty saurkraut, she thought. She left the mother and baby for a moment to go inside, grab another bottle of wine from the fridge and pour out a civilised sized glass for the morning. She then enjoyed a celebratory breakfast akin to champagne and oysters. After she had indulged on her share, she put the rest in a Tupperware box for Jennifer and put it in the fridge with the rest of the wine.
Just as she returned to the scene she heard the sound of crunching gravel under wheel. She jumped to protective attention and scurried to the driveway to see who was coming. It was the amazon delivery van, driven by none other than Preston. V could do nothing but stand guard. Preston pulled up beside her, parked, turned off the engine and got out the car. “V?” He started towards her, “Are you ok? What are you doing here? What happened?!” She realised she must look a state; blood all over her clothes and probably her face too. For some reason she just hadn’t been that bothered to look in the mirror.
“We had a baby!” She burst out. “Well, not me, Jennifer!” She motioned over to her snoozing friend in the garden. Jennifer stirred at the commotion and was looking up and smiling and waving at them. “What!? Wow! Oh my god! It must have been a difficult one?!” He surmised from the blood mess. “Well, ur, we did our best, but yes, got a little messy…come and meet our new arrival.” V walked him over to the outdoor harem of pillows, towels and furs.
“Oh my…wow…this is such a surprise…I didn’t even know you were friends, let alone, um, haha, wow!” He knelt down at Jennifer’s side and looked into the baby’s gooey little face. “Are you ok?” He asked Jennifer, who was momentarily distracted by the umbilical chord. Preston hid his gag-reflex politely. “Should you go to hospital?”
“I’m fine actually,” replied Jennifer relaxedly.
“Oh, ok,” said Preston, happy to go with the flow. “I’ve got a delivery for you!” He remembered to his own relief. He got up and went to his van and lifted out a large box. “I think it must be a baby related contraption looking at the Mothercare label!” He said excitedly. “But I can put it inside if you like?”
“NOOOO!” Both women shouted in unison, stopping him in his tracks. “Bring it here! We can open it here, it’s a cot, we can put her in it.” Explained Jennifer quickly. V sighed in relief and Preston walked away from the direction of the bike exploded house and murder scene. He brought the box over. “So is it a girl or a boy?” He asked.
“A girl,” they both replied.
“What’s her name?” He asked.
“Good question.” Said V, “Do you have a girl’s name?” She asked Jennifer.
“I’m just glad it’s not a boy as he was set on the name Barclay.” Said Jennifer, inducing a cringe in the three of them.
“Where is Mr. Gintub anyway?” Asked Preston, looking around nervously. He’d always tried to arrive at a time when he and his derogatory mocking tones wouldn’t be in. He liked Jennifer though, she often made him a “proper coffee” so he would sit and chat for a few minutes after he’d delivered her weekly unnecessaries.
“Umm, never-mind about that. What about the name?” Insisted V.
“Well honestly I never dared think about it, until you were singing that beautiful song. I heard you say, ‘Pala,’ that was my Indonesian friend’s name that gave me the chocolates. What does it mean?”
“You sing V?” asked Preston. He looked at her impressed.
“Did I sing that? I don’t know where it came from or what it means actually.” She blushed beneath the blood splatters.
“Well I think it’s beautiful. I’ll phone Pala and ask her what it means and tell her I’ve had a baby and I’m naming it after her,” said Jennifer, proudly. “I’m afraid I just don’t like the name V, otherwise…” she said bluntly. V was getting used to her frankness, and appreciated the sentiment.
“Actually my real name is Valerie, it means strength, but I never felt strong enough to pull it off,” said Valerie.
“Well I think you’ve bloody well earned it now,” said Jennifer. “It can be her middle name, after her godmother.”
“You suit Valerie!” said Preston excitedly. “I think two beautiful, strong ladies found their names today!”
Valerie’s heart fluttered. She felt beautiful, safe, and strong for the first time in her life. She’d enjoy this feeling for as long as possible before she persuaded Preston into getting his hands dirty. Despite her undeniable newfound strength, she could do with a hand burying the body in the garden.