My favorite of these so far! This is a great example of the kind of thing that can work amazingly well in short fiction but would seem immensely tedious if drawn out over the length of a novel. "Heartbreak of his own," indeed. A beautiful story, Rose. Well done!
I watch her sleeping, tiny fragile thing that she is. She is almost buried under tubes and wires, encased in sterile plastic. I long to touch her but know that I cannot. Her father and I gaze in awe at this beautiful human that we have made.
She is a fighter, I can see that. The tubes that threaten to engulf her are supporting her own will to survive. My baby, this person that I have carried, ourished, nurtured for six months, born sooner than expected – but perhaps not too soon...?
I lightly brush the plastic of the incubator, wishing that I could do more.
On her first birthday, she is as round and bouncing as any other child her age. Those first few weeks are far behind us, all but forgotten. I watch her growing day by day, learning new skills, making new discoveries. And I experience these things again through her eyes. Bubbles dancing in sunlight, the movement of shadows cast by leaves in the garden when the wind shakes the trees, the crinkles at the corners of her father's eyes.
Today, she took her first, tottering steps, clinging tight to her father's finger, her whole being focussed on placing one foot in front of the other. I lightly brush her hair, distracting her for a moment. She stumbles a little and I stretch out my hands instinctively to catch her but there is no need. Balance restored, she carries on to the end of the garden and my husband and I cheer with delight.
At the end of the day, I watch her sleeping, wondering what she dreams about.
And suddenly her first day of 'proper' school is upon us. I feel as though the time has vanished in the blink of an eye, like a film on fast forward.
As I watch her sleeping at the end of another busy day, I remember the bustle of the morning. Packing her lunch box, checking all of the forms that the school needed filled in, dressing her in her uniform.
Little chubby legs poked out from beneath a grey, pleated skirt. Her hair was tied back with a ribbon that matches her school jumper and I playfully swiped the end of her ponytail, making her giggle. There were the inevitable photographs, both of her parents swelling with pride at our big girl. Then she took her father's hand and I watched them set off for school, waving and waving until they are out of sight.
She is fourteen when she suffers her first heartbreak. Her father advises an early night; everything will look different in the morning. I nod in agreement with this wise advice from a man who has known heartbreak of his own.
And now I watch her sleep after crying until she was exhausted. Tomorrow is a new day; who knows what it will bring?
I cannot attend her graduation from university but I am there to see her come home, to see the photographs. Her father is already clearing a space for the official portrait that will arrive in the post in a week or two.
She sleeps in her old room for the first time in three years but it will not be long before she will leave this house to set out on the adventure of her own life.
The morning of her wedding day reminds me of that first day at school with all its fuss and special clothes. I lightly brush the end of her veil and she half turns, a smile on her lips rather than a giggle but the same merriment in her eyes that she has always had.
But this is different. Tonight, she will not be coming home; will never again sleep in her old room. She is no longer our little girl.
But she will always be our little girl.
I watch her sleeping, exhausted by a labour that lasted thirty-six hours. But the result sleeps in the cot beside her.
Her husband turns to mine. “I know she wishes her mother could have been here.”
“So do I – but I've always had a feeling that she was near, watching over her.”