Blueberries, Like Night

My niece was at the back-door, greeting—‘Daddy!’ through the glass, reaching for the doorhandle at the same time as him. A cold draught. ‘Hello beautiful!’ There was something in the way he said that which led me to believe that things had not gone well at the hospital, like the way my father emerged from the car after he took our sick dog to the vet. Beckoned by the call of my niece, my mother arose from the living room carpet, where she was tidying away a multicoloured set of building blocks, went to gauge the expression of her middle-son. He cleaned his soles on the mat and behind him his wife appeared from the car. I did not see, but I heard my mother say—‘Oh!’ but long like, and I turned as my sister-in-law wept into my mother’s shoulders, a stifled sobbing, my niece looking up and wondering what was happening. My sister-in-law wailed and my mother held her, rubbed her back—‘Shh, shh, come on, darling. Come on.’ I turned back around to my work, stared out into the garden, feeling my own eyes begin to get wet. My brother steered his hunched-over wife to their guestroom. For days now, she had moved only from her bed to the sofa to the dining table, back to bed, eating when she could manage, which was seldom, a small baked potato with a pinch of grated cheddar, had not passed a stool in two weeks. My niece asked my mother—‘What’s wrong with Mummy?’ The way she pronounces ‘Mummy’ is cute to me; a particular drawn out ‘-my’ at the end so that it sounds like Mum-may; brings a smile every time. ‘Your mummy’s got a very bad stomachache so she’s gonna go to bed.’ My niece went back to the trainset. She had arranged the track into a kind of heart shape on the living room floor, a distorted heart, not quite fully inflated. The train ran in a loop, beeping occasionally. My niece sang to herself as she played with the train, it was either Abba or Annie; as the train looped, so she sung, over & over—‘It’s a hard-knock life for us, it’s a hard-knock life for us, it’s a hard-knock life for us.’ My mother leant against the side of the sofa. After a moment, my brother returned and they talked quietly for a while, until my brother left again to see to his wife. Still, my mother leant against the side of the sofa and looked out the window as my niece sat on the floor, watching the train run in circles, heart-shaped circles, singing over & over—‘It’s a hard-knock life for us, it’s a hard-knock life for us, it’s a hard-knock life for us.’ As my brother came to get her a glass of water, my mother followed. He made it as far as the stove before he broke down, going from all straight- to crumble-faced crying and my mother wrapped her arms around him and he sobbed. I cleared my throat and walked out the room. If that were me crying, I would have wanted me to leave the room, I thought, so I would head out for a walk. It was raining, but that would have to do. Maybe I romanticised going for a walk in the rain by that point. I recalled the ending of A Farewell To Arms, which I had not read in many years.
    I rang the one person I could rely on to cheer me up. After I told her what had happened, she told me about her day, a pair of socks she had received for free, and a jigsaw that she had ordered without fully understanding how many one thousand pieces actually was. Soon we got to talking about many other happier things and laughing (and she gave me a laugh I had not heard from her before; somewhere between an evil cackle, and a smug guffaw, mixed with her usual gay laughter than I enjoyed so much). I saw the telephone mast in the distance, appearing farther away than I knew it was. Soon the walk was over, and we hung up.
    Everybody – my brother, his wife, my mother and father – was sat down discussing the situation when I wind-swept walked in, and a silence began at my arrival. It was as sharp as the door closing behind me, a starter pistol of awkward I had created. Staring at me, realising they are staring at me, looking away. ‘Hi, Dad.’ ‘Hi, son.’ It might not have been a small sbut it sounded like one. My sister-in-law was wearing makeup again, but it had smudged, ruined and clogged from the crying. She had her breath back. The stress and the hunger had emaciated her. The heating in the whole house had been turned up. ‘Does anyone want a hot drink?’ I asked across the room, filling the kettle. As I sat down back to work, the room slowly emptied out, one by one. I was on my second cup of coffee when my mother came in to make dinner—‘Did you hear—?’ she began, but I cut her off—‘I guessed.’ (‘Don’t say that, darling.’ ‘What?’ I asked. ‘You said “Good”?’ ‘Jesus, no, I said “I guessed”.’ Her hearing is getting worse.) I cut her off. I did not want her to say it. It is a heavy word, a big word, if it is not pushed creaking into the air then perhaps I am doing everyone a favour. My other brother, the youngest, closest to the middle, came home and my mother, by the stove, told him what had happened. Through gaps in my headphones, I heard her say—‘The foetus hasn’t grown… They still can’t detect a heartbeat.’ When I went to rinse out my coffee mug I spotted, as though I should not, a leaflet on the work-surface with Miscarriage written across it. The word caused me to recoil and a great sadness. Still, my eyes were drawn. A blueberry they had said. A blueberry without a heartbeat. The whole thing of it I could not understand, could not comprehend. I washed the coffee mug, my winter fingers spinning and stroking the inside.
    The next morning, I was making another coffee when my mother approached me, not quite close enough to touch her shoulder to mine, and asked—‘Have you spoken to them about it yet?’ I said that I had not. ‘You should,’ she said—‘otherwise it might seem that you don’t care.’ My youngest brother had spoken to him about it, the night before, hearing them out in the garage getting high and the diffuse mist leaked between the cracks, wet gloom, a sedate Shrove Tuesday, talking things over, the sickly-sweet odour of weed. What could I say? If I thought of all the things that might be said and not one of them sounded useful. I thought of blueberries. I thought of blueberries without a heartbeat being carried around but not going anywhere. There was a little bowl of blueberries on the side that my mother kept washed and ready for when she passed, that she might reach out and scoop up a mouthful. Blueberries a kind of blue like night.