‘What was it, Mike? Was it the miscarriage? I thought we grieved together and put it behind us.’
He sat up, staring ahead at nothing in particular. He suddenly felt angry, really angry. He could feel the heat rise in his body, the colour flood his face. ‘You put it behind us, Olivia.
You wiped the slate clean and said “never mind”.’
He could feel her flinch, heard her intake of breath, but he knew he wouldn’t stop. ‘But you didn’t pause for one moment to consider how I felt. Everyone was there with their condolences and their sympathy. We’re so sorry, Olivia, how are you, Olivia, can I do anything, Olivia. He was my child too, my loss. It was me who wanted him, not you.’
‘That isn’t fair, Mike. You have no idea what it’s like to be pregnant, let alone give bloody birth. I was as sick as a dog, in and out of hospital with the vomiting. It was bloody awful but I did it for you. Because you had some stupid hang-up about wanting a son. How do you think the girls would feel if they knew that they weren’t good enough for you, just because of their gender? We live in the twenty-first century for God’s sake, women are equal and our girls are wonderful.’
He turned his head and stared at Olivia. He could feel a throb in his temple. ‘That’s crap and you know it. I wanted another child, Olivia. Another child. It might have been a girl, and that would have been great.’
‘But it was a boy, Mike, and you couldn’t conceal your delight, could you? It was written all over your face when they told us, your son and heir, just what you always wanted. Until that moment I didn’t realise how much I’d disappointed you with mere daughters.’
Part of Mike wanted to shout. Part of him wanted to take Olivia by the throat and shake the unfairness of her words out of her.
But instead he dropped his head, the cold despair he’d felt for months seeping through his body, dispersing the heat. ‘Don’t you dare say that. You’re not being fair. I adore my girls, you know I do.’
They sat for a moment and listened to the gentle thrum of the traffic from the far-off motorway.
‘Then why the total withdrawal and the silent treatment for so long?’ Olivia asked quietly.
He looked at her then. The harshness had gone from her face. Her pale eyes were sad, soft, concerned. He was hurting her. He was hurting himself. He understood this and yet he knew he had to push ahead through the numbness, to at least try to focus his mind and put his thoughts into words.
‘Because try as I did, I couldn’t put it him to rest, Olivia.
I’ve spent months asking myself why. Why did our little boy die? No one had a reason, he wasn’t Down’s or disabled. He was perfect, wasn’t he?’
Olivia nodded, her head propped on her knees, her fingers playing with the quilt and so he continued, trying to marshal his thoughts and frame them into words. ‘And because we got no answers from the hospital or the consultant, my mind has tormented me with its own.’
‘And they are?’ Olivia asked slowly, turning her head to look at him.
Mike was silent for a while, but he had come so far, he knew it had to be said, to exorcise those ugly pestering thoughts, if nothing else. The frequent picture he had in his mind of Olivia with a glass of wine in one hand and a cigarette in the other flashed before his eyes. She hadn’t touched a drop of alcohol when pregnant with the girls. Prawns and eggs and all manner of other foods had been off the menu too. ‘That you did something.
God, I don’t know. It sounds so stupid now, but I felt that by thought, or by word or by deed you did something. Something to cause the miscarriage.’
For a moment Olivia didn’t move, her unfathomable gaze fixed on his face. Seconds ticked by as he waited for an answer, a reaction. The moment he had voiced his innermost ugly thoughts, he knew how unworthy and pathetic they were.
She eventually stood from the bed and walked into the en-suite bathroom, closing the door quietly behind her. He watched and waited, numb, wretched and unbelievably tired. He had wanted to say it for so long that the desire to confess had become overwhelming. But now the words were out, he felt bereft and empty. As though someone had put their hand in his chest and pulled out his heart.
He’d started to drift off by the time Olivia returned to the bed.
‘You bastard,’ she said, quite clearly, as she turned off the lamp.
You can buy Beneath the Skin from Amazon and is available to buy from good bookshops.