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'The Freckle' by Laura Kyle

Laura Kyle, LISP 2022 Short Story Finalist by 'The Freckle'


The Freckle

Kerry looked down at her baby daughter and groaned. She wanted to throw her across the room. Kerry’s breast was hard and hot, a tell-tale red patch spreading across it but Evie didn’t care. She had her mouth firmly clamped on Kerry’s nipple and every suckle resulted in a needle of pain for Kerry.

The health visitor had given her a cursory exam that morning after she’d mentioned she was sore and had a fever. She had been dismissed with a, ‘yeah, it’s mastitis. Feed from the sore breast first so it gets emptied. You should be fine in a few days as long as you stick with feeding. If the pain doesn’t ease, you’ll have to go and get antibiotics from your doctor.’

She looked across at Tom snoring gently in his cradle of sleep and pushed the bedcovers down, making sure they were stripped off him too. He had no idea what it was like. Evie was just six weeks old, and Kerry still felt broken. Tom came back from work each day, looking exactly as he always did, intact, sure of himself in his smart suit and with a day behind him when he only had to deal with rational adults. Whereas she was still wearing maternity jeans and leaked milk through all her bras and tops. She tried to have normal conversations with him but could hear the intensity in her voice when she talked about her day, the exasperation she felt when he just smiled and said it would get easier in time. She couldn’t admit that some days she barely made it out of the house or that all she’d eaten that day was slice after slice of white, plastic bread slathered in strawberry jam. She couldn’t tell him about the one meet-up she had with her NCT group mums, last week, in that stupid bitch Nicola’s house and how Nicola was wearing white trousers that had looked like a size eight. Nicola had baked a cake but didn’t eat one single slice of it herself. Kerry had eaten two slices and was craving another one right now.

She felt another needle of pain shoot through her but looked down to see that Evie’s mouth had gone slack. Kerry’s nails were digging into the palm of her free hand, and she unclenched it to see the little indents it had left. Where was the old Kerry now? The Kerry who could do the splits, the Kerry who had a job she loved. Tom had told her once that she was the sharpest person he knew. Now she was just vague, all lines of her old self blurred, just an invisible lump pushing a pram. She stroked the side of Evie’s face and whispered ‘You’re my first baby and also my last. I’m not doing this again’.

She wished she could just put the sleeping baby back in her cradle at the side of the bed, but if she didn’t get her burped, Evie would be awake again within the hour and she’d never settle. She sat the baby up, held her face slightly forward with one hand and rubbed her little back with her other. Evie had a tiny freckle on the back of her neck, which Kerry only noticed when she was winding her. Kerry touched it, gently, feeling the raised dot, that little bit of Evie Braille. It was her only freckle, one teeny freckle unlike the thousands which covered Kerry’s arms and face.

Once she had settled Evie back to sleep, Kerry went into the kitchen and stood in front of the fridge. Her mother had told her to put cold cabbage leaves on her breast, as they’d help to relieve the pain but who the hell bought cabbages and what would her mother know about anything? She had come to stay for the first week when Kerry and Evie came home from hospital and pulled a face every time Kerry jumped up to the sound of Evie’s cries.

‘You’ve got to leave her be. Let her cry herself to sleep’, her mother said. ‘Never did you any harm.’

There was a bag of salad leaves in the fridge. Would they do? She opened the packet and found a few leaves which weren’t too soggy and stuck them down her pyjama top, onto the inflamed breast. She’d kill for a piece of cake now or some ice-cream, but the fridge was almost empty. Cheese gives you nightmares according to her mother, she thought, as she removed the block of cheddar and bit off a bit of the end. Can’t be any worse than reality.

She opened the back door and inhaled the cold black air. There was a smell of fresh earth and her head began to clear. She was lucky really. Tom didn’t seem to care that she was a saggy mess. He would probably sit up with her when she was feeding if she asked him to. Evie was beautiful, a perfect baby really, apart from all the crying. The mastitis would pass and she’d be back to work in a few months, part-time at least. She’d get organised tomorrow, get on top of the washing, ask Tom to bring a cabbage home from work, take Evie for a long walk and start looking into childcare. It would be a fresh start. She felt a spray of rain across her face and closed the door. The cheese had her teeth marks firmly imprinted on the block but she wrapped the paper around it and put it back in the fridge. As she walked back upstairs to her bedroom, she ignored the trail of soggy lettuce leaves behind her.

~~

They were going to be late. Evie was sitting on the floor, all drama and tears. This

holiday was a disaster. She wouldn’t go into the kids’ club without a major fight each day, wouldn’t eat anything except for chips and was now screaming just because Kerry had told her off.

Kerry glared at Tom. ‘Why’d you give her chocolate Buttons? She’s already had

her bath and I kept this dress to wear tonight, our one night out without her.’ She looked down at the smears of chocolate on her pale blue dress. ‘Damn it.’

‘You look yucky Mummy, and that dress is like…it’s like a poo poo dress’ said

Evie, in between her pants of dismay.

‘You’re so cheeky Evie. If I had spoken to my mother like that when I was six,

she would have wiped the floor with me. And my dress is only yucky because of what

you did to it. Why can’t you behave yourself ever?’

‘But, but I’m in cheeky monkeys’ group, Mummy so I’m allowed to be cheeky,’

said Evie.

Kerry pulled out another dress. She had already worn this one and it was a bit

wrinkled, but it would have to do. She went into the bathroom to change. She wasn’t

going to strip of in front of that perfect looking nanny from the hotel kids’ club who had

agreed to babysit for them that night.

Tom followed her. ‘Calm down Kerry. It’s fine. You’ll look gorgeous whatever

you wear. And I just gave her the Buttons so she wouldn’t disturb you when you were

getting ready.’

‘Calm down. What the fuck do you mean calm down? When has telling someone

to calm down ever helped a situation? And what did Evie mean about being allowed to be

cheeky? Is this some other nonsense you’ve told her?’

‘It’s the name of the group she’s in, in the kids’ club. They all have different

names. Cheeky monkeys. Busy Bees, that kind of thing.’ He was running a flannel under

the tap as he spoke.

Kerry turned to look at Tom properly now. ‘How do you always know that kind

of stuff?’

‘It doesn’t matter’ he said. ‘Now, I’ll give Evie a wash with this and pass on my

mobile number to the nanny and let you change.’

When they were seated in the restaurant, he smiled at her. She didn’t smile back.

He was always so good with Evie, so measured and patient. He didn’t tell her off or shout

at her, always made her a packed lunch that she liked. When she made Evie’s lunch, the

sandwiches were just pulled apart and the carrot sticks were curled at the edges at the end

of the day. He never complained when Evie begged for one more story at night.

‘I do try you know. Every day I wake up and think, it’s a new day. I’m going to

be calm with Evie today and we’re going to interact like proper mothers and daughters,

but she argues about everything and refuses to eat breakfast quickly, so I arrive at school

hot and bothered and get to work late. And I’ve tried getting up earlier, but it makes

absolutely no difference.’

He reached for her hand across the table. ‘Look, Evie just knows what she wants

and how she wants to do things. She’s a lot like you really. Stubborn but gorgeous. But

she’s only six. It will get easier. Now, shall we get a bottle of rose?’

They had just finished their starters and Kerry was in the middle of telling him all

about the new manager at work and how he made Kerry feel like she was old enough to

be his mother and there was only ten years between them, when his phone buzzed. He

looked down at the message and then passed it over to Kerry to see. It was from the

nanny.

Kerry read the message ‘So sorry but Evie has just been sick and is crying for her

Mum. Can you ask her to come up to the room?’

She reached under the table to get her bag, but Tom was on his feet already. ‘You stay.

I’ll go and sort Evie out and bring her down here. Honestly, just stay and relax.’

‘No Tom. She’s sick. She wants me. I’ll go. You stay and see if they will send our

mains up to the room and bring the wine up with you.’

Kerry didn’t wait for his reaction. She walked out of the restaurant, towards the lift and

smiled. At least Evie wanted her. She’d clean up any amount of vomit for that.

~~

Evie tapped her finger-nails on the kitchen table and gave her mother that look. The one that meant - you know nothing about me. You know nothing about anything. Kerry clocked it straight away. She had perfected it herself when she was 16 and her mother was giving her yet another lecture about homework versus boys. How dare Evie use that look with her, she thought. How bloody dare she?

‘I’m not joking Evie. You can’t keep on speaking to me the way you do. I’m not having

it, do you hear me?’

Kerry remembered exactly what Evie had said this morning on the way to school. She had told her the night before that she had an important meeting at work. She told her they needed to leave early. The deal was at such an important stage. If this worked out, she’d be in line for promotion and a rise. She had earned it. But typical Evie. She just took her time as usual and when Kerry had gone into her room and saw her straightening her hair, still in her pjs, she completely lost it.

She had thrown the uniform at her and screamed ‘You have two minutes to get

downstairs and in the car. I mean it. I’ll go without you’.

‘Go, I’ll have the day off school. I don’t care. It’s you they’ll ring, not me.’

That wasn’t the comment she was still angry at. She had heard that one before, that one

and Evie’s favourite about ringing Childline. No, it wasn’t that. Evie had come out to the car eventually and deliberately got in the back, right behind her mother. She said something about Kerry always having something to shout about and no sense of proportion. When they had stopped at the traffic lights, Kerry saw two women walking past, staring at her. She looked at herself in the rear-view mirror and realised she was red faced and still yelling.

When she pulled up at school, Evie opened the car door and said ‘None of the other mothers shout like you, you know? And all my friends are frightened of you.’

Kerry watched her as she walked off. The sight of Evie’s slumped shoulders deflated her

anger and she wondered if she should get out, run after her and hug her. But Evie would have pushed her away and then Kerry heard a car behind her sound its horn, so she drove off. But it had been on her mind all day and she had been determined to be logical about it. She needed to get this sorted. She could do it. She worked with lots of difficult people over the years and had managed to have a professional, calm relationship with them. Maybe she would approach her issues with Evie in the same way.

So when she came back from work that night, she asked Evie to sit down so

they could talk.

‘Look Evie. We need to find a way to prevent these situations from happening. I’m sure

you went off to school and forgot all about what you said to me this morning, but I didn’t. I carried it with me and it’s made me feel sad and I want us to work on it. You say some terrible things to me and I don’t think I deserve it. I’m a good mother. I love you. I buy you anything you ask for and even nice things you don’t ask for. And you’re never nice to me. Sometimes it isn’t even what you say, it’s your tone. You need to work on your tone Evie. You can’t go through life talking to people the way you do to me.’

It was then she noticed the fingernails tapping. ‘What’s the matter? Am I keeping you

from something important?’

‘Have you finished your monologue yet? I have homework to do.’

‘You’re only 16 years old Miss Evie. I can take away your phone and your computer. I

can stop you from going to Rachel’s party this weekend. When are you going to realise that I have all the power in this relationship? And if you don’t start behaving yourself young lady, you’ll find your freedom curtailed.’

‘For gods sake mum, get a bloody grip. I don’t know how dad puts up with you,’ said

Evie as she walked out of the room.

Kerry listened to the slam of the door upstairs and then the sound of Lizzo blared out.

She put her head in her hands. All her good intentions, all gone. She had promised herself she wouldn’t yell, wouldn’t threaten. She was thankful that Tom was still at work. No doubt he would have intervened, acted as the peacemaker, the good guy as usual. Oh God, had she really said, ‘Miss Evie and young lady’ and shouted about curtailing her freedom? She was turning into her mother for sure.

She stood up, got a wine glass from the cupboard and went to the fridge. The cold air felt

calming on her face. She saw the packet of chocolate buttons on the shelf. They were still Evie’s favourite but now she liked them chilled and hard. She put the glass down, picked up the packet and left the kitchen.

She knocked on Evie’s bedroom door but didn’t get an answer, so she opened

it. Evie was lying face down on her bed, her whole body shaking with the force of her sobs.

She reached over to lower the volume on the speaker, sat down on the edge of the bed

and reached her hand out to stroke Evie’s head. ‘I’m sorry Evie. I really am. I love you. I don’t want to upset you. I’m getting all of this wrong.’ She smoothed Evie’s hair away from her neck and tried to ignore how Kerry had stiffened and tried to move away. She touched the little freckle on the back of her neck.


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