This is the thirty-fifth part of a fiction serial, in 757 words.
As time went on, I had less and less contact with Olly. He didn’t seem too interested in either me or Leah, and I had no interest in his new wife, or the baby she had presumably had by then. The money kept appearing in the bank every month, so I could pay all my bills and get any shopping I needed. Dad was a huge help, and came around to do anything I needed doing, and even some things I didn’t. Even mum started to ring me on a regular basis, and never forgot to ask how Leah was.
Rosa acted as if nothing unusual had happened, which was a relief for me not to have to discuss it with her. I asked her once about her pay, to make sure Olly was still paying by standing order, and she assured me he was.
The most recent hospital visit had seen me introduced to a new specialist, an older woman named Maria. She had a vague European accent, but I really liked her direct manner. She had run through the usual tests on Leah, and when it came to summarising what to expect from my daughter, she laid it out without any sugar coating.
Leah would walk, but did not appear to have developed a grip strong enough to keep hold of anything. She was unlikely to recognise me as her mother, to say any proper words, or to respond to hugs and affection. Physically, she would develop, but inside her brain she was unlikley to progress much further than she was now. Toilet training was going to be impossible, and she would be unable to ever wash or dress herself. Although her vision and hearing appeared to be unaffected, she did not focus on objects, colours, or textures, and her main instinct, in fact her only instinct, was to eat and drink.
According to Maria, the truth was that I had a future of caring for a child who would become a teenager and then an adult woman who would need nappies for life, would never recognise a friend or relative, never learn to read, play with a toy, or want to watch a cartoon or TV programme. She could never be trusted to be left alone, and would need close constant care for as long as she lived.
Part of me wished she hadn’t survived at birth.
But I forgot that, and resolved to get on with it. At Zoe’s Unicorns group, there were plenty of women much older than me still coping, and I would use the inspiration of knowing them to get me through.
When I rang my parents to tell them Maria’s gloomy prognosis, mum wanted to talk about Ronnie. She had expected him to go back to living with them, but he hadn’t. Instead, he had a new girlfriend he had met at tenpin bowling. She was only nineteen, but they were already organising a flat to rent, so he could move out of the shared house and live with her. I tried to sound positive about that, based on the fact that she was younger, and had made Ronnie forget about Lauren.
Mum only wanted to talk about how much she was disappointed in my brother.
Sitting at home one night watching Leah sat on her play mat staring into space, I reflected on the fact that I had no real friends. After leaving school to go to university, I had lost a couple of close schoolfriends who started to move in very different social circles to me. And although I made two very dear friends at university, the problem was that people came from all over to go there. Pauline Lam was from Hong Kong, and we were very close. But when she graduated, she got a job in California, and went off to live in America. Janet Deakin was my other close friend, but she returned to the north of Scotland, and I never saw her again.
There were work colleagues I thought of as friends, but they weren’t really. We went out for a pizza or a Mexican meal on their birthdays, and everyone dressed up and got drunk at the Christmas party. But they all had family and friends outside of work, and busy social lives that were never going to include me. That’s probably why I latched on to Olly so fast. He was all I had, at least I thought he was. I thought he was steady, loving, and reliable too.
Well I got that wrong.