Bedlam Maternity – Sample Sunday May 15th

14 05 2011

As last week, this is a first draft.  The first half of the chapter has had some work, the last third was written today, and finished just a few moments ago.  So as with last week, it will be interesting to see how this chapter looks in the published manuscript.

You probably won’t get more, until launch.  Probably.

—-

Chapter Two

Rose Templar walked the frosty streets in the dark before the dawn.  Later on that day, a minor royal personage would be officially opening the maternity unit now under her tender care.  Not that she was in charge of all of it, in fact, she was just one of the tiny cogs in a massive machine named the National Health Service.   She had been given the duty shift that would see her ensuring that no ‘bother’ interrupted the press call and she’d found herself awake, and fretting, a couple of hours before the alarm clock.  So she’d decided she may as well just get on with it, and get to work early.
She usually enjoyed the long walk to and from work.  When her wreck of a Victorian hospital had been demolished and the new spanking bright and very expensive one they’d all dreamed of for years had finally been started, she’d been faced with a choice.  She could have moved out of her old flat, its mortgage paid off in the divorce settlement, and bought something snazzier near the new unit.  However, no matter how much house prices had risen in her old area, the new unit was in a now quite expensive and trendy part of the East End.  Her salary gave her a reasonable standard of living with no mortgage to pay and moving would cut into to that.  Equally, she’d spend a lot of money on transport if she’d stayed where she was.  When trying to make the ends meet in her mind, she’d determined that two birds could be killed with one stone.  She’d started to spread out around her waist, hips and butt, in a most annoying and middle aged fashion; which was appropriate in her mid-50s, but she detested it.  Exercise was something she knew she should be doing, but when to find the time?  And the average day in the wards saw her standing and walking for hours, wasn’t that enough?  Observing her clothes tighten as her breath quickened on stairs, she decided it wasn’t.  Faced with financial problems no matter what route she took to the new unit, she’d decided to take to the streets and walk the 4 miles every day, there and back. 
Everyone had scoffed at the idea, and declared she’d be shelling out bus or Tube fare quickly.  And, as she’d struggled through the first two weeks, done thankfully when she was on leave, she’d thought they were right.  It was madness.  But Rose very rarely left off on anything that she’d set her mind to, and by the time the new unit had opened up enough for her to start work there, she could do the 4 miles in 45 minutes if she had to, and in an hour and 15 minutes on most days.  The walk home took longer, as it would, after a 12 hour shift.  She’d slowly dropped a dress size and found a lot of her clothes more comfortable to wear as a result.  She hadn’t faced winter yet, ‘tho, and had ordered a pair of ice grips well ahead of time.  The weather proof clothing she’d bought had been more than a match for London so far.  She’d always enjoyed walking in the rain anyway.
The walk had become her down time, a soothing space to settle herself into.  Time to relax into the day on the way there, and unwind from it on the way back.  It was particularly useful in coping with shift work and she’d wished she’d found this balm long before economics had pushed it on her.  But there was no peace to be found this morning: she was just winding herself up with all the thoughts that could go wrong.  Some of those thoughts were about what could go wrong with the opening ceremony, the security, the minor royal who was famed for rubbing the patients up the wrong way when chatting to them, and the general behaviour of her team.  Most of the worries were for her women ‘tho, which is how she thought of her patients.  Labour and birth had their own rhythms.  Unlike most areas of a hospital, it couldn’t be controlled, scheduled and made to conform to routine.  At least, not here, not yet.  She’d spent two months in New England, working on an exchange of medical knowledge programme, and had been horrified by how American business has taken over birth.  She’d certainly learned a lot when there, and used that knowledge to bolster her in fighting encroachment here.   Echoes of that worry were pinging through her thoughts.  The new Chief Executive of the Trust had a very presidential attitude to both the patients, and the staff.  Fresh from working on a team that had lost millions of pounds of tax payer’s money on the railway system, he’d taken over his new fiefdom with a massive grin for the cameras and an iron grip on resources.  He’d already made it clear he wanted no cries, screams, sweaty labouring women or bloody babies being spotted when the press were in the building.  Particularly the bloody baby.

He’d actually used those words whilst looking directly over to Rose.  She knew she’d been scheduled in for the labour ward Supervisor during the visit, in order to keep everything under control.  She’d just sat, absorbing his idiocy silently, nodding every now and then: her normal method of coping with totally incompetent and ill versed management.  It was one reason she kept her position of some authority, both in the pecking order of staff, and the management structure.

She’d even given up seething silently under her breath: life was too short.
But it was worrying her now, as she turned the corner to see the hospital glowing like the Starship Enterprise in front of her.  The shiny new sign signalling the real problem with seeing anything but a cute, clean, asleep advert baby, in any mother’s arms today.

Bethlehem Maternity Unit

She flinched inside every time she saw it.  But he would not be told, oh no he would not.  When the focus group presented several options for the new unit, based on its Moorfields’ history and the locale, he’d insisted that ‘Bethlehem’ be put high up as the potential new name.  He was seeing Virgin births (no doubt without sweat, screaming or blood) being photographed for the papers with a holy glow, with himself cast as all three Kings.  In a world of fear for jobs the protests had been easily quashed.  The staff had warned him, the local community had shuddered, and the original Bethlehem Hospital, still operating elsewhere in London, had let their displeasure be known.  Everything had been swept aside in his march for making his name for himself.  He seized on the ten square feet the new unit possessed, that had been part of the acres of the old hospital and announced it was true to the roots of the hospital in the community.  He paid for an expensive inter-faith focus group that ‘proved’ that none of the massive underprivileged population the hospital served would be offended by the name.  He disparaged every other attempt at a sensible naming.  He was determined and he got his way.  He signed the cheques, after all.
And on the day it was announced, he was phoned up by the local newspaper and asked how he felt to be in charge of Bedlam Maternity?
She’d actually found it funny, at that point.  He just would not be told…
Of course, he wasn’t dealing with it on a day to day basis, it wasn’t a tiresome thorn in his side.  She swallowed the temper down as she changed into her blues.  It was still two hours until her shift started, but Lucy Manning, the current supervisor, would be glad for the extra pair of hands, not annoyed. 
Lucy was delighted to see Rose, and the reason for it soon became apparent.  Shafiah Begum had gone into labour a couple of weeks early, and the entire unit was in a tizz.  As Rose came up to speed on the notes, Lucy confided that she’d almost called Rose in.
‘Today of all days…’
Rose nodded.  Oh yes, today of all days…  The superstitious part of her twitched at the coincidence.  Lucy obviously had the same itch, from the worried look in her eyes, and the slight shortness in her tone.  Most nurses and midwives were superstitious to some degree.  Years on the wards, seeing life come, observing life go, brought an awareness of more than the eyes could see and the ears hear.  You kept it in a box, you moved it out of the way if it ever popped out of its box… but you always knew it was there.  A sense that some things were going to be different, somehow.  Rose had known that Shafiah was going to be different, and not just because of the way she’d begun her pregnancy journey, but from how she’d chosen to end it. 
Shafiah was in her mid-20s and a delightful, intelligent and well mannered young woman with no past, other than the pregnancy.  She was clearly from a Bangladeshi family, that had probably been here for two if not three generations and had likely worked its way out of abject poverty.  She was educated and worked in paid employment somewhere close to the hospital; of that Rose was sure.  She was a devout Muslim and wore hijab as a matter of choice, something she’d taken time to explain to the staff at the unit.  She was also unmarried.  Her pregnancy was not a matter of rejoicing for her.  Rose’s heart ached for Shafiah.
Four months earlier, Shafiah had calmly strolled into the hospital, made her way over to the maternity unit, and requested a private chat with a midwife.   Rose had been on her way home after a heavy shift, and had happily taken Shafiah to a private room for a chat.  Shafiah had unfolded her tale.  She was, she thought, about 5 months pregnant, and both medical care and an adoption would need to be arranged through the maternity unit.  She was not foolish enough to think her secret could be kept via her GP’s office, or in any way that meant her family knew she was attending any medical facility regularly.   She would come into the unit, be checked over, meet the social workers, arrange the adoption and deliver, then go home.  Could the midwives help her set all this up?
The midwives, most of whom who had encountered a Shafiah in previous places and times, could indeed help set all this up.  Rose herself had contacted Social Services, and been present at the first meeting.  Apart from refusing to give a home address or a date of birth, Shafiah had done everything expected of her in her pregnancy.  She attended the unit directly for ante-natal checks and had cared for herself.  She did not drink, smoke or use drugs and she ate well, resisting the impulse to restrict eating, or use vomiting as a method of weight control.  Rose had known a few Shafiahs in her professional life, and often they resorted to bulimia to mask their thickening waists and swelling stomachs.   Food had to be consumed at the family table or bring questions, so it was often vomited up afterwards.  It was not good for either baby or mother.  Shafiah, however, had hijab to aid her and it had been a faithful friend.  She was a tall and slender lass, and had carried the baby high up, with very little evidence of it.  She came from a culture where no one saw another naked, or changing clothing, and hijab covered a multitude of sins.  Or in this case, just one.
Some of the younger midwives and the trainees who’d been involved in her care, had not believed such a thing was feasible.  The more experienced ones, like Lucy and Rose, knew not only how often it occurred, but how often it was a completely successful operation.  Usually the only factor in being uncovered was the woman’s own psyche.  Some would buckle, and confide in their own mother, or in another family member.   Some would just leave the area and disappear, transferring far away and starting again before the pregnancy was finished.  Most carried on, and simply walked away the day the baby was born.   An event that scarred every member of staff on duty, and that made every birth thereafter, for a week or so, a special type of pain for everyone.
Rose noted that Amber Purcell was on duty and had ended up being Shafiah’s midwife, given everyone else had been busy.  She sighed.  Amber was the only member of staff to really object to treating Shafiah.  She was just qualified and extremely young in some attitudes.  There had been no leavening by experience with Amber, not yet.  No wonder Lucy had been so glad to see Rose.  She finished reading the notes and made her way down to the room that held Shafiah and Amber.
Amber had the grace to contain how pleased she was that Rose was there, and how delighted she was about her suggestion she go for a short break whilst Rose took over.  Rose watched her sign off the notes and hurry out the room, although she did bid Shafiah a professional good bye.  Midwives often changed over on labours during shift changes, and Shafiah seemed unperturbed.  She was labouring well and keeping herself contained within herself, which was what Rose had expected.  Rose did not doubt that Amber would have been professional with Shafiah, otherwise she’d not have been allowed to attend.
Rose settled into the rhythm of the birth with Shafiah.  To be ‘with woman’ was her calling and vocation and it was a duty she treasured.  Shafiah had been well informed, as had Rose, and she stood as silent attendant to the dance that the young woman was undertaking with her body.  Staff came and went, with Rose forwarding the occasional soft word, or giving a gentle touch to a shaking shoulder.  On full shift change, as Shafiah’s body moved to birth, Caron Gonzalez took over as official midwife whilst Rose held her post as watcher: it was going to be soon and they had to be quick.
  Shafiah brought forth a primal scream and a perfect little boy as the rest of the hospital slowly woke to its day.  Caron cut the cord whilst Rose swaddled the baby in a cloth and cradled it in her arms.  She moved forward and held his tiny head to Shafiah’s mouth.  Shafiah whispered the name of God into his ear then turned her face away.  Rose immediately left the room, placing the baby in the receiving station waiting in the hall.  With luck they could… it was not to be.  As soon as he was placed down, the baby erupted into a massive cry of life, and they wheeled him away as fast as they dared in order to take the cries from the mother’s ears as quickly as humanely possible.
Rose and a nursing auxiliary attended to baby Mohammed, as all Muslim boys were known until they were named by their family.  He was perfect, if slightly small and in fine fettle.  As Rose filled in the paperwork, Bex, the auxiliary, held the baby to try and soothe him.  With no warm skin on his, the baby knew he was without a mother and was not to be consoled.  Tears formed in Bex’s eyes.  Rose patted her on the shoulder.
‘I don’t know how she can…’
‘Then hope to never walk a mile in her shoes.’
‘But… why…?’ Tears were streaming down Bex’s face as she shushed the boy, looking at the baby as his mother should have.  Rose felt the familiar twinge, an ache so deep her bones sat on top of it.  She neatly side stepped it; anything was easy with practice, after all.
‘There is no why.  There is only her wishes, and us following them.  It’s not our choice, or our life.’
Bex nodded.  ‘It’s just so hard.’
‘Only as it’s now so rare.  It used to happen a great deal more often.’
Bex looked surprised.  How old was she, 22, 23?  Younger than Shafiah probably was.
‘Really?’ 
It was Rose’s turn to nod, and she carried on talking as they finished the assessment, placed the baby down on a bassinet, covered it with the regulation see through plastic cover it had to have, a baby cloche, in order to wheel him to his bed upstairs in the neo-natal unit.  His cries meant the conversation was discreet and private to the two women even in the bustle of the over loaded unit. 
‘My first Shafiah was a young Catholic girl who called herself Mary.’  Rose smiled at the memory.  ‘Not long after I qualified, she did exactly the same, just walked into the unit one afternoon.  She did tell her family ‘tho, and she went off to a home for unwed mothers.’
‘Unwed?’  Bex’s tones made Rose feel very old, and very tired.
‘Yes, unwed.  Even then, at the end of the 70s, there were still vestiges of such places and attitudes.  The matron I trained under made sure we were all aware to give young women a private space to talk, if they just walked into the unit.’ 
The two women fell into silence as they stood in the lift, the baby’s cries bouncing around the walls.  Rose started up again as they wheeled him down the long corridor.
“They were usually called Mary or Teresa, or Rachel and Hannah.   Mostly they’d crumble, and end up going to a home to birth and give up for adoption there.  Sometimes they’d manage it to the end, and just walk away.  Keeping their family from shame no matter the cost.’
Bex looked down at the screaming baby and then back up to Rose, searching for answers. ‘Do you think she will… just walk away… just leave?’
‘Yes, I think she will.  She’s very strong.’
They fell silent once more, as they delivered Mohammed over to the neo-natal unit, for feeding and observation.  As he was slightly early and a little underweight, he would probably spend his first week of life here before going to a foster home.  Rose felt the loss as she handed him over to the charge nurse.  How arms that had felt fulfilled, now felt empty; derelict.  She and Bex rode the lift back down in crashing, awkward, painful silence; the absence of cries cutting both to the quick.  Rose spoke both their thoughts as they walked back into the ward.
‘It’s better than finding a baby in a plastic bag in a shop doorway.’
Bex nodded and hurried away, eager to finish the shift and get home and hug her mother.  As she worked the day out, she vowed to herself that when her time came, she’d  never be separated from her own newborn for a second, No Matter What.
Rose checked on the state of play in the rest of the unit, then went to oversee Shafiah’s discharge.  This was the part that was going to need the most care.  Doorways had to be left open without intruding.  Information had to be passed on without preaching.  The girl had to have her chance.
Shafiah was clean and dressed and sitting drinking tea with the female social worker that had been assigned her.  She was pale and missing the heavy kohl makeup she usually wore, making her look more washed out.   She sipped her tea silently.  As Rose took her through the paperwork on taking care of herself post-birth, large tears formed in Shafiah’s eyes and dripped down.  Rose kept her voice gentle and even, open and listening.
‘As I explained before, you can have medicine to dry your milk.’
Shafiah shook her head. ‘No drugs.’
‘Then you’ll need these.’  Rose handed over written instructions on how to cope with the breasts drying naturally, as well as emergency helplines in case of bleeding or infection.
Shafiah shook her head.
‘I have read everything I need to know.  I will not be taking anything with me.’
The social worker spoke up.  ‘I would ask you to sign this paperwork.’
Shafiah scrawled her name across several pieces of paper.  Her tears had dried and she wrote confidently, as if in a hurry.  The social worker spoke to her as she did so.
‘You have a right to change your mind.  You can come to us at any point, for the first 21 days.  If you change your mind after that, it will be harder, but you can still do so.  I need you to sign this form, to state you’ve been told that you have a right to change your mind.’
With no name, no date of birth, no address… the signature was useless anyway.  All three women in the room knew this.  But protocols had to be followed.  Rose signed as witness.
The social worker took the forms and left.  Rose sat and waited for Shafiah to speak.
‘Can I go?’
Rose nodded.  ‘Yes, of course.  It’s your choice.’
Shafiah stood up, hesitated.  Sat down.
Rose sat.
‘I… I… I need to know.  Was everything okay?  Was he alright?’
‘He is perfect, perfect.’
‘Good.  I’m glad.’
‘Would you like to see him?’
Shafiah shook her head violently.  ‘No!’ 
Rose sat.
Shafiah waited out the emotion that was riding through her.  She looked straight to Rose, her gaze direct.
‘You can come back at any time, Shafiah.  He is safe, and he is here for a couple of days at least.  You know where we are.’
Again, she shook her head violently. 
‘No.  Thank you, but no.’ Collecting her strength to her, Shafiah stood.  ‘Thank you, you have been very kind.’
She left the room as she’d entered the hospital: quietly and with no fuss.  Rose sat for a few moments, gathering her own strength.  The nag she’d felt when she’d noticed Shafiah’s name on the roster when she came in, repeated.  There was a sense of wrongness that she could not define.  If she’d had Shafiah on the wards, she’d be having her checked more often than the others.  Instinct was telling her something was wrong.  But given what had just occurred, how could she not be feeling that?
Rose sighed.
She had four women in labour in the rooms around her, and all her staff needed her.  She shook off the pain and went back to work.
No doubt as it was a special day, the wards were buzzing.  Women were arriving at an amazing rate and for one horrible moment, Rose thought one mother might deliver in the middle of the corridor.  That was going to look so good in the papers… but a room became free at the last moment and all the panics were contained. 
Rose was grateful for how busy it was, as it was easier to fall into work, and not thinking, when you were run off your feet.  Two photogenic mothers, one black, one white, had been identified by the hospital’s media consultant as ‘correct’ to be visited by the minor royal.  Their babies were one and two days old, and had the required level of both cleanliness and calmness, spending most of their young lives in milk induced sleep.  Rose supervised both mothers being bedded side by side in a small bay off the main ward corridor and the mothers were signing releases for their photographs as they primped themselves for their public.  Everything was a clean and set up as could be, and there shouldn’t be any complications before the press and officials came up to the ward after the plaque in reception had been unveiled.  Hunger drove her out of the ward and over to the cafeteria just before the press were allowed in to set up.
She thought she’d get back before the big moment, but the sheer crush of people in the perpex polytunnel that connected the main hospital to the maternity unit slowed her down.  By the time she’d fought her way into the hexagonal reception area she was hemmed in by a sea of bodies.  The temperature rocketed as she stood, despite the chill air outside.  A perspex bubble designed by an architect to be about the ‘transparency’ of birth might be put forward for awards, but it was going to be hell on earth come June.  Which they’d told them…
It’s not as if management weren’t told about these things before they happened…
Rose settled to have to wait out the opening ceremony before making it back upstairs to her ward.  She wasn’t an official part of anything and was confident everything was in place upstairs.  She noted with interest the clashing colours of the scarf the minor royal was wearing as the flashguns around her exploded: where did they get this stuff?
The feeling of someone walking over her grave, drew her into herself, a moment before the shadow crossed everyone’s vision.  The noise was what exploded in her senses, in everyone’s senses.  The massive impact of splatter, and rupture, that preceded the heart beat’s silence before the screams began.  Like everyone, Rose looked up.  Unlike most, her gaze stayed where it had rested: ignoring the blood runnels streaming across the transparent roof.  Whilst everyone was screaming, moving, shrieking and panicking, Rose kept her gaze firmly on the face above her, as the light in the eyes failed.  She felt the moment of passing as Shafiah Begum’s body gave its last, smashed to smithereens on the jagged outcroppings of the reception area’s roof.
The camera shutters went mad.




Bedlam Maternity – Sample Sunday May 8th

6 05 2011
Hogarth Cruelty in Perfection

Well, isn’t it interesting what happens, when you launch a major novel you’ve been working on for years?  You find more room in your mind.  This may seem obvious to some of you, it wasn’t obvious to me.  But launching Changeling, and getting reader feedback (thank you everyone who has commented, either in Amazon or Goodreads reviews, or in email or on other forums) has been amazing.  I was prepared for a barrage of criticism, I wasn’t prepared for just how positive the comments have been.  It’s lovely to know my writing is touching others, in the way I hoped it would.  I am at the mercy of my readers and it’s inspiring to see you all reach out and tell someone else about the book.  Keep it up!  🙂

Anyways… back to this chapter here.  Whilst I am working on Lucifer’s Stepdaughter, the space from launching has allowed a new story to grow in my brain.  A short, sharp and savage little novel, I’m introducing you to here: Bedlam Maternity.

The following chapter notwithstanding, it’s set in modern day London, in the East End.  It should be out in a few months if this rate of work continues.  As soon as I’ve saved up enough money to get it edited, and found a cover, really.  Something to attract a more mainstream horror audience to my work, as I work off and out, the rest of the trilogy.  I may, in fact, aim, to do two short novels in-between books 2 and 3 of the trilogy, we’ll see.  🙂

The following is also something of a How I Write entry.  It is a first draft, with the ink still drying.  If you spot any typos, comment me.  I won’t change them here, but I’ll change them on the main manuscript.  At some point in the future, you’ll be able to compare what’s here, with the final product.  That should be interesting.  I’ll let you have Chapter 2 in a couple of weeks.  It needs more work, and was written before this one.  This one was written in two days.  And I typed the last word about 15 minutes before posting this.

I won’t say enjoy.  You won’t.  But bet’ya you shiver.

—-

Bedlam Maternity


Chapter One


London, 1754

      The rain had cleared some of the thick soot from the air of Seven Dials, but it had done nothing to reduce the stench from the streets.  The man scraped mud, rancid pig intestines and human shit off his boots, before slipping into the back door of the tavern.  He didn’t want to be seen, and not being seen often meant walking through the worst of the back alleys, ignoring the smell and the slime.  He was momentarily blinded by the thick layers of tobacco smoke that hung in the stagnant air.  It was of no matter, for his ears soon located his prey, the thick Scottish accents leading him to their table, tucked as far back as possible from any door way.  He seated himself without invite.
            The two men nodded greeting, but the newcomer said nothing in return.  For a moment, silence fell between them.  The older Scot nudged the younger one, who rose and went to find service.  The silence remained until he returned and placed a pint pot of gin down on the rough wood of the bench that served as table.
            The newcomer lifted the pot up, and drank deeply, before saying ‘Thankin’ ye both kindly.’
            They both nodded their own reply, and waited out the other’s pleasure.  He drank half way down the pot, and then fumbled in his pockets, drawing out a pipe.  A few moments of searching revealed no tobacco.  Once again, the older man prompted the younger.
            ‘John, offer our friend here some o’yer baccy.’
            The younger man sighed, and fished out his leather pouch.  Faced with handing over the contents in a lump, or just handing over the pouch, he chose the later, resigned to never seeing it again.  As he suspected, the man filled his pipe, tapped it, and pocketed the pouch.  John attended to taking a long draught of his ale, in order to cool his temper.
            The visitor filled the air up between them with thick streams of smoke.  It helped make them even more invisible, not that anyone else in the tavern was paying them the slightest attention.  You didn’t come in here, if you required anyone to notice you.  The silence held until the newcomer leaned forward, encouraging the other two to lean in to attend to his words.
            ‘She be near her time, like I said.  Ahv spoked to the Mother, right, and she’s in agreement, for the right amount.’ He rubbed his fingers together for emphasis. ‘And she is happy to go somewhere special, since there’s two o’them.’
            The older man leaned in closer. ‘Yer sure, o’ the two?’
            ‘Aye.  No bother aboot it.  Ahv no seen her m’sel, mind, but the Mother says she’s seen twins afore, and it’s for sure.’  He sat back, content to have unloaded his information.
            The two Scots also sat back, in unison.  The younger attempting to swallow down a smug grin.  The older and more business hardened needed no effort to maintain his stone face, or the silence.  After several moments of drinking, and contemplating the streams of smoke, the elder spoke.
            ‘Three.’
            ‘Six’
            The silence returned again.  The newcomer had slowed down his drinking, to make sure there was still some left to finish upon.  There would be no more free drinks, he was sure.
            ‘Four.’
            It was more than he’d expected, and it caught him on the hop.  ‘There’s the Mother, she’ll need her share.’
            ‘Four.  And we pay the carriage to and fro, and hire the man.’
            He was caught and he knew it.  He nodded, and drained his pot, then slammed it down.   ‘Right, four it is.’  He rose and shambled out of the tavern, the way he’d come, taking a second to adjust to the street’s light, before moving off to disappear in a growing fog.
            A fog that helped the two Scots mightily in their unseen and un-noted journey back to more affluent streets, the older man refusing to allow the younger to speak his excitement, whilst they were in public.

            Eliza Jennings shifted her bulk on the thin straw mattress, feeling the strain as she heaved her hips round to the other side, trying to gain some relief from the pain.  The straw did little but hold the dirt to the wooden boards she rested on.  Her thin bones were not grateful for the wood’s embrace.  No matter how she turned, no matter how many times she turned, all she gained was a few moments’ relief before the bones started up their ache once more.  This time, in response to her efforts, her swollen stomach started up a drum beat of protest.  

      ‘There, there, settle down now…’ she spoke absentmindedly to the babies inside her, smoothing her hand down over the taut skin that stretched over them.  So thin at times, she could see a tiny hand, or footprint, pushed out from under.  ‘There… there…’ she patted them down, willing them to settle.

            Speaking to the babies was automatic, she’d discovered, in the long weeks she’d spent lying upstairs in the attics.   It wasn’t just that there wasn’t much opportunity for other chat, the other girls who’d run up with food and drink, and to take her chamber pot away, would idle sometimes, and other times not… depended if there were clients downstairs.  She hadn’t wanted to attend to her stomach at all, and the frightening rate at which it had grown, causing her to move to hide upstairs very early on.  She hadn’t wanted to… but feeling the baby, or as it then became obvious… babies… move around and jump and sometimes, she could swear, hiccup inside her… it had been natural to start to talk to them, to soothe them and hush them.  Sometimes, when they were restless, she’d sing to them, softly, gently, so her voice didn’t carry.  Sing the same songs her Mam had sung to her, as the tears flowed down her face and dropped onto her belly.
            Eliza had had plenty of time to observe her ruin.  To torment herself with self loathing and to dwell on the horror that she’d brought upon herself, and her babes. 
Her babes. 
She didn’t like to think of them as hers, she didn’t want them attached to her, or part of her, in that sense.  She wanted them free; free of her shame, and her sin, and her desperation.  She wanted better for them.
As her belly had started to grow, and it had become obvious to all, she’d been grateful she was here, in Ma Belcher’s house.  Grateful that Ma had found her, and saved her from the streets, and had been grateful there were attics to hold her, and any other like her, until her time.  Ma Belcher had been kind to her, and allowed her to work as long as she could, in order to pay for her confinement.  She’d talked it through with her, and offered to try and find a home for the babes, outside London, outside in the country.   Eliza had been, was, so grateful.  She knew the babies would die if they were left as foundlings.   In her own village, a woman had had twins, and one had died before she could draw air.  Everyone had said it was for the best, as twins often meant both babies died at the breast soon after birth.  The baby left had survived.  When Eliza had realised she had two sets of limbs growing inside her, she’d been haunted by the dead baby, and haunted by her own stupidity at finding herself here.  She’d even considered trying to go home, and ask for help.  Surely her Da would let her back, to save the babies inside her?
It was an orphan thought trying to find a home.  She knew he was more likely to beat her to down for bringing shame on him.  His new wife, married before the year was out on her own mother’s death, would hold her down to help him beat her harder.  She’d done that once or twice as it was.  Before she’d left, before she’d stolen out and made off to London where the streets were paved with gold.
And it was, if shit was gold.
Eliza turned her head back to the greasy stained pillow she was grateful she had, and cried more salt into its soiled fabric.  It would not be long now, she knew, not long at all…

It was only two days later that Ma Belcher came to her in the last throes of the night, and told her to dress, quickly.  The business from down stairs had died, and the house was asleep.  Eliza had walked the attic room for hours, whilst the drunken revelry had gone on, feeling restless and on edge.  Wondering if the first pulse of labour was going to ripple across her body.  She’d just settled to sleep when Ma came in, urging her to rise, to dress, to wash her face in cold water and to come, now!
Ma had helped her lumber down the creaking steps, down down to the ground floor, with the sleeping house around them.  Outside, the soil men were carrying away their final loads and the streets were as clear as they ever got.  A cab awaited them, and Eliza took a moment to marvel that she was to enter one, before she and Ma Belcher pushed and pulled her bulk into the darkness.
The journey was short, and Ma was explaining in her ear the whole time.  The family who wanted her babies were paying for her to deliver with a doctor, here in London, and then when she and the babies were safe, she’d travel on with them to the country estate.  She’d be wet nurse to her own babes, just like Moses had been wet nursed by his mother in the bible.  There was another wet nurse already there, awaiting.  Wasn’t that good?  Eliza was unsure about being delivered by a man midwife, and not a woman, would Ma Belcher stay with her?  Ma Belcher silenced her with a look.  Who was she to be asking for more, when she’d been given so much?  And was she not the luckiest whore in London, for Ma Belcher to have found a decent family to take her bastards? To have them cleansed of sin in the baptism font, and give them a name?  And she’d see them raised?  What more did she want, gold?
Eliza silenced her fears, and prayed instead that it was all true, and that she would deliver both babes, and she herself would be spared.  She’d thought for the longest time it would be best if she died bearing them, rather than see them taken from her.  Now, there was a chance she could both live and see them grow.  She was in a cab after all, someone had paid for that.
Getting out of the cab in the frigid gray dawn was more effort than getting in, and Eliza was in great pain by the time she’d been ushered into the back door of big house.  Concentrating so hard on not falling over and being beached upon the hard streets, she’d taken little notice of where she was.  Ma Belcher led her into a small room, shown the way by a kindly gentleman with a warm Scottish accent.  Eliza’s breath had been robbed, and her heart had trammelled as she’d seen the luxury of the surroundings.  There was an iron bedstead with proper mattress and ticking, and clean cotton sheets.  A small rug on the floor, and washstand beside, as well as curtains on the high windows.  They were closed and the room was lit by candle light.
‘Settle yourself in now lass, and I’ll send someone in to you, my assistant.’
Eliza gave Ma Belcher a fearful look, but the older women hushed her fears.  All would be well, would it not?
Eliza settled down on the soft clean mattress as the tears cascaded down.  Ma Belcher patted her once on the shoulder, then departed.  A young man came in and introduced himself as a doctor, and he was called John, and did she need any help getting undressed and into bed?  Eliza was too afraid to meet his gaze, and shook her head violently, hoping he would retire.  He did, leaving behind the soft cotton chemise that he’d held as he came in.
Eliza had taken off her filthy and smelly clothes, which she’d not known were that filthy, or that smelly, until she’d stood in a clean room with clean clothing in her hands, and was almost too afraid to her take dirty smelly body into the bed.  The lice had dropped from her body and her clothing, and were scrabbling on coverings as she watched.  She pulled the chemise over her head, grateful it was full enough to cover her belly, and took her soiled garments and left them by the door.  There was warm water in the jug that she poured into the washbasin, and she rubbed a damp cloth over her body as best she could under the protection of the chemise.  The man was outside, as she could see by the candlelight under the door way.  The sound of the bed creaking under her gave him permission to enter again.
She swallowed up her fears as the soft gentle caress of the bed cuddled her, and the proper mattress held up the weight of her hips and belly, in such a way that she was out of pain.   She could smell hope in the clean cotton of the pillows that supported her head.  The promise of salvation was in the faint trace of lavender that drifted off the bed linen.  She had once washed sheets clean, and had spread them over the lavender bushes to dry in the warm sun.  She would do so again, she was sure.  So she endured.
She endured the two doctors, Dr John and Dr Colin, examining her body.   They both agreed she was near to birth.  She endured the leaking from her breasts that stained and stuck to the clean chemise.  She endured the cramping and pains from her groin and her lower back.  She endured the feeling of being small and filthy and unworthy as the two gentlemen calmed her tears and attended to her.  She ate the soup and bread brought to her, and drank the hot sweet tea that they gave her in abundance.  She fell asleep, sated and warm and hopeful for her babes: her arms cupped around her belly, keeping them safe.
As she slept, in another room at the furthest end of the hall, Colin MacKenzie and John Hunter were finishing setting up the scene.  William Smellie, whose house they were in, brought in all the lanterns he had, fully filled and trimmed  It was important to make sure there would be enough light, if it took longer than they expected.  A messenger had been dispatched to the artist who was to record the affair, telling him of the fortuitous arrival, and instructing him to come at once.  William had made sure he would be free, by checking on his plans earlier that week, not mentioning why.  The lamps full, the drawing area clear, he turned to the men laying out the instruments:
‘I’ll be going upstairs, to rest.  Call me down.’
‘Aye, that’ll be best.’ Colin Mackenzie replied, as he set up beakers of wax.  ‘Knock the floor when he arrives.’
William nodded as he left.  Colin glanced over at John.
‘You ready?’
‘Aye.’
‘Yer sure?
John, who was pale and sweating, nodded violently.
‘Fine.  Just gee’us a minute then.’
Colin finished with the wax pellets, and set a flame under the cauldron that was to melt them.  Satisfied, he wiped his hands down and checked his handwork.  All was set.

They entered the room where Eliza slept.  Colin signalled John to the foot of the bed, where he grasped strong hold of her swollen ankles.  Eliza stirred, and turned her head upwards, to be met by the strength of Colin’s hands bearing the pillow down on her face.  She struggled, her muffled cries almost breaking free, her hands came up to try and wrestle his off her face.  John kept his weight down on her ankles as Colin placed his all on her face.  She wrenched under them, her body buckling and one ankle almost pulled free.  She scratched at Colin’s forearms but found no purchase with her broken, bitten down nails.  One final buck of her back, whereby the sheets fell from her body, her huge belly rising up in the air, desperate for release… and then her body fell back, still.  Colin and John kept her there for another few moments until they were both satisfied she was dead.  Colin went for the gurney as John slipped off the chemise and they moved her body on to it the way they have killed her, by her ankles and her head.
Wheeling her into the theatre, John saw the stomach bulge and move, as a tiny hand fought desperately for release.  He reached for a scalpel from the gleaming tray.