Saturday, March 5, 2011

But what about the others? Part 4 -Francesca

 If Magda and Nicholas' arrival on the ward had caused a stir,  it was nothing compared to the circus that accompanied Shelly and Francesca.

Francesca had been born on the same day as the others but with only a few minutes to go until midnight it was deemed too late to disturb us and they had spent the night in the delivery room.

Shelly, Francesca, and their entirely female entourage, arrived just after breakfast.  We were nicely settled in now, it was warm and we were protected from winter storm that had begun to rage outside.

We heard, and smelt,  Francesca's clan before they entered the room. They were proceeded by a ruckus of guttural shouting and the stink of stale tobacco smoke .

Shelly, sixteen if she was a day, was wheeled in like a queen by a woman who staggered on high heels. She was only in her thirties but she wore a large badge announcing "I'm a Nan,". Another woman, probably a sister or possibly an aunt, clattered through the doors with an armful of teddies and balloons. Her face was sour and she kept glancing at her watch. An older woman, great grandma perhaps (although she couldn't have been much more than fifty) carried the suitcase and a stack of coats. She moaned about the heat in the room. Looked at Hyacinth and muttered something about 'blacks'.

Once Shelly was settled into bed, they discussed the baby's name.
"'Ow do you spell Francesca any way?" asked the Sister/Aunty picking at the varnish on her nails.
"F.R.A.N.C.H.E.S.C.A" Shelly told her.
"There 'aint an 'aich in Francesca." Sister/Aunty scoffed.
"Course there is or, 'ow do you make the 'CH' sound?" Shelly snapped back.
"I dunno. But I  know their 'aint a fuckin' aich."

There was much debate, until 'Nan' pointed out that it didn't matter. They could spell their babies name however they fuckin' wanted to and no one could tell them that they fuckin' couldn't. The rest of us pretended not to listen, and no one chose to enlighten them on the actual spelling of this poor child's name.

Further proof of the general lack of intellect came when they made a telephone call. Shelly was talking to someone they all referred to as 'Bird'.

"She weighs 6 paands, and she's 54 inches long." Shelly shouted down the 'phone. Bird must have contradicted her because Shelly frowned and pouted into the receiver. "Well the nurse said she was 54 inches. " She continued to scowl as the other person spoke. "Well centimeters then. I don't fuckin' know."

As the morning wore on, the entourage drifted away. Shelly fussed over Francesca, like a little girl playing with dolls. But after half an hour or so, Francesca began to cry. Shelly looked desperate. "What should I do?" she hissed. I looked up. Hyacinth was sleeping and Magda just looked plain out of it. Shelly's plea for help had been addressed at me.

"Does she need feeding?" I asked. "Or changing?"

"I dunno." Shelly's eyes filled with tears. "What should I do?"

I went across to their side of the room. We talked about when Francesca had last been fed. Only a couple of hours ago, but it could be that. She wasn't sure when her daughter had last been changed. I suggested she looked.

For the entire stay Shelly asked for help every time Francesca cried. Nan and the other female relatives visited less frequently. I didn't see a dad or second set of grandparents at all. Shelly was not taking to motherhood well, and Francesca's dad, was of very little help. He didn't even put in an appearance until almost two days after the birth. When he finally did turn up he sat with his head bent over drooping hands staring at the floor.  He rarely spoke but neither did he listen to Shelly's dramatic rantings or respond to her outbursts and tears.

 He usually stayed for ten minutes. He hovered by the door as Shelly reeled off a list of things she needed him to bring. He looking shocked and unprepared. His eyes were empty and distant. He had not heart for the task at hand. In his mind he was already gone.

When I think of Francesca now, I fear the worse.  This may seem heartless and pessimistic but trends are set, history repeats itself and statistics speak for themselves.

And in addition to that, in 1991, when these four children were born, we were fighting a seemingly pointless and futile war. Twenty years later, things are eerily the same. The allies are still scrambling round in the middle east for reasons that seem more to do with oil than humanity. And it begs the serious question; Do people ever look at what has gone before and say 'we cannot let this happen time and time again,' or does no one ever really learn?

1 comment:

  1. Great...Shelly reminded me of a very young mum in the bed opposite in the RVI. She was 16 probably, and the cot was so full of balloons, she could barely get it thru the door. I vividly remember her saying that they....her boyfriend and her....we getting married in a couple of years, and the new baby was going to be..'a bit pageboy'!! They were from Consett with an accent as thck as custard...same as your chinney sweep!!
    Your writing stirs up so many memories for me too...more power to your pen xxx