It’s a beautiful evening. The sun is still high, turning the dove-grey clouds peachy-pink, and trimmed with gold. I throw open the back door and take in a deep breath, filling my lungs with the fresh, briny air, and my ears with the sound of curlews crying and eider calling. I walk through to the sitting room, drying my hands. “Come on,” I say to Verity-Anne, quiet in her crib. It’s a beautiful evening, Baby. Let’s go for our walk.”
Her blue eyes widen when I pick her up. “Mama,” she says. “Hush Baby,” I say. “It’s wonderful outside. Wait until you see the clouds. We’ll walk down to the seashore and see if we can spot a Kelpie playing in the waves.” She likes it when we do that. I tilt the pram so she can see, her blue eyes take everything in. Then the wind catches her blonde curls, and she looks just like the angel she is.
I dress her up in her soft snuggle-suit. It took me weeks to knit it last winter, working away by the light from the fire. It’s patterned with lace. She likes it, I think. She is a good baby.
I settle her in her pram, and off we go, the silver chassis squeaking over bumps. The woman next door is at her window. She waves as we walk past. “There goes May and Verity-Anne,” she’ll be saying to her husband. “Off on one of their walks. How she cares for that little girl. Takes her to see the sea, no matter the weather. So good for the baby, all that fresh air.”
We walk down the road. Verity-Anne snoozes, rocked by the pram. I sing her a lullaby, my voice joining with the curlews and ducks. But then I see the strangers. I stop singing as they grow nearer. My fingers tighten on the pram handle. Verity-Anne’s eyes flicker. I hope she won’t cry.
It is a woman walking, her hair wild and wind-blown, two boys gambolling around her, shouting “Look Mum,” and “I want another sweet Mum.” My heart lurches, but I make myself smile. I picture Verity-Anne, older, running up to meet them.
“Hello,” the woman says, clawing her unruly hair from her smiling face. They are outsiders; holiday-makers, I expect. I smile, intending to walk straight past. But the woman turns.
“What a beautiful…” She pauses, stricken. She doesn’t know how to finish. She was going to say ‘baby’ but the word hangs unsaid, floating in the air, there but not-there, airy, but leaden. I say nothing and keep walking.
“What is it?” I hear one of the boys saying, his scornful face turning to stare. “Shush,” the woman says, hurrying them on.
I walk on, down to the sea to look for Kelpies playing in the waves. No, I’m not mental. This doll is Verity-Anne. It’s what she would have looked like all of those years ago, if only she’d lived.
I don't know why this story came to mind this morning, but this really happened...I was the wild-haired woman who bent to admire the baby in the pram, only to find myself looking at a doll. And I didn't know what to say! What do you say? The woman herself offered made no explanations. Maybe it was her granddaughter's: who knows?