Guess How Much I Love You

This short story is for the purposes for the competition at Creative Writing Ink.

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“This is important, Daniel,” Selene hissed, slapping her husband with the playsuit she clutched in her sweaty palms. “If it’s pink then we’re making assumptions about her future, but if it’s blue we’re doing that, too! And, you know, I was reading a report that suggested that green has military links, and–“ she stopped short to give her husband another slap.

“I know I’m going overboard,” she sighed, putting the pink playsuit back onto the pile in front of them. “I just…” she sniffed, hiding behind her curtain of thick, red hair. “I want this to be perfect… I want everything to be perfect.” Daniel smiled, putting his arms around his wife.

“Hey, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to laugh, I know that it’s important,” he paused, “but maybe not that important.” They smiled at each other, and Selene began to laugh, too. Daniel placed his tanned hand over his wife’s stomach. “The decisions we make now won’t stay with her for the rest of her life,” he smiled. “She’s not going to want to be a soldier because she once wore a green outfit, and she’s not going to be angry at us by conforming to stereotypes and buying,” he paused to pick up the pink playsuit once more, “a pink one”.

“I just…” Selene sighed, taking the playsuit from Daniel to look at it properly. “I want her to be happy, Daniel, and I want to do everything humanly possible to make that happen.”

“I know,” Daniel sighed too, hugging his wife tighter to him. “You want our daughter to have everything that you didn’t have.”

***

Selene stared down into her daughter’s tightly sealed eyes, shuddering with the power of her emotions. She was so tiny, so fragile, and so beautiful.

“She’s perfect,” smiled Daniel from the side of her hospital bed. Selene smiled back, but she didn’t raise her head to look at him; she couldn’t take her eyes off the fragile life form that she clutched in her arms. She was certain that, if she looked away, even for a moment, her daughter would disappear into a tiny, billion atoms, or Selene would wake up, and find that she was still alone in her dusky attic room, hugging herself to keep warm.

Suddenly the image of her daughter before her was tarnished by her memories, as her emotions hit her hard, causing her to loosen her grip on the baby. Daniel rushed forwards and caught her, but Selene barely noticed. Her head lulled back uselessly onto her pillow as images began to flash across her mind.

She was a little girl again, living alone with her mother. She’d never known her father, but her mother was always there. She cared so deeply for Selene that it seemed to break her; she worked tirelessly, barely sleeping, barely even sitting, and yet the money was never enough. Selene’s father had taken everything from her mother, and left her in so stricken a state of poverty, that, Selene now believed, her mother never expected to recover from. They rented the top floor of a block of flats; it wasn’t a complete flat, with only a kitchen and a bedroom, but it came with the attic space that Selene’s mother had attempted to furnish into a room for Selene. They lived, not content, but together, and Selene couldn’t ever remember being unhappy when she lived there.

That fateful day came though, and Selene no longer did live there. A car crash. It was so simple a thing, so common, so seemingly trivial, and yet it ripped Selene’s mother from the world and left her alone. She sat in her attic space, having fled from the police that waited in the room below, and cried more than she had ever thought possible. That had been the worst moment of her life, and, as she was stirred back into consciousness by her nurse, and tilted her head to glimpse her daughter in Daniel’s arms, she knew that this was the best. She would do everything to make sure that her daughter lived the perfect life.

***

­­­

Annabel sat sprawled out on the bigger of the two sofas, eyes closed and mouth open. She sang to herself, thinking about school, thinking about the weekend, and waiting for her dad to finally walk through the door.

She opened her eyes just as she heard the key turn in the lock, and raced out to meet him.

“Alright, alright, champ,” Daniel laughed, pushing her off him so that he could walk through the door. “don’t panic, I’ve got the chips.” They feasted in front of the telly that night, and Annabel got to choose the film. They laughed together, and flicked chips at one another. One time, Annabel hit Daniel right on the nose, at which point he wrestled her to the ground and tickled her all over. Then, at last, he let out those dreaded words:

“Okay, champ, time to go and get ready for bed.”

“But Dad,” Annabel complained openly.

“It’s too late already,” Daniel chortled, ruffling her hair. Annabel sighed and got up to leave, but she found herself pausing in the doorway, her back still turned to Daniel.

Annabel,” he threatened.

“What happened to my mum?” Annabel asked, turning back around to face him. His smile drooped, eyes closing for a few minutes. Annabel waited awkwardly in the doorway, afraid that she had done something terribly wrong. Daniel sighed, and then patted the patch of sofa beside him.

“Come here,” he said, and smiled again, but this wasn’t his usual smile; it was strained – broken. As Annabel came to sit beside him, he reached over to the bookcase, and pulled, from the very top shelf, which Annabel was too small to reach, a very thin book.

“This,” he began slowly, “belonged to your mother.” He handed it over to Annabel, who read aloud the words, “Guess How Much I love You”, and then turned over the page to see two inscriptions, one on top of the other. The first was addressed to a Selene, from her mother, and the second, to Annabel, from hers.

“It was given to your mother when she was a very little girl,” Daniel continued, solemnly. “It meant a great deal to her, and when you were born, she decided to give it to you.” Annabel turned dusty page after dusty page, looking at the strange illustrations of rabbits, and endearing quotes as the little rabbit’s mother explained how much she loved it.

Annabel smiled, but still did not understand.

“Where is she?” she pressed, looking back at Daniel. He rubbed his face with his palms, then leant towards Annabel, placing a tanned hand on her arm.

“When you were very, very small,” he began, “your mother was desperate to give you everything that you could possibly want. You see this house – how big it is? I couldn’t give you this, Anna, but she did. She worked so hard for you, so determined to give you everything that you deserve. She loved you so much, but–“ Daniel clenched his fists slightly, his fingers digging into Annabel’s arm. “She made herself ill, Anna.”

Anna stared at him, eyes wide.

“She died, didn’t she?” she asked, a strange sense of numbness falling over her.

“Yes, Anna, she died,” Daniel sniffed, hugging his daughter tightly to him. “But she loved you so much, just like I do, and that’s never going to go away.” He wiped his eyes and thrust the book back at her. “I want you to keep this book, and whenever you’re feeling alone, scared or miserable, I want you to read it. Your mum loved you, Anna.” He kissed his daughter on the forehead, and took her hand as he led her up to bed.

He tucked her in, turning off her bedroom light before he crawled into his own bed, sobbing silently into the darkness. Annabel lay awake for hours that night, finally getting up and turning her light back on. She reached for the book left on her bedside table, and examined each image, turning the pages with extreme care. As she, too, cried herself to sleep that night, her tears landed heavily on the book, meeting much older tear stains, that had existed long before Annabel. When she finally fell asleep, she still clutched the book tightly to her; she lay in a ball, hugging her knees to her chest, as her thick, red hair, sprawled across the sheets.

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