red on red
The waitress brings my order. A flat white and a cupcake. My Easter treat. The cake has three small chocolate eggs on top and I eat them, one by one. They are sweeter than sweet. Then I peal the paper from the cake. My hand is halfway to my mouth, the first of the cake tantalisingly close, when I see, out of the corner of my eye, the first drops of blood on my shoe. Red on my red shoe. My book is open on the table. The book is clean. No-one knows my thoughts. But I have to be careful, because I know what people are like and there’s a fizz in the air around me.
I’m quite normal. I’m saying it in my head. Then I say it out loud and realise a micro-second too late what I’ve done. The fizz has turned into a loud buzz. Some of those people heard me and I have been judged. But I will not react, I will not let them know. I will simply get up and leave, in a normal way. I close my book and slide it into my satchel. I look at the cupcake. My Easter treat. I’ve hardly started it and I am not leaving it. I wrap it in the dark blue napkin. I feel relieved that it’s blue and not red, but the colour may still run. It’s a risk I have to take.
I pick up the neat parcel of cake and tuck it into the front left-hand corner of my satchel. I’m pleased at how well it fits there. I might have left the space deliberately. I close the buckles, the left and then the right. Everything in order. I do not look down at my shoe. I pull the strap of my satchel over my head and down firmly so that the bag sits on my left hip, like the baby will.
Will, I tell myself, because I am incubating the egg. It’s in an oven glove on the shelf above the radiator in the kitchen. I check the egg every morning. It feels warm. My hand shook when I realised this morning that my egg was moving a little.
I get up and walk out of the café. I feel eyes on my back. Soon I will be home. I’m normal. I say it in my head, only in my head. I’m quite sure of that. I keep moving, pulling the satchel in to my hip. Like the baby I’m nurturing. I think of the egg all alone and quicken my pace. My baby needs me.
I smile. It is a smile for myself. And for the baby, yes of course, but not for anyone else. Not for the red-haired man coming towards me who smiles back as if it was for him. He knows me, so it would seem, though I don’t recognise him. I would have remembered a person with that colour hair. He asks about the baby, Maria has told him he says and he is so delighted for me, you’re clearly blooming he says, it must be due any day and you’re excited aren’t you, sure you are I can see.
I am excited, I say, but I’m not looking at him. I’m looking down at the bloodstain on my shoe. Red on red. I am excited, I repeat, looking up at him now and arranging my face into the kind of expression he is expecting. He looks relieved and says he hopes all will go fine now and to be sure he feels it will and to look after myself right enough.
I stand for a minute after he’s moved away, holding the satchel close and thinking of the cake in there. When I get home I will open the napkin and eat it slowly, crumb by crumb. I think of lifting those delicate morsels, one by one, to my mouth, fingers in my mouth, sucking like the baby will.
It was Maria who gave me the idea to use the oven glove. She was laughing when she told me what her daughter had done. It’s her job to collect the eggs from our chickens every morning and she likes to find safe places for them, Maria had told me. One day Maria’s taking a pie out of the oven, hand in the oven glove on the hot dish before she realises what her child has nestled in that glove. Before she feels the egg, broken and sticky on her hand. What a terrible mess it made, but you have to laugh don’t you? she’d said. Children will be children, she’d said.
My egg is no laughing matter and I keep it very safe. Now I’m home, taking off my satchel and my coat and checking on the oven glove, feeling the egg warm and just rocking a little.
I sit down at my kitchen table, unbuckle the satchel and get out the neat dark blue parcel and open it up. The colour hasn’t run and I feel relieved. Then I remember the blood on my shoe and I look down and there are fresh drops. The egg is gently pulsing on the windowsill. It won’t be long. I roll a soft yellow crumb of the cupcake under my fingers, but it’s not enough, I need more. It’s past the time to be cautious. I take a big bite. The sweetness of the cake explodes on my tongue and I flop back in my chair. The blood is dripping faster now. I know but I don’t care because it is time. I am normal. I say the words out loud and I hear them coming back at me from the four corners of my kitchen.
I eat the cake, every last fragment, but I crave more. On the windowsill the egg has broken as it had to, running red. Now I am there with it and there is blood on my fingers, dark, sticky and warm, red on red. I put my blooded hands on my belly then I lift them once more to my ever-hungry mouth and I suck and I suck. Just like the baby would have done.
Cath Barton is an English writer who lives in Wales. She is active in the on-line flash fiction community and has had short pieces published in print, notably in Fractured West and National Flash-Fiction Day anthologies.