The Dreyfuss Trilogy

Changeling * Lucifer's Stepdaughter * Moonchild

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Saturday, 8 December 2012

Sample Sunday December 9th

Bedlam Maternity will be published on December 21st.  Launch Party here.

Chapter Three this week.  Enjoy.

Chapter One Here.

Chapter Two Here.

Comment to go into a draw to win a copy of the ebook on launch day!

    Rose wasn’t sure what was worse, the way the girl had died, or the fact her family refused to claim her body.  Indeed, had refused to come forward.  Whoever Shafiah had been, her decision to shield her family from the pregnancy had been seated in a real understanding of who they were and had not been the unfounded fears of panic.  Rose tried to understand their actions, and what would drive a family to ignore the death of their daughter, or sister, or niece.  Watching them lower Shafiah’s cardboard coffin into the unmarked pauper’s grave, she struggled with it.  Struggled with the loneliness and bitterness of thought, struggled with the despair.  Struggled with the anger and tried to fend off the judgement she wanted to make on the family.  Who was she to judge another?
It was not easy.  The sense of outrage as time had gone on, and Shafiah’s family still had not come forward, had built within her.  As she’d been dealing with hospital protocols on how she’d interacted with Shafiah in the last few hours of her life, Rose had been waiting… waiting for the family to step forward.  To claim the body at least, if not their grandchild.  The police had actively investigated the local communities, but the tight-lipped networks of immigrants had closed down completely.  The more hyped the media frenzy had been, the more clamped down everyone had become.  Admitting to an unmarried birth had become also admitting to a suicide.  Shafiah had clearly had the measure of her family, for she’d been wiped clean from everyone’s memories.  She had simply ceased to exist in any tangible sense.  All she had now was a date of death and burial.  She still had no name, no past, no birth date and no family.  She didn’t even have her own grave.  Rose wished she could shed a tear as she walked away from the raw earth that now held Shafiah: it seemed monstrous to her that a stranger should be the only one to mourn her passing.
She nodded to Sergeant Monica Wills as she exited the graveyard.  It had been kind of the police liaison officer to let her know when the communal burial was going to be held, and to let her attend.  No one else had been told, and they’d opened the grave at 6 a.m., in order to avoid the press cameras that had recorded the death so meticulously also recording the burial.   Neither woman stopped to speak in case the same cameras were hiding somewhere in the shrubbery or early morning mist. 
For Rose, it had been a brutal awakening on the power of the press.  The automatic suspension whilst the circumstances of her final meeting with Shafiah had been investigated had become news-worthy in a way that defied the quite normal and everyday nature of the suspension.  Rose had watched as her name and image, for she’d quickly been identified as being in the photos of the death scene, had been spread across the newspapers.  A hard working midwife of almost thirty years’ experience was of little note, however, compared to a 26- year-old social worker from a department with a few public skeletons to dig back up and be paraded.  Rose had watched the circus turn from her, to social services, and the lions had eaten the innocents whole.  Horrible as it had been for her, it had ended the career of the social worker who had just happened to be on duty when Shafiah gave birth: rather than be torn apart, she’d resigned and moved away within a week of the death.  The public hadn’t been sated and had gone after the head of social services for the district.  The reality of women turning up, birthing, and walking away, had caused outrage and hysteria of an unbelievable nature: as if no one had ever heard of such a thing, and that such a thing should never be allowed.
The hospital, inevitably, had been the centre of the storm.  The unfortunate name, Shafiah’s secrecy, the unclaimed baby lying upstairs as his mother had plummeted to her death… it was the very stuff of nightmare.  It was clear the public adored nightmares and very much appreciated their every detail.  The pictures of Shafiah’s ruined body that had been too bloody even for the British press soon emerged on the internet via other European news agencies.  A carnival had opened at the doors of the Bethlehem Maternity and more than one mother had refused point blank to be taken there in labour, not wanting to birth a baby at Bedlam.  The constant comments about lunatics, women, lunatic women and pregnancy brain had become a tidal wave of negativity that the staff was straining under.
The Chief Executive had started up a focus group to find a new name for the unit.
Most of it had passed Rose by.  She’d retired to routine and her community ties.  Spent a lot of time helping out with the cleaning and maintenance at St Kate’s, as everyone referred to her local church.  Carried on with her work with the Catholic Mother’s Union, and spent a lot of her time helping young mums in her area with the first few weeks of abject panic that motherhood brought.  Her flat was gleaming.  She carried on her breastfeeding support group, and they spotted the journalist who’d been sent in to spy on her within seconds.  That had been rather comical, and when everyone had mentally identified the elegant and supposedly pregnant female with the large handbag she kept fiddling with, the subject matter of the meeting had been rapidly switched to potty training, and they had a two hour discussion on the most environmentally friendly way to get poo stains out of cloth.  The reporter had left halfway through.
She’d been grateful that all the years of work in the local community had given her a family to embrace her.  When the worst moments of media intrusion had turned to scrutinise her life, they had been deflected by that community.  Thankful as she was, she recognised the irony that the same actions were taking place elsewhere, to prevent anyone from finding out who Shafiah had been.
Burying the poor lass appeared to have been the signal for life to go back to normal.  Rose had an interview at the unit later on that morning, to confirm her returning rota.  The press had decamped a week or so prior.  Shafiah was old news now.  The baby had been placed in a permanent home for adoption and that news had vented a lot of the pressure.  New scandals opened up elsewhere and the vultures moved on.
Rose doubted she’d read a newspaper ever again.
Which called for a lot of not looking at things as she strolled down the Mile End Road, heading down to the unit: there were a lot of newsagents nestled in the shops she passed.  She’d kept up her walking, had spent many hours in tranquil walks all over London, some days choosing pretty parks and heaths, others, busy thoroughfares.  It cleared her head and allowed some grace to develop over how she felt about Shafiah’s death.
How she was sure that she’d not committed suicide: it didn’t fit with anything she knew of the woman, and how she’d conducted herself.
How the itch had never lifted: the sense that something was wrong. 
Something was very wrong, somewhere.

Lucy Manning was in the meeting she had with Maggie Saro-Wiwa, the Midwifery Co-ordinator.  Both Maggie and Lucy were relieved to have Rose back, and everyone agreed that a run of night shifts would be the best, for the first few weeks.  Normally Lucy and Rose switched days and nights with each other, on their three days runs of twelve hour shifts, with a half shift on day four to do the switch.  But with the press obtrusions still so fresh, a run of nights gave her a low key return.  This meant the other two supervisors had also mucked their own schedule around for her.  She felt immense gratitude that they’d all agreed to this: it was both a compliment to her and a genuine measure of her colleagues’ respect. 
‘There but for the grace of God…’ was what Lucy had said when Rose had thanked her.  Everyone was aware that Rose had pulled the poison simply for being on duty that day.  It could have been any of them.
An opinion that Rose did not, could not, share.  She’d been raised to believe things happened for a reason.  She’s spent hours discussing the death with her parish priest.  Why she, Rose, had both been the one to take the baby from Shafiah, and also to witness her dying moments.  The theology was pretty clear, but her emotions were not.  For every comment that God worked in mysterious ways, Rose’s body would ring out another alarm bell. This had not been God’s design: suicide never was.  That is why it was such a great sin.  How could it be part of His design that she had witnessed such?  If it was not part of God’s plan, how could her presence have been? The nagging feeling of wrongness served only to highlight her own need for understanding: an understanding which eluded her.

Night shifts were generally busier in terms of births, which was fine in its own way.  Rose settled back to work easily and enjoyed being so busy.  There was much less contact with extraneous others in the wards as well, something she relished.  A few awkward moments with her own team members were soon over, although she suspected Amber would leave soon.  The young woman clearly had never quite reconciled to abandoned babies and Rose suspected she’d be off to richer climes, where such happenings were rare.  The East End was never going to be that place.
The challenge and wonder of her calling was that routine was both the mainstay of her every day role, and yet utterly at the mercy of the Gods at every point.  Birthing was a pretty routine occurrence, but each birth was unique and held its own rhythms.  In the quiet darkness of the wee small hours, there was often frenetic activity as women laboured.  Freed up from outpatients and the operating schedule for when intervention was inevitable, night shifts were fluid and unpredictable in a most satisfying way.  Sometimes, there was even nothing to do, as the parade of soon-to-be mothers would sometimes trail away very early in the morning.  Rose had often thought mothers labouring at home would wait until daylight to call for transport, in the hope they could get just one more hour of uneasy sleep…
Therefore, three weeks into her return, Rose found herself in a quiet and calm labour ward, with all the mothers and babies safely in each other’s arms, and a small gap in incoming.  The staff took advantage of the lull to catch up on endless paperwork and start some serious cleaning.  Rose had taken herself off to the supply cupboards to check inventory.  It was two hours before dawn, and everyone beavered to get as much done as they could before the next wave of life arrived.
Counting suture dressings, Rose felt the itch so sharply she dropped the packages she’d been holding.  Cold prickled up her spine, shivered into her skull and dried the saliva in her mouth.  She swallowed hard, trying to claw back moisture.  Her hand started to shake and for one second, fear rooted her to the spot.  Someone was standing beside her.  The door into the storage room had not opened.  But someone was there, nevertheless.
Rose knew before she turned to look.  The sense of wrongness she’d held in her bones these past few weeks was sounding out.  She knew whose eyes she’d look into.  She knew the shape and colour of the vision.
Shafiah Begum was standing next to her. 
She was pale, shaken, haunted.  Rose looked at her and felt the tug in her heart, the pain she’d been holding for this young woman flow out of her.  Fear was replaced by compassion, empathy.  Rose lifted her hand, then stayed it.  Shafiah looked back at Rose, tears brimming but not falling.  A moment of understanding passed between them. 
Then she was gone.
Rose slumped to the ground, finding she’d stopped breathing and that she was dizzy and sick.  As she sat there, heaving, fighting oxygen back into her lungs, her blood, her brain, she saw the shadow under the closed door.  Someone was in the corridor.
Shafiah was in the corridor.
Rose stood up so quickly she almost passed out.  It took her a moment to bring her body back under control.  She was covered in cold sweat and was sure she must reek of it.  Her breathing was ragged and shallow.  She would get hold of this, she would… Shafiah needed her.
As Rose emerged into the corridor, Shafiah moved away towards the back stairs.  Rose followed.
Up they went.  Shafiah walking just ahead, just turning the corner and almost disappearing at each level.  All the way to the top.  All the way to the neo-natal unit.
Rose stood on the outside corridor with the rest of the unit still asleep.  Machines beeped, the occasional baby cry, night staff moving to and fro in the unit itself.  Out here the lights were dimmed.  Rose’s breathing slowly started to steady, her heart settled back down after the five flights of stairs.
Shafiah was standing at the unit door.  Her hand was raised, almost touching the glass.  Tears were cascading down her face.
She jumped, startled, and smiled, wiping the tears from her eyes.  Then she was gone, utterly.
Rose stood staring at the space that had held Shafiah, and understood.  Understood what she’d seen.  Understood the puzzle had a solution.
Shafiah had come back.  She’d come back for her baby.  She’d returned to the hospital for her son.  Whilst everyone had been downstairs with the chaos of the visit, Shafiah had slipped back into the unit and gone upstairs to see her baby.  As she’d stood at the doorway, someone else had approached her.  Someone had spoken to Shafiah.
Shafiah had smiled a greeting to someone.
Rose jumped when the unit door opened, and a nurse came out.  She caught sight of Rose and smiled.
‘Hi, Rose, everything okay?’
Rose could only nod, trying to pull her wits about her.
‘Good.  I was worried for a moment, you look like you’ve seen a ghost!’

Tea was the universal balm, and she clutched the mug’s heat to her shaking hands.  The dawn had brought two mothers-to-be with it and the unit was springing into action around her.  She had to get hold of herself and get back to her duty — get back to being with women.  She shovelled two loads of sugar into the mug, a larger slurp of milk, stirred it and gulped down the contents.  The rush would serve her well, getting her into the routine that would take over her thoughts, allow her to push the fear and worry away for a few hours.
It turned out to be longer than a few hours.  Sickness had struck the next shift and Rose ended up doing another eight hours on top of the twelve she’d just done, but her hand-over shift tomorrow was cancelled out.  Thankful for both the overtime and the four days off in front of her, she took a taxi home and dropped into sleep without even taking her clothes off.  She tossed and turned on the bed, dreaming of blood and crying babies: crying for the mother who would never come.

She slept through for sixteen hours, rising so groggy and unsteady that she felt she’d had a massive blow out on alcohol.  Were hangovers ever this bad, really?  She staggered through to the shower and tried to wake up.  Under the hot stream, she remembered Shafiah, and the vision, and found herself crying, the tears lost in the water.  When she was younger, she could work 24 hours straight and then go out dancing.  Indeed, had done so on many an occasion.  Age was betraying her once more, and she was shocked at the toll the hours had taken on her body, as well as her mind.  Was she losing her mind? 
It was a question she took to Father Tommy Doyle, her confessor of old, and a mate.  Tommy understood when Rose requested he heard her confession, and they retired to the battered and shabby back living room of the priest’s house, the one with the comfy sofas and the TV, not the formal greeting room with the gleaming high backed chairs.  Tommy’s old bones didn’t do wooden confessionals very well these days.  He’d remarked on more than one occasion that he was still paying for his youth, to be kept in rainy England for his retirement.  The truth that he was not retired, or had been, briefly, before the lack of young priests coming up in the ranks had forced him back to work, he skipped over.  It was a great sadness to them both that the Church was dying around them.
It was not a sadness to Rose, however, that Tommy was still here for her, even when he should be enjoying his retirement somewhere warmer and drier.  She was ashamed of how selfish the thought was.
A stickler for tradition, Tommy sat with his back to Rose, as she confessed, and detailed the vision of the dead mother, standing at the door of the neo-natal unit, crying, and smiling in greeting.  They then sat in comfortable silence over mugs of tea, with Tommy filling the air with gentle puffs of pipe tobacco.  He very rarely lit the weed these days, usually sucking on an empty bowl, but today he’d tapped in a few strands.  That said a lot to Rose, about how he’d taken her news.
‘So what’s your worry about it, lass?’  Rose loved that Tommy still called her a lass, after all these years.
‘I feel as if I should be asking myself if it really happened.’
‘But you’re not?’
            Rose shook her head.  ‘No, I’m not.  I know it did, in my heart.  My head… my head tells me to doubt it, to find another explanation…’ she hesitated, thinking it through ‘but it’s just not in me to deny it, really.  I know it in my bones.’
            Tommy nodded.  His silence leaving space.
            ‘We’ve both seen things, things that can’t be denied, or explained.’
            Tommy smiled, the old twinkle in his eyes flaring up. ‘I’ve never said they cannae be explained.’
            Rose nodded.  ‘No, you never seem to doubt…’
            ‘You know that’s not true.  I have more doubts than most.’ She gave him silence to allow him to lead on. ‘But I have no need to question the things I have seen.  They just are.’
            She nodded, old territory between them.  A priest and a midwife had seen enough passings, in both directions, to see more than just flesh and blood in the world.
            ‘What would it mean to you it if wasn’t real?’
            ‘That I’m losing it.  I’ve finally given in.’
            ‘Into what?’
            She sighed.  ‘I’m not sure.  Madness?  Selfishness?’
            ‘Why would it be selfish?’
            ‘Why would it be selfish, to have seen a young woman’s ghost?’
            ‘It would be selfish to imagine I’d seen a ghost.  Especially hers.’
            ‘I cannot see that.  You saw her death, why would it be selfish to see her ghost?  Surely it would logical that if you saw anyone, it would be her.’
            ‘Then it’s selfish to see a ghost at all.’
            ‘Then there are a lot of selfish people in the world.  Not to mention we used to have a holy one to pray to.’
            She smiled.  He had such a gruff, yet gentle way with her.  He could always get through.  Her life would be sadder indeed, when Tommy left it.
            It didn’t occur to her that the opposite was also true.  The silence stretched out into reflection, once again.
            ‘And tell me now, what would it mean if it was real?’
            And there he went, straight to the heart and soul of the matter.
            ‘It would mean she’d been murdered.  How can that be?’

            They carried on talking it over as Rose made them both a light supper, and they ate it on their laps in the comfy room.  Tommy had more or less taken it over as his own little lair, the other two priests in the house being both non-smokers, and too busy to indulge in afternoon chats with parishioners at leisure.  Rose knew that’s why Tommy was still happy with his lot; he rarely took Mass and spent the rest of the time being the Guardian of the House, so to speak.  The one that kept the open door and took the phone calls; finding the other two when they were needed urgently.   He was, in many ways, the old live-in housekeeper they used to have, when parish funds were better.  But in those days, no one else would have stepped foot over the threshold of the straight backed front room.  It was better this way.  The women of the parish kept the house clean and the freezer filled.  The younger of the priests, Father Jorge, could reheat and recombine enough to keep them all three alive, and there was a dishwashing machine.  All three priests enjoyed the range of foods made for them, from Irish Stews to Polish soups and hot and sweet West African curries.  Tommy had been in the East End longer than Rose, and was used to every manner of meat and vegetable cooked in every way possible, including raw.  Although the days of freshly butchered steak being deposited on the priest’s table for mincing with a raw egg were long gone.  Health and safety had seen some things driven under.  But he liked the constant change of the food the Mother’s Union made sure they enjoyed.
            He also liked smoked salmon with scrambled eggs on toast, and Rose had brought the salmon.  
            ‘Does it mean she had to be murdered?’
            Rose considered as she finished the last of her toast.
            ‘Unless she decided to climb out a window for some reason, how else did she end up at the bottom of the building?  How many people climb out of windows if they aren’t planning to jump?  There was no way to be where she was, without coming out a window.  Not even the roof.’
            They both sat again, and thought in silence.
            ‘They were sure it was the window on the stairwell?’
            ‘That was the window that was open: she was more or less directly underneath.  But there are twenty or so windows above there.  Only she had to have come from the third floor, or higher, the coroner said.’  Tommy nodded.  They’d discussed it a lot, at the time. ‘The only open window was the fourth floor stairwell…’
‘Aye.  So they assumed…’
‘That’s the word, assumed.  They assumed.’  There was irritation in Rose’s voice.  Tommy glanced over at her, with an indulgent sigh.
‘It’s no CSI, Rosie, it’s real life.’
She nodded and clattered her mug down on the china coaster. 
‘I know.  But there should have been more done!’
He let her anger back down again, before picking up the threads.
‘Do you think that’s why you’re seeing her, as you’re so… affected?’
‘I think no one cared that the CCTV wasn’t working, and that no one could work out why she’d come back to the hospital to do it is why she’s back now!  Or at least I thought so at first.  I thought she wanted her name put on her grave… until I saw her smile, and look at someone.  Then I knew… knew that she was telling me something quite different.’
The dishes clattered together as she picked them up.  He let her move about to her own rhythm.  She went through to the kitchen and dropped them into the sink.  He winced, hoping one hadn’t broken.  She put the kettle back on and returned to the dishes, scrubbing them hard under the hot water tap then leaving them to drip dry.  She picked the kettle up and poured a slug into the teapot before swirling it round and dumping it in the sink.  By the time she’d heaped two spoonfuls of tea leaves in, poured on the boiling water and then swished the pot round as she placed it down on the heat mat to mash, she’d slowed down to normal speed.
Tommy came through with the cups, which he rinsed.  He once more spoke out in measured, gentle tones:
‘They’re always tellin’ me to use tea bags.’
‘Cleaner, quicker, easier.’  Her voice had moved to non-committal.
‘But don’t taste as good.’  The twinkle was back, enticing her to join him in peace. 
She returned his smile.
‘That’s better.’  He picked up the strainer and started a dribble off to see if it was strong enough.  ‘Well then, I think it leaves us with a new puzzle, this vision o’ yourn.’  He handed a mug of tea, with a splash of milk to Rose, and put two sugars in his own, black.
‘Who on earth would kill her, and why?’

Chapter Four Here

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