“Alright. Are you ready?” I asked, a fake smile plastered widely on my face.
“Sure” she replied. “I’m just making sure I have all the baby things for when we pick her up later.” She smiled brightly at me. She was a fantastic actress. Yet I noticed that the smile could not quite reach her eyes, no matter how hard she tried. Her eyes remained cold. Pale blue, like shards of ice. But no one else would notice that. Only me. Of course I noticed – she was my oldest friend. Looking into the icy pools of her eyes I felt myself shiver, involuntarily. She leaned over and touched my shoulder briefly. It was as if to say she understood. She understood what anguish I was going through. But she didn’t. It was part of the act. The act she used to keep herself alive, to keep going, despite everything. She knew she must keep it together – for all our sakes.
She pushed the buggy out onto the pavement and a strong breeze caught us sharply as we stepped out behind it. I pulled my coat up under my chin to shield me from the biting cold. She trotted off briskly and I had to struggle to keep up. We continued this way all through town, completing our shopping speedily with barely any time for small talk. I think she preferred it that way. I wasn’t sure what I preferred.
An old lady stopped to let us pass in the street and peered into the pram. She had her throaty “awww” all prepared and could not hide her disappointment at not finding a baby there.
“Off to pick him or her up then?” the elderly lady asked my friend, smiling warmly at her.
“Yes. We’ll get her later” my friend replied without missing a beat. She used her quick warm smile to mirror the old lady’s smile. Like I said, she was a wonderful actress.
The elderly lady seemed satisfied and pottered on her way… If only she knew, I thought sadly.
We continued home in silence.
My friend opened the door and abruptly began nonsensical chatter – “Tea is it? Two sugars? It was cold outside huh? I’m gunna get my slippers on… oh and make this tea!”
I halted her, gently but firmly. “I will make the tea.” I stated. She threw me a grateful look and sank into the nearest armchair.
I took a deep breath, and busied myself with the tea, knowing what was coming as soon as I left the kitchen…
“Jess” my friend called weakly. Ok here we go, I thought, “coming” I reassured her. Picking up the two mugs I carefully made my way over to the living room to see her.
She was sat still, staring at the opposite wall, expressionless save for one fat tear rolling down her left cheek.
I put the hot mugs down on the coffee table in the centre of the room and immediately reached out for her hand. She clutched my hand in hers as if her life depended on it. I let her wallow in her depression for some minutes before I spoke.
“I’m sorry to drag you through this, every day…” she began “… It’s just. I can’t help it. I feel like if I pretend she’s still here maybe I can kid myself into believing it, you know?” She didn’t wait for my reply before continuing “she was such a perfect baby. A little bundle of joy. All mine. My own. When her father left me I was in bits but seeing her smile reminded me that I was alive, and I had a job to do – I had her to take care of.” She stopped and blew her nose.
“I know” I muttered sympathetically. “I understand”.
She blinked and nodded “I’m really lucky to have you as my friend.” I told her I was lucky too – I’m not sure she believed me though.
“How’s little Luke?” she changed the subject.
“Fine” I said, simply “Cara is looking after him today.” I didn’t want to talk about Luke. How could I speak of my son without feeling dreadful. I felt guilt of the acutest kind. I knew I shouldn’t, she wouldn’t want me to. But what she didn’t know couldn’t hurt.
“Mum says hi, she’s doing well” I changed the subject to try and find a more agreeable line of communication. “Also” I added “She told me to invite you to ours for Christmas… what do you think?”
Right there I saw the first real genuine smile I’d seen my friend give in months. It made my heart soar with happiness as she readily agreed to my proposal.
4 thoughts on “The Empty Pushchair”
I love the title. 🙂
Thanks 🙂 I hope you found it was a good read too… I’m rather proud of this one
Amazing yet heartbreaking! You write wonderfully 🙂 xx
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Thank you 🙂