Angel 45 (mercy)
Sunlight filtered through the vertical blinds, the room bright and airy, Angel yawned. The night-shift guard, who introduced herself as Sarah, was sitting in a high-backed hospital chair beside the bed. She had been reading a William McIlvanney novel which had fallen into her lap as she dozed. She reminded Angel of someone she went to school with, but much taller, with short brown hair cut in a bowl shape, open-faced and prone to giggle, and younger than most of the other prison staff. The guard stirred and clutched at her book and woke with a panicked look as the early morning wail of the twins Lisa and Adam wanting to be fed, wanting to be heard, testing their voice and testing their lungs.
‘They’re feeding then,’ the guard smiled, as Angel hooked the twins to her breasts.
‘Not really…and it hurts...a lot.’
Angel shoogled the babies, holding them like swaddled rugby balls with unzipped mouths. Lisa was bigger and settled to feeding better, but her nipple kept slipping from Adam’s mouth and he instantly fell asleep again, his eyes screwed shut, breast milk on his lips and nose. She had to nudge him awake and he seemed angry and started mewing. ‘He needs to feed,’ she looked over and the guard nodded and smiled, picked up her book and scanned the pages.
Sarah wet her lips. ‘I’m sure they’ll be fine.’
‘The nurse will be in soon with breakfast, you can ask her.’
Angel kissed Adam’s head and tried to get him to feed, but he wouldn’t, tiny fingers clenched in frustration. Angel began sobbing as well.
‘You’ll be OK.’ Sarah put her book on the edge of the clean, white linen and stood up. ‘Want me to take him, for a bit?’
Sarah cradled Adam on her shoulder and walked around the room, to the window, to the toilet, the chair to the bed, swaying her charge back and forward and chanting, ‘You’ll be OK. You’ll be OK. You’ll be OK,’ which seemed to settle him.
When she handed him back he was asleep and Lisa was also asleep.
‘Cheers,’ whispered Angel. ‘I think he likes you, more than he likes me…Have you got any kids?’
‘Nah,’ Sarah screwed up her face. ‘But I’d like to have some someday.’
The bitter way she spoke made Angel wary of saying more. ‘I’m sure you will have.’ She laughed. ‘You can always take Adam hame wae you.’
Sarah bent over and kissed the fuzzy down on his head. ‘Wish I could.’ Sniffing in his baby smell. ‘What colour of hair, you think they’ll have?’
‘Don’t know.’ Angel hugged them tighter and smiled as she studied their heads. ‘Blonde, like me, or ginger. She thought of Pizza Face and was grateful to him for the twins, even though they might not be his. ‘Or brown, like their da,’ and shook her head. ‘It doesnae really matter, does it?’
‘Nah,’ Sarah’s eyes glittered. ‘No really.’ She sat down on the chair, her long legs stretched under the bed, tucked out of the way when the auxiliary nurse bustled in with a breakfast tray.
The auxiliary took off her specs and rubbed her eyes, leaving the tray on the table at the end of the bed. She took the lid off the beaker of water and peered in, before letting it flap down again. Had a quick glance around the room, as if checking all the fittings remained, before scooting back to the trolley outside the door. ‘You’ll be moving today,’ was her closing remark. ‘So you’ll not be needing lunch, then.’
Angel used her elbows to shift forward, while swinging her legs out of the bed. ‘Whit did she mean by that?’
‘Dunno. Maybe they’re moving you to another room.’
Sarah stood up and took Adam, cradling him before placing him in the cot beside the bed, and tapping the blanket between his chest and chin into place to make sure he was snug.
Angel tucked Lisa in beside him. They looked down at them, smiling, their elbows brushing against each other and their breathing slowed to a hush.
‘I’ll be finishing my shift soon, anyway,’ Sarah tiptoed away and sat in the chair, her hands in her lap, ‘but it’s been lovely. Wish all my shifts were as easy as this.’
Angel poked at scrambled egg on the breakfast tray and stringy bacon. ‘Here,’ she handed the carton of fresh orange to Sarah. ‘You want a bit of toast?’
‘Don’t mind.’ She sat up a little higher to peek. ‘Marmalade and butter?’
‘Aye.’ Angel passed over the plates and added a knife. ‘I don’t like brown bread, anyway.’
Angel settled for Cornflakes, and warmish milk. Lukewarm tea wasn’t much better but she sipped at it. ‘When you taking me back the Corton Vale?’
Sarah wiped at the crumbs at the corner of her mouth, before answering. ‘Dunno, they don’t tell me nothing.’ She glanced at the babies sleeping. ‘But it should be soon…And that’ll be the overtime gubbed.’
‘Glad to be of help,’ there was a nip in Angel’s voice. The girls in the unit always said you could never trust a screw. ‘Maybe there’ll be something seriously wrang wae Adam and Lisa and you can buy yerself a new car.’
Sarah had the plate with toast in her hand, she balanced it on the arm of the chair. ‘No, No, I don’t mean it like that.’ She took a deep breath and it came out in exasperation. ‘I mean, I like you. You’re not like some of the others. Manipulative. Always trying to pull a flanker. Full of the drugs. Always trying to get something. You just love your babies…And I think that’s magic.’
They both leaned over their necks arched and heads inches apart, watching Lisa and Adam sleeping. Lisa opened her eyes and seemed to be looking up at them.
‘They can’t really see,’ Angel told Sarah, recounting what the midwife had told her. ‘That’ll come later. But they know us by our smell. And touch, the way we hold them.’
Angel couldn’t resist stroking Lisa’s forehead and watching her blink and her wee eyes squinting and shutting.
‘They’re gorgeous,’ said Sarah. ‘You’re lucky.’
‘I’d be lucky if I was allowed to keep them, but I know how it works.’ Angel’s voice faltered. ‘I’ve got them for a year, eighteen months, max, and then they get taken aff me. I dunno whit I’m gonnae dae them.’
‘Just do what you’re doing now,’ replied Sarah, but avoiding meeting her gaze. ‘And see how it works out.’