“I’d rather die Richard. If I can’t have a baby I’d rather just be dead.” Mary’s words gouged a hole deep in his soul and a lifetime of possibilities ended there and then in the sterile white of the bathroom. He knew that her mental state had slipped, he had watched it slipping, held together only by the fragile glue that hope provides. The marital bed had become an instrument of torture; a place where she ground resentment into him and extracted hope from him. Yet he still wanted her, he still loved her. In his eyes she was still beautiful, though her eyes were so often empty and her heart was so often cold. He had sidestepped her irrational behaviour for as long as he could and would have stepped into an abyss had Mrs Popborski not appeared from nowhere and offered to provide the IVF treatment that no one else would.
“It’s your decision, but I will be watching Mr Davenport. If anything goes wrong bring the child to me, but if you do then the child is mine.”
The warning in her voice had scared him, but not enough to make it real. Now it was far too real.
The drive to Mrs Popborski’s house, jutting out from a piece of high ground on the edge of town was relatively short and desperately long. Rebecca stirred in the moses basket anchored to the passenger seat, puckering her lips as if she might have been dreaming of a kiss. Richard placed a hand on her chest, stroking her cheek with his finger and steering the car with one hand and half a mind until the town petered away and left only trees.
Pulling a left turn, he abandoned his daughter to change down gear and draw to a halt, his headlights peering up the long drive through the bars of a high electric gate. The gates opened as if an unearthly force had willed it and Richard manouvered forward spitting gravel out from under the car tyres. The house pulled itself into view, high, heavy stonework and tall gothic windows. Mrs Popborski framed in a glaring arc of light under a Norman arched doorway, tall, slender and immovable.
“Can I say goodbye to her?” Richard appealed, clawing at the last moments of fatherhood.
“Its better that you don’t,” Mrs Popborski reached out, extracting the sleeping infant from his arms. “You should go now,” she barked the order, her expression never shifting as she eased Rebecca to a more comfortable position, turned and passed the threshold. “Goodbye Mr Davenport,” she turned again and closed the door in a sweeping motion that stole the light and sucked the air from Richards lungs.
He never saw her again.
“I’m not here to judge motive Mr Davenport,“ she had said, perched on a chair in the dark décor of her living room held in a time and place that no longer existed. “My business is to fill the void that society allows to exist. You must always do as I ask and never question my actions. If you do you must live with the consequences of your own.”
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