Dressed in a milk-stained dressing gown, Sadie flopped into an armchair and watched the solar-powered toy hula lady wiggling away on the windowsill. Sadie listened to its soporific monotonous clicking until a movement in the house opposite caught her eye.
A woman stood at the window staring. A thigh peeked out of her flowing nightgown; her blonde hair parted like curtains over her breasts. A man appeared behind her; his arms embraced her waist. They kissed. Suddenly a double-decker bus drew up, obscuring Sadie’s view. Passengers got on and off, but when the vehicle set off again, the window was empty.
Urgent newborn cries came over the walkie talkie. Sadie dragged herself upstairs to the bedroom and relaxed into the nursing chair with her secondborn. The baby latched on straight away and gulped the milk in an efficient mechanical fashion.
Sated, Amelia slurped as she released the nipple. Sadie treated the child like a porcelain doll, placed her against her chest and rubbed her back in circular motions. ‘There, there,’ Sadie walked with her precious cargo towards the window.
Sadie saw the woman in the house over the road in a sky-blue suit; the skirt emphasised her curvy hips. Her hair was in a chignon, and her lips painted scarlet. She disappeared to emerge from the main door and slide into a taxi. The man stood on the balcony and blew kisses. Love.
When Sadie changed her nappy, Amelia’s arms splayed out, tiny fingers grasped air. Sadie laid the child down to sleep, checked the baby alarm and went to the bathroom. The alarm clock – not that she needed one these days – said eleven. How did it get to that time already? She caught sight of her profile reflected in the long mirror – long greasy hair and a post-baby belly.
In the shower, Sadie let the hot water stream over her. Red-brown blood trickled down her legs, diluting to lighter red as it meandered along the gushing water to drain away. Sadie’s pregnancy had made her feel like a proud galleon sailing through the supermarket. Now, she felt like a milk factory.
At three-fifteen, her friend Julia dropped Sam back from school. Julia’s daughter was in the same class and knowing that Tom was away in Dubai for work, she offered to take Sam to school and back.
Rain showers prevented Sadie from taking Sam to the playground; she set him up at the dining table with crayons and colouring books.
‘Mum, look at this!’ He shouted. ‘M-u-u-u-u-mmy!!!’ Louder, until she responded.
‘A grey cat, that’s lovely Sam,’ Sadie smiled.
‘No! It’s an elepant!’ Sam replied.
‘Silly me, I see; it’s an elephant.’
In between feeds and settling Amelia, she managed to re-heat yesterday’s Spaghetti Bolognaise for Sam. The evening passed in a whirr of domestic activity, and by the time she sat down, it was ten o’clock. She flicked through the tv channels until she decided nothing was worth watching and sat in the dark. A light came on in the facing house. Sadie raised herself to the edge of the sofa to see. She decided to call the woman Ava and the man Leo. In the hall cupboard, Sadie found an old pair of binoculars. She trained them on the window, nudging the focus controls until she zeroed in on the couple.
A bare-chested Leo pulled Ava to him and lifted her onto the dining table. Ava wriggled out of her blue jacket and flung it to the floor; her breasts heaved at her blouse. Leo rolled Ava’s skirt up and slipped her panties down. Leo’s trousers plummeted to the floor.
Startling raspy growls spouted from the baby monitor, transforming into wails. Sadie sighed, dumped the binoculars and climbed the stairs. Amelia’s face was pink; her toothless mouth gaped open like the entrance to a cave. Sadie sat and nursed the baby and thought back to when her breasts were pert, and her nipples stood to attention like Ava’s. She realised it was five years since she fell pregnant with Sam. From the window, she watched Leo and Ava.
At eleven-thirty, Sadie crept into bed exhausted. Later, her dreams were interrupted by the landline ringing. Her heart lurched when she answered the phone.
‘Darling!’ Tom said.
‘Tom? It’s one in the morning,’ Sadie replied.
‘You’re not happy I called?’ Tom slurred his words.
‘I’ve been on the go all day. I’m worn out,’ Sadie whispered.
‘Why are you whispering?’
‘I don’t want to wake the kids,’ Sadie said.
‘Well, if you’re going to be like that,’ Tom hung up.
Jeez, Sadie thought; he hasn’t a clue.
At four a.m., Amelia launched her morning wake-up call. Sadie picked her up and took her back to bed. The baby suckled with enthusiasm. They nodded off, and when Sadie awoke later, Sam was lying next to her. She settled Amelia in her crib and woke Sam. He grizzled and kicked the bedcovers but got up with the offer of chocolate spread sandwiches for breakfast.
At eight-fifteen, after Julia collected Sam, Sadie sat down to drink a coffee. Sunshine streamed through the Victorian windows; their distorted glass refracted the rays over the white wall in an intricate pattern. She checked her phone, no messages.
Sadie picked up the binoculars and watched Leo set the table with napkins, plates, cutlery, croissants and jam. A large bouquet of red roses lay on the table. Ava glided into the room, smiling; Leo held a chair out for her.
Sadie yawned as she opened the fridge, she needed groceries, but it was such an effort; feed and change Amelia, shower and dress. By the time it was all done, Amelia would need topping up again. It’s easy for Tom swanning off to Dubai. Try a stint in my shoes, she thought.
She showered, soaping around her swollen body until snuffling sounds came from the cot. She slipped her dressing gown on and lifted Amelia to her breasts. When the baby stopped suckling and her head lolled back like a tiny drunk, Sadie dressed in leggings and a sweatshirt. As she left the house, she shot a look at Leo and Ava relaxing. Alright, for some, she thought. The supermarket trip was uninspiring; Sadie searched for meal ideas for Sam. He was such a fussy eater. Chicken nuggets and Spaghetti Bolognaise were the only foods he didn’t baulk at. All those earth mothers who hid veggies in mashed potato had no idea. Still, she supposed he wouldn’t starve. She slung the crammed shopping bags over the pram’s handlebars and shoved the heavier items on the shelf underneath.
At the pedestrian crossing near home, hydraulic brakes burped a bus to a halt, and the beeping sound of the green man interrupted the traffic. When Sadie tripped and almost let go of the pram, her heart leapt to her mouth. At the front door, she struggled to find the keys in her handbag while holding on to the weighed down pram.
‘Excuse me,’ a voice said.
Sadie looked up. It was Ava.
‘I’m Zoe. I live there,’ the woman pointed to the house opposite Sadie’s.
‘Oh,’ Sadie’s face reddened, her heart started thumping; she steeled herself. What if she saw her spying?
‘We received a bouquet. I think it’s for you,’ Zoe whisked the flowers from behind her back and presented them to her.
‘Oh, erm, right. Sorry,’ Sadie shrugged, ‘no free hands.’
‘Here, let me help you,’ Zoe held the pram and peered in. ‘Your baby’s gorgeous. How old is she?’
‘Six weeks,’ Sadie noticed Zoe’s eyes welling up.
‘I’ve seen your boy too. He’s so cute,’ Zoe wiped her eyes. ‘Don’t mind me. I’m a pushover for kids.’
‘Look, do you fancy a cuppa?’ Sadie asked.
‘I don’t want to put you out,’ Zoe said.
‘I’m starved of adult company. I’ll put the kettle on,’ Sadie manoeuvred the pram into the hallway. ‘Amelia’s sleeping, so we’re good for a bit.’
Zoe exchanged glances with Sadie, ‘the flowers?’
‘There’s a vase under the sink, if you don’t mind?’
‘Sure,’ Zoe filled the vase and arranged the roses. She placed them on the dining table, ‘beautiful. Oh, there’s a card.’
‘Thanks,’ Sadie read the message, ‘they’re from Tom, my husband.’ Sadie poured the tea. ‘Milk, sugar?’
‘No thanks,’ Zoe said.
Amelia roused, making those snatchy noises that babies make. Sadie plucked her from the pram, ‘there, there.’
‘Do you have children?’ Sadie asked.
‘No,’ Zoe said.
‘Sorry, that was too personal,’ Sadie rubbed Amelia’s back.
‘It’s ok,’ Zoe stirred her tea.
‘I’m sorry,’ Sadie scanned the room for the binoculars.
‘I can’t have any,’ Zoe said matter-of-factly.
‘Oh,’ Sadie bit her lip.
‘Sorry, it’s a bit of a conversation stopper, I know.’
‘No, er, it’s ok,’ Sadie said.
‘I’ve been watching you and your kids from my window. You’re so lucky,’ Zoe smiled.
‘Thanks, Zoe. You know what?’ Sadie said through blurry eyes, ‘You’re right.’
Belgium based writer Sheila Kinsella’s short stories draw inspiration from her Irish upbringing. An avid watcher of people’s behaviour, and blessed with abundant natural curiosity, Sheila lures the reader into a shrewdly observed world via imagery. Sheila graduated with an MA in Creative Writing (Distance Learning) from Lancaster University in the United Kingdom in 2017.