CONTESTS

Survivors

DAVID WISEMAN

Third Prize winner of the 15th Annual Geist Literal Literary Postcard Story Contest

When I knocked I could hear Amber gurgling, so I knew her mum was there. I could’ve gone right in—there wasn’t much I hadn’t seen before—but this was a peace mission and I didn’t want to upset Josie again. I’d had too many Kamikazes the night before and started on about how she never paid any rent and the place smelling bad and how she’d have to go. Twenty-four hours I’d said, she and the kid had to be gone.

It sounded like the kid was ready to stop gurgling and start bawling, so I inched open the door. It was the usual shambles, Josie’s clothes strewn everywhere, Amber in her cardboard cot. She’d just learned to roll over but hadn’t the strength to roll back. Everything pretty much normal, except there was no Josie.

The note was direct: Gone to find a place. Look after Amber. I looked round at the child, close enough I could see her over the edge of the box as she struggled to keep her head up for more than two seconds. Dark eyes under black lashes, golden skin, a wet nappy and a look that said you’re not my mummy.

It wasn’t like we were strangers, I often held her. I’d even tried with a bottle but never really got the hang of it. She was quiet for a minute, but I was mad over being left in the lurch and swore loud and long. Then she cried, starting low but hitting the top fast.

I was so angry I was shaking and all the while Amber was letting rip. She wasn’t just hungry and wet, but cross as hell that Josie’d walked out on her. I would’ve killed for a smoke, but I’d none left.

Crystal clear, I thought this is how kids get battered, this is how they get slammed against the wall.

Then, mercifully, these things came back to me: warm, dry, full.

The poor kid looked really sore when I got her nappy off and she didn’t have that nice plump roundness like they do in the adverts. Warm soapy water calmed her a little, but it’s amazing how easy it’d be to drop a slippery baby.

There was enough formula for one bottle, and she was back to full volume while I fiddled around making it, but I got lucky. She went straight into it, not stopping till it was half gone. All the yelling and bathing and feeding had pretty much exhausted us both, and Amber fell asleep in my arms. I followed a minute later.

We woke together, as Josie’s key turned in the lock. Amber half-smiled for an instant before she caught sight of her mum, which reminded her how she’d been deserted, and she let out a yell to wake the dead. I was ready to shout too, but suddenly, the moment passed. Maybe that’s what saved us both, being mad at Josie instead of each other.

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DAVID WISEMAN

David Wiseman is an English-born writer living in Surrey, BC, whose lifelong enthusiasms include maps, reading, writing, travel and photography.


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