He was perfect. A perfect baby boy. They had told her that at the hospital and he really was. Not a mistake. Not a sign of a wasted life. Not something to be ashamed of or wished away like her mother had told her in the beginning. It was different now of course, now mam had seen him, but she hadn’t known that then when she was being shouted at and being sick every morning. People had said “Your mam will come round” and she had. She had come round as soon as she looked at him. It had been hard to start with. She had been frightened of everything, frightened he’d choke when she was feeding him, frightened he’d put dirty fingers in his mouth, frightened she’d hurt him when she was putting his nappy on- God knows how she’d thought she was going to do that- just scared stiff all the time basically. So many choices to make, so much rubbish advice, and so much hate. Not that people said much to her face, but there was always somebody to make sure it got back to her, and it hurt. Why couldn’t they see what she saw? Of course it had been a hard year, bloody hard, but she had done it. She had done it on her own and it was so worth it. What else was she ever going to have in her life that was perfect?
Sam didn’t have a dad. He had a father, course he had, but that wasn’t the same thing. She had run out of words to describe him. If it had been left to him Sam wouldn’t even be here. He had told her to “get rid” of him and no matter how much she had cried and said no he had kept saying it. That had gone on for two weeks and it had been worse than anything. Then he had shut up. No messages, no visits, nothing. When she saw him at sixth form he had blanked her. They weren’t doing the same courses so it had been easy. Some of his mates had smirked a bit when she walked past to start with but she had a big mouth on her when she chose to use it so they hadn’t smirked for long. These days she didn’t see any of them. They were just stupid kids anyway. They knew nothing about real life. A baby was the most real thing she had ever known. When Sam needed something he needed it now and there was only one person to do it for him. That was real and it mattered. The stuff they wasted their time on didn’t. Talking about Sam’s father was the only thing that still caused trouble with her mam. Her mam kept on about the CSA and how he should be made to look after his own. Well he had no right to go anywhere near a perfect little boy who he had wanted dead. She didn’t want his money, even if he had had some. Sam’s smiles were for her. When he took his first steps she would be the one to see it and she was going to make bloody sure his first word wasn’t dada. She could give him everything that he needed. All the love, everything. She had got her A levels out of the way, when they said she wouldn’t, and she would work as hard as it took to make a life for them both, do a degree by post or something when he was a bit older. Sam would know that she had done it for him. It would all be for him.
Of course Sam didn’t know that yet. He was sitting up in his stroller seat sucking the ear of his rabbit. His eyes were on her, big blue and still. She always put him where he could see what she was doing and he always watched. It made even boring stuff more interesting when he was watching her and she could tell him about it. She waved a bunch of socks at him.
“Shall we put these on the radiator then? Shall we?”
He just looked.
He liked being called a good boy. She could tell. He waved his rabbit in the air and dropped it on the floor. She made her silly voice and wrinkled her nose, putting her face right next to his.
“What you done now?”
She was just about to undo the clasp and get him out of his seat for a snuggle when the doorbell buzzed. They both stopped dead. It wouldn’t be her mam. She wasn’t coming until later on. She crept to the door of the flat and looked through the spyhole.
It was Sam’s dad. He still had the same crummy jacket on. Suddenly his face lurched towards the spyhole and there was another loud knock that made her jump back from the door, heart beating fast. For a few seconds she felt like hiding away but she hadn’t hidden from anything in the last year and she wasn’t going to start hiding now, especially from a useless toerag like that. She decided to tell him to fuck off. For Sam.
When she opened the door he just stood there. She waited. He still stood there.
She didn’t say fuck off yet. She wanted to see him squirm.
He looked at the ground.
“I just wondered how you were, like. And the kid.”
The kid? Of course he wouldn’t know would he- she’d refused to tell him. He’d only have forgotten anyway.
“He’s got a name Ryan. Not that you need to know it.”
“Give us a break will you Shell?”
“You’ve not come near us. Not once. You knew he was born and you’ve not come near. Your kid and you couldn’t give a shit.”
“That’s not fair.”
“True though. Isn’t it?”
Shell looked at him carefully. He was just a kid. Even now. He couldn’t even be bothered to fasten his trainers up and he still needed his mam to do his washing. He wasn’t even a bloke yet, let alone a dad.
Clueless. That’s what he was. Clueless.
“What have you come for? I’ve nothing to say to you.”
“Can I see Sam?”
So he did know Sam’s name then. Shell wondered how he’d found that out. She’d be having words with whoever told him if she found out who it was. Now was the time to say it, and she did. Very calmly.
She didn’t swear, ever, and he knew it.
“Come on Shell.”
“I’ve a right to see him.”
She shook her head very very slowly.
“I have. I’m his dad.”
“Since when? It takes more than getting a lass pregnant to be a dad.”
“You won’t let me near.”
“You’ve not tried.”
“I’m trying now. Just gve us a chance eh? Let me see him.”
Wondering what on earth she was doing, Shell stood to one side and let him walk past. She followed him into the kitchen. Sam’s eyes widened as he noticed the stranger.
“Don’t you touch him. I mean it. Go and sit in the living room and I’ll bring him through.”
Shell took Sam out of his seat and sat him on the edge of the kitchen table to brush his hair and straighten his socks. There was some goo round his mouth from sucking the rabbit so she wiped his mouth and tucked his collar in. There he was. Perfect. She carried him through and sat down with him perched on her knee. She flinched when she saw Ryan’s face light up as he looked at him.
“He looks like me.”
“Get lost. He doesn’t.”
He did though. He was the image of his father. Sam had the same mop of soft brown curls and the same rounded chin and now that the two of them were smiling at each other (that meant nothing of course- Sam smiled at everybody) she could see that they had the same slightly crooked smile.
“How is he?”
Shell frowned. Was he trying to say she couldn’t look after Sam? Cheek.
“He’s got everything he needs. Everything.”
“You’re managing then?”
Shell wasn’t having that.
“Of course I am. I had no choice did I? I’m a good mother. Ask anybody.”
He was taken aback at that.
“I didn’t mean to say you weren’t. I was just asking.”
“Well don’t bother.”
There was a long silence. They both watched intently while Sam pulled off his socks and put them in his mouth.
“Everything goes in his mouth.”
They both smiled, but at Sam, not at each other.
“He’s a little chubster.”
“I don’t let him eat crap.”
Shell had had enough grief from the health visitor about that. Sam was just fine. Perfect.
“Can I hold him?”
She caught sight of Ryan’s face.
“No. Sorry. I can’t let you. You’ll drop him.”
He wouldn’t drop him, Shell knew that, but Ryan wasn’t going to get the chance.
“I’m not stupid.”
“Well you wanted to see him. You’ve seen him now.”
Ryan started to talk quietly, mumbling his words and looking at his feet.
“I wanted to come before, only I didn’t know what to say. I’ve no money, not yet, nothing I can give you, and I knew you wanted rid of me. You’d never have listened. I’d no idea what to say. My mates were saying all sorts and it was doing my head in. I wanted to come.”
Shell cradled Sam in her arms as he dropped off to sleep and stared at Ryan calmly.
“You wanted Sam dead.”
“Oh you did. Get rid of it you told me. It.”
“I didn’t know what I was saying.”
“Seemed clear enough to me. Look at him Ryan. You wanted this little boy dead.”
“I’d no idea……. it wasn’t like seeing him now. I was panicking. Everybody was talking stuff at me, your mother, my mother, mates, everybody. I just wanted to run.”
And you did.”
“I could only see one way out.”
“And so could I. Only it wasn’t the same one.”
“You’ve no idea what it was like.”
“Nor have you.”
“Can I come and see him again?”
“Maybe. But not here.”
Ryan’s face cleared a little and he leaned forward. We could take him out maybe?”
We? There was no we. Or at least only with Sam.
“Ryan I don’t know. I’ve Sam to think about. I don’t want him upset. We’re all right together, we’re more than all right. There are things I want to do. We’re better on our own me and Sam, just the two of us. You’ll have to go now. It’s time for him to go down for his nap. I don’t want hassle.”
“Is that what I’d be then? Hassle?”
“It’s what I’ve seen so far.”
“I just want to see him that’s all, help out when I can. I won’t get in the way. I’m his dad.”
“You’re his father. You’ve a long way to go before you’re his dad.”
“I can try.”
“Is my mobile number still on your phone?”
He nodded. Shell frowned. Well at least that was something. She had deleted his number from hers long ago.
“Send me a text.”