[a flashback in words, not pictures, this time]
I was six and a half, and our house was old and cold and the toilet was outside. An old-fashioned affair with a pull-chain flush and an atmosphere attractive to spiders. It was go-to-the-toilet-before-you're-in-bed-or-forever-hold-in-peace. Because no one wanted to get up and make the trek down the long hallway, out the back door, through the darkness, and into the freezing little room once they'd been held by the sweet security of the blankets. I had it down to a fine art and got so that I didn't wake in the night at all.
But I woke in the morning with a bounce, that's for sure, because Mum was having a baby soon and I was convinced that babies come in the nighttime. Every morning after I climbed down from the top bunk, even before making my way outside to the toilet, I looked in on Mum's room.
Morning after morning she was there, curled up under the blankets with the baby-shaped stomach prominent, still most certainly in one piece. That baby was never gonna come.
My grandmother came to stay, to be "available", and to iron and clean and hang washing just as she has always done for everyone. One night -- and my memory pushes all these events into the one night; whether they were so or not, I can't tell -- I was woken in the middle of my dreams by a loud knocking on the front door. I lay, huddled in my rugs, waiting for Dad to get up. He didn't.
The knocking came again, louder, so in a sort of fog I climbed down from my bunk and went to open the door. Too late, with the heavy wooden door swinging wide, I realised what I could be doing. I stopped it halfway and whispered into the darkness, "Are you a stranger danger?"
I can almost feel the terror now.
"No," came a familiar voice, hissing back through the flyscreen, "it's Ma."
She hadn't had experience enough to know not to head out to the bathroom at midnight, and she'd locked herself out of the house.
The next morning, when I climbed down from my bunk bed, I didn't bother to look in on Mum's room. I'd done it so many times and it never worked -- and besides, I could hear the lawnmower going in the back yard. Dad wouldn't be mowing the lawn if Mum had had a baby in the night, surely?
But he would, and she did, and I have always regretted not looking in on Mum's room that morning and seeing the empty space in her bed that would have told me right away that a new baby had come and was waiting in the hospital for me to meet him.