“The Love Child” by Cathy Sweeney

Seneca lived a long time ago. He believed that the greatest obstacle to living is the expectancy we hang upon tomorrow. Because of this we lose today, while all the time the future remains uncertain. This is the story of a woman who wasted a great deal of time (a) expecting her married lover to leave his wife (b) expecting her single lover to propose to her. Of course, in the end (c) happened; something entirely different.

It is an ordinary day. The woman gets on a tram destined for Pushkin Street. She has broad shoulders and is well dressed. She is neither young nor old but has a rich sexuality. Above her bra her breasts bulge in small puddings and her hands seem to be forever feeling their way in the dark. The woman has spent the night with her married lover; a short man with a compulsion to oppress things that are already oppressed. In the morning she is anxious to be gone but the married lover books rooms in industrial estates where there are no taxis, so she gets a tram.

The tram is one of the newer kind and has no conductor. The woman drops in coin after coin at the driver’s booth until a ticket comes out. The seats are narrow and the window is shrouded in dust. The woman does not know where she is, so she does not know how long it will take to get to the city.

This is the first stop on the tramline and people sit far apart. The tram moves as though in a dream and wakes each time the doors fling open to let people on. Soon the aisles are full and the woman breathes the breath of strangers. Rain spits against the glass in hard little spits that carry no weight.

The woman checks her phone. Her single lover will call her soon and sigh loudly to denote emotion. He is young and cannot understand why poor people have children or why intelligent people take harmful drugs. Through the window the city passes in a frieze of odd angles; tower blocks and statues of giants in grimaces.

A child sits in the seat across from the woman. He is three or four years old and sucks on a soother. He sees something out of the window and bobs in his seat, pointing and sucking hard on the soother. Nobody responds. The woman looks out the window and sees a plane flying low to land. ‘Aeroplane’ she says to the child, ‘Aeroplane’. The mother of the child pulls him onto her lap. Her skin is dead from smoking and her jeans are empty. She looks at the woman as if to say ‘Mind your own fucking business’ or ‘Get your own child, bitch’. The woman is unmoved. She does not want children.

The child wriggles free and stands between the woman’s legs, staring at her. His cheeks are glossed with snot and his hair is thin on a flaky scalp. The woman looks out of the window at grey buildings merging with grey sky. She can smell bed wet. When she turns back the child is still staring at her.

Seneca said that every condition can change, and whatever happens to one person can happen to anyone. But when things change people want the past back. They want to relive their old life, conscious this time that it was not so bad. The woman, however, was not such a person. When her life changed she realised the past is a random sequence of images.

On a busy street in rush hour the tram crashes into a bus; the bus driver thought the traffic light was green. The front carriage of the tram buckles as though made of foil and the next carriage turns on its side, breaks away from the rest of the tram, and skids along the road, slamming into the front of a chemist. In the end the death toll is eleven. People say ‘How can something like this happen?’ The woman is uninjured. When the crash happens she picks up the child and holds him to her. Against her blouse, he feels like a bag of dough. She remains holding the child when she sees that his mother is dead. She holds the child at the police station and in the courts and on visiting days, and in the end she holds on to the child forever.

The married lover was inspired by the woman. For a short time he remembered that he too had children, and ended the affair. The single lover was repulsed by both the desire for the child and the child itself. Soon afterwards, he married a woman with a perfect hip-to-waist ratio. Seneca died in great pain. Ordered to commit suicide, he opened his veins, but either he didn’t do a great job or his veins were too old. It took ages for him to die.

Biographical Note:
Cathy Sweeney has written a collection of short stories entitled Stories from the Entrance to Hell. The three stories reproduced here form part of that collection.

We are as forlorn as children lost in the wood. When you stand in front of me and look at me, what do you know of the griefs that are in me and what do I know of yours? And if I were to cast myself down before you and tell you, what more would you know about me that you know about Hell when someone tells you it is hot and dreadful? For that reason alone we human beings ought to stand before one another as reverently, as reflectively, as lovingly, as we would before the entrance to Hell. Franz Kafka

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1 Comment

  1. Kinsella

     /  July 8, 2012

    Where can a copy of “Stories From The Entrance of Hell” be found?

    Reply

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