‘The Obliterated Nipples Of Kate Bee.’
Released on Kindle and in paperback Monday 7th December.
Kate Bee – primary school teacher.
As in, a practical, intelligent human being who can be trusted with the well-being of small dependent people. Her first child with soulmate Dave is very much wished for. Anticipated. Planned.
Thrown, after a mere thirty seven and a half hours of labour, face first into an abyss of unscheduled disorder, furtive public breastfeeding, told-you-so’s and a never ending, twitching inducing carousel of poo smeared press-stud fastening: it turns out that the reality of motherhood has overnight plonked its huge, great, gruelling stain slap bang in the middle of Kate’s idyllic pre-natal imaginings.
Thank God for new pal Debbie. Beyond her tousled, sexy exterior she’s just a disillusioned fellow mum, who offers Kate the recognition and understanding she has come to so desperately crave. She’s the only person in Kate’s life who gets it.
Minutes since last unstoppable fart: 3
Sexual positions which remain possible: 2
Horrifying labour based dreams/visions/imaginings over the last week: 647
Monday 29th August
‘Summer’. And as I am not forking out for new shoes at this late stage, my current fluid retaining, purple mottled, unbendable size fourteens must continue to be stuffed in screaming five and a halfs. So I don’t think flip-flops are completely unreasonable.
Sadly British weather pays no heed to these things.
I raced into the hospital, toes squelching against the foam soles, even later than I usually am; fraught, unkempt and egg-like. Highly polished tiled floors spattered by the shaken umbrellas and drenched shoe smears of North West England did not happily accommodate my shuffling thirty eight week pregnant form, and set loose a chorus of Scouse do gooders. The ‘steady on gerl’s, and ‘calm down, calm down’s offered in the thronging entrance as I skated off the rubber matting and stumbled towards the lift were only broken by the various whoops and cheers of bystanders who surveyed the perilously reckless trajectory of my mighty frame across the wincing atrium.
I skimmed, somehow, between the closing elevators doors and stood, panting, gasping and wheezing, as under my breath as I could not even slightly muster, and attempted to regroup. With the blurry, exercise induced black speckled haze beginning to ebb from my retina, I made out that the reflective lift door had slid shut. And despite the dim lighting, there she was. Me. A sodden, unmistakably average looking twenty seven year old case study in why not to dye your own hair. As my vision cleared further, I noted that I was surrounded by a wealth of clipboard carrying white coats; surgeons, doctors, physicians. It was while inspecting our congregation that my eye was suddenly drawn to the white of my own t-shirt, it now clearly apparent that somewhere mid-jog my right breast, having spilled from the ill-fitting sprig of wire masquerading as suitable encasement for a 38E cup, had decided to poke about brazenly beneath the saturated fabric in the hope of raising a smirk. Frantically fumbling the offending nork back into its receptacle, I quickly scanned the mirrored faces over my shoulder, which had been suddenly consumed by perusing paperwork, checking watches and sending texts in the hope of avoiding even fleeting eye contact with the booby waggling weirdo. Excellent.
With the bing of Level Two, I sploshed away from site of my impromptu peep show and trudged beside the Maternity signage that had become increasingly familiar over the last eight months.
‘Hiya. Catherine Bee. I’m here for the Relaxation Class?’ I announced to the brunette behind the desk as breathlessly as possible, in order to both acknowledge and provide an excuse for my lateness in one wheezing exhalation. Scanning the corridor of the new fangled maternity unit beyond, still bewildered by its comprehensive one-stop-shop approach to antenatal care, I readied myself for yet another questionnaire/disclaimer/tarot reading. ‘Jane’, as indicated by the NHS lanyard thingy hanging from her neck, stopped chewing her biro long enough to glance up and point the saliva coated lid of it at the dispenser on the wall.
‘You didn’t use the hand gel. Use the hand gel please.’ she droned with that monotonous hum that only the most disillusioned clerical staff can truly rally.
The pen remained extended in the direction of the item in question while her head had already dropped back into the reading of the document on the desk.
‘Oh. Okay.’ I placed my hands under it, the automated squirt of the unit confirming reasonably audibly that I had followed her order to the letter. I squished the solution between my fingers, wondering whether pen chewing had ever caused a case of MRSA, and stood back at the desk. Where I waited. And where Jane continued to read.
I did one of those daft little fake coughs.
Jane read on.
Tapping my nails on the shoulder high counter top, I remembered that I have never had a single, solitary long nail in my life, so the muffled drum of my skin on the surface registered no perceptible decibel, and thus in turn left Jane unbroken from her literature. After another twenty seconds of swollen silence in which I reminded myself that I’m about to become a mother, that someone else’s life is going to rely on me getting on with stuff, and that this was a prime example of me needing to find myself some balls, all guns blazing, I launched back in.
‘Excuse me but…the relaxation class?’ I uttered pathetically.
‘In there.’ she signalled again, without even a peek in my direction, her sputum laced baton wafting unspecifically in the vicinity of three glass panelled doors.
‘Thank you.’ I heard myself say.
I peered through the first entrance. Vacant. The second: timed perfectly to cadge a bird’s eye view of a pending membrane sweep. And the third: people lying on mats. Easing open the door, panpipe music instantly seeping from within, I squeaked my flip-flopping mass into the calm. Nine heads turned to note my arrival, each of which focused on me, expressionless, for a fairly uncomfortable few seconds. Feeling compelled to offer up something I fashioned an apologetic smile whilst pointing at my watch and shaking my head incredulously – as if my lateness is unusual/the fault of others. The woodwind faded out and a fifty year old red head jangled her way up from the ground, jewellery and beads and charms clinking and chinking as she floated her lithe, shoeless, ethereal way in my clumpy waterlogged direction.
‘You must be Catherine.’ she hummed soothingly as if my introduction were part of the meditation itself.
‘Yes.’ I felt obliged to whisper, reaching out to shake her abundantly ringed hand; she clasped it quickly and somehow, without my assistance or consent, drew my hefty bulk in towards her chest and set her arms around my shoulders, imprisoning my face in the neck of her incense tinged black cardigan.
‘Welcome Catherine,’ the five foot restraining harness purred into my hair. ‘I’m Serenity.’ She stepped back from our embrace and turned to face the group, still holding my hand. ‘This is Catherine ladies.’ She raised my hand aloft in hers as if I was some sort of boxing champ. ‘A new addition to our family.’ Most smiled warmly and a small applause broke out as I nodded an acknowledgement from beneath my cringing brow. She lowered my hand, and instead of dropping it, placed it on my protruding belly. ‘And who is this?’ Serenity queried, tapping my stomach gently and staring intently into my eyes, as if I was about to reveal something profound.
‘Erm…we don’t know yet.’ I muttered as I tried to politely edge off the hand of yet another stranger who finds it perfectly acceptable to grope my irresistibly touchable tum.
‘Oh,’ she looked disappointed ‘well what have you been calling the little one all this time then?’
A small gasp Mexican waved its way around the circle of women on the floor in front of us. Serenity’s hand fell from my stomach but her eye contact with me remained unbroken. She then took a breath; half impatiently, half as if to compose herself. Clasping my hand again, she swept another airy smile about her face, trying to get past my apparent impropriety. ‘We’ve already prepared a mat for you,’ she indicated with a gentle head nod, ‘I will guide you to it.’ Her lengthy skirt swished a further five feet across the blue fuzzy carpet tiled floor in the direction of the vacant purple foam in the human circle which would be my patch for the remaining thirty nine minutes of the session. With the quiet of the whitewashed room looking on, I negotiated my immense bulk to the ground, praying that the two pelvic floor crunches I have conducted this week would stand up to the pressure of this very public assessment; but for a small unexpected grunt whilst balanced on one knee, there was fortunately nothing too degrading to report. ‘There.’ Serenity announced, reaching down to pat the top of my head before returning to kneel on her personalised rainbow covered yoga pad immediately to my left.
I quickly inspected the postures of the other eight women in the room who were all sat upright, legs outstretched in a V shape, their ballooning middles resting in the gap between. Adjusting myself in order to mirror the approved pose as a whimsical rendition of Debussy’s Clair De Lune beginning to ooze from the CD player, Serenity, eyes now closed and cross-legged, drew the room back together.
‘And. We. Are. Here’. She sighed loudly. ‘Welcome…to your body. Ommm. Welcome…to your mind. Ommm. Welcome…to being. Ommm.’
A giddy smirk arrested my whole face as I peeped through my eyelashes at the rest of the group. The waiflike nineteen old in a shellsuit directly opposite me, nose pierced, yellowed fingertips and pink hair snatched back in a ponytail, looking anything but spiritual, nodded and focused quite precisely. The dowdy forty year old to her left, all blouse, billowing calf length shirt and wayward hair, furrowed her brow solemnly as she meticulously echoed each intonation. Pinching my eyes back shut, I held my breath for a few seconds in order to stifle my swelling snigger, folded in my lips and focused hard on pitching my exhalation identically to theirs. Serenity’s head suddenly whipped around beside me and she snapped from her soothing chant.
‘Catherine? Share with us your ommm.’
‘Pardon?’ I choked out, shoulders still quivering slightly at the ridiculousness of it all.
‘Your ommm. Reveal your ommm.’
The room flipped their eyelids and stared hard as I became hastily nervous, suddenly unsure whether her request was mediation based or a gynaecological command.
‘Reveal my ommm? Here? Now?’ She nodded impatiently, thankfully gesturing with her hand in the vicinity of my throat – a God send in light of what I’d been set to whip out next. ‘Erm…’ I coughed to clear the imaginary catch in my constricting gullet. ‘Oooommmm…’
Serenity cupped her ears dramatically and shook her head. ‘Dear heavens no! Stop! Catherine, Catherine, Catherine..! There is no oooo!’ she admonished, slowly peeling her fingers from her lugholes to check the coast was clear. ‘Not ooommm! Listen!’ She took a serious breath and closed her eyes again. ‘Ommm.’
Then didn’t move. Just froze. All eyes on her.
An ommminous twenty second silence settled, during which I noticed that Serenity’s earlobes had been ridiculously stretched by years of heavy, dangly adornment – like they were made of stretched chewy. I jumped when she cut in loudly with a second.
Her breath trailed away to nothing before she broke back into fervent counsel.
‘See? Did you hear it? You could hear it, couldn’t you? The intention?’ She studied my vacuous face for signs of life. ‘The search for a connection…with the baby?’ She broke to look about the circle and gestured with her hands to encourage some audience participation. ‘The ommm must resound..?’
‘…inwardly.’ the room pledged as one.
Serenity grinned at her loyal subjects. Nodding eagerly, I desperately agreed in order to bypass further hum karaoke. She patted my right knee reassuringly as it lay still crossed on the mat beside her and nestled back down into her posture with a wiggle.
‘So. We. Are. Here. Ommm. And now breathe in for five, then out for five. Ommm. And in for ten and out for ten. Ommm. Then we open our hearts, our minds and our souls. Ommm. Because we are here; to experience wellness, awareness and serenity. With Serenity. Ommm.’
The door I had passed through suddenly clicked open again and Pen Chewing Jane swung her head around it. ‘She. She! Sheila! Phone for you. It’s Alan. Says yer head gasket’s knackered and he needs a decision…’
Serenity’s forehead scrumpled and her voice promptly lost its blithe bounce as she lapsed into Sheila, a ‘he’s a bloody nuisance’ mumbled under her breath as she traipsed out of the room.
The group quickly broke into a quiet burble of conversation. The expected mish-mash of prenatal womanfolk. The youngest seventeenish looking, the oldest forty two. An assortment of public healthcare clientele – represented in Addidas and Laura Ashley and Next and Ethel Austin – chatted across the circle about the weather and prams, while covertly attempting to scratch their itchy piles. A few made their way over to a jug of water and a plate of biscuits in the corner and parched from the mad dash through the hospital, I decided to follow. Taking a polystyrene cup from the snaking tower of participant overestimation, I stood in the queue behind a woman who appeared to be a similar age to me. Our age and pending labour were clearly where any similarity between us would start and end. She was strikingly attractive, long dark hair all shiny and tousled, with beautiful skin, shiny white teeth and clothes that looked good in a ‘I’m not even trying’ kind of way. The edges of a large tattoo peeped out across her neck when her hair tumbled forward over one shoulder as she leaned to pick up the jug. She was one of those women who had somehow remained punchably slim despite nine months of pregnancy weighing down on her gorgeousness. Parked beside the mat she had vacated were knee high leather boots. I couldn’t get my calves in knee high leather boots at thirty eight weeks old, never mind at thirty eight weeks pregnant. I must have been staring at her, because mid-way through pouring from the jug, she smiled back at me. Returning it, I became acutely aware of my greasy skin and the split ends atop my own soggy bonce.
‘I’m Debbie.’ she said as she passed the jug.
‘Kate…’ I offered back, shaking my head at Serenity’s introduction of me. ‘Catherine makes me sound like a Tudor.’
She laughed as she stepped to one side whilst I poured my drink. ‘When are you due?’
‘10th of September. You?’ I responded in that cursory way mutually pregnant ladies do.
‘22nd.’ she nodded. ‘I don’t know what it is either.’
‘It?!’ I teased as I passed the jug to the next sphere of gestation.
Debbie rolled her eyes and took chewing gum from her pocket as we moved away. ‘Yeah, I made that mistake right before you came in. Apparently not giving the baby some sort of name means we aren’t bonding properly with it.’ She started chomping and extended the packet in my direction. I declined, mindful that a wayward blob of minty polymer could later shoot from my lips during a particularly ferocious ommm. Debbie stroked her neat little bump as she explained. ‘She made me call mine The Gift Of Love.’ Debbie lowered her voice and pointed carefully as he leaned in. ‘She tried to make that woman over there call hers Life’s Miracle, but she got dead arsey and told Serenity that ‘she won’t be made a tit of in front of a roomful of stranger by some fifty odd year old hippy tart.’’ I looked across at the over-weight red faced, heavily pierced woman to whom Debbie was referring. I would never tell that woman what to call her baby.
Arriving back at our respective mats, Sheila stomped back in. Obviously fighting to recapture her inner Serenity, she plonked back down, did a few solo ommms, hurriedly pressed play again on the CD player beside her and lulled us through a ‘warm up’ of toe pointing, finger stretching and pointless arm raising. We lay flat on the mats to begin the relaxation.
‘And now your body is released, your mind is clear, and so we will imagine. Together. As one. So please, ladies, join me, if you will, in my delightfully lush, sweet scented, idyllic English country garden…’
I shuffled on my mat, the top of it cutting right into the back of my head. I scuffled down it a bit. Which meant my bum cheeks hung off it. I couldn’t decide which was preferable. Then a hot draft cut in, blowing generously from the vent I discovered was nestled in the wall directly adjacent to my head. I angled my face to the right, and thankfully, as quickly as it began, the hum of its gust died away.
‘As you wander further down the narrow path, past the cooling shadows of the climbing roses and away towards the fragrant bed of hollyhocks, a picturesque scene unfolds before your eyes. Look! A charming little patio area, warmed by the early morning sun. Bliss. Slowly wandering toward the cushioned chair that awaits you, you notice the cute little gnomes and quirky little frog ornaments lining the wall of the planter. Oh! Careful now! Don’t trip over them! Well done.’
I sneakily peered about the room.
‘ Now, sinking into the chair’s plush support, you spot the weather gnarled sundial on the table beside you; a refreshing glass of ice-cold water next to it which you take to your dry lips…’
Ice cold? Like, the sort that sends shooting pains of searing debilitation from tooth to gum nerve ending in a hellishly heart stopping nano-second? For me to have even a chance of sipping from the glass there’d have to be a tube of Sensodyne on hand nestled between the hyacinths. I again slipped open one eye and surveyed the room. All buying it. The Dowdy One was dribbling a bit. I forced my conscious mind back to the monotone hum verbally massaging the room.
‘…A million shades of green…jade, olive, lime, emerald…thrive in every abundantly exquisite direction. You look up and inhale the unbroken blue of the crystal clear sky laced with the sweet smell of flowers and blossoms. And what’s that? A distant buzz. Now nearer…oh how divine! The wall of ivy beside you swarms with thousands of tiny insects as they busy themselves with…’
I hate wasps. Ever since I was stung at my eighth birthday party. Swelled right up. Some sort of allergic reaction. Completely ruined the day. There would definitely be wasps in that garden. I glanced down at the tiny scar that still remained on my forearm before quickly lifting my left leg and trying to shake from it the pins and needles that had been creeping up on me for the past three and a half minutes before placing it back down. A snore. I pinged open on eye again. Yep. Dowdy one.
Come on. Focus.
‘…And as you wake, still in the chair, you have been transported. By your imagination. By your dreams. By your heart. You gently lift your eyelids to survey a remote tropical beach. Sunset. Softly rippling waves coat the sand just three and a half metres from your bare feet as they burrow agreeably into the warm dry sand. Puffs of gentle sea breeze lap your skin…the smell of fresh fish wafting in the air….
Fish waft? Since when was that a Glade candle flavour?
‘…An orange, red shimmer coats the splashing waves as the melodious…
The vent next my head kicked in again to set about pumping clammy breaths at the side of my head. I turned further onto my side to swerve its wheezing gust.
It must have been the transfer of my weight. Or the thought of air flow generally.
Whatever caused it, another was circling the drain. That bubbling, groaning inevitability barbled its desperate way through my gut. Bugger.
I swung open one eye. All in the zone.
Gently raising my top leg an almost imperceptible amount, in the hope of avoiding any audible toot, I eased out the fart as efficiently and surreptitiously as I could muster, and fortunately, in a wildly unexpected moment of pure brilliance, not a rasp or parp was in attendance. And quite delightfully, the breezing grill behind me quickly blew my flatulence across the room and thus resulted in only a few disgruntled shuffles from the three women facing me, too deep in virtual slumber to feel the need to chase up the perpetrator.
‘…And beside you, at the very peak of the mountain, there is a moulded rock. You brush away the edges of the snow and settle into the hollow, looking out across the fresh, tree lined alpine valley below. Not a sound. Not a scent. Not a care.’
It went quiet for at least thirty seconds, the slow heavy pants of the hypnotised resounding calmly in time with the intermittent penny whistle wistfully butchering some semblance of Bach.
It had to be nearly finished. Serenity hadn’t spoken for over a minute.
Smearing away a bead of sweat with my fingers, I pushed my handbag up against the vent opening, impatient tuts and huffs banging forcefully on the back of my teeth.
A hearty snore grated from the uvula of the Dowdy One just as a ridiculously blonde late thirty something muttered mid-dream, stirring a few of the group from their inert sprawls right on cue.
‘Okay ladies. If you can now slowly return to my voice. To the music. And to our presence in this room. And to when you are ready, slowly ease open your eyes.’
I immediately sat bolt upright on the mat as others came around slowly, tentatively opening their eyes whilst Serenity walked around the circle, placing her hand on each head for five seconds with a warm smile.
‘And that was your meditation. I hope you feel truly relaxed, peaceful and free.’ she gushed to a widespread sense of nodding, smiles and approval. She stopped and crouched beside the Dowdy One to pull her immense mass back into a sitting position. Mopping at the drool across her cheek, dazed and disorientated, the dribbler quickly arranged herself and attempted to smooth her hair as Serenity moved away to conduct her final head pats. ‘I’d just like to say what a pleasure it has been meeting you all and that if you enjoyed today’s session, I have available, for only three pounds, a recorded version of today’s visualisations plus three key labour mantras which can really ease the challenge of labour. There’s no pressure to buy, but if you are interested you can collect your copy by the door on your way out. And don’t forget next week’s birth plan session with Michelle. Thank you for coming.’
A small applause broke out, Serenity did a little bow and people began to attend to shoe laces and deposit polystyrene cups into the plastic bin.
‘That was amazing, wasn’t it?’ the preppy-looking trendily bespectacled girl to my right suggested. ‘I drifted right off.’
‘I fell asleep during that beach bit,’ her neighbour confirmed.
‘Oh yeah. It was really…restful.’ I agreed as I sat shaking blood back into my neglected left calve, whilst watching a beaming Serenity set herself up with a crate of CD’s and a receipt pad, blocking the only exit.
My squidging feet slipped back into my irrigated soles, I joined the purse scrambling queue. Debbie was in front of me again, now not only slim, but towering and even more glamorous in her sky scraping heels. She glanced over her shoulder momentarily, meeting my gaze with a knowing roll of the eyes. It felt distinctly reassuring that I wasn’t the only one who hadn’t been swept up by the florid tranquillity. Pound coins were ferociously hovered up from the first four in the queue – it was only when it came to Debbie’s turn that there was any let up in exchanges.
‘CD my love?’ Serenity enquired, prompting the only person in the room without three pounds readily waiting in her palm.
‘I didn’t bring any cash, sorry.’ Debbie excused quietly.
‘Surely you will have brought some for the car park dear?’ Serenity probed directly.
The room had fallen silent.
‘Well, yes, but I need that…for the car park…’ Debbie muttered, embarrassed.
‘And you’ll have no change from it?’
‘No, I brought the right money.’
‘Well, I don’t normally do this, but I’ll make an exception.’ Serenity bargained doggedly. ‘You can take a copy and leave an IOU with Jane behind reception, then you can bring in the money for me next week when you come for Michelle’s session. Well?’ she forced, her previous lilt now laced with strains of barbed wire.
A pregnant pause settled and everyone studied Debbie.
Who fiddled with the zip on the sleeve of her leather jacket.
‘Oh! Here you go,’ I paddled in with, trying to sound like me and Debbie were friends from way back. ‘I’ve got that fiver I owe you from last week.’
Debbie looked puzzled.
‘One for Debbie please,’ I stated, planting the note in Serenity’s hand and nudging Debbie forward.
‘Thanks,’ she murmured as a copy was thrust at her.
‘And one for me,’ I quickly announced, parting with another pound and snatching a second from the crate. We scuffled out of the door; CDs and confusion and handbags swinging about us.
‘Thank you,’ Debbie said, ‘but you really didn’t need to.’
‘We would never have got out! No-one would ever have got out! And hello?! A Labour Of Love,’ I said looking down at the CD case. ‘Are you telling me you don’t need a copy of that?’ Debbie smiled appreciatively as she strutted down the corridor, posture of a model, beside my hunched squelching. Heading towards the lift together, I perused the track list. ‘Number three…Born To Birth? Is that a Bruce Springsteen cover?’
Debbie giggled. ‘It was really kind of you.’ she thanked warmly, still slightly embarrassed. The intermittent nod that accompanied her need to look down at her feet confirmed that she genuinely hadn’t been able to afford to.
‘Don’t be daft. Now I know I can always borrow your copy if I wear mine out.’
‘Be my guest. It’s not as if I’ll actually end up listening to it. I mean, that meditation today…I’ve been to more relaxing raves. What was the fish smell about..?’ I snorted as I laughed, the pent up tension of having had to go along with the farce, combined with the discovery of someone else as dubious and unmoved a welcome release. ‘The only thing I smelled was someone’s fart. Did you get it? It reeked of egg and, like, meat pies..?’ Her face crinkled as she recalled the whiff.
‘So what do you do?’ I cut in with awkwardly, suddenly keen to change the subject.
‘Oh, erm, nails. Mobile.’ She rooted in depths of her bag and pulled out a business card. HAND JOBS was embossed in pink across the top; …by Debbie tagged onto the bottom left corner beside her contact number. ‘I could give yours a spruce up if ever you fancy it?
‘Sure!’ I nodded enthusiastically, with absolutely no intention of introducing cumbersome talons to the already harrowingly complex Nappy Equation –
(inexperience + √blobs of poo) – gag reflex = baby wipes ÷ 3.7
‘How about you?’ she returned, smoothing her hair over one bony shoulder as her heels continued to clonk commandingly down the sparse corridor.
‘Teacher.’ I stuffed the card into the side pocket of my handbag.
‘Oh!’ she half gasped for some reason, as if almost shocked. ‘Really?’ I nodded. Maybe it was my clear level of disorganisation or dishevelled that threw her. Or the fact I’m not currently on strike. (In my defence, it is the school holidays.) She started digging about in her pocket and produced lip glass which she applied with a smile as she walked, waving the wand of her lip brush about in the air as she spoke. ’It’d be good to stay in touch – with our little ones due at the same time. Bit of moral support, eh?’
‘Oh God yeah!’ I agreed as we arrived at the lifts.
‘Ground floor car park?’ she asked, pressing the ‘down’ lift button.
‘No, level two.’ I confirmed as one set of metal doors slid noisily open.
‘Oh this is me then…see you next week?’ she checked stepping inside. ‘Maybe we could sit together?’ she offered with a hopeful smile.
‘Sounds good. I’ll bring my chequebook – just in case you decide to fleece me again!’ I joked.
Nodding drolly, Debbie was wiped swiftly from my sight by the eclipsing silver partition.
Opening extract from ‘The Obliterated Nipples Of Kate Bee.’