Short story: Mystery Tears, by Richard Gallimore

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Jan lovingly cuddled Jack, her baby, as she breastfed the little infant who suckled hungrily.

On gazing down at her firstborn she wondered whether he looked like how her brother might have been at that age. It was something she would never know.

A tear fell from Jan’s eye as memories flooded her mind. Here she was with a bundle of happiness yet she couldn’t ever forget or live with the past – the time when she was just four years old. She recalled her mother telling her she was going to have a little brother for her sometime in the near future.

She had allowed Jan to feel her tummy as she said her soft country burr: “Just feel Jan and tell me if you can sense any movement inside of me. Yes? That’s your baby brother who will be coming out of me in a few weeks from now.”

At the time Jan was in awe of the mysteries of life. She fondly recalled seeing her father kissing her mother every morning before driving off to work. Then he would give her a kiss on his return. During the day Jan’s mother would play with her in and out of the play pen. She recalled how it had always been a happy home, apart from that short period of grief which had never left her.

Jan switched her son from one breast to another as his eager biting aggravated her already sore nipples. The phone rang. It was David just checking that all was well with mother and baby.

Once the phone was returned to its cradle and little Jack was contentedly having his feed, Jan’s bad memories returned. They were always just beneath the surface and she put them down to the reason for her increasing number of depressions.

Until she became pregnant she’d never knowingly had anything like a depression or even mood swings. But as her pregnancy developed she became increasingly worried.

David first became aware of her change when he saw her looking out of the window.

“Something interesting out there, Jan?” he asked casually.

When she didn’t reply he came up alongside, put his arm around her and saw her crying silently.

“What’s up, darling?”

“Don’t touch me.”

David quietly moved away assuming she was suffering from pregnancy blues.

By the time Jan had reached six months, her moods were so dark and frequent David insisted she saw the doctor who prescribed what he said were tablets to be taken only when you feel a mood coming on.

The tablets seemed to work and by the time Jan was nearing confinement it had been some weeks since her last mood.

In spite of pre-natal reassurances from midwives and mothers, Jan was showing increasing signs of nervousness as her time drew near.

David had booked a fortnight off for the period of confinement and afterwards. He also arranged for his own mother and a sister to be available should the need arise. Both he and Jan knew that her own mother would not be able to assist owing to her delicate state.

Baby Jack had finished his feed and Jan turned him over to get the celebratory burp before settling him down for his afternoon nap. Once Jack was asleep, Jan began some light housework. As she wiped down the sink an image began to worry her. She couldn’t put her finger on what this image was but the more she tried to visualise distinct and indistinct apparitions the more her mood turned from that of a cheerful happy mother to sombre gloom.

By arrangement her mother-in-law called two hours later to find Jan crying hysterically. Baby Jack was still in his cot and appeared unattended. A quick call to David had him back at home within the hour and the family doctor had given Jan a heavy sedative.

“David, now Jan is resting I need to talk to you,” whispered the doctor so as not to wake Jack.

“She obviously has some deep seated problem on her mind and she needs to see a therapist who might be able to tease out her anxieties. She has to accept this with her own free will but if you agree I can move things along – quickly, quietly and with minimum fuss.”

David was only too happy to agree about Jan seeing a specialist.

It took six months of regular consultative sessions before Jan’s therapist was able to determine the cause of her moods and unlock a deep-seated memory which began to be released on Jan becoming pregnant.

After Jan’s final session David was told how Jan as a child of four had suffered a shock, unknown at the time, which was inadvertently caused by her parents.

“You see,” said the therapist, “all of Jan’s expectations as a child of four was that she saw her mother, with her baby in her stomach, leaving for hospital and being told that when she came home she would have a young brother to play with.”

It was over a week later that Jan, who was looked after by her grandparents, saw her mother and father returning home.

‘Where’s my baby brother?’ she wanted to know as her father assisted her mother indoors. No-one answered her question and she saw everyone was crying – but didn’t know why.

Jan kept asking why mummy hadn’t brought her brother home.

It was her grandmother who took Jan on her knee and said that Jan’s brother had gone to heaven and wouldn’t be coming home to live with the family.

Later, when Jan was a teenager and an only child, she learned her mother’s baby had been stillborn and that her mother had been near to death herself.

The trauma was locked into Jan’s deep-set memory. It was only when she became pregnant the experiences manifested, the final part being that what at the time to her was sadness instead of happiness, became the mystery of tears.