It’s an absurd notion, this love. Take the example, if you will, of Briony Henderson, aged 42, with her two-bed semi and her one failed marriage and her too-many-to-contemplate attempts to have a kid. Then she gives it yet another one-last-go (Eastern Europe) and gets pregnant, carries it for nine months and then, just a few hundred yards short of the hospital, delivers into the footwell of her car a healthy, bouncing baby ball.
Briony was as surprised as any of us would have been when she looked between her legs and saw a ball on the floor mat. It was pink, perfectly round and flawless. Now, the rest of us would have thrown it straight out of the window, slung it in a dustbin or, if we had a sense of irony, left the thing on the steps of a sports centre.
Not Briony. When she picked it up, still wet and warm from the heat of her womb, Briony felt as if she had willingly stepped into a fast-moving river and all she could do was go with the flow.
If you had asked her then, she would have said it was because she was now a mother, she had given birth to a baby and it was hers to look after and nurture – whatever that meant. She would have told you that no matter how different and strange her baby ball appeared, it was still her baby, her only child, a gift she could not deny.
Maybe, even, she would not have bothered to finish her words, just held the ball up for you to see, wrapped up in blanket, looking pink and content. How ridiculous would she look as she held that ball in her arms and put her face to it, breathing in that new ball smell, smiling her new mother’s smile.
And how strange it would have been to share those afternoons in the months after the birth, the sunshine streaming into the nursery that had been empty for so long, and watch Briony unbutton her blouse and slip down the cup of her bra, watch her press that pink ball to her breast until the milk ran like a white tear. These would be remembered by Briony as her happiest times, in that room with the sun warming her back, rocking in the chair, laughing over spilt milk.
Briony would tell anyone foolish enough to listen about the advantages of having a healthy baby ball – no sleepless nights, no nappy rash, no milky sick or screaming bath times. They would try to move away, assume madness or hormones, show pity or anger. None understood.
And who could understand. As if you could sympathise with this misguided, deluded woman, who thought she could love a ball, who took it out one winter afternoon, a few years in, and let it slip from her grasp. The driver did not stop, not for a ball.
Even today she maintains she was distracted for just a second, no more than that, by a cloud of starlings billowing into the sky.
It’s an absurd notion this, love.
Michael Stewart lives and writes in Bristol, UK. Despite a huge range of displacement activities and the ability to find any number of excuses to have ‘one more cup of tea’ before writing, he has still managed to be published online and in various magazines and anthologies.