Page 25 of Together

William looked at the driveway. After a little while he nodded.

Emily followed Sarah into the kitchen and wiped her feet on the mat. The sink was full of unwashed dishes and there was an open box of Lucky Charms on the table next to a carton of milk. Sarah looked around as if the room were strange to her. ‘Uh . . . I think I have coffee somewhere.’

‘I’ll make it,’ said Emily. ‘You get Dottie settled.’

Sarah began taking off her coat. ‘She doesn’t sleep in her crib,’ she said. ‘She only likes to sleep on me. And when she’s not sleeping, she cries.’

‘Well, you must be tired after that walk. Sit down on the sofa and put your feet up, let Dottie sleep on you, and I’ll get the coffee on.’

Sarah was obviously too tired to argue. She nodded and went into the next room. Emily looked through the cabinets until she found a bag of French Vanilla coffee and some filters. She washed out the coffee pot before starting it to drip. When she glanced into the living room, Sarah was lying on the sofa, her boots and the baby sling discarded on the floor. She’d taken off Dottie’s knitted cap and both of them were fast asleep. How had she not noticed before, when she’d seen Sarah, that she had Polly’s hair?

Emily emptied the dishwasher and stacked it with dirty dishes and used baby bottles. She wiped down the surfaces and replaced the milk in the refrigerator, which was empty of any food except for a pack of cheese slices and a jar of pickles. The tumble dryer was full of clothes; she folded them, all the little baby clothes. Onesies embroidered with yellow ducks, tiny yellow socks. All of them chosen with care, all matching and perfect. She put them in the empty laundry basket.

She hadn’t even known that Sarah lived in Clyde Bay. She’d seen her only as a patient. But here in her kitchen she could see Sarah’s daily life: she was alone, tired, overwhelmed, in a twilight world of crying baby and all the domestic work to be done. Infants were hard, especially an infant who wouldn’t settle. And Emily had blithely told her not to turn down any help that was offered?

Who was offering Sarah any help?

The door opened and William came in, stamping wet snow off his boots. ‘Coffee?’ she asked him. She got down a couple of mugs and poured it.

He scratched his head. ‘Why are we here?’

‘Because this young woman is our neighbour, and I don’t think she has anyone else. She’s trying to do everything alone, and it’s not possible to do everything alone.’

‘I do.’

‘And look at what a good job you’ve done of it.’ She heard the baby stir and start to grizzle in the next room. When she went in, Sarah was struggling to sit up.

‘Can I have a cuddle with Dottie?’ she asked Sarah, who nodded. She picked up the baby, who was stiff and red-faced, and rubbed her little back. ‘She’s got a bit of colic, hasn’t she?’

‘I don’t know. I don’t know what’s wrong with her.’ Tears welled in Sarah’s eyes. ‘I don’t know what’s wrong with me.’

William was standing in the doorway, mug of coffee in hand. He looked from Emily to the baby to Sarah in bemusement. ‘Put down the coffee,’ Emily told him. ‘You need to hold this baby and walk with her so I can talk with Sarah.’

‘I don’t know anything about babies.’

‘The first thing you need to know about them is that they don’t mix with hot liquids. Put down the coffee, and come here.’

She sniffed the baby to make sure she didn’t need changing, and then arranged Dottie in William’s arms, upright with her chin on his shoulder. The baby looked tiny in his arms. She had a yellow duck on the bottom of her onesie. ‘Just walk with her,’ she told him, ‘and pat her bottom.’

‘Pat her bottom?’

‘Like that. Yes. Good. You’re a natural.’ He wasn’t a natural – nobody was a natural the first time – but he would do. ‘Walk around the house with her for a little while – she’s soothed by movement. Talk to her a little. If she falls asleep, keep walking. If she spits up, there are some muslins in the kitchen.’

‘Spits up?’ said William, alarmed.

‘You’re washable.’

‘What do I talk to her about?’

‘Anything you want.’ She sat down on the sofa beside Sarah, who was wiping her eyes and watching this exchange with something like wonder. William walked into the kitchen, self-consciously patting the baby on her duck-clad bottom.

‘Do you sleep at all?’ Emily asked her.

‘Sometimes. Not much. She’s up every couple of hours and sometimes she feeds and sometimes she doesn’t.’ She sniffed, and Emily passed her a roll of toilet paper that was on the coffee table next to a jumble of baby bottles and clothes.

‘I’ll give Yvette a call and get her to make you an appointment with me this week, and also with my colleague Dr Black, who’s a paediatrician.’

Sarah’s eyes filled with tears again. ‘I’m not doing anything right.’

‘You are,’ said Emily. ‘You’re doing everything right. You love that baby and you are doing everything for her. But you have to look after yourself, too.’

‘I do love her. But I don’t know what to do for her. I’m a horrible mother. My mother – my mother could do anything with babies. I wish she were here.’

‘I miss my mother, too.’

Her own words surprised her. She did not speak of her own family with anyone other than Robbie and Adam. She avoided the questions, sometimes gracefully, sometimes not, when they were asked.

‘Is your mother in England?’

‘She’s dead. I’d just heard when I saw you in my office the last time. That was why I missed seeing that you were upset. I’m sorry, Sarah.’

‘Don’t be sorry. That’s awful. When my mom died it was the worst thing in my life.’ Sarah laughed shakily. ‘She would have killed me for having a baby without being married. But she would’ve forgiven me eventually. That’s what mothers do.’

Maybe if I’d done more, thought Emily, maybe if I’d tried harder, my mother would have forgiven me.

‘I hope so,’ said Emily. ‘I really do hope so.’

In the kitchen, she heard William talking to the baby – not the words, just the sound. She wondered what he was talking to her about.

‘Your stepson seems nice,’ said Sarah.

‘I think he can be when he tries.’ She smiled at Sarah. ‘Listen, we’ll do all the medical stuff when you come to my office. But, right now, I think you can do with some sleep. Why don’t you go to bed for an hour and William and I will look after Dottie. I’ll make up a feed and see if she’ll take it.’

‘You don’t have to do that.’

‘I want to. I’ve got a couple casseroles in the freezer; I’ll drop those by later. You need to sleep and to eat, Sarah. It’s no good for Dottie if you don’t look after yourself.’

‘Why are you helping me?’

‘Do you want the real reason? The selfish reason?’

‘You’re not selfish.’

‘You remind me of my sister. I mean, you’re nothing like her in personality, but you look like her, a little bit. And I miss my sister.’

‘Is . . . did she die, too?’

Emily shook her head. ‘No. But it’s too late for her and me. So I need to make things right with the people around me. And now that includes you and Dottie.’