Escape: the Bree years
Claire looked up sharply as the knock sounded. Who could have gotten in the street door without a key? She set aside the diaper bag she was packing and went to check the peephole. Alec. The only other person with a key. She threw open the door.
“What’s wrong? Is it Jamie?”
“Nothing wrong, ma’am. ‘Tis raining. I’m here to take ye to the Distillery for yer lunch with Mrs. Murray.”
Claire was confused. “Lunch isn’t for another two hours.”
“Aye. But I ken yer morning walks. Didna want ye to try walking in the rain with the bairn. Wanted to catch ye before ye left.”
Claire studied the old man carefully. His ever present knit cap covered his head, and his hands were buried deep in his jacket pockets. He stared at her steadily.
“You know about my walks? How?”
Alec sniffed, and rocked back on his heels silently. His face betrayed nothing.
Claire waved him in, shutting the door behind him. Knowing Alec he probably followed her. Also, knowing Alec he would never admit it. He’d been her silent guardian since her medical school days. “Sit, I’ll get you a coffee.”
He sat on the chesterfield sipping the hot brew, and watching three month old Brianna playing on the floor. Eventually, he slid down off the cushions, and sat with her. In no time he was shaking rattles, and keeping her entertained. Since she wasn’t going to be able to leave, Claire buzzed about the flat while Bree was being looked after getting the kitchen tidy, folding a load of laundry, and actually cleaned a bit. However, she was suspicious of Alec. Did Jamie send him? Or Jenny? It’s not like she was going to walk the whole way. She had planned to take the tram for part of the way. She had a cover for the stroller, so Bree would have been fine. She couldn’t stand being cooped up, and her daily walks made her feel so much better. Without them she felt caged, pigeon-holed, stifled. The walks kept her mind clear, and she felt she could think better. Now it seemed Alec was here to take that away from her, and while she knew it was ridiculous, she couldn’t control the angry feeling it stirred.
When the elevator doors at Fraser Distillery opened, Jamie was right there. A huge smile graced his wide, generous mouth. Bree cooed at the sight of her Da.
As Claire stepped out Jamie scooped his daughter from her arms. He peppered her face with kisses, and delighted in her giggles. He cradled her against his chest, while Bree’s little fingers grabbed at the collar of his shirt, opening and closing, her tiny fingertips brushing along his strong neck.
Finally, Jamie turned his attention to Claire, giving her a quick kiss. “Hi.”
Bree first. Always Bree first. Claire checked her thoughts.
“Hello. How’s your day?”
“Better now that my two best girls are here.” Jamie turned and walked toward his office. Claire felt like a pack mule carrying her purse, and the diaper bag as she trailed behind her husband. She said hello to Willie, who stood to give her a quick hug. They talked for a moment, and Claire realized how good it was to see him again. She had missed seeing him and Niamh.
Jamie was standing impatiently beside his desk waiting for her, and grinning like a fool. Claire saw the object of his delight right away.
“What’s this?” She was surprised to see a travel cot tucked into the corner of his office. A blanket, teddy bear and some soft toys were inside. He’d never told her he had one. She set down the bags to investigate further.
“For Bree. Any time ye want to come to the office, she’ll be comfortable. This doesna have to be yer first lunch visit now.” Claire was touched. She hadn’t expected this at all. Yet at the same time it felt like a criticism. Like she should have made more of an effort to visit.
Jamie leaned down and pulled the teddy bear out of the cot. He rubbed the softness against his daughter’s cheek and laughed as she leaned into the stuffy. “We’ll be fine here. Go on to Jenny’s office. Enjoy yer lunch.”
“You want me to leave Bree here? I can’t Jamie. She’ll get hungry.”
Jamie’s smile faltered for a brief second but he recovered quickly. “Feed her now then, and I’ll see her down for a nap.”
“I can’t very well -” she gestured toward the outer office at Willie.
Jamie stepped around her, shut the door and pulled the strings on the blinds. Blinds that had never been there before.
Just like that, she had her privacy and no more excuses.
Claire and Jenny sat at a table by the window. The rain had stopped momentarily but the steel gray sky would not yield to the sun. It was destined to be another overcast day. At first Claire wanted to have food brought in because she didn’t want to stray too far from Bree. Then Jamie had texted her a picture of their daughter sleeping peacefully in her little cot, and Jenny had pounced. They’d have a good two hours. Bree always took her longest nap in the afternoon.
Jenny ordered their drinks, and when the crisp white wine was delivered she raised her glass and toasted her sister-in-law. Jenny spoke of how proud she was of Claire as a mother, how beautiful Brianna was, and how happy she was to have another woman in the family who had the same colouring as Ellen. It made Claire tear up.
It wasn’t too long before Jenny turned the conversation to Claire, and how she was feeling.
“I’m good,” Claire said around a mouthful of bread.
“No blues, no funny moods?” Jenny narrowed her eyes daring Claire to fake her way through this one.
Claire wiped her mouth, the bread feeling thick in her throat. Dare she admit it? She dropped her head to try and gather her thoughts but in the end, she didn’t need to. Jenny reached across the table and ran a hand down her arm.
“Claire.” Jenny’s voice was comforting, but firm. “Did I ever tell ye the story about Maggie? It was right after I’d had Kitty. I came home one day, I canna even remember where I was. Anyway, in I walk and Wee Jamie runs over to me to say hello, wee Maggie is in her high chair, and gets so excited she gasps. Next thing I know, her eyes are huge, her face is getting red, and she’s clearly having trouble breathing. Meanwhile, Ian is blathering on, not paying the least bit of attention. I remember dropping whatever I’d had in my hands, and trying to get around him to get to Maggie. Wee Jamie was clamoring to be picked up and Ian was just in the way.
Next thing I know, Mrs. Crook pulls Maggie from the chair, holds her upside down by the ankle, and whacks her on the back. This thing, this small red thing, comes flying out of her mouth and is skitterin’ across the kitchen floor. When I finally get around the boys to pick it up, it’s a piece of hard candy.”
Jenny threw her hands in the air in a ‘what the hell?’ kind of gesture.
“Ian Brainless Murray gave our bairns hard candy. Honestly, Claire, it was all I could do not to rip off his prothesis and beat him ‘round the head with it.” Jenny’s eyes were bright with the memory, her cheeks flushed as her fear revisited her.
“I was so scared. I couldna forgive him. All I could think of was how useless he was. From that point on I was worrit about everything. Every time I thought about it, I’d have a panic attack. I kept planning my kids’ funerals in my head. I wouldna leave him alone with the children. I didna trust him. It was terrible.”
“How did you get out of it?” Claire asked earnestly.
“I threatened to divorce Ian. Said if he couldna care to keep the bairns safe, he could leave. God, what a row. Ian said things about me being a control freak, and I said he didna have the sense God gave a fly. Worst fight we’d ever had.” Jenny shook her head, remembering. “It was after that outburst that Mrs. Crook sat me down and talked to me. She thought perhaps I had a ‘touch of the blues,’” Jenny made quotation marks with her fingers.
“She noted all my feelings from inadequacy to anxiety. She let me say horrible things about Ian. Never tried to correct me, just let me talk. She promised me that the feelings would pass, but if I still felt the same way in six months time she’d move Mr. Murray out herself. Then, she called my doctor, and made me an appointment. She was right. Six months later things were so much better.”
Claire stared at Jenny. Competent, organized, strong Janet Fraser Murray once felt like Claire did now.
“I thought it was just me. I thought the anxiety was because,” Claire paused, swallowed, and tried again. “Because of Faith. That I was just afraid it would happen again. I feel crazy.”
“Yer no’ crazy. As a doctor ye ken this is normal. Many, many women feel this way after a baby.” Jenny held up her hand and started ticking reasons off on her fingers, “Ye canna sleep because yer afraid of not hearing the bairn cry. Ye have a routine during the day, just the two of ye and then the Da comes home and winds the baby up, or just brushes off the schedule ye’ve worked so hard to establish. I got so sick of Ian being the ‘fun parent’ while I had to be the harsh one to insist on a steady bedtime or what they were allowed to eat, and when.”
Claire nodded. She reached across the table, and gripped Jenny’s hand. “Can I tell you something else? Sometimes Jamie comes home, and it’s like I’m invisible. He walks in the door and it’s all about Bree. It’s like I’m not even there! All day I’ve been up to my ears in nappies and feedings and chores and I look forward to seeing him, but he’s just focused on the baby.”
Claire looked at Jenny, her embarrassment hot on her face. “I’m ashamed to admit I’m jealous of my own child.”
“It’s strange. Fatherhood, I mean,” Jenny patted Claire’s hand, then leaned back in her chair. “They really have no place until the bairn is born. They canna do a thing while we’re pregnant, and then there’s nothing they can do while we’re in labour but wait and try to offer moral support. Then, when the bairn is finally born they can hold it, but they canna feed it. There’s always something they canna do. Except maybe talk to them. They can say whatever they want, secretly and quietly without us being any the wiser. It’s their turn then, to have something just between them and the bairn. They can share their hopes and dreams, what might be, what might never be.” Jenny’s smile begged Claire to be sympathetic.
“Imagine feeling useless for nine months, and then still feeling useless for a few more. It’s hard for them to find their place. But around Bree’s age when the bairn is smiling, and cooing and laughing, they can finally bond. And they’re starving for it.”
Jenny waited while that sunk into Claire’s head. She watched as Claire’s glass face came to grips with all they had talked about.
The food finally arrived, and Jenny took the chance to move on to her other topic.
“Do ye miss the hospital, Claire?” Jenny asked.
“Yes. I do. Some days more than others.” Claire smiled briefly. “But I’m worried about going back. I’m worried about what to do with Bree.”
“Have ye discussed it? With Jamie?”
“No. I can tell by his voice he won’t consider a day nursery. But I don’t know what else we can do? There’s one at the hospital. Lots of doctors use it.” Claire didn’t sound convincing, even to herself.
“Perhaps ye can find yer own Mrs. Crook?” This was the delicate part of the lunch that Jenny had been dreading. She’d need her managing skills for this.
Brazenly, Whisky coloured eyes met Coffee coloured eyes. “Jamie mentioned that a couple of months ago. Said the idea came from you. At the time I thought you could shove it up your ass. I took it as a personal slight.”
Jenny laughed. “Ye wouldna be the first to tell me what to do with my ideas!”
The tension defused, Jenny continued, “I love ye like a sister, Claire. And I ken what yer going through. So, if I may be so bold, let’s make an appointment with yer doctor, and then let’s talk about how we can get Bree the best nanny we can. Because at the end of the day, Claire, it’s no’ about you not being good enough. It’s about finding someone who’s good enough for yer family.”
Claire’s mouth trembled with relief. The tears that were always close to the surface spilled over.
“And Jamie?” she whispered. “What do I do about Jamie?”