Given

Given by Susan Musgrave Read Free Book Online

Book: Given by Susan Musgrave Read Free Book Online
Authors: Susan Musgrave
Tags: General Fiction, FIC002000, FIC044000, FIC039000
cry for help. Rainy used to say Frenchy was lucky to have scars you could see, what was the use of having scars on the inside where you couldn’t show them off to anyone? Where another girl might have had a broken heart tattooed on her breast, or a handcuff with a broken link on her wrist, Frenchy spent a lifetime tattooing her rage on her skin, bringing blood to the surface where everyone could see her pain.
    I pulled my hand back, startled, as the bundle in Grace’s lap let out an inhuman wail. Grace lifted him into the air and began rocking him with such fervour I worried she was going to shake to death the source of the terrible sound.
    â€œI’d kill for a fix right now,” Al muttered into his beer. His ugliness had not improved with proximity.
    Grace’s tawny eyes looked frozen gold, and her smile clicked off. “That’s just Al,” she said, looking at me apologetically, as if being “just Al” were an excuse for any kind of bad behaviour. She rocked the inconsolable creature in her arms; Al — not, I hoped, the baby’s father — reached up and pushed his snagged locks out of his eyes, which was when I noticed his forearm covered in sores, the kind Rainy used to get from the repeated use of dirty needles. I wanted to feel sorry for Al, but I didn’t have enough sorry in me for anyone that unpleasant.
    â€œHe can’t help it — he’s programed that way,” Grace said, looking down at the bundle in her arms, and then back at Al. I didn’t know whether she meant the baby, or “just Al”.
    Vernal rubbed the stubble on his chin with the heel of his hand. I could tell, by the fewness of his words, he was uncomfortable being around Al. Al wanted us to know this was their anniversary, the reason they were celebrating; he’d met Grace exactly one week ago when he was fresh out of rehab and looking for a buzz. Grace said she had stayed off drugs ever since her visit to the hospital to have photographs taken of the baby inside her — but she’d let him buy her one for the road. Grace drank her beer straight from the bottle, draining it, then, when the bottle was empty, picking at a corner of the label and peeling it off in little strips.
    â€œShe’s drinking for two,” Al said.
    Grace lowered her eyes — now she was the one looking embarrassed. She said she believed her baby was going to be born with special powers — she had heard him drumming and singing from the inside of her. She reached into the pouch around her neck and took out a grainy ultrasound photo of her unborn child, stroking his tiny body, lightly, up and down, with her index finger, the way I had stroked my baby’s eyelids when he was fitful or too tired to fall asleep.
    The child in Grace’s arms let out another screak , as if he sensed a threat. “Last night we couldn’t get him to wake up for at least six hours,” Grace said, wiping the baby’s mouth, then tucking the photograph back into the pouch.
    â€œShe tried to blame me for looking at him,” Al said, making his idea of an ugly face that seemed like an improvement over his real one.
    Grace gave him a brief, tight smile. “We went to bed when it was getting light out, and Baby started to cry. I was glad. I thought we’d lost him for good.”
    I reached for the glass of water Vernal had ordered but hadn’t touched, thinking of the babies on the planes from Tranquilandia again, and their mothers — mothers like me — praying that other passengers wouldn’t come down the aisle and say things like, “Isn’t she precious?” “Is he yours?” “Can I hold her?” or that a flight attendant might become suspicious, especially if the plane was delayed and the baby didn’t fuss. I longed to reach across the table, lay my hands on Grace’s full belly and feel the fists and the heartbeat of her child, his earnest limbs

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