Written by Sophie Flynn
This week’s Stylist short story is Still Hoping by Sophie Flynn, a tale of one woman’s fertility hopes.
The nurse is showing my husband how the injections go in, mimicking the action like an air stewardess. Press down to escape. Place your own mask first. Her flickers of movement catch the corner of my eye and I know I should be watching, listening to her detailed instruction, perhaps even writing it down in a notepad carefully balanced on one knee, like my husband is, but instead I’m staring at the spindly green shoot that’s wound its way through the slightly open window.
Jane, our nurse who we’ve come to know far too well over weeks of check-ins and check-ups and weigh-ins and breakdowns, says she has to keep the window open as spring starts because they never remember to switch off the heating and she sweats like a pig through her blue synthetic tunic. I suppose that must be how the shoot has crawled its way in from the wild garden outside.
‘Jess, are you listening?’
Andrew’s trying not to be angry with me, he tries that a lot lately, but the tip of his tongue against his bottom lip shows that he is. You need to take this more seriously he told me last night as I gulped the dregs of a bottle of wine.
‘Yes, I’m listening. Jane said ignore the advice about icing the stomach before injecting.’
Jane smiles and nods, as keen to move on from this chink in our marital bliss as Andrew. He told me once that we should show a united front to Jane, as if she and she alone is in charge of bestowing us a child and not the complicated series of injections and eggs and sperm and insemination that will happen again over the next six weeks. As if we are being judged by a higher power and that power is Jane herself.
When Jane finishes her puppet show, Andrew nods. Twice. He’s got it, he tells her. He’s sure it will work this time. He turns to me and smiles, jaw hardened beneath his now chapped lips. ‘This time,’ he says, ‘it has to work.’
I turn to take a last look at the green shoot on the wall as we walk out; it shivers in the breeze, barely holding on.
Six weeks later, we’re back in the yellowing office. Outside, the wild garden claws at the window. My lips curl into a smile at the green shoot that’s now curled its way across the back wall, wrapping around the laminated poster telling us to wash our hands. Does Jane consider trailing it back to live outside? Perhaps she enjoys the breath of new life it brings in the face of the couples who are so incapable of making it themselves.
‘So, how are we feeling?’ She asks but directs the question to Andrew. Sometimes I wonder if I’m a person at all now or if I have simply become a vessel for Andrew’s sperm, a carrier of his hopes.
Andrew replies with false jollity and promises Jane we’ve done everything right this time; listing the organic vegetables he’s roasted every night, the shockingly expensive multivitamins he sourced from America, the total lack of alcohol or caffeine on our lips.Jane nods and smiles then glances my way, as if communicating with a trafficked woman. Her look says, ‘I can get you out of this – just say the word.’ But I just smile then train my eyes towards the sprawling green shoot.
Jane doesn’t understand that it’s not Andrew I want to escape, it’s not the harsh rules, it’s not the injections, it’s not even this process. It’s the hope. It’s the hope that kills me.
I stare out of the window, the gap where its open now wider but still improbable to allow a shoot through. I marvel again at its growth since our last visit, thinking of all the ways that the green life could have been cut off before it began – a slammed window, an overly exuberant cleaner, Jane herself growing tired of the intrusion – and my stomach flips. If this little shoot can make it despite all of that … My hand cradles my still flat stomach, hoping.
‘So, let’s do the test now and see how things look.’
Like my husband, Jane always says ‘we’ as if the three of us are about to pee on a stick or have a plastic tongue shoved up our vagina and not just me. But I don’t say that, of course, because as Andrew keeps reminding me, we are in this together. So, in the bathroom I undress our body, relax our bladder, and count the seconds as our urine soaks the stick.
When Jane reads the results, the room is so full of the weight of it that we can barely breath and when Jane finally speaks, I realise Andrew was right again; we are now a we because it’s not just my heart that breaks but ours. Then we split in two, the hope jumping from our chests and landing on the floor with a heavy thud.
Jane is back to puppeteering as she pulls leaflets from her desk; Andrew has his notebook out again, balanced on his shaking knees. I glare at the yellow wall, the green shoot mocking me. Without a word, I walk from the room, down the overheated corridor and through the automatic doors into the brisk afternoon air, the wild garden in sight.
Andrew and Jane stare open-mouthed at me through the window. My husband is saying something but I can’t hear him through the cracks. I follow the line of the shoot, down to its roots as I walk through the flowers and lay amongst the wilds.
Around me, insects crawl and buds wind their way across my body, finding the tiny puncture wounds that six weeks of injections make.
Six weeks of hope. Six weeks of failure.
Plunging my hands deep into the earth, I wrench the shoot from its roots.
Stylist publishes a new and exciting short story each week and is open to submissions. If you would like to submit, please send a story (fiction) of no more than 1,000 words and any genre to [email protected] Successful submissions receive payment of £200, more information is here.
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