Be Careful What You Hear

By: Paul Pilkington


I stood at the threshold of the low-lit bedroom and smiled warmly at the two people I cherished the most in the world – my husband, James, and our six month old daughter, Grace. James, who smiled back, was kneeling next to the cot, armed with a well-read board book edition of Julia Donaldson’s The Gruffalo. It had become our bedtime story of choice for the past few weeks – so much so that both James and I knew it off by heart. We would sometimes recite it in the darkness, patting Grace to sleep, for what seemed like hours.

‘Hope she goes to sleep quicker than last night,’ I said softly. I’d been up in the room for over an hour that previous evening. Each time I thought Grace had dropped off to sleep, and raised my hand away from her tiny back, Grace had risen up, like one of the undead.

‘Me too,’ James yawned. He looked tired, washed out even.

‘I don’t mind doing it again tonight,’ I offered, stepping back into the room and admiring our daughter as she lay there on her back, zipped up in her baby sleeping bag. I never got tired of baby-gazing.

Not now the nightmare of the past few months had passed.

James shifted uncomfortably on the carpet. ‘It’s fine, honestly, George, it’s my turn.’

George – James had called me that from the first day of meeting. He was one of only two people who shortened my full name of Georgina – the other being my father.

I tried again, pushing some strands of hair behind my left ear. ‘It’s not like I don’t owe you some nights – many nights.’

In the half-light, I wasn’t sure whether there was a flicker of disapproval on James’ face.

‘I’m fine,’ he said simply, unsmiling. ‘Absolutely fine.’

After quickly getting changed for bed in the next door bedroom, I made my way downstairs in my pyjamas, baby monitor receiver in hand. The baby monitor, which monitored both sound and movement (via a pressure sensor underneath the cot mattress), had been my idea in the weeks leading up to Grace’s birth. James had wondered whether it would add to any parental anxiety, resulting in us listening out for any noise, or obsessing about the ticking icon on the screen’s display to tell us our precious child was still breathing. But he had gone along with my wishes, and faced with the fears of being a new parent, had admitted that he was glad of it.

I placed the baby monitor receiver on the living room table top and flopped down onto the sofa. The monitor was already on, as I’d developed a habit in the past few weeks of turning it on as soon as Grace was in the cot – a couple of times recently James had forgotten to turn it on, and once we hadn’t noticed this for almost two hours. It sounded stupid, but the realisation that Grace had been up there, unmonitored, had made me feel sick – as if we’d placed her in harm’s way. It wasn’t like that, I knew, but that’s how it had felt.

I reached over and set the volume on the receiver to maximum. James was reading softly, but you could still make out what he was saying – he was nearing the end of the story – the wily mouse was about to scare away the Gruffalo. Closing my eyes, I lay back on the sofa, only then realising when the wave hit me, just how tired I really was. But though I needed the rest, in some ways, I was disappointed to have been rebuffed by my husband. Although getting Grace to sleep wasn’t easy, it was an experience I didn’t enjoy missing out on. I wanted to cherish every moment with our beautiful daughter. Too much time had been wasted already, since she was born – time I could never get back. But it wasn’t fair to deny James his time with Grace – particularly as he was out at work all day.

Maybe that’s why he had reacted the way he had.

Or maybe there was more to it.

James had been acting oddly for the past few weeks. He didn’t seem himself. Most times he appeared completely normal, but there were occasions when he was withdrawn and just looked sad. I’d asked him several times if anything was the matter, but he’d sworn that there was nothing.

I wondered, with dread, whether the events of the first four months of Grace’s life had taken a fatal toll on our relationship. After all, James had coped with a lot – it couldn’t have been easy dealing with a brand new baby and a wife suffering from post-natal depression.