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by Kate Murdoch

In the early morning hours, the neonatal ward was almost quiet. The nurses’ soft-soled shoes squeaked on the linoleum and machines beeped and whirred. A clock ticked on the wall.

Trudy stared through the plexiglass of the humidicrib. The deep pink flesh of her daughter was still, her tiny chest affixed with white adhesive patches connected to wire, monitoring her breathing and heart rate. Her abdomen rose and fell at a rapid pace, her eyes shut tight. Her legs were splayed flat on the white sheet.

Trudy had barely slept in weeks. She wanted to be with Lola all the time. The time they had left. Her hair was stringy and she needed a shower. She inhaled the sourness of her body.

The same nurse spoke to her each time she visited. Trudy could not remember her name. An older woman with short grey hair and a stout frame, she radiated warmth, her blue eyes crinkling when she smiled.

“Speak to her,” she said, touching Trudy on the shoulder. “It’s good for her to hear your voice. She’s been hearing it when she was inside you, after all.”

Trudy recited poems she had learnt at uni — Eliot, Neruda and Donne. She spoke in a soft voice, glancing around to see if anyone was watching. Sometimes the nurse let her reach in and stroke Lola’s hand, as small as a ten-cent piece. The little fingers closed around one of hers. She cried then, because she would never see those fingers grow.

One week she changed her mind and asked for the papers. She stood rigid, her hands clenched by her sides. The matron shook her head and asked if she would like to see the psychologist.

“No!” she screamed. “They tricked me. They made me sign. I want to take her home.” Tears coursed down her face and she licked them, tasting salt.

The matron eyed her, assessing her level of aggression. “Calm down. No one has tricked you, Ms Archer. You were given days to decide. Lola will go to a good family. There’s no need to worry.”

It was dawn when she arrived once more. She had showered, and bought a teddy bear from the florist downstairs. The sky was pink. Shafts of light arced through the window and turned the white linoleum coral.

Lola’s humidicrib was empty. The wires lay on the sheet, tangled. The machine was silent. The nurse approached and the sympathy in her eyes made Trudy crumple to the floor, moaning. She rocked back and forth and the nurse crouched down and held her.

“They picked her up this morning, Trudy. They were kind people, I promise.”

Kate Murdoch is a Melbourne writer and artist. She exhibited widely as a painter before turning her hand to writing. In between writing historical fiction, she enjoys writing short stories and flash fiction. Kate studied Professional Writing and Editing at Swinburne University, and has completed short courses in creative writing at RMIT. She is currently writing The Orange Grove, a novel about the passions and intrigues of court mistresses in eighteenth-century France. Her stories have been published in Flash Fiction MagazineEunoia Review and The Flash Fiction Press. She also writes at her blog: https://kabiba.wordpress.com/.