Hopscotch Stories

January in Paris.
As is reasonably well known, on the night of the 24th., the painter Amedeo Modigliani finally succumbed to the tuberculosis, which, exacerbated by drug abuse and alcoholism, had afflicted his body almost all his adult life. As is also reasonably well known, on the morning of the 26th., his mistress, Jeanne Hebúterne, threw herself to her death from the upstairs window of her family's house. She was nine months pregnant with their second child.
However, the following is certainly not reasonably well known:
January in Tower Hamlets, East London.
Now, exactly seventy five years later, Sharon McIntire, formerly of Wester Hailes, Edinburgh, pregnant to exactly the same count of months, but with her first child...
The foetus is about 18 inches high. It weighs nine and a half pounds.
waddles back from the shops in her slippers...
The amniotic fluid, which provides the foetus's environment, is being renewed every three days.
up several rough-footed flights of the steps that are wrapped around the redundant lift-shaft like a lover's legs wrapped around a lover's body...
The foetus is comparatively still; its only movements are jabs from the knees and feet.
heaving and puffing and lurching like a drunkard, gasping, pausing, zipping her outsize yellow fleece jacket up to her chin against the cold, waiting for breath with no hope and no expectation, the weight of her rucksack and the pull of the carrier bag of cans of beer unbalancing her...
The mother gets breathless when she climbs stairs or exerts herself in any way.
passing numerous closed doorways hemming-in the warring voices of invisibly-bruised inhabitants...
The foetus's head moving against the mother's pelvic-floor muscles causes a strange buzzing sensation inside her vagina...
feeling sucked up the vortex-screw of the stairwell like a conscript in a blind-sperm crusade...
The foetus is rehearsing its breathing movements. gulping in out in out as she two foots it up each step, sharp pebbles of glass beneath her bloated feet...
Both mother and foetus are fully aware of the rehearsal contractions gripping and massaging the foetus. pink fluff from her slippers muffling against the chipped concrete edges of the treads...
The foetus is aware of sounds outside the mother's body. She stops, then kicks the full cans of beer down the risers as far as she can. They squat and rock and return and tremble then plunge dumpily to the next step. Drip drip drop.
The weight of the foetus seems to be dragging the mother off-balance...
She takes a two-step stagger down, then her mind pushes her feet back up until, finally, she pushes the lolloping wooden door back on its crazy out-of-kilter hinges, hearing a fractured scrape of plastic and metal as something splinters beneath the broken door base as she steps into the grey light of...
The foetus is able to differentiate between light and dark.
...the new roof, installed a year ago by the council after removing several floors above it, evacuating all the inhabitants, re-housing a civilised percentage of them back where they came from and in the process enforcing a severe decline in the suicide rate.
The foetus is pressing against the mother's bladder so she needs to urinate on a regular basis.
She clutches her abdomen. ('Not now, girl, not now. Got to keep going.') She keeps going across the new roof that gives less affront to the skyline and only temporary affront to the inhabitants. Lines of habitation removed following the discovery of the cement-wars scandals - short-circuited negotiation processes, short-changed council constituents - removal of the diseased layers.
Colostrum, the thin milky secretion that precedes and follows true lactation, is leaking from the mother's breasts She kicks her way across the roof, avoiding a hypodermic syringe lodged in a miniature compost heap of dog turds.
The mother feels a stitch-like pain at times down the side of her abdomen.
She almost steps on the needle. Pulls up long with a double agony, one imagined, one real, then steps out again. Towards towards towards towards the parapet.
It is theoretically mild for the time of year, but windy. She stops at the edge and kneels. She looks down. The air rushes up to her face, then recedes, sucking down. Her bump almost tips her over.
She gazes at the courtyard below. A hopscotch grid, shaped like a large, friendly snake. A little girl kicking her way across it, tacking across the uncoiled curves. Car fumes seem to billow into the enclosed space. Courtyard. Courtyard. Mr. Big's Backyard. ('Don't think like that. Think of something else. Look at something else.') (Protect the child protect the child protect the child.)
The mother experiences constant backache. She straightens up, puts a hand to her spine, counterbalancing the bowed wave forwards; she gasps for breath. The roof smells faintly of urine but still sweeter - eighteen stories sweeter - than the courtyard below. Bright blue and white paintwork starting to peel before the end of its first year
The mother is regularly subject to cramps.
The wind dies down. She looks across the cityscape through blood-stained eyes. Squaremile after squaremile of thinned-down cubist concrete turned to harlequin diamonds in the astigmatic haze. The invisible river. The lost hills. The healed-over soil. She gazes off past the freshly painted community centre. Far off, children kicking a ball around. Nearer, seemingly excluded, a fat Bangladeshi boy raucously blowing a banghra whistle, like some displaced go-it-alone referee.
The mother's gums are swollen.
The wind gets up again, makes the door blow, makes a windharp of the inspection ladders, makes the window-cleaning cradle rattle in its restraints. A CCTV camera creaks round, causing a slight puff of mortar to powder down to the courtyard. She turns round to look at it. She knows it doesn't see her.
She kneels again, looking straight down, like a rooftop sniper. Eighteen windows. Narrowing away. Squeezing her options. More astigmatism. Tiny beads of cement attempt to puncture her pincushion knees. The sound of the whistle, from a distance, gets surreally synchronised with the upright breast-stroke scissor-kick of the little hopscotch-navigator going crookedly along her grid. The boy stops blowing his whistle, glances back across his shoulder at the footballers, then walks away, waddling straight across the courtyard until he disappears into the building beneath her.
Going straight... speckles of speech straight into her like her whole body was the pincushion. "We're alright, girl, we're sorted. It's just the three of us now, I promise. Going straight, the lot of us. Promise. Promise. Straight And Narrow, girl.
Needles of rain spittle her skin then just as suddenly sear away.
"I'm going straight, the kid's coming out straight, everything's going to be straight from now on. Promise you that."
The mother regularly brings up a small amount of acid fluid, causing her heartburn.
She turns her back on the view and sits down on her two-brick-high throne, grimacing as the piles start to bite.
She hoiks up her skirts to examine the old bruises on her legs, elephant-wrinkled, stretch-marked in cellulite. ('Never go away now.')
She rubs her tongue over her softening teeth She feels the building rotting beneath her. Rotting like the liver of Mr. Big back in Edinburgh squatting on his powdery nest-egg, poached from the same-but-different cement scandals of Wester Hailes like the beating creature inside poaching the calcium from her bones, invoking the memory of the fear of discovery, the midnight get-the-hell-out evacuation, the need to leave Edinburgh, the choice of another blighted zone in another blighted capital, the frying pan and the fire.
Grimacing at the pain in her knees, she pushes herself up, and shuffles towards the window-cleaning cradle. She pushes it. It rocks. She looks down at her hand. It trembles. Independently.
She flops up and over and into the cradle, her weight an alien jacket of blubber. Her slippered toe nudges a full condom - squidgey sausage-case of failed fluid. (If only. If only.) She kicks it out underneath the guard-rail - watches it fall down - in a bead-line to the little girl, until a squirt of wind pulls it away. Careful. Careful. (Too late to be careful.)
She stands, swaying slightly, prey to the wind that rocks the cradle. Her teeth are suddenly chattering for no reason. A soft chatter. No percussion. She clamps an unlit cigarette to her lips to dampen the clatter.
"I hope you've given up smoking. You shouldn't fucking smoke when you're pregnant. I've told you about that before."
She picks up her rucksack. She feels the roughness of the handle against her callused hands, which make their way - involuntarily - to her bag. The scuffs on it match the razes and flaking cells of her skin.
Like a performing seal with the shakes, her hands shivering into each other, she removes something.
A scrapbook. The cover with the picture of a child's painting on a bright yellow background. Marbled, curling cardboard. Almost nine months old.
Inside, a crumpled swatch of newsprint. Six Shouting Words. She stares at the headline, watching it recede and focus in and detach itself into hieroglyphics, unable to make any meaning of it.

Handcuff Man Wins Appeal! Released Immediately.

Shirley McIntire, rocking and creaking in the cradle, thinking of - of - him downstairs in the flat. Fused into the faded sofa. The bulked-out sagginess from the side, like love-handles. "Good to be back, girl. Back home. Things'll be different now. Promise you that. Let's have a little celebration. Get us a beer, will you? Any in the fridge? No? Go and get us some will you? Got any money?" Straight and narrow. Straight and narrow.
She tears out the cutting, flinching at the scrunched-out shingle crack of the glue as it gives up easily and parts from the page, then she attacks the remainder of the flimsy scrapbook, pulling out the staples with her teeth. Her gums bleed. She imagines her teeth falling out and dropping through the wind-stirred air... droplets of blood spittering... clocking down to their allotted squares in the hopscotch grid, a kindly breeze veering them away from the hopping child. She tosses the rest of the flimsy scrapbook high into the air, the staples glittering down to earth. It falls, disintegrating slowly, disengaging from itself, untimely-ripping itself apart in the draught from the heating vent where the individual pages hover, gracelessly, before sludgily descending.
She realises that she has cut her finger on one of the pages. She removes the cigarette. Sucks the blood dry. Feels it mixing - soul sister ritual - with the blood from her gums. Replaces the cigarette in her mouth. Feels the acrid juices spread over her tongue.
The wind gets up again. She extracts another book from her bag and opens it.
"A Woman's Place in Art, Vol. 7: Jeanne Hebúterne - the Calm Centre".
She parts the covers and slowly tears out the plates of Modigliani's paintings of his mistress from the flimsy binding, the dead glue cracking like age-stiffened bone, and props them all up around the cradle.
Shirley McIntire, scruffy, scoured by poverty, scrubbed dirty by nicotine, gazing at all the paintings, remembering cradling the book of prints on her belly. Safe from the toothache hum of criticism, both remembered ("What you wasting your time looking at that tripe for?") and imagined ("That's an unborn child, that is, not a fucking book-rest!")
A cloud lowers over. A few splats of rain, then nothing. She looks at Jeanne Hebúterne, shading her pallor in a sunny clime.

Plate 1: Lady in a straw hat (Jeanne Hebúterne) 1919.
(Big hat. Long neck.)
Shirley McIntire, thinking of Jeanne - always composed, never naked, hair up or down, lounging long in louche but slightly portly elegance.
A swirl of dust billows out from the concrete canopy and drifts past like rain. She removes a wrinkled carrier bag from inside the rucksack.
Two pairs of handcuffs. Joined to each other by a flaking chrome-plated chain. Coated in fluff. Matching the fur on her slippers. A pink fur outer but a cold, glittering heart. She holds them up to the light - watches them glitter through the holes in the fur - then puts them on her wrists. They click with a noise like a distant prison door. She holds them up to her ears. She hears the sound of the traffic like a poisoned sea, trapped and muffled in the ring of steel, an urban babble in an aural bubble.
('Handcuffs legcuffs.') She pushes them off and pushes her bare feet through. "You've still got a dancer's feet, darling, even though the rest of you is bloated up." She clicks them onto her ankles. They click soft. They grip strong. They chafe, even on the furthermost point, because her ankles are so swollen.
"It said in the paper that the victim had very slender ankles."
"Look, I don't want to talk about that now, OK? Not here. Walls have ears. But it's not true, I tell you. Not true."
A van door slams like a crack of distant thunder. She lifts up the rucksack with her little finger, appears to weigh it, then lets it drop and removes another compacted block of paper.
A pregnancy magazine - "You and Your Baby: Month by Month."
She sits, breathing in deeply through the glossy page of the magazine, like breathing in a diving mask of mildly poisonous gas, feeling its plasticity seal off her breath. She delves into, and inhabits, the world of the foetus: poised there, feeling the pulsing thing inside, aware of its condition, remembering every sentence of the magazine backwards, like an occult Lord's Prayer. Feeling it all come spoiling out of her brain.
Shirley McIntire, thinking back to when she first bought it. A brief smile like a shaft of sun on a cloudy day. She lets it drop to the floor of the cradle.
(You're going straight, the kid's coming out straight, I'm going straight round the bend.)
A pen and some paper. She takes them out and scrawls down the poem she has memorised over the months.
Your father, who art out of prison.
Curséd be his name. His just deserts come.
His will be defied
In here as well as in there.
Give us this day respite from his presence
And forgive us nothing
As we forgive nothing of him.
For his is the power,
The power and the power
For ever and ever
A kitchen knife. She rams the blade through the poem into the damp-softened wood at the back of the cradle and reaches for the last time into the bag.
An ultrasound picture. An unnamed child. The only name the name of the hospital. A saint. Male.
Shirley McIntire, thinking back to the thrill, the expectation.
"You look really high, girl."
"I am."
"What's that, then?"
"It's the picture of our baby."
"Oh, right. Don't look like nothing much, does it?"
"No, I suppose not."
"Alright is it - you know?"
"Yes. Yes, it's - alright."
She unzips her fleece, tucks the picture away inside, and zips herself back into her cocoon.
She turns her back on the outside world, sits on the guard-rail and attaches the cuffs to it. Click. Soft click. The prison door closes again.
She mops her brow, then retrieves a battered hip-flask that looks like it belongs to somebody else, somebody better off, and takes a slug of drink from it.
She glances around at the white beach of the concrete roof. ('Ah, hen, once a schemie, always a schemie.') Schemes. Projects. Plans. Hopes.
She caresses her bump.
She spits out the unlit cigarette, like a prisoner chewing her final straw before the firing squad. Sits on the edge of the cradle, poised there, speckles of speech going straight into her skin like thin steel. "We're alright, girl, we're sorted. It's just the three of us now, I promise."
She imagines doing a dive in which nothing but discipline keeps the hands together and the feet together.
She pauses nine seconds, then descends her makeshift diving ledge, flakes of cement pursuing her down then overtaking her, her bump catapulting her over, tipping her over into frozen fear, toppling into too-sure knowledge, the cradle rocking violently, causing the propped-up Jeanne Hebúterne pictures to fall one by one, a slow domino effect, as the cradle rocks, mingling with the slow, grudging descent of the cast-off headlines from their cushion of warmth.
Shirley McIntire flopping over, so much dead weight, jettisoned by the world, creating her own bow wave, feeling her baby dripping down through her...
Shirley McIntire, windows looming out beneath her, arrow-pointing towards the hopscotch grid on the courtyard below, the lump pulling down towards her breasts, flattening each of them out, coarsening and squattening her outline...

Handcuff Man to Appeal: Date Set.
The foetus starts to shrink and will lose weight at the rate of as much as an ounce a day. The presenting part moves backwards towards the lower segment of the mother's uterus from the cervix, which starts to soften and close as labour is refuted. Shirley McIntire, embarking on a pathetically short bungee-jump, jerking up short and quick...
"God, look at the size of you!"
The mother feels lighter and less weary as the contractions weaken.
...thinking of Jeanne Hebúterne jumping out of the flakey-paint squalor - dried flecks of dried gloss pursuing her down the airy descent...
The amniotic fluid stops being renewed. The foetus's bowel empties the greenish black meconium, the bile pigment and the fine down called lanugo and returns the excretions to the foetus's alimentary glands and the cells to the bowel wall.
"Listen, there's a technicality and they reckon they can get me off. Just 'cos it's a technicality though doesn't mean I did it, right? Because I didn't. I need you to believe it. I didn't. You believe me, don't you? Don't you?"
The foetus starts to move more now and, instead of only jabs from the feet and knees, there are whole body movements, and the buzzing sensation inside the mother's vagina disappears. ...hanging there like a giant pantomime canary against the still-bright blue paint of attempted resurrection...
There is now no air in the foetus's lungs and it stops rehearsing its breathing movements and expels the amniotic fluid from its trachea, enabling it to stop hiccupping. The foetus now disengages.
"Been doing much?"
"Oh, yeah. I've been on a tour of the maternity ward and the labour room of the hospital. They keep looking at me. I'm sure they know."
"Don't get paranoid, Shirl."
Shirley McIntire slumping down, feeling her calm centre agitating up inside her...
The mother's bump starts to fall and breathing becomes more difficult, although there is less need to pass urine so often.
"If this goes OK, we'll start again. Try to get set up again. Might even get something out of them for wrong arrest."
"No, Georgie, I've been thinking: it's too late."
"What do you mean?"
"I'm fed up with this, Georgie, fed up with everything being second-hand. I want something new in my life for a change. I want something to work without being forced to."
"What's that mean?"
"You know."
"You'll never throw me off, girl; I'll follow you - and the kid! - to the ends of the earth. Even as far as bleedin' Scotland! You won't escape me. No, girl, we're going to start again. Start proper. Good and proper. We'll be OK." (The premature rheuminess of his eyes.) "We'll be OK. Sorted. Just the three of us. I mean it, Shirl, I'll make it up to you. So don't even think of anything else. I mean it. Remember that."
The presenting part rises from the pelvis in a refutation of birth.
Shirley McIntire, hanging there - the upside-down world finally turned sane. The view gone non-astigmatic. Corrected into perfect rectangles...
The mother starts to lose weight fairly regularly. ...hanging down, the months emptying from her like moths escaping from a wardrobe...

Solitary Confinement for Handcuff Man:"For Own Safety".
The foetus now measures approximately 18 inches in length and it weighs around 5½ pounds.
Shirley McIntire, opening up like a giant pair of scissors, like the cross of the diagonally crucified martyr...
The ligaments and muscles supporting the joints in the small of the mother's back tighten up and she experiences less backache. ...falling through her scrapbook. Flick. Flick. Flick. The months go by...
"Yeah, it's been OK. At least nobody's got to me since - quite surprised really, 'cos the security around here's pretty crap."
"Yeah. Suppose."
"I wouldn't exactly say it's been hell - it would be, for too long, but at least you get a chance to think, and I've been doing some pretty hard thinking..."
...imagining herself like Jeanne Hebúterne with her long neck undulating in the wind, thrashing around, ungainly at last, like a wild swan flying...
A picture drifts down, stiff as board.

Plate 2: Portrait of Jeanne Hebúterne, 1918-19.
(Long neck towering.)
"Look at the neck on that. Looks like a bleedin' giraffe. What's that supposed to be? Don't look like nothin'! Not like you; you've got no neck at all, but then you don't need no neck - it's the head what counts, innit, and you know how to give that, don't you, my little haggis, my little Scotch dumpling?"
...closing her eyes so tight they feel like they're folding in on themselves...
The foetus can no longer differentiate between light and dark, and is no longer bathed in a red glow when sunlight is on the mother's abdomen. Its skin is becoming less pink.
"Well, that's enough about me. What did you do?"
"Oh, I went to the antenatal clinic - they felt the baby's position, checked its heart, saw how well it was growing, that sort of thing."
It is no longer possible to distinguish the foetus's bottom from a foot or knee but the foetus is still perfectly formed, although it has lost a lot of the fat reserves beneath its skin.
ends of the earth, ends of the earth
Shirley McIntire, clanking over a metal discord sea, lightening in the down-draught, shrinking in the slipstream...
Its movements are felt less as prods and kicks because it is now small enough to swoop around in the amniotic fluid.
...imagining her hair rise and stream above her head...

Handcuff Man Beaten Up in Cell.
The foetus now weighs 4 pounds and measures 16 inches. The mother starts to get less breathless when she exerts herself. The weight of the foetus seems to be dragging the mother off balance less.
Shirley McIntire, watching the litter of her past cascading from her position of bondage...
The foetus is still very aware of the regular rehearsal contractions, even though the mother probably doesn't notice them at all. The amount of blood circulating through the mother's body has started to decrease and will go on decreasing until about the eleventh week. ...dangling by her ankles, the lump pulling her down, chafing her senses...
"What happened?"
"Oh, a bunch of them just set on me. You know, some of them in here don't like that sort of thing, that I - that I'm accused of - been convicted of. Bunch of queers, half of them."
...floating in her mind, float float floating down to degradation like Jeanne Hebúterne...
A scrunched up piece of paper unfolds downwards.

Plate 3: Portrait of Jeanne Hebúterne, 1918-19. (Red arms, red skirt, reddish hair in a bun, seated position.)
"What you looking at them bloody stupid pictures for, anyway? Don't even look like nobody. I mean, who's got a big long nose like that?
been thinking, been thinking, been thinking
The pressure on the mother's diaphragm, liver, stomach and intestine starts to lessen.
"Still, enough of all that; how's the kid?"
"Well, it's legal now, Georgie. Can't do anything about it now."
"What do you mean? 'Can't do anything about it?'"
"Well, we couldn't get rid of it. It wouldn't be legal."
"Get rid of it? That's my child you're talking about. You bleeding well won't do anything about it."
"I didn't mean..."
"You'd better bleedin' not, neither."
...showering in pebbles of dislodged concrete...
The foetus's head starts to become overly large in comparison to the rest of its body.
...voices rushing in and out of her mind...
Colostrum stops leaking from the mother's breasts.
...falling through a percussive needle-rain of torn-out staples...

Handcuff Man Found Guilty!Gaoled for Ten Years.
The foetus weighs two pounds and measures slightly over a foot. Its skin is now very wrinkled, but is still protected and nourished by the covering of vernix, which clings to the lanugo all over the skin, especially on the hairier parts and in the creases. ...the tiredness streaming out of her...
The mother stops losing weight so regularly.
"So where do we go from here?"
"We appeal - that's where we go. I've had a word with the lawyer, we've had permission to appeal, and we're gonna go for it. I'm determined to get this sorted out and be out before our kid's born. How's it going, anyway?"
"I went to the clinic: the doctor had this special stethoscope thing to hear the baby's heart with."
The foetus's skin begins to lose its opacity, gradually becoming paper-thin and transparent.
won't do anything, won't do anything
The mother stops getting cramp. The foetus stops pressing against her bladder, so she doesn't need to urinate so often.
Shirley McIntire, aping Jeanne Hebúterne, sinking to oblivion...
A rough bandage of paper falls, squatting over her eyes.

Plate 4: Jeanne Hebúterne seated on a chair, 1918-19.
(Red arms, red skirt, reddish hair in a bun, seated position.)
"What the fuck are you just sat there for? Why the fuck don't you get up do something? Clean something?"
The foetus's bone centres are starting to soften.
Shirley McIntire, feeling the bile rising; a dislocated stream of discarded thoughts and memories flowing down, forming a continuous column to the yard below; spewing out, spewing out, falling from her mind like the dandruff and dried-out hair-girl tumbling down from her head to the hopscotch grid...
The top of the mother's uterus (the fundus) starts to shrink down from just above her navel.
...delta-dropping, G-force-fed...
The foetus is now shrinking very rapidly. Although its vital organs are still quite mature, its lungs are now longer sufficiently developed for survival outside the uterus.
...her weight falling away and her clothes getting looser...
The different parts of the foetus can still be felt through the mother's abdominal wall. She no longer feels the stitch-like abdominal pain because the uterine muscle is no longer stretching so she should feel less need to have a rest. The rehearsal contractions start to lessen, gripping and massaging the foetus less regularly.
...blasted by a tumbleweed blizzard of falling crunched-up newsprint...

Handcuff Man in Court Next Week.
The foetus weighs just under a pound and measures one foot.
Shirley McIntire, flopping down pendulous...
The pregnancy hormones start to leave the mother's system and her swollen gums subside.
...frozen at a terminal velocity of zero...
The foetus will now be refusing to settle into a pattern of activity and sleep.
...imagining Jeanne Hebúterne hurtling down, she and her baby hurtling into nothingness...
The mother's heartburn ceases and she stops bringing up small amounts of acid fluid.
A lazy buoyant rag of gloss bellies downwards and outwards.

Plate 5: Portrait of Jeanne Hebúterne, 1919.
(A study in red and black, seated.)
"You think you're so special, don't you, you and your paintings and fucking art classes? You think you're too good for me!"
The foetus is still moving about freely in the amniotic fluid and can be felt kicking, sometimes high in the mother's abdomen, at other times down near her pubis. Shirley McIntire, red raw stripes across her ankles searing and numb in equal portions...
The foetus becomes less active, and its movements are no longer visible.
...flecks of mortar and bits of paper blizzarding around her like a snow-bubble toy...
we're gonna go for it, we're gonna go for it, we're gonna go for it
The shrinking uterus stops pushing up against the mother's lungs and pushing her abdomen outwards. At this stage, the mixture of sebum and skin cells that forms the protective vernix separates out and the sebum returns to the sebaceous glands.
"Putting on a bit of weight, there, girl. Your clothes are a bit tight."
"Yeah, I've had to get a special bra as well."
"I never realised everything you had to get. All these special things."
"It's not cheap, either, especially with..."
"Yeah, yeah, I know; don't rub it in."
"Still, we'll soon know."
"Know? Know? There's nothing to know. I'll be out and that's all there is to it!"
"It's just that..."
"Well, you never know these days, the Justice System..."
"Don't you believe it, girl, we'll get it sorted. And then you're gonna see a new me, because it's taken being in here to make me realise just how special you are."
The buds for permanent teeth are retreating from behind those for the foetus's milk teeth, which are still there.
Shirley McIntire, dangling there upside down, watching & feeling the different twines of the last nine months unravel...

Handcuff Man Refused Bail.
The foetus now weighs about 6 ounces and measures about 8 inches long. It now stops testing out its reflexes. It stops kicking as well as grasping and sucking, so the mother will probably feel the last prod at this stage and she will now start to sleep better at night.
Shirley McIntire, opening her eyes and seeing nine dead leaves float upwards from invisible trees...
The mother may find that she is sweating less than usual (owing to the diminution of blood in her system) and that her nose feels clearer.
The little girl is now edging round the bent neck of the snake.
As the foetus retreats, the top of the mother's uterus is lower than halfway between her pubic bone and her navel. From now on, the foetus will weigh less than the placenta to which it is attached. It will now become unaware of sounds outside the mother's body.
Shirley McIntire, floating down to be earthed, like Jeanne Hebúterne: all that energy taken to the ground...
Another weather-beaten leaf of paper bellyflops down.

Plate 6: The Yellow Sweater, 1919.
(Long floppy sweater. Seated position.)
"Hello, Shirl."
"Hello, Georgie."
"You're looking good. Yellow suits you."
"How's it going?"
"Oh, all right, I suppose. I've been to some class. They talked about the right things to eat, getting enough exercise, correct posture, general health."
"Well that's good."
"They discussed my emotions. Can you believe that? What the hell do they think my emotions are like?"
"Well, they're just trying to help, girl..."
The mother may still feel butterflies in her stomach but she can no longer be confident that it is the foetus moving. Her waistline will be starting to reappear. Lanugo is beginning to retreat from the whorled pattern all over the foetus's skin, and the foetus is starting to lose its fingernails and toenails.
..hearing voices from below, strangely magnified, convincing her that someone's coming up onto the roof...
To cope with the decreased amount of blood circulating in the mother's body and the foetus's reducing need for oxygen, the mother's reduced heart has decreased its output by a quarter.
...feeling the hypodermic spurts & pumps of blood from the baby to her and back again, sucking her varicose veins dry...
I'll be out, I'll be out, I'll be out
The hair on the foetus's head and brows is becoming finer.
...the lump in her throat bursting her lips apart in a silent scream...
The mother will be feeling more tired and less active. She may notice the dark line (the linea nigra) running down the centre of her abdomen starting to disappear. Her nipples and the area around them are also starting to lighten. Her uterus is now the size of a softball.
"So what's happening about your bail application?"
"The lawyer said he can't get bail for something like this. Says his hands are tied."
"He's not the only one."
"You watch your tongue."
"You watch yours."
"Listen, I don't need this."
"Seems like you needed it three months ago."
"Listen, you piece of Jock cunt..."
"You said once that 'Jock cunt' was the 'best cunt'."
"Yeah, well, some times I don't speak too good. No respect. Well, I ain't had no education, have I?"
"You're getting one now."
"Yeah, that's for sure. Sorry."
"So you should be."
"Yeah, well, I'm learning now."
"You'd better learn quick, Georgie."
"I will, Shirl, I will. Sorry."
"I've had the scan as well."
"Everything's OK."
"Yes, but what is it?"
"A boy or a girl?"
"I don't know. They don't say. It depends on the hospital which scan they give you or whatever, and this one doesn't tell you what the sex is. What's it matter anyway?"
"I want to know. It's my kid. I want to know."
"Well, you can't. So what you going to do about it, big boy?"
A small amount of hair starts to disappear from the foetus's head and eyebrows. Its heart can no longer be heard on the ultrasonic scan. The foetus stops drinking any of the amniotic fluid and can no longer pass urine. It stops receiving all of its nourishment from the placenta, which starts to decrease the amount of progesterone it produces as the corpus luteum starts to take over. Shirley McIntire, tracking straight to nowhere...

Bondage Crime Arrest. Local Man in Pink Fur Handcuffs Charge. Kept on Remand.
The foetus now weighs two ounces and measures four inches. The mother starts feeling sick in the early morning or when she is cooking a meal. Her uterus is back to its normal size.
Shirley McIntire, hanging suspended, like a cartoon coyote, resisting the mid-flight chicken-out...
"Look, I swear I didn't have them for any reason. They were just a joke, alright? Just a fucking joke! Someone got them for a stag night!"
The foetus is still completely formed, but will now begin stunting and recessing. Its head is now becoming less rounded and it starts to lose its eyelids. Its muscles are no longer developing and it is moving about inside the uterus much less.
no respect, no respect, no respect
Shirley McIntire, feeling the ghost of Jeanne Hebúterne clinging to her. Two flung-out sisters, reunited...
"Well, yeah, we'd had a few drinks. Course we'd had a few drinks! Well, you'd remember that wouldn't you, when I came in, when we..."
The mother's sickness will gradually get worse from now on. All of the foetus's major organs start to unform, including its testicles or ovaries.The mother's uterus has contracted to the size of a cricket ball and is now hidden away within her pelvis. The little girl's feet are still clicking into place inside the bent squares.
Shirley McIntire, her hopes lumping down to somewhere where there's a murder a week and suicides come cheap...
"When we..."
The placenta stops producing progesterone altogether.
...enslaved to the adrenaline cattle prod, the dizzy pre-fall expectation...
"There's nothing to them, anyway. They're just trick things. We got them from a sex shop. Just for a laugh. All you have to do is slap them and release them, like so, once you've got the knack."
The foetus's ankles and wrists start to unform, as do the fingers and toes. "Why won't you talk to me?"
Shirley McIntire, feeling more skeleton the more she dangles there...

No Arrest yet in Bondage Crime. Police May Have a Lead.
The foetus now weighs a quarter of an ounce and measures two inches.
...feeling the buzz & flow of the traffic below like the flow of life through her and Jeanne Hebúterne's bloodstreams, matching the map of the city to their twinned vein systems...
As the pregnancy hormones continue to leave her system, the mother's wrinkles start to become more obvious. Her gums start hardening. The thyroid gland in her neck becomes less prominent. ...exulting in the refreshed silence now the voices have ended...
The foetus's limbs are now losing their form very rapidly, and the fingers and toes are almost gone. The foetus is now moving about so gently, that the mother cannot feel these movements. At this point the foetus weighs only about as much as a squash ball and the mother's uterus has shrunk with it.
"I've had the test. And it's true."
"Well, that's fantastic, girl."
The little girl's socks are now around her ankles.
The mother start to regain her appetite. Her hair becomes more manageable. Her vaginal discharge stops. The embryo's main organs start to retreat. The eyes and ears are shrinking, and the face is beginning to lose its human shape. ...dangling like an overfed spider...
The mother is now far more capable of standing for a long time without feeling dizzy or faint. Her breasts are getting smaller; the nipples become less prominent and the small nodules called Montgomery's tubercles disappear from the areolae.
when we, when we
The embryo's fingers and toes have shrunk to small indentations at the end of its limb buds, which are disappearing rapidly and will soon no longer look like tiny arms and legs. The spinal cord and brain are starting to regress and the head is starting to lose its human shape.
...goose-pimples forming on her flesh...
The mother no longer feels sick. Her vagina loses its mauve colour.
"You seem to be staying in a lot."
Well, I thought I'd save my money. Not a lot of work at the moment. And with new responsibilities and all..."
"There's nothing the matter, is there?"
"No. Why? Am I getting on your nerves, being under your feet all the time?"
Shirley McIntire, falling away from the pregnant perversions to her body...
The embryo is losing its head, trunk, and its rudimentary brain. The tiny limb buds are disappearing. Its circulation is ceasing to function. Each of the jaws starts to lose its ten dental buds and the mouth starts to unform.
...face downwards, finally on top...

Sadist Strikes! Bizarre Handcuff Attack. Victim secured by Hands and Feet!
The embryo is now only about a tenth of an inch long and will soon be too small to be visible to the naked eye. Its spine is beginning to unform and the two lobes of its brain are starting to fuse.
Shirley McIntire, statically looming towards the ground, everything seeming to swell up larger in mirage, through a fool's con-trick magnification...
The mother's breasts are back to their previous size and are no longer tender. She is passing urine at a normal frequency.
The little girl has stopped her twisting journey and moved away out of sight.
The placenta begins to unravel from around the fertilised egg
...three further tiny speckles of blood dripping from her gums to the courtyard...
"On your back, girl, I need it now. And I need it fucking quick." (The smell of the sweat on his eyes stronger than the smell of booze on his breath.)
The blood vessels in the lining of the uterus withhold nourishment from it. ...hanging there, wanting to levitate back to month nine, wanting to go back want to go back go back go back back to daddy no not there not there not the dirty fingers in the crumpled sweetiebag...
"What you doing?"
"Getting the condoms."
"Nah, leave that, leave that, Take a chance. C'mon, there's no time."
The egg is now rejected from the uterine lining, and left to float in the uterine cavity for about three days. The egg is now evicted from the uterus itself.
...her neck stiffened into a sympathetic paralysis...
The mother no longer has a strange, metallic taste in her mouth.
...feeling like a bladder of skin from which the bones have dropped away...
Ovulation has now been rejected and the egg is travelling back up one of the two Fallopian tubes away from her uterus. The cluster of cells unravels rapidly as it continues on its journey along the Fallopian tube. that's fantastic girl, fantastic girl, fantastic girl
Shirley McIntire, floating through the air, her fingertips like rudders at the end of wings...
The sperm that fertilised the egg while in the Fallopian tube is rejected and swims backwards away from the egg along with millions of others, which are sucked back up into the penis.
...impregnated in every pore by motes of dust, as floundering as long-lost sperm - molecule to molecule to molecule...
to silence to absence to darkness.
She opens her eyes. No-one has seen her. She has made no impression, not even the imprint of a murmur in the hubbub.
She opens her eyes. And stares at the empty hopscotch grid. The snake seems to writhe. She imagines Jeanne Hebúterne melting through the folded tarmac like quicksand.
She opens her eyes. She sees her necklace drop out from around her neck and land on a space labelled zero, the space that shouldn't be there. No-one else sees it fall.
She opens her eyes. She imagines the child hopping with her feet handcuffed together.
She pulls herself up, suddenly light as a trapeze artist, and holds onto the bar of the cradle. There is no pain but the pain in her ankles, still secured to their metal tethering-rail.
There are patches of blood - dried already - beneath the fingernails. She looks at the sole remaining picture.

Plate 7: Jeanne Hebúterne seated, 1918. (Pregnant. Drapes of black & green velvet, elongated, head at a strange angle, inscrutable green eyes, outline tailing into insubstantiality - Jeanne Hebúterne - pregnant student - second child - what could she be thinking of, doing that? - Jeanne Hebúterne, fleeing from her grief for the dead - unlike... unlike... unlike her, Shirley McIntire, fleeing... not fleeing... the fist at midnight.)
('Why did you do it? Why did you do it, hen? Was there really nothing left to live for? You've got to take responsibility. You can't just duck out. You've got to live in the real world.')
A starling settles on her hand. Shakes its feathers. Threatens to ruffle its spots right away. Pecks at her skin. She shoos it away.
LIVE IN THE REAL WORLD. LIVE IN THE REAL WORLD. LIVE IN THE REAL WORLD. "There's nothing to them, anyway. They're just trick things. All you have to do is slap them and release them, like so, once you've got the knack."
She slaps them - both hands together - and they come apart. Both feet released. See, you can release them no problem if you know the knack. And Shirley McIntire, with a well-rehearsed knack, escapes; no problem, no bail, no remand, no conviction, just release. And now it really is too late. Finally.
Shirley McIntire, tunnelling out of the ghetto - out of all her ghettos - downwards; not into heaven, not into hell, not into any dream of lasting purgatory; no, just into a dumb silent decent introduction.
It's just "Shirley, the pavement; the pavement, Shirley."


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