She hauled him from the olive-green painted wooden cot. Her back ached but it had become a pain she learned to live with. One palm held his nappied bottom and the other cupped his tiny head, which was cold to the touch. She looked up and saw the window hadn’t been shut properly and cursed her stupidity. Hoisting him over her shoulder with a groan, she grabbed his woolly cap which floated on the sea of empty gin glasses and makeshift ashtrays adorning the side table and covered his skull. A mental note was made to close the offending aperture.

He was beautiful. All she ever wanted. It didn’t matter that neither of them knew the father — they had each other and that’s all that mattered. Nobody was going to get in the way of their special bond.

He was a good boy, never made a sound… well, the first eight weeks he wouldn’t shut up — cried from morning till night and then some. Her nerves were shattered. Sleep deprivation is a killer. Still, it’s gotten better.

Little Daniel, or ‘Dan Dans’ as she liked to call him, was set between the clutter on the plastic kitchen table and she proceeded to change his nappy. Oh, what a good boy, another clean one! Brushing aside a greasy chip wrapper she bent over, kissed his perfect, marble face and placed the nappy back in position. You must be a hungry boy! She left him lying on the sticky surface and went to the fridge to retrieve some previously expressed milk. Staring into the mostly uninhabited appliance, she tried hard to remember why she opened it in the first place and pulled at her unkempt hair. She wanted a cigarette badly or a drink. Yes… a drink would be good.

Her head spun as the demons awoke from their all too brief slumber.

Grasping the milk in her trembling hand, she wandered back to the baby and carried him to the worn, colourless couch. Cradling him with one arm, she pushed the cold bottle’s teat between his dry lips with her available hand. She rocked back and forwards sharply and tried to remember a nursery rhyme she could sing. The milk level never diminished. Damn, why couldn’t she remember the words? “La la laa la laa la laa.” Tears of frustration started to well in her exhausted eyes.

The doorbell whined and was followed by harsh thumps on the wooden frame that sent lightning through her veins.

It wasn’t my fault. It’s not my fault. It wasn’t my fault. It’s not my fault. The mantra filled her head and she could barely breathe. She’d heard of cot death before. They gave it a nice name, ‘Sid’ or something. Never thought it would happen to her. It’s not my fault.

“Mrs. Collins.” A lady’s voice carried into the living room and swirled in her ears.

She pulled the baby to her chest, dropping his bottle. Her tears began to fall hard and created dark wet patches on Daniel’s light blue cotton one-piece. She held her breath, willing them to go away.

It wasn’t my fault. It’s not my fault.

“Mrs. Collins — can we come in?” The social worker’s voice was angrier and was followed by more frantic bell pressing and knocking.

She held Daniel tighter than ever, knowing he would not make a sound.

E C Hayles is an Englishman currently residing in South Africa. A singer/songwriter for many years, he is now following what seems to be a natural path into the world of literature. He is currently writing a novel but during his many breaks he likes to try his hand at the challenging formats of flash fiction and short stories and has recently been published in Full of Crow, Fictive Dream and Flash Fiction Press.

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Every Day Fiction