A Catholic Monthly Magazine

The Basket

A story by Michele O’Neillbasket

“Is that an Anne Geddes?” she asked, smiling as she looked at the picture of a babe peacefully curled up in a basket,  seemingly snuggled into a nest of colourful scarves.  

“No,” I heard myself answering.  It was not the first time I had been asked about that picture which hung in our lounge.  Each time I had to answer there was such a powerful mix of emotions that I could scarcely contain them – a huge painful pang, an almost overwhelming sense of relief and joy and again a jolt of pain and shame that brought tears to my eyes.  Fortunately she wasn’t looking at me but still gazing at the scene before her.   

“I took it.” I continued.  “ It’s Mia.  She was 8 months old and had not long begun to crawl.  I had gone outside to hang the washing out one morning.   She was still asleep in her cot when I left.  When I came back into the house she had disappeared.  I searched the house calling her name and was starting to really panic.  I ran back in to our bedroom to call Frank.  As I ran in the door I saw her curled up in my scarf basket.  Despite all my calling she was fast asleep.  I was so relieved I burst out crying, then rang Frank anyway.  He said, ‘Sounds cute.  Take a picture.’  So I did.”

The morning after my 41st birthday I woke up feeling unwell.  I couldn’t put my finger on it at first, then I recognized it – a vague nausea.  I thought back.  For some reason I hadn’t felt like the wine that my husband had offered to open for my birthday.  So alcohol wasn’t the reason.  I’d already elected not to go out for the evening.  We’d had lots of celebrations for my 40th.  It was time for a quiet one.  So we’d had dinner with the kids and when they’d disappeared, one to bed and the other to study we’d cuddled on the sofa and watched a DVD.  We had had cream with dessert – that was probably the culprit, I thought.  The nausea would pass.  It did.  But then it recurred the next morning and the next.

When I secretly did the pregnancy test I had the feeling that I was living a nightmare.  This couldn’t be true.  I had just finished a Masters in Education.  I planned to get back into my career, abandoned for so many years.  But the dark blue cross showed it was true.

When I told Frank he looked absolutely stunned.  “But how?”  It would have been comical in other circumstances.

“I guess it must have been that course of antibiotics I had a few weeks ago.  I remember now they can interfere with the pill.  But I didn’t give it a thought at the time.”

To my surprise he burst out laughing.  “Good grief!  Another baby – I never saw that one coming!’’

“What do you mean –another baby!” I heard myself screeching.  “I don’t want another baby!  I’m finished with all that!”

He looked shocked, confused.  “But honey, we’ll manage you know.  It’s just the shock.”

“It’s not the shock,” I said coldly.  “I don’t want it!”

The doctor offered me an appointment in a week’s time at the regional hospital.  But I knew I didn’t want that.  It might be a city of thousands but it many ways it was still like a small town.  I didn’t want to explain any visits to the hospital to anyone – especially that part of the hospital.

“Can’t I go somewhere else to have it done?”

“To have it done in the public system you have to stay with your regional DHB.  You do have the option of going privately if you want.  The nearest clinic is in Auckland,” she answered.  It sounded like a question she was used to.

“How much will it cost?”

“$1050.00” -  No hesitation there.  She’d obviously been asked that before too.

I couldn’t blame Frank for being confused.  The night before I was due to travel to Auckland he let it out, “But what about being Catholic?”  We had got married in the church though he wasn’t Catholic.  Like a lot of my contemporaries, somewhere along the way I had decided that the contraception thing was really too unreasonable.  But I still went to mass every Sunday.  I didn’t answer him and he relapsed into the unhappy silence that was so unlike his usual self.

I was there by 8am though my appointment wasn’t until 9am.   I sat in the car with the radio on.  I glanced at a cafe in the corner of a nearby row of shops but didn’t feel like being in public, though I was a bit hungry.

For some reason from time to time on the drive up I had found myself thinking of my sister.

I wondered what she would think - but then I realised I probably knew - and I wanted to turn that thought off.  It’s funny how people turn out.  My sister was two years older than me, prettier than me, and had been much more of a rebel as a teenager than me.  She’d tried dope and had had a series of boyfriends to my parents’ horror.  At one stage she dated two guys at the same time and had confided laughingly to me that it was embarrassing when she got a phone call because it took her a while to figure out which one she was talking to.  Once she had even asked one about his dog only to realise too late that it was the other guy who had a dog.  But she was quick thinking and had smoothed it over somehow.  When she’d finished her studies she did the big OE for a couple of years, coming back with her Kiwi fiancé .  He was not what any of us expected.  Sure he was good-looking but he was quite an earnest Catholic.  But there was no denying they were deeply in love.  They had settled in Christchurch and had five kids now.  Somehow or other she had still managed to work at least part-time – in recent years in telejournalism.

I on the other hand only had two boyfriends.  I had met Frank when on section in a rural school and when I’d finished my qualifications we’d married and settled on his parents’ farm which he subsequently took over.  There was no problem for me getting teaching work.

It was 8:30am and by now I was thoroughly fed up with the car.  I had carefully noted the details of the clinic from the internet.  From my place in the carpark across the road I could see it as it was shown on the website – the AMAC sign, with the still unenlightening full name below, Auckland Medical Aid Centre. They had told me that the clinic was upstairs.  I could see the doorway between a decor shop and an art cafe.

Why was it my sister kept coming into my head?  Now it was one of her silly sayings that kept replaying in my mind:  “When the going gets tough, the tough go shopping”.  I remembered when she had used that saying for the first time.  I had been in my last year at school and was completely stressed out about my final exams.  She had dragged me out as I pleaded pathetically that I must study.  Instead we went into town and tried on all sorts of outfits, amidst fits of giggling, though we couldn’t actually afford to buy anything.  But she was totally shameless and unfazed by the sometimes disapproving looks from the sales assistants.

Oh well, the decor shop next to the clinic entrance looked interesting, unlike anything else in the vicinity – supermarket, $2 shop, hairdressers, chemist, bakery and cafes.  I turned the radio off, locked up and crossed the road.  It was a smallish shop but crammed full of furniture, jewellery, plaques, wall hooks, giftware and cane-ware.  I wandered around slowly, stopping to look at anything that vaguely caught my attention.  In fact as I started to look an object, within a few seconds I was staring unseeingly.  My mind was whirling in the same never-ending circles that it had been traversing throughout the days and much of the nights of the last week.  I could see the kids struggling with the changed atmosphere in the house.  Joel in his blunt 11 year old way said, “What’s wrong Mum?’’  Shirley had even momentarily dragged herself out of her 15 year old surliness and pimple obsession and asked in a quiet, even frightened, voice tinged with rare compassion, “Are you ok Mum?”  I could see my evasive answers hadn’t reassured them but had been enough to silence them.  I would deal with sorting out their anxiety when I’d sorted myself out.  I moved a couple of steps, then was startled to hear a voice beside me, “Beautiful aren’t they?  They’re from Vietnam” she said.  I realised she was referring to the intricately inlaid ornaments in front of me.  “Yes”, I murmured and moved on pretending interest in a gold-framed mirror further on.  But I caught sight of myself and immediately sought to avoid the strained image of the stranger before me.  Instead I looked down dully and my eyes rested on the series of round tins unseeingly.  But somewhere in the background my brain must have been processing what it saw –“A lasting impression of your precious child” I read despite myself.  I walked outside the shop fearing tears.  I looked at my watch.  It was 8.50am.  I really should be going through that door.  I was never one for being late.

I looked down at the piles of baskets and cane chairs out on the pavement in front of the shop.  My mind seemed to be acting without consulting me.  That’s a lovely basket, it thought as I gazed at a shallow elegant basket with a high arched handle.  It looked like the sort you saw in a Monet painting.  I found myself picking it up.  I glanced at my watch again.   I had time to quickly buy it.  The shopkeeper smiled happily.  It suddenly occurred to me as I walked out with my purchase that I would look stupid walking into the clinic with it.  I would have to go back and put it in the car.   But by now it was one minute to nine.  It was then that I knew.  I was not going through those doors.  I didn’t know when I had decided, but I had.

Great, I thought, now I can go to a cafe.  But not the Art Cafe next to those doors.  That was too close for comfort.  I went back to the car, put the basket in the boot and looked around.  There was the cafe in the corner of the carpark that I had noticed earlier.  I headed inside, ordered a flat white and a mixed grill.  I was starving!  I sat down at the table then pulled my cellphone out.  I had had it turned off on the journey – I didn’t want to hear from anyone.  I flicked it on and texted Frank.  “I love you.  See you soon.”     The rest would have to wait till we could talk face to face.  Besides, usually he left his cellphone on the bedside table.  And I knew he was going into town that morning for some fencing equipment.   I felt more relaxed than I had in weeks.  I settled down to flick through the complimentary Herald until my meal came. Half an hour later I was back in the car.  I decided I might as well do a few shops while I was up here.  I could look for baby things and suddenly felt a desire to take presents for the kids.

Four hours later, after another good meal I was heading for the motorway.  I flicked the sound system on switching it to CD.  It was one of those 5 CD machines that change discs automatically.  I had chosen 5 discs before I left but had listened to the radio instead.  Now the CD roared into its first track.  I laughed out loud as the song belted out Abba’s  “Mamma Mia, here I go again, my, my, how can I resist you? Mamma Mia...”

It was just after 4pm when I pulled into the driveway of the farm.  I gave a couple of beeps as I came alongside the house.  A moment later Frank was rushing out the door.  He looked distressed.  Before I had taken the key out of the ignition he had my door open.  “Hi Honey.  It’s alright.  She’s alright. They’re all alright.   I’ve been trying to phone you.  Why didn’t you answer your phone?  You told me you’d be able to.”   I glanced at my handbag where the phone should be, then had a sudden flashback of placing my phone on the table in the cafe.  It was probably still under the Herald I had left open on the table.  Meanwhile Frank had stopped short, “So how come you are home early?  I thought you must have come because you’d heard about the quake”.  Behind him I could see the children who had followed him out.  “Change of plan” I said, nodding my head slightly in their direction to indicate their presence.  But it was my turn to be confused.  “What quake?  Who’s alright?” I asked, suddenly feeling anxious.  He couldn’t be talking about Shirley - she looked fine.  And why was he saying it as if he had been expecting that I would be worried.  “Jane”, he said.  “She’s fine”.  My sister again – was that why she kept coming into my mind?christchurch earthquake

“Haven’t you heard?” he sounded incredulous, “The big earthquake in the Christchurch CBD.  The building she works in is rubble - but she’s ok.”  My knees felt like they were going to give way.  He took my arm.  “Be a good girl Shirley and go and make your Mum a cup of tea.  Bring it up to her bedroom will you love” he said, guiding me through the door and towards our room.  “Joel,” he called back as we walked, “take the farm bike and go down to Theo’s and ask him if he can milk for me in the morning will you.  Tell him I’ll talk to him later”.  Joel beamed.  He was seldom allowed to use the farm bike.  He gently closed the door.  “Did you...?” his words trailed off.  “No.  I’m having the baby” I heard myself reply.

A look of relief was followed by a wide smile that spread across his face. Indeed he seemed to glow with joy, the sun-weathered skin wrinkling even more, his kindly eyes brimming with tears which fell onto my neck as I threw my arms around him. Funny, I thought to myself, marvelling again at the seemingly independent life of my mind - that really is a very good saying – “lit up like a Christmas tree”.  We were still silently clinging to each other when Shirley tapped discretely on the door before coming in with a mug of tea.

“You’d better ring Jane”, he said, as we pulled apart.  “She’s rung twice today.  The first time was about half an hour after you left home.  I told her you wouldn’t be home till tomorrow night.  She rang again soon after the quake to say that they were all alright.  But she said she wanted to talk to you if I could get hold of you.  She had tried your cellphone but got someone Asian”

“Come on Shirley, let’s leave Mum in peace for a while.”  They left closing the door.  “See you soon love.”

So it was that I learned Jane’s story.  How she had apparently woken at 3 am that morning from a disturbing dream involving me.  She said she couldn’t remember clearly what it was about but she had a feeling of dread that didn’t leave her even when she was awake.  So she prayed a rosary and apparently slumbered somewhere around 5 am.  When she had rung at 7:30am to talk to me, Frank had told her I had gone to Auckland for a couple of days.  Her fears weren’t allayed.  She felt Frank sounded “different” and was very vague on details.    All morning she kept thinking of me, praying when she did.  Finally she could stand it no more and decided to go to midday mass a few blocks away to pray for me.  Afterwards she just sat looking at the tabernacle, feeling peaceful for the first time that day.  And so she was still there when the quake struck.  Over the phone we wept together with relief and joy.  Two lives had been saved that day.

praising god

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1 Responses »

  1. Five friends gather at my place after Sunday Mass for coffee and faith support we had all been moved to tears by The Basket.
    It is a wonderful pro life story.