The Good Samaritan

Page 27


The NHS website explained prenatal depression was pretty common. Her symptoms matched those listed – she felt down a lot of the time, she was generally apathetic, she was tearful, she couldn’t sleep and she was often agitated.
I suggested mentioning it to her midwife at her next appointment, but Charlotte insisted on managing her mood swings herself and shunned medication. I tried to lift her spirits by changing our diets, cutting out all processed food and replacing them with more mother-and-baby-friendly foods packed with antioxidants. It didn’t work; in fact, it just got worse.
The slightest little thing seemed to upset her, even watching the news. Each terrorist attack, war or natural disaster had her hooked to the screen, like she couldn’t get enough of the rolling headlines and fretting about what it might mean to our baby.
‘What kind of world am I bringing my child into?’ she once asked. ‘One where people are burned alive in cages or thrown from buildings because of their religion or sexuality?’
‘Well, firstly, it’s our baby, so the responsibility isn’t just on your shoulders,’ I replied. ‘It’s our job to keep him or her safe and to look after each other.’
‘What if I can’t even carry it properly? Look at me, I’m barely even showing.’
‘The scans say everything is perfectly all right.’
‘Every morning I wake up with this horrible feeling and I can’t stop crying. That glowing pregnancy period all mums talk about? Mine just makes me ache.’
I brushed away a tear rolling down her cheek. ‘Think for a moment about the millions and millions of people to whom nothing horrible has ever happened . . . those who’ve never been blown up on a bus or washed away by a tsunami. Who’s to say we’re not going to be one of those families?’
It wasn’t the first time we’d had that conversation and it wouldn’t be the last. And each time it cropped up, Charlotte nodded in agreement as if she believed my reassurances. Looking back, I should have known she was just trying to shut me up. She didn’t think I understood her and I guess she was right. I could have done more. I should have done more.
Charlotte’s parents continued firing questions at me that I couldn’t answer. As each one came, I felt more and more like a failure as a husband. However, it pissed me off that they were pretending Charlotte’s depression came as news to them. They’d seen how bad it had become on their last visit home, yet they didn’t think it was serious enough to leave the balmy Spanish climes. They accepted no responsibility; apparently it was all my doing.
I remembered that later, when Charlotte’s bad days were still outweighing the good, I went from feeling concerned to scared for her. After much persuasion, she began cognitive behavioural therapy. Three sessions later she dismissed her therapist as ‘a dick’ and never returned. Finally, when she’d hit rock bottom, she gave in and agreed to her doctor’s suggestion of a low dosage of antidepressants.
That’s when the Charlotte of old gradually began to emerge like a butterfly waking from hibernation. She started leaving the flat again, she smiled without being prompted and she’d disappear to our bedroom to chat for ages on the phone. Shortly before Christmas, she replanted the window box with spring bulbs and chose colours and fabrics for the nursery while I decorated it. She also spent time on online message boards where she said she was talking to other women who understood what she’d been going through. She was engaging in the world she’d shied away from.
She suggested we book our first holiday abroad as a three instead of a two; we mulled over which of our friends would make suitable godparents and wondered if we’d ever find a house like the one she loved in Harpole. Only now could I see that none of this mattered to her; it was all a brilliant disguise. She’d no longer wanted any of it. She no longer wanted us.
The morning she died, she’d told me she loved me. How could she say that to me and then throw it all away hours later?
With the exception of two grandparents whom we’d lost to cancer when I was a kid, I’d been lucky to have reached my early thirties and remained relatively unscarred by death. Now I wondered if the Grim Reaper had simply been biding his time until he could make the maximum fucking impact on my life.
I was learning what many other people my age already knew, that grief is the worst place in the world to be trapped in. In fact, it’s a kind of sub-world that you believe only you inhabit. You aren’t alone, of course, because those you’re close to share your pain. But it’s not really their pain, is it? It’s yours. And it’s a million times worse for you than it is for anyone else. Sometimes I thought that if I stretched out my arm, I could physically touch it.
While grief had me caught like a rabbit in headlights, I was also floating in a kind of limbo waiting for the police to release Charlotte’s body into my custody. Without it there couldn’t be a funeral. I didn’t understand what the delay was, because the mystery wasn’t how she died, it was why. But an autopsy needed to be carried out regardless.
Until that was completed, I had no choice but to fill my days by going for aimless walks around the park with my parents’ dog, or staring at the television watching endless quizzes, soaps and reality shows until, before I knew it, a whole evening had passed and I hadn’t registered a single thing I’d watched.
One morning I awoke before six and found myself driving to Northampton railway station. I bought a ticket from a machine and caught a rush-hour train to London Euston, and then took the Hammersmith and City line twelve stops to Shepherd’s Bush Market in the west of the city. By 9 a.m., I was sitting at a plastic table in a bustling McDonald’s staring through the window at a second-floor flat above a row of shops along a noisy high street.
Inside the filthy pea-shingled exterior was an equally shabby home, the first one Charlotte and I had rented in the capital as twenty-one-year-old university graduates. I recalled black and blue patches of mould crawling up and fanning out across the bathroom walls, and how we’d take it in turns to scrub them with a fungicidal liquid. The glass in the windows was so thin that the frames rattled when a bus or lorry drove past. And the boiler was so unpredictable that in winter, we’d sometimes turn on the oven and keep the door open just to stay warm. But the rent was cheap and the landlord had only asked for two weeks’ deposit.
The material things didn’t matter back then. In fact, nothing had mattered to Charlotte as long as we were happy. And we were happy. Weren’t we? Or had I read her wrongly? Because now I was doubting everything. Every grin in a photograph, each text message with a kiss at the end . . . was it all just pretend?
Maybe even back then depression had been lying dormant under Charlotte’s skin. Perhaps she’d always had it inside her, but she’d been better able to mask it. Then when pregnancy and her hormones shook everything up, the illness broke through the surface and leaked like a foul-smelling gas.
Whatever its cause, whatever its reason, it didn’t really matter. It had killed her and now it felt like it was threatening to spread through me. If I wasn’t crying, I was numb. If I wasn’t numb, I was suffocating. If I wasn’t suffocating, I was crying. And so on and so on. A never-ending circle of shittery.
I took a sip from a cup of milky tea and pushed my McMuffin and hash browns around my plate with a plastic fork. I couldn’t finish more than a couple of bites from either.