The hospital ward was bleak, accompanied by a ghoulishly intoxicating smell of cleanliness. Vince sat on a flimsy chair outside Lola Parova's hospital room. She hadn't wanted him to see the birth, and he couldn't blame her. He was almost sure his stomach couldn't have taken it, anyway. He bobbed his leg erratically against the cracked leather seat. Though Vince wanted Howard with him, the nurses hadn't allowed it, and he was forced back into the bleary evening frost. The only distraction from his thoughts was a small, flickering television in the recreation room opposite. The maternity ward bordered the children's ward, and there was one boy sat, fixated on the screen. After a while, Vince realised the kid was watching MTV. He smiled.
'Oi!' he called, in a hushed shout. The kid looked around, but couldn't find the source of the call. 'Pssst! I'm behind you.' He finally spun around to face Vince. He was very striking looking, with prominent features and a bald head. He must have been in his mid-teens.
'What?' The boy seemed taken aback by Vince's extravagant charity shop chic.
'What you watching?'
'Nirvana?' He asked, catching a glimpse of Kurt Cobain's drooping blonde hair. The boy stood up, moving to occupy the seat next to Vince.
'Yeah, they're repeating the classics.'
'Nice,' he nodded. The boy seemed interested.
'You into Nirvana?' Vince shrugged.
'They're alright, if you're angry enough.'
'I think you're wrong.' Vince laughed, but the boy's expression remained unchanged. 'They're always relevant. Everyone thinks because he was so tragic,' he pointed to the screen, where a close-up of the grunge band's angelic lead singer panned out, 'that their music is just loud and angsty. But it's not.' Vince's eyes drifted from the impassioned patient to the screen. Against the constant whir of the wards, he could just about make out Kurt's words.
'The reason we didn't wanna play these two songs in a row's because they're exactly the same song.'
'This song is my favourite,' the boy said, racing to the TV set. He turned up the volume as the audience chuckled politely. Kurt looked to his band.
'So, ready?' he said. They began to play. Vince recognised the song.
'Polly wants a cracker,
I think I should get off her first.
I think she wants some water,
To put out the blowtorch.'
'This song's awful! It's about a girl who's being raped and tortured and stuff!'
'Yeah, that's the obvious interpretation, because that's directly what the lyrics say. But I think they mean something else too, if you look deeper.' He didn't return to his seat. Instead, he sat, his eyes filling with wonderment. He wanted to listen to the music, to really feel it.
'Like what?' He felt bad asking, but Vince was curious. He so badly wanted someone to open his eyes. He was tired of feeling so cynical. He was tired of everything being so black and white.
'You know, I was diagnosed with lymphoma when I was thirteen. I'm fifteen now. They said I had a year, then they said six months. Two years later, I'm still here. But I feel like they've marked my grave already. Every time I woke up in the middle of the night, drenched in my own sweat, I thought 'maybe they are right, maybe I am going to die'. And I'd become fascinated with it. I had danger dates marked on my calendar. My mum thought I was depressed, because she couldn't understand why I had such a morbid obsession. But, when you're dying, it's like you have nothing more to see. No one wants to waste their time on you. They give you your 'dream' and then they bugger off. I haven't seen my carer since the fucking trip.' Utterly floored by the boy's story, Vince could not form enough words to say how sorry he was. He felt that, even if he could, it wouldn't be right. He wouldn't want sympathy. He'd want someone who wouldn't pretend they'd stick around. He needed a friend in passing, and that was lucky. That was all Vince could muster.
'Where did you go?'
'Seattle,' he laughed incredulously. 'I love grunge. Always have. We went on a music tour. The last stop was Kurt's house; where he was when he died. And all I can remember thinking is why the fuck are they caring for me when people like him are out there dying everyday. Geniuses. Beautiful, beautiful people. Why do I get so much help, when he got none? I realised why everyone left me. Because, in the end, nothing mattered at all.'
'I think that's why I like this song,' he interrupted, turning back to the screen, staring on in admiration, 'because it counteracts my grimmer thoughts. Maybe Polly is holding herself captive. Mentally. Spiritually.'
Vince craned his neck to get closer, to hear the kid more clearly.
'When he says 'let me clip dirty wings', I know Polly's going to fight herself out of a bad situation. She has dirty wings, but they can be clipped. Sure, she may not fly but she'll carry on because that's 'the will of instinct'. Polly's a strong girl. No one can topple her. I feel like we all have a Polly. Mine helped me get through the hardest part of my life.'
'Well, maybe you haven't found your Polly yet. When you find her, you'll know. You'll realise her beauty in the things that you do. She'll help you when you're down. Really down. I don't know, it'll just click.'
Vince grinned wider than he could ever remember grinning before. He was right. There was something in him that'd convinced him to come here in the first place, and something that made him realised raising his child with Howard was a good idea. He didn't know what, but all he had to do was wait until it clicked. That was all. And it was suddenly so easy.
'Hey, what's your name?'
'As in Novoselic?' Krist nodded, his eyes flushing with pride. 'Your parents must be cool.'
'Yeah, they're alright.'
'Listen, thanks for all this.' He looked shocked.
'For all this what?'
'You've just really helped me. And I'm glad you're still sticking around.'
'They can't get rid of me that easily.' Vince chuckled.
'I suppose not. Enjoy the concert.'
'You know I will.'
'Mr Noir?' A soft voice awoke Vince from his light slumber.
'Yes?' Embarrassingly, he sounded half-asleep. He coughed, repeating himself in a less husky voice.
'I'm delighted to tell you that Miss Parova has given birth to a healthy baby girl.'
'Can I see her?' Vince felt sick. This was real. This was all real. She nodded, nipping back into Lola's room. Soon, he would see his daughter. His. He wasn't ready. He stood bolt upright. He could just run away, right now. He could-
'Here she is.' The nurse walked to him, cradling the swaddled child. Carefully, she held her out to Vince. 'Careful with her head.'
He moved his hands nervously into position as she was passed over.
Then he saw her.
A beautiful, pale little bud, eyes tightly shut. She already had small tufts of raven hair covering her head. Just like him. She was perfect. Any doubt he had was gone, forgotten. It melted like wax on a candle, trickling away to nothing.
But she started to squirm in her blankets, and opened her mouth to cry.
'No, no, no. Daddy's got you. Daddy's here.' She didn't stop, but Vince persevered. God, it hurt him. But he wouldn't give up so soon. He would sing for her. He just couldn't think of a song. Just sing anything, Noir.
'Polly says her back hurts
She's just as bored as me
She caught me off my guard
It amazes me, the will of instinct.'
The softness in his singing voice stunned the nurse. Gently rocking his daughter, she began to settle. She let out a small yawn, and lazily opened her eyes. They were blue, but not as ordinary eyes were. Her eyes were the blue of a crystal ocean, or the sky of a clear spring day. They shone like no gemstones could have, burning their mark into Vince's mind. For as long as he lived, he could never forgot those eyes.
'Bravo!' the nurse mimed clapping, so as not to disturb the girl.
'Thank you. I'm surprised it worked.'
'Well, you sang very nicely, very soothing to new-borns. What song was that?'
'Polly,' he smiled. She nodded, none the wiser. Suddenly, Vince realised something that had been nagging at him all along. 'That's her name. Polly.'
'I want to call her Polly. Krist said I'd know when I found my Polly. I know it now. I want to call her Polly.' He bent his head over her tiny face, admiring her sleepy features, 'She looks like a Polly.'
The nurse was about to reply, when a soft call came from Lola's room.
He started towards the room.
'Mr Noir!' the nurse called. Vince turned around. 'Would you like me to take her? I know you have a lot to talk about.' Vince conceded this. He approached her, and handed Polly back. Though he knew he'd see her again, he couldn't ignore a pang of guilt he felt at leaving her. He knew he needed to be there for her, to be her dad. Now, he couldn't see it any other way.
'She's beautiful, isn't she?'
'Yes, she's very beautiful.'
'Vince. I didn't think you'd come.'
'For a bit, neither did I.'
He approached the bed, coming to rest in a chair next to the forlorn-looking mother of his child. He took her hand.
'I'm sorry for everything.' She held it, using her other hand to pat his.
'Don't be. We have a beautiful daughter.'
'We're not we, Lola.' She sighed heavily.
'You're right. I just thought-'
'Me and Howard want to keep her. We already talked about it,' he interrupted, taking his hand away.
'Oh, God.' She broke down in a hysteric fit of bawling. Vince tried to hold her, but she wouldn't let him. 'No, that's n-not why I'm c-crying,' she managed through shaky breaths, 'I j-just…I thought l-leaving her would be, w-would be, oh, God.' This time, she forced herself into his arms. He hugged her tightly.
'You wanted to give her up?'
'No, b-but I knew I would have to do it.' She sniffed the last of her sobs away. All that was left were her running eyes. 'In the beginning, I thought I could handle it. I thought we could be a family, and-' she noticed his sceptical look, so she hurried, 'I know we never agreed it, and it was stupid. But I thought I could make it work. When the time got closer, I knew I couldn't. But there was nothing I could do. I just want a good life for her.' The cries came back with a vengeance, as Vince held her close again.
'Shh. If you let us take her, she will be happy. You can visit as much as you like. All I ask is that you don't try and take her away.' She unwrapped her arms from around his body, looking him straight in the eye. Her own eyes were filled with gratitude. Genuine gratitude.
'Of course!' he smiled, rubbing her back. She wiped her eyes with her hand. 'Oh, and her name…'
'Well, I really like Polly.' Lola considered it carefully.
'Yeah, that's good. It's very pretty.'
'I think there's more to it. A lot more.' She shrugged.
'If you say so.' Vince pushed himself out of the chair.
'I've got to get back to her. Are you sure you're alright with this? If there's any paperwork-'
'Shh, I'll be fine. And I can fill that out. I've got nothing else to do.' Vince leant over the bed and kissed her on the forehead.
'You're a diamond, Lola.'
'And you. Look after Polly for me.'