In a shabby kitchen in a rundown flat, in an unimportant town somewhere in southern England, there sat a woman in her early twenties. In front of her there was a cup of lukewarm tea, and in her shaking hand there was a cigarette that was in desperate need of flicking, but the woman didn't seem to notice. Even as the column of ash lost its battle with both gravity and her tremors she took no notice and stared blankly out of the window. Muffled crying from an infant could be heard from somewhere else in the flat, but the only sign to show that the woman had heard the sound was a slight grimace, her eyes never straying from the road outside.
An hour passed, then two... the ashtray steadily filling with cigarette ends, the table spotted with ash, the air a blue haze, the crying reduced to occasional moans and whimpers, and not once did the woman move. Not once did her eyes leave the road.
Thirty minutes later and a red Astra pulled up outside, and only then did the woman move, seeming to come out of her trance as she jumped up and moved to the door, opening it ready for the man who was coming up the stairs. The man looked up at her almost hopefully, only for his expression to become disappointed as he saw the almost insane glint that had taken residence in his wife's eyes since the birth of their child. The woman saw none of this however, and just gave him a vacant smile as she held the door, the first expression she had worn on her face since he'd left that morning for work, not that the man knew this.
"Maria! It is good to see you, today has been rather trying, but I am glad to be home!" He smiled, and held up a plastic bag for the woman to see. "I took the liberty of guessing that you wouldn't feel up to making dinner tonight, so I brought us some food from that lovely Chinese takeaway from a few streets over, I hope you didn't have anything special planned!" His voice was too animated, as if speaking to a sad child. The woman shook her head with a blank smile, and moved to find some plates and utensils.
The man took the time to observe the woman as her back was turned, and he didn't like what he was seeing. Her thick black hair lay in tangles down her back, and he doubted it had seen a brush since he last dragged one through it for her. Her clothes hung from her thin frame, and he knew she was getting thinner every week that passed. She'd been wearing the same outfit for four days now, and he could tell by his nose that she hadn't bathed in a while. Her hands shook as she took plates from the cupboard. It had been seven months since their son was born, and the man was worried that if she didn't snap out of it soon, he would have to give up his job, which was the only thing keeping them from the streets. It didn't pay much, and they barely scraped by, but it was all they had.
Right on cue, just like every other day for the last three months when he came home, he heard his favourite sound in the world.
Eagerly the man opened the previously closed door, a big smile on his face, which quickly turned to a worried frown as yet again the wall of smell nearly destroyed his olfactory senses. She was definitely getting worse. In two large strides he was beside the cot, looking down on his son sadly.
"I'm sorry little man. Daddy had to go to work, but I'm home now. Your mother hasn't been well lately has she? I don't know what we're going to do. Enough sad things, let's get you cleaned up, and we'll see about some food!"
"Foo!" replied the child, who was standing holding on to the bars of his cot.
"Clever boy, FooD!" he replied with a smile, emphasising the D sound. He watched as his son looked at his own hands holding on, then back up at him as if unsure.
"Do you have something to show me?"
"Ess!" The small boy replied, with a big wet grin. Slowly, looking between his hands and his father, the boy let go of the bars, wobbling slightly, and reached out to be picked up.
"Well done!" The man watched with pride and a touch of amazement as yet again his boy surprised him with what he had learned to do. "Did your Mummy help you?" He already knew the answer to this but every day he hoped it would be a different answer, anything to show that his Marie would come back, and they would be happy, just the three of them, their perfect family.
"Don't worry my boy, Mummy will be happy one day, and all will be well! Now, let's get you cleaned up."
Ten minutes later, and the man had done his best to treat the rash on his child's bottom from being left in the same nappy since that morning. It was the same every day now, and the child never cried about it anymore, and it saddened the man to think of his child becoming used to something that looked so painful, but there was no choice, he needed to work, and he could only hope that his Marie would snap out of it soon. He knew she didn't feed him properly, or change him, but he at least thought she may spend time with him. Thinking through everything, the man forced himself to analyse the situation as he changed the cot sheets, which were soaked. The vacant smiles that looked so false. The ash all over the table, the ashtray half full when it had been emptied by him that morning. Things that he didn't want to notice, conclusions he didn't want to reach. The wall of smell that had hit him, indicating that the door hadn't been opened for a long time. It could have been caused by a long afternoon nap, but the more disturbing reason that he almost never acknowledged was that his wife was neglecting their son.
He had heard of women being rather depressed after the birth of a child and had waited in the hopes of it just being a phase, but seven months... and she hadn't even named him. The argument itself had all but died out after month three.
Before their son was born they had both been so excited, as Marie's belly had kept swelling, and they had laid out under the stars for many a night, laughing as they discussed their unborn child, and the things they would do together as a family. Marie had been convinced that the baby would be a girl, and had immediately settled on a girl's name, 'Elle', for her twin sister who had died many years before. He had suggested something along the same lines for a boy, 'Elliot' but as soon as it crossed his lips, he knew it wasn't right. Not with their surname. They had laughed as they shook their heads, with Marie stating that since she was the mother, she just knew it was going to be a little girl, and that they wouldn't need a boy's name.
Once labour had started, Marie had barely said a word. He could still hear her screams if he closed his eyes and thought about it, he remembered how helpless he had felt as the midwives never seemed to notice that his wife was in agony, smiling as they told her to breath properly, and that this was all normal. Hour after hour of screaming as he became more and more panicked watching her eyes as they grew dimmer, the bright spark fading. Marie still not saying a word, refusing all medication with frantic shaking of her head, her hair soaked with sweat and yet still a wild mess.
The look on her face when she'd realised she'd had a boy.
The look when it had dawned on her superstitious mind that she'd given birth on Halloween.
The way she looked down at the baby, and held him away as she stared at his dark grey eyes, almost black in the shadows. She had placed him down shortly afterwards, only picking him up when the nurses remarked that he was crying because he needed feeding.
When it came to writing a name on the birth certificate, she had been silent. He had tried to explain to the registrar, to his great mortification, that they hadn't decided for sure yet, and that they had only thought of the girl's name, Elle. Surprisingly enough, the registrar only smiled kindly, told us not to worry and that many parents had trouble deciding what to name their child. She suggested that we think of what initials our child should have, and Marie just nodded beside him as he suggested their child's name should start with an 'L' since it sounded like 'Elle'. The registrar told us we had up to a year to find the perfect name.
That's what she wrote, and it hadn't changed. The man had had an argument with his wife shortly afterwards, refusing to decide a name on his own. It was a rather one sided argument considering that Marie refused to speak a word. So, until the man's wife came to her senses, the child would be known as L Lawliet.