Published in Overland Issue 214 Autumn 2014 · Uncategorized When the bough breaks Roma OBrien This story was published in Overland no 32, spring 1965. For our sixtieth anniversary, Josephine Rowe has revisited this story as part of the ‘Fancy cuts’ project. A still, cold winter night. A Tuesday, just after 1 am. I am in the room which was to have been the nursery, folding nightgowns into the case I am taking to the hospital. I have talked with the doctor on the telephone. He has spoken to me kindly and advised me to get myself to the hospital right away. Yet I cannot feel a need to hurry. There is in me no joy, no excitement. Only pain. And, for the time being, pain is of small account. The child is dead. I have known since last week that the child is dead. I have cried, many tears: but I am not crying now. I am folding nightgowns. Putting them in to the suitcase. Preparing to go to the hospital to give birth to a dead child. I could wish that there was some other way. That there was in this city, somewhere, a dark corner where I might lie to give birth to this child. But I know that there isn’t anywhere. And that, anyhow, even if there were some place, that place would be denied me. I will need help. I will need all the help I can get. So I fold the nightgowns. Put them in the suitcase. From time to time I am aware of the pain. At ten minute intervals the pain comes, trickling through my groin: as the current that trickles through the filament of a lamp before the power takes hold and the lamp is full of light. I allow this pain to happen in me. In me. Not yet – to me. I move and, as it were, from a mirror I watch this me who has the pain folding night-gowns; putting them into the suitcase; preparing to go to the hospital to give birth to a dead child. ‘Can’t I do any of this for you?’ my husband is saying. ‘No thank you,’ I reply. ‘I can manage.’ With care – with more than care, I fold the nightgowns, put them in the suitcase. I check my blood-group card, the contents of my sponge bag … Having neglected to buy a new one, I get my toothbrush from the bathroom; an unopened packet of tissues from the cupboard in the hall. These I put in the suitcase. Then I remember that I have not been into this room which was to have been the nursery since that day last week when the doctor told me that the baby was dead. From the suitcase I remove the pack of baby clothes. ‘I won’t need these.’ ‘How do you know you won’t need them?’ ‘I won’t, that’s all.’ My husband does not know what is in the pack. ‘Are they still coming?’ He is referring to the contractions – the pains. ‘Yes.’ ‘Hadn’t we better hurry?’ ‘No. There’s plenty of time.’ ‘Are you quite sure there’s nothing I can do?’ ‘Quite sure.’ I close the case; put on my new dressing gown; my new slippers. The gown is a lovely thing – long and full and dark, dark blue with a soft scarf that I knot at the neck. I kiss the child I gave birth to, fourteen years ago. ‘Bye-bye darling,’ I say. ‘Mother’s going to the hospital now.’ She stirs but does not waken. ‘Did you hear me, darling? … I’m going to the hospital now.’ ‘Yes,’ she murmurs, ‘I heard you. Bye-bye.’ I kiss her sleep-warm forehead and walk out into the still, cold night to the car. ‘Drive slowly. I don’t want to get there too soon. I might have to walk up and down.’ ‘What would you have to do that for?’ ‘I don’t know. Sometimes they make you walk up and down.’ We have the road to ourselves down the dark High Street, but there are several cars at the Junction waiting for the lights. Still I feel no panic. Only an ice-cold calm. A willingness to submit myself to the sacrificial fires. I think that if I can make a friend of pain, it may – perhaps – treat me more kindly so that it won’t be the way it was that other time. Not having made the dummy run to the hospital we get a little lost in the dark back streets in the unfamiliar, inner suburb and it is past two o’clock when we reach the hospital. I throw my half-smoked cigarette on to the freshly-dug earth under standard roses, newly-pruned, and proceed to the large glass doors and ring the night bell. I open the door and enter the dim vestibule. My husband follows with the suitcase: ‘Hadn’t we better wait?’ ‘We’ll wait here. It’s cold outside.’ A nurse comes. She is short, plump, pinkly-pretty in her blue uniform. She takes us along darkened corridors, through pales of pale light. One foot up and one foot down, our feet flap on the thick floor. People sleep or suffer behind closed rooms. I am not talking and I don’t hear any conversation. I am alone. I am telling myself that it couldn’t possibly be as bad as last time. That this girl looks kind. That she will help me. She won’t be like that other one. She, who fourteen years ago … (Forget about her. Leave her to heaven) … This girl, little more than a child she will help me. I must believe this otherwise . . . Young, slight, cool and crisp the white-uniformed sister sits at her desk in an alcove in a wider part of the corridor. My husband waits there at the desk to supply ‘some particulars.’ I go with the nurse into the lying-in room. It is a large room. In it, there are five beds arranged in a three and a two. Unbleached twill curtains partition the beds. The windows are high on the narrower walls. Blue walls. A clock. Short, plump, pinkly-pretty, the little nurse comes to me as I stand where I can see the clock. She asks the question that she has been instructed to ask. I know this because she does not manage to sound matter-of-fact or to conceal the some small embarrassment she feels at having to ask one to share what must surely be a most private secret: ‘Why have you come?’ she asks. Then, because my reply is slow in coming, she uses the second string to her bow: ‘Have the waters broken?’ I hate to disappoint her but I tell her no. No they haven’t. It isn’t that. Actually, it’s just that the contractions are coming every eight to ten minutes and there is some discharge. But I do hope for all our sakes that it isn’t a false alarm. I would feel very foolish, I say, if I have to be sent home in the morning. She assures me that it’s better to come. Better to be sure than sorry. She asks if this is my first baby and pops a thermometer in my mouth. Afterwards I tell her that there is not going to be a baby anyway; that the baby is dead; it will be all for nothing after all. She looks her grief. Then alarmed, she asks who my doctor is. I tell her. She is glad: ‘Oh, that’s good,’ she says. ‘He’ll make it nice and easy for you.’ Gently she leads me over and turns down a bed. I lie down and she wraps the blood pressure cuff about my forearm. The side curtain of the next bed, the one on my left, doesn’t come right to the wall. The shape of a woman occupies the bed but the woman herself is far away in some other world; a rosy place into which pain penetrates only from time to time and is acknowledged with a muffled groan. Her hair is a mess of chestnut curl on the pillow. Her face is flushed and her eyes are closed. She is a fortunate woman. Although she cannot feel it stirring, her baby is alive and she is further along than I am. It will be over sooner for her. * When my pain comes I count silently, slowly and watch the digits pass . . . one, two, three, four, et cetera up to thirty odd. Pinkly-pretty, nurse asks me if that was one and I say it was. She has noted my blood pressure and tells me that my husband can come in now to say good-bye. After he has gone she will ‘prep’ me. Then sister will see if there is anything happening. I ask for her name and she tells me. I ask for sister’s name and she tells me that, too. Sister Armstead. My husband comes in. He sits on a straight, wooden chair and I tell him not to worry about me that I’ll be quite all right. The nurse is very pleasant and I’m sure they’ll look after me. I tell him what food there is in the refrigerator and where to find clean socks. He sits there holding my hand and telling me that he loves me. From far away on drifts from the drugged dream, the low groaning from the flushed woman punctuates our conversation. My husband’s eyes are watchful and shine like glass in moonlight. It is as if he is glued to the chair and he holds my hand as if he will never let it go. Twenty minutes to three. Tight little pincers pull and tug in my groin. One, two, three, four . . . He must go. He mustn’t be here when it gets too bad. I am embarrassed for the woman in the next bed and I don’t want him to see me – or to hear me – if I . . . I want to give him some of the strength he has given me. To sustain him, I am gay. He must not worry about me. In the morning he will probably have to come and take me home. It’s probably nothing at all. Just a false alarm. He kisses me. He goes. As she scrapes with the razor, the plump little nurse tells me the name of the country town she comes from. I’ve not been there but I know the country and I hear the roosters crow to greet the wide dawn around the rolling hills and I see her walk with her friends down a rough lane, green at the edges, to school on winter mornings. She buys groceries for her mother on the way home from school. Rolled oats and plum jam. She tells me that she trained at the district hospital and has done eighteen months’ midwifery training, here – in the city – at this hospital. She asks me if I’ve been a nurse and is surprised that I haven’t because, she says, I use all the right names for things. I tell her that I learnt a little Latin at school and, because the sounds aren’t strange to me, if I see the words or hear them, I remember them. She thinks I must have more education than she. She wishes she had studied harder at school. She is studying now at a coaching college in her spare time. I am lucky she thinks to have so much education. I will let her know, won’t I, when the contractions come? The ‘prep’ goes on and we time the contractions together. When she was sixteen she had her appendix out. She had all this done to her. It was awful. She hated it. She is sweet. I can’t think that she will be heedless of me if the torment takes me and hurls me off into the maelstrom. ‘Was that one?’ she asks. I nod. The tight little pincers rip and tear; have prickles like hot thorns. One, two, three, four . . . I won’t be going home in the morning. ‘Are you all right,’ she says. ‘You will let me know, won’t you, if it gets too bad, so that I can get sister to give you something?’ The clock shows nearly three-fifteen when she takes my towel and sponge bag from my case and leads me to the shower. She gives me some help to adjust the water temperature and leaves me in blessed privacy to wash. Three-thirty. Clean, I am back in bed. Nurse is taking the dressings, the cotton wool, the anti-septic and my blood-group card from my case. Sister is standing slight, cool and crisp in her white uniform, calling me ‘Tuppence’ and asking me if I’m all right. I tell her that, while the contractions are quite pronounced, there is nothing that I can’t cope with at the moment. She says to be sure to let her know if I want any help. She leaves me to speak to the woman with the flushed face, turning now and tossing on the pillow. The drugged dream which had taken her away to quieter seas is returning her to shore. She is murmuring that ‘it’s getting pretty bad’ and she is taken from the warm world of sheets and blankets and wheeled away. Three-thirty-five. One, two, three, four, five, six … I count more quickly now. It takes little time to reach thirty and there’s more to come. Three-thirty-nine. And a pink drink for me so that I can get some sleep before I start my labor. God, I’ve had something like a pink drink before. Was it really so long ago since I was given something like a pink drink? A passport to hell. I argue about the pink drink but finally take it. Three-forty-two. Sleep comes and for five, ten minutes takes me away to its nothingness, nowhere. But pain is stubborn; can’t – won’t – be cheated. The swift, tight pincers are white-hot now, insisting on the penalty. One, two, three, four, five … the digits gather speed. jostle and jumble and fall together into chaotic heaps. I can’t go on like this. The strands are separating; the rope will break under the strain. The cool, white sister, crisp at her desk in the corridor, she thinks I’m asleep. She doesn’t know that there are these greedy, grasping white-hot claws. I slide my toes into my new slippers, using them like scuffs. There isn’t much time, only a minute or two. I put on my dressing gown but don’t button it. I wait while the white-hot claws seize again. I go. She is sitting there – writing; the cool, white sister. She herself has never known pain. All her life she has been pain-free, cool and contained. She comes from a tidy house with a tidy garden. Roses, larkspurs, zinnias. Daddy is proud of her and she is mummy’s darling too. Always she uses a lace-edged handkerchief even when she has a cold and she wears pearls with a cashmere sweater around the house on Saturday afternoons. What she is writing on the page at the lighted desk will be ordered. Like herself. At school she always got full marks for neatness and, on her report card, her conduct was invariably marked ‘Excellent.’ She finishes what she is writing and looks up at me from enquiring hazel eyes. ‘These contractions are much stronger now, sister,’ I say. ‘And closer together. I don’t think I can cope with them much longer.’ She regards me, this change-daily girl. She who wakes fresh to the morning after long, dream-less nights. She, who has never known pain. ‘Pop back into bed, Tuppence,’ she says. ‘I’ll be in to see you in a minute and bring you an injection.’ Four-twenty-five. God, I hope she hurries! No, she won’t hurry. She has never hurried. From a tidy bed, she rises in ample time to select correct garments, to battle, to dress with care. She is ready for breakfast before breakfast is ready for her! She kisses mummy and walks in businesslike fashion to the bus. Whilst she waits for the bus she smoothes her skirt and checks her hair to make certain that no strand has been displaced. On windy days she wears a close-fitting hat … God, I wish she’d hurry. The pincers are giant clamps now of heat too high to measure. The white beds, the white ceilings, the blue walls, the clock, the darkness, the little pools of light, the high barred windows, the prison, the pain. Four-thirty-five or thereabouts. She stands by my bed. She folds back the covers. 0 God, she hasn’t brought the injection! She doesn’t know … She presses cold hands; long, elegantly manicured, apricot-coloured finger nails on and about my pelvis. She doesn’t speak. Something has happened. There is a tight band, a circle inside me: ‘I want to go to the bathroom.’ She doubts this. ‘Are you sure? You don’t feel it would help you to bear down with the … ‘ ‘No,’ I say, miserably. ‘No.’ She stands there, not speaking, assessing the situation. Cold hand; long elegantly manicured, apricot-colored finger nails search again for answers. ‘0, I don’t know. Perhaps I should want to, I don’t know. I remember last time when I said I wanted to go to the bathroom they said I didn’t that I wanted to push and they wouldn’t let me go to the bathroom … ‘ ‘Just a minute,’ she says. She has a name! An organised, no-nonsense name. Ann? Elizabeth? Patricia? The dark door admits light from the corridor before it swings to behind her and stays at rest. Under the dark door the light from the corridor is a harsh, bright line. She will hurry, won’t she? She does understand, doesn’t she? She’s not like that other one: she, who – those long years ago – came back with the magazines and sat by my bed turning glossy pages while I went threshingly mad. She is getting the injection, isn’t she? She is with me again, turning down the covers and the plump little nurse stands beside her. ‘Come on,’ she – Ann Elizabeth – is saying. I put on my slippers, again as if they were scuffs. The backs will be broken. They will be ruined. The plump little nurse holds the door open and we go out into the silent corridor. The pain is a tight fist as hard as iron; pressing, expanding. The plump little nurse makes soothing noises. We are children, she and I. She is the elder-eleven to my five. She is Kathy! Kathy Kay – the girl who used to call to take me to school. Soft, ample Kathy Kay in a too-small gingham frock split under the armpits. Kathy Kay! Her father was a fettler. They had a plum tree. In summer the plums rotted on the ground under the tree and we dug holes in its shade and grovelled in the earth playing marbles after school. Sometimes she let me win. There were rabbit skins drying blood-side out on the fence. Stretched, taut on wires bent into hair-pin shapes. Rabbit skins, drying. Blood-side out. We are not going to the bathroom. The room we enter is enormous; high-ceilinged; flood-lit. I am led into the arena, up to the stage – the high, hard, white couch. I lean, supporting myself, holding on to the side, whilst I shed my slippers and the plump little nurse (Kathy Kay) puts a step in position and helps me to rise. ‘How is that lady . . . the one who was . . . in there … when I came in?’ ‘She’s all right!’ Ann Elizabeth smiles her reply. ‘It’s going to be a race now between you and her!’ I wonder if, perhaps, Ann Elizabeth has not been told that my baby is dead. The couch is cold. Cold and hard and the pain is hard too. From a yellow capsule, Ann Elizabeth prepares to fill a hypodermic syringe. Against the wall, under clerestory windows, two faded pink bunny rugs are placed neatly side by side to warm on radiator pipes and some distance out from the wall there is a tiny white cot. The cot won’t be needed, will it? 0, I don’t know; maybe it will. Do they put dead babies into cots or do they just take them away in buckets or swaddle them in a sheet or something? What do they do with dead babies, newly-born? The couch is cold. Cold and hard. And the pain is hard too-as hard as steel. The sound I make comes to me as the voice of another, a sound between a sob and a moan. ‘Can you,’ Ann Elizabeth asks, ‘Breathe in deeply to inflate your abdomen?’ ‘No,’ I say. ‘No, I can’t. I’m sorry but I … I … just can’t do anything.’ She is not cross. It is my failure, not her’s. God help her, she is trying to hurry. She holds the hypodermic, needle-side up to expel the air. Bubbles like bright wine spill from it and slide down the needle. God, I wish she’d hurry. She is trying to hurry, isn’t she? She is doing her best. But it has all happened so suddenly! Birth, like death, has crept up and caught us unawares. Like death, we have been expecting it but we had thought there would be more time. Hadn’t we? Hadn’t we? Am I crying? I don’t know. ‘Do you want to scrub up, Doctor … ?’ When I turn, I see him at the sink, leaning over washing his hands in a gush of steaming water from the tap. He won’t want to scrub up? He wouldn’t want to scrub up would he, not when … ? No. ‘No,’ he says. ‘I’m going to rupture the membrane.’ Ann Elizabeth turns on taps at the cylinder and, with her spare hand, thrusts a heavy black rubber mask into my hands. ‘Here.’ she says, ‘use this. Just breathe in deeply …’ I put the mask over my face, eager for it, but it falls away. Am I crying? I don’t know. I only know that pain has set me apart from these people. That here on a dark night, in a room full of light, on a high, hard bed, I am alone. I am alone because there is nothing they can do to help me because now it’s too late! I didn’t know it would come on so quickly … I didn’t know . . . Ann Elizabeth dabs with the ice-cold spirit and injects the fluid. Too late. It can’t help now! The little it can do won’t be enough. She retrieves the mask; holds my hands over it and tells me to press down firmly. Pain shifts its awful bulk like some earth-bound creature straining for the sky. The mask falls away. I can’t hold it. The doctor is tying on his apron. It is a Sunday afternoon. He is preparing to carve the roast or to grill the chops for the barbecue. He wears a blue jumper and grey slacks. Birth is no novelty to him. Next, please. ‘I think I will have the other one, sister,’ he says, removing the apron, exchanging it for the bigger one Ann Elizabeth is waiting with, just in case. Where is Kathy Kay? Can’t she come and put out the fire? Ann Elizabeth holds the mask over my face and again presses my hands firmly over it. I try to breathe the way she is telling me to breathe, but my breath is as the stroking of an exhausted swimmer, awash in an angry sea. ‘Get this out of the way!’ It is a newish night-gown so it doesn’t rip. From some great height the flat of a positive hand descends on my naked abdomen. I clutch at the mask but it falls again. 0 God, 0 God is this all they can do? Ann Elizabeth has taken up her position on the other side of the couch. She stands there at attention. Where is Kathy Kay? The man with the white apron over the blue jumper and the grey slacks holds the mask to me now. ‘Breathe like this,’ he is saying. ‘Through your mouth: Huh-Hah, Huh-Hah,’ he is demonstrating. ‘No, no, don’t close your eyes. Keep your eyes open! Huh-Hah, Huh-Hah, Right?’ I must try. I must try. I am the performer alone in the stage. These are the spectators and they are demanding action. I am the dwarf thrust into the arena to wrestle with the daemon. I must put up a fight. For myself? For them? For whom? No. no, I can’t let go. Ann Elizabeth is calling me Tuppence and urging me on. Her voice carries an unfamiliar excitement. I am breaking apart. Does she know that I am breaking apart? Breaking as the apple breaks when its flesh is torn? Has she ever broken an apple? Torn its flesh and sinews and left it to bleed-white blood? Huh-Hah. Huh-Hah. ‘Keep it up, keep it up, you’re doing awfully well.’ Overtones of pity in a voice I’ve not heard before from the doctor. They are pleased with me. Pleased with my lone performance on the flood-lit stage. They are excited by the dance I perform with death: Huh-Hah, Huh-Hah, Huh-Hah. And I, naked under the awful glare of the naked lights, I cry from my heart to this monster, pain, I cleave to the mask, gulping-Huh; thrusting-Bah, at this ferocity in my loins. I cleave; gulp-Huh; thrust-Hah; frantic because I must, must, must, not-Huh … Hah; Huh-Hah, scream. Not scream not scream not scream. A leaf in torrent, a speck in the tide; hold on, hold on, hold . . . on. Huh-Hah, Huh,Hah. Huh-Hah. No, no, don’t, don’t, don’t . . . let go! Gulp, Huh-thrust, Hah; but don’t-don’t-don’t-let-go! Hold on! Don’t let go! Huh. Hah. Huh. Hah. Don’t . . . let . . . go! Huh-I am wrenched, wide – open. Hah. Cleft. Ice under the axe. Splitting. Huh-Hah. Huh-Hah. Not much. 0, surely not much not much, not much-more. Splitting. Huh. Hah: Huh. Hah. Now? Now? 0. please now! Huh. Hah. Now? Now? Now? 0, please. Huh; please, Hah … Now? Huh. Hah. Now? Now: hot lava and the shape of the child passing out of my body. The form, the shape of the child my body has rejected; is-huh, bah-rejecting. The form, the shape of the child … round little head … clos-ing to soft little neck . . . expanding again for shoulders … little arms … Ann Elizabeth has been supporting my leg. It has no weight and she places it back on the couch – gently, as if it were a feather. ‘Stitches, Doctor . . . ?’ she breathes. (Wind and water have beached the tired craft. She is being inspected now to see if there has been damage.) ‘No. No … stitches!’ A small triumph here. Then a silence. A careful silence in the room from which pain has gone. Syllables in the silence. Gutturals. Drops in the ocean of defeat. The man who is the doctor, does – what he has to do. Then: ‘Get …’ A pause. ‘Thank you, sister.’ And silence again. Is she taking what was to have been my baby away? How? Where is she taking it? There is no answer in the silence. Here there is only the calm after the storm. The quiet after the conflict. The mopping-up. The victim quietly bleeding. Conversationally, as he works, the doctor’s voice: ‘What has she had?’ Ann Elizabeth has done whatever it was she had to do because I hear her answering: ‘Just the pethedine, doctor . . . I didn’t have time to give her anything else.’ I say nothing. I would like to say that this has not been Ann Elizabeth’s fault but I say nothing. I feel very small in the big room. Limp. Being attended to. Exposed as on a mountain top in a wide, cold world. After a time, the doctor speaks: ‘Well! I think a little amatyl now! Might be kind! Don’t you think?’ To me, he says: ‘Are you with us?’ I hear my voice, a whisper: ‘Yes.’ ‘The baby was a little girl,’ he says. ‘Actually, it was … as I thought …’ He finds these words hard to say. He is a kind man. He has left his wife, his comfortable bed to come to me on a winter morning. He is trying to find simple words that I might understand. Yet these words drop like stones on my heart. And I don’t understand. I don’t understand at all. Ann Elizabeth takes my arm and injects the amatyl. She puts water in a jug and a glass on a table within my reach. Outside on her desk in the corridor the telephone is ringing. Ann Elizabeth goes promptly to answer it. The doctor is washing his hands at the sink. * It is morning. Ten to six by the clock. The arena is deserted. Swabbed and bandaged I am alone on the stage. The two faded pink bunny rugs, undisturbed, rest neatly side by side on the radiator pipes. I don’t look for the cot. I attempt to pour water from the jug into the glass. Some of the water slops on the table and drips down on to the floor. I feel at the sleeve of my night-gown for a tissue. But don’t find one. Ann Elizabeth bustles in. ‘Sorry, Tuppence,’ she says. ‘I’ll have to move you. We might need this room. We have a patient coming in. Her husband doesn’t speak very good English so I couldn’t find out what stage she’s at. They’re still using the other room – otherwise you could have stayed here for a while. You don’t mind, do you?’ I shake my head. I don’t care. I don’t care what she does with me. I am on a trolley. Passing the desk I hear the doctor at the telephone. ‘Mr …. ?’ He speaks my husband’s name. His own name. ‘I’ve just delivered your wife. The baby was.’ Ann Elizabeth opens a door and I am back in the room, in the bed I vacated only a little more than an hour ago. The lights are out and the grey morning is insinuating itself about the blue walls. I am alone. Alone in the big room with the four empty beds. Three of these seem to me to be souls waiting for bodies. The fourth – the one on my left – the body from which the soul has gone. Someone I’ve not seen before comes in with water to wash me. Two strangers come in quietly to strip the bed on my left. One takes the used linen. The other smoothes fresh sheets and goes out empty-handed. Time stands still. * My husband is with me. He has come as soon as he could, he says. On his way in he has had to wait to speak to the charge sister about . . . about . . . the arrangements. He hadn’t known what I would want to be done about the … the … remains. We hadn’t discussed it, had we? However, it seems that the usual thing is for them to be buried in groups – according to religion – in a cemetery, somewhere. Unless you happen to want cremation? Anyhow, the hospital will make the arrangements with the undertakers. He has settled for burial in a cemetery-somewhere. That way we’ll never know where it is, but – if I wish – he can see sister again, and . . . Someone comes in with a bright smile and a breakfast tray. ‘Cold today,’ she shivers. ‘Bed’s the best place on a day like this, isn’t it?’ She doesn’t wait for an answer. She is in a hurry. ‘That’s all right then, is it? That arrangement. I can alter it if you like?’ ‘No. That’s all right.’ ‘How are you anyway, sweetheart?’ Drawing up a chair, taking my hand: ‘Are you sure you’re all right, sweetheart? Could I get anything for you? What about some of this tea? You’d like that, wouldn’t you? The doctor said you were wonderful. I think you’re wonderful too, sweet-heart. There you are. That’s not too strong, is it? Just say if it’s too strong, there’s some . . .’ They . . . bury them in groups . . . according to religion . . . in a cemetery-somewhere. That way … we’ll never know where it is. The hospital . . . will make the arrangements with the undertakers. ‘Darling, can you sit up a little? I’ll fix your pillows, you don’t look comfortable, sweetheart. Sweetheart.’ Undertakers. Undertakers? I know nothing about undertakers. Do they … ? Will they … ? They wouldn’t just …? 0 God. I hope they handle her gently, my little girl. I hope they treat her with respect. Roma OBrien Roma O’Brien was published in Overland no 32, spring 1965. More by Roma OBrien › Overland is a not-for-profit magazine with a proud history of supporting writers, and publishing ideas and voices often excluded from other places. 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