Blossom explores a male's ambivalent viewpoint toward fatherhood. I wrote from experience. This story became the opening story for the play 'Little Gods', which centred on three men's reactions to major turning points in their lives. 

copyright Nicholas Hope

Blossom arrived at three a.m, after hours of labor and, finally, an epidural. Frank was still faint from seeing the needle inserted. He'd thought for a moment that it slid all the way up the middle of the spine, it was so long, but he was mistaken. It lay underneath the body, not inside: when he realised, he experienced a feeling of relief. Not enough, though, to appease the disappointment when he took the umbilical cord for a penis: he wanted a daughter. Even after the amazement of watching a head struggle through a space far too small for it - of seeing a child emerge from another body - the thought of adding an extra male to the world was distressing.

They called her Rose, after Iris' mother. Her nickname immediately became Blossom.

Blossom was difficult. Fair haired, light skinned, she wasn't meant for the harshness of a tropical climate. She wasn't meant, Frank thought, for any kind of harshness at all. She cried during the heat, cried during the humidity, cried if the barometric pressure dropped. Her nose blocked up at every change in temperature, and her skin flared in response to light, dark, and any number of cleaning products. She seemed to be anorexic from birth, refusing to suckle from breast or bottle. Her plaintive, increasingly bemused cries kept her parents tense with guesswork. They began to be curt with each other. It was just a phaze, Frank knew, it would pass: but it wasn't pleasant. It wasn't why they had tried so hard to create Blossom. She was pulling them apart, not together.

At times, in the middle of the night when he took his turn at trying to quell her savage, piercing cries, Frank found he had to walk out of the room and close the door. The anger that would come upon him was nearly uncontrollable. He developed an empathy with all those parents convicted of child beating; but he didn't mention it to Iris. She would have chosen not to understand, it would reinforce the barrier building up between them. He kept it to himself, and wondered if he would ever break.

At work people were understanding, but dismissive of his tiredness. They'd all been through it. You get used to it, they told him; once it stops, it's as if it never happened. They helped him, diverting some of his larger tasks and covering up for his mistakes, and he was grateful but concerned. He worked in a competitve area, this period of weakness would reflect on his career. That was something else Blossom was impinging on. Yet a photo of her head, framed with light, wispy hair, sat on his desk, and he found himself studying it with feelings of pride, in those moments when he lost concentration.

He took to catching the bus home. Half the other people looked as exhausted as him; it made him feel human. Driving was simply dangerous, he'd stopped the day after he fell asleep at a red light.

It was on a Wednesday that he nearly cracked. He'd been working on a particularly difficult project, writing up descriptions of the benefits to be accrued on a new on- line credit card, when his computer crashed. It was near the end of the day and he'd not bothered backing-up or saving the material as he went: he had no idea how much of the days work he'd lost. At any other time he would have sworn, or shouted; now, he simply started weeping. The blinking question mark in the middle of the computer screen seemed interrogative. Every failure he'd had existed in the space between the blinks, all brought together by this one electronic accident. He wept for the death of his father, for previous relationships, for fights with friends, for his first dog, for his inability to laugh or love anymore. It all came bubbling out, coursing up the stem of his laid-aside memories and blooming onto his desk in loud, livid sobs.

Frank's section leader suggested some time off, but the thought of being in the house was neither restful, or affordable. He went home on time instead, forsaking the usual unpaid overtime. The bus was crowded, the air conditioning overburdened, and he stood swaying amongst other sweaty bodies all trying not to notice each others pain and exhaustion. When he arrived home Blossom was sleeping - she slept well during the day, keeping her anxiety until the late nights. Iris looked up from the couch.

- You're early. Great. It's your turn to cook, she said.

Frank blinked, holding back tears. He'd forgotten. There was a schedule somewhere, with cooking days marked according to some arbitrary phaze of the moon or planets. It had been funny and cute at its inception.

- Yes, right. I'll just get out of these clothes, he answered.

He went into the bedroom and sat on the bed. The tears wouldn't stop. He liked cooking, it was often a way of relaxing, but he couldn't think what to make. He couldn't think how to start thinking. Vegetables? Meat? Pasta? Rice? And what to do with them all? Boil, fry, steam, bake? He walked back in to Iris.

- Do you mind if we order in some Pizza or Thai?

- I don't want take-away. I want you to cook for me.

A muscle in his back started to spasm.

- I don't know what to make. What would you like?

- Are you alright?

- Yes.

- Just something simple, Frank. Pasta with pesto and some fresh vegetables or
something. And a bottle of red to share. We haven't done that in ages.

She smiled at him and he could tell this was an offer, he could feel the tears welling up again. Then Blossom woke with a grating scream. Iris jumped, then said:

- I'll get her.

It took him half an hour to decide which vegetables to use, and then his hands shook so much he cut himself, and dropped the pan with the cooked pasta on the floor. Iris found him kneeling there, trying to pick it up, blood mingling with noodles, water and tears. She took over.

- Take Blossom, she said.

- I can do it, it was just an accident, please...

- Take Blossom. It's okay.

He sat, forlorn in the living room. Blossom lay on the floor in front of him, thin and sickly. When she started crying, he picked her up, and she vomited over his shoulder. He cleaned her with his shaking hands, and tried to stop her crying. Her face was pitiful with resentment or pain, he couldn't tell which. He leaned into her ear.

- It just gets worse.

She gurgled. Encouraged, he leaned in again.

- You should give up now, before it's too late.

She gurgled again, reached out and tangled her hand in his hair. He felt touched. He rubbed his hair in her face, and she laughed. He brushed her face with his head, long slow sweeps to tickle her. She laughed again. As he turned to the side, she took his ear in her mouth, and bit, hard.

He screamed and pulled her off, and a wave of rage at her treachery ran through him and he began to shake her violently, to avoid hitting her. She made no noise. Then Iris was there, snatching Blossom from him, staring at him in shock.

- What is wrong with you?

- She bit me.

He hung his head.

- I don't know what's wrong. I think I'm just tired.

- Is this the first time?

Frank looked up. Iris was scared, he could tell. The image of Blossom - thin, sickly child that cried all the time and refused to eat - being shaken violently by her father. The social cliché of it all was reflected in Iris' eyes.

- It's the first, and last, time. I promise.

Iris nodded, uncertain.

Blossom cried all through the night. Frank listened, each wail another crack in the fabric of his marriage. He could hear the fear in Iris' voice, coming through the patient, cajoling tones as she tried to comfort the child. He thought of trying to help, but realised in the same instant it would not be welcomed. Better to leave them both in the safety of the bedroom. He wondered how long he would be relegated to the couch. Blossom quitened down, her cries fading into small sobs and then into sleep, and Frank felt a wash of unaccustomed peace descend on him. He hadn't lain alone at night for a long time: it was so tranquil.

There was a group of people gathered around a table, it must be a dinner party - indeed, it was - people were eating and drinking and laughing. Iris was there, holding Blossom, who was thirsty. Everyone knew it: she would stop crying if only water were delivered. Frank offered to collect it; everyone cheered; then everything broke. The table, the tent, the ground, many of the bodies - limbs scattered like debris. Everyone was shocked, and then the noise followed: a deep, booming thunderclap of a sound. The dinner party was wrecked, the water gone, Blossom still screaming above the boom, her thirst a siren magnified by disaster. Iris lay damaged on the shattered ground, the others dismembered. Besides, Frank had made a promise: he had to find water. He left the tent, stepping out into a ruined world: already, human jackals were looting and raping around him. He trod carefully, making his way through the dispersed remnants of civilization toward the canisters of water in the distance. He saw the wing of an aeroplane spread out in smashed segments to his left, clearly some huge bomber, and looked up. The crucifix shape of the 'plane was there: a gaping, jagged hole where the craft had smashed through the sky. Darkness was pouring through the hole, sucking the moisture from his skin. It was more serious than he thought, they would all need water or they would die soon. He reached the canisters and realised he could only carry enough for one: he needed to come to a decision. Blossom, Iris, or him?

Blossom had more of life in front of her, but she was so sickly, she may not survive. In any case; and Iris was already damaged. He was at his physical peak, and this wreckage could be a new beginning. The choice was logical.

He woke with a continued feeling of tranquillity, until the nausea hit. The dream was vivid in his mind, a seed of possibility he did not wish to contemplate but couldn't put aside. It was germinating in his consciousness, sending out tendrils of potential futures available if only he could take one difficult, decisive step. Was it selfishness, or simple pragmatism?

He tiptoed into the bedroom and looked at his child twitching fitfully in his wife's arms, and considered his options. Nausea hit him again: the pain of decision vying with the promise of peace. He put it aside and crept into the bed. He put his arm around Iris and Blossom, and edged his skin next to theirs, willing himself to memorise the nostalgia of this last intimacy. Iris stiffened at his touch.

- What are you doing here?

He felt her back tense more as she prepared to move his arm away. The digital clock glowed a dull reminder on the bedside table: three a.m.

- Don't, he whispered. Not yet. You'll wake the child.