He recognized the signs long before anybody dared breathe the word baby. He’d seen them before. He didn’t know what to do then. He doesn’t know what to do now. But he must do something.
He was only three the first time it happened. He recalled the way she moved like the ducks at the pond. How she fingered a bit of pink lace at the shops. “Shall I add that then? For the baby?”
His mother smiled, blushed. “I’ll come round for it after the baby’s home.”
But the baby didn’t come home.
When Mummy came home she didn’t waddle, or smile, or blush.
Scores of people came through the house. They spoke in low tones. Mummy said very little. He caught only bits and pieces of what they said.
“Such a tragedy.”
“Next time it’ll…”
He was five the next time.
“It’s too soon,” Mummy had mumbled repeatedly as they led her to the waiting car.
Days later, when she finally returned from hospital she went immediately to bed. She stayed in her room, refusing to see even him for more than a week.
He’d had a sister for seventeen days and eleven hours when he was seven. He never met her.
“She’s not really coping…” his father had said to the people who gathered in their home after the services.
He wanted nothing more than to get to his mother but each step he took towards her was interrupted by yet another woman smiling sadly at him offering up platitudes and pieces of quiche.
“… His will…”
“…heal in time…”
He is nine when his mother returns from hospital carefully carrying his baby brother.
The boy seems impossibly small to Mycroft.
“This one’s a keeper,” the housekeeper exclaims as soon as they enter.
Mother says nothing.
Father stays in London.
“A miracle,” his great aunt Agnes nods curtly when she comes to visit the boy a few days after his arrival at home.
“A blessing,” the vicar’s wife proclaims when she comes the following afternoon.
Mother smiles and nods along with them but her eyes never stray from the child sleeping in front of her.
She takes tea in the nursery next to his crib. She refuses to come to meals. They bring her trays full of food. She leaves them mostly untouched.
Mycroft comes and goes from her bedside, trying to get her attention.
The baby grows. His mother shrinks.
He watches from the doorway as she puts the sleeping child into his crib then curls up in the rocking chair beside him.
Her head bobs and he knows she’s asleep. He takes a tentative step inside, trying to be quiet, trying not to wake the baby, desperate not to wake her.
Her head jerks up, suddenly awake. She reaches out a trembling hand and pushes the button to call for more tea. “You should be in bed, young man.”
He stops as he reaches her chair.
Her hand trembles as it moves to caress his cheek.
“Mummy, it’s late,” his finger nervously taps at the pocket watch he inherited from his grandfather.
“Yes,” her left eye twitches. “You should go.”
“Mummy,” his voice quavers.
She looks at him, really looks at him for the first time in weeks.
He bites back tears.
“I have to…” She turns back to the baby.
“Please,” he begs unsure if he’s most desperate for her to eat or sleep.
“He’ll go,” she says in a whisper.
“No,” Mycroft shakes his head.
“He’ll vanish and then I’ll vanish too.”
“I won’t let him.”
“Mycroft,” she sighs.
“You go. I’ll stay.”
“It’s too much,” she shakes her head.
“I can do it,” he promises her, desperate. “Please.”
“You’ll watch over your brother?” she asks, her voice trembling.
“I will watch over him always.”