"I'm sure Uncle Dippel had far stranger dreams than you could ever have" said Alice. "There was that whole episode with the servant boy. And one Christmas, when Aunt Frieda was drunk she told me he'd worked for the Nazis during the war."
"Don't be stupid. Aunt Frieda's always drunk anyway."
Alice shrugged, and forced the claw end of the hammer between two pieces of wood.
"Wait!" I called out, but her mind was made up.
She yanked the hammer hard and went stumbling backwards as a shower of dust and splinters flew into the air. But she had barely even made a mark. Cursing, she tried again but still made little progress. Her face hardened as she wiped the dust from her face with the back of her sleeve.
"Bastard thing" she exclaimed. "You have a go."
My hand was shaking as the hammer was passed to me. I gulped audibly and moved towards the table.
There was a noise coming from the box, a kind of scratching and rustling. I could barely even bring myself to look at it, let alone go at it with a hammer.
But I didn’t have to. All of a sudden, the lid of the box popped up slightly - as though an internal catch had been undone. Then, in a few clattering movements, it was pushed aside and fell down onto the tabletop.
As I tentatively gazed into the darkness, the first thing I saw was a tiny pink hand reaching up towards me.
"No.... It can't be...." I said.
But so it was - there, lying on a glittering bed of styrofoam packing was a plump baby, no more than a few months old and surprisingly healthy-looking considering it's predicament.
"Hello Alice, Emily." Said the baby. "I expect you thought I was dead."
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I had never heard Alice speak so quietly before. Her tone was lighter than the waft of her petticoats. But while she was the one shrinking back now and shaking, her pink shoulders quivering, her head swinging slowly back and forth - I leant closer. I was no longer afraid.
Apart from a rather baggy and sallow-looking nappy, the infant was naked. His flesh was smooth and rosy and gently folded; his little globe-like tummy almost glowed. He kicked his fat, little legs at me as if delighted. I noticed a light sprinkling of sawdust clinging to his perfect, pea-sized toes.
“For God’s sake, don’t touch him!” Alice hissed.
While there was an undeniable familiarity about those delicate features (something about the gumminess of that smile perhaps, or the frosty glint of those blue eyes?) the baby’s face was in no way an old man’s face. And he certainly didn’t smell like an old man, or a dead man, either. He smelt exactly as a baby should, as sweet and fresh as stretching bread dough. Intoxicating. When I reached out to lift him, I made sure to breathe him in.
And he was so warm against me; he fitted perfectly. My very own baby. Sure enough, it was the moment I’d been dreaming of for years.
Of course, Alice didn’t see it that way.
“Are you insane?” she sobbed. “What are you doing? Can’t you see what you’re doing?”
Then she was grasping for the metal rod beside the window - she twisted it so violently that the blind didn’t simply spring fully open, but fell crashing and rattling to the tiled floor. For several seconds, the kitchen was flooded with a light so glacier-bright that I could hardly see what I was cradling in my arms.
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