Clothed in Sacrifice
Julia began with a tiny cotton vest. She picked at the hem, finding a loose strand, and unravelled the whole garment into a mess of thread. Then, putting an end into her mouth, she sucked it like spaghetti. Throughout the morning, she swallowed and chewed until the deconstructed vest was in her stomach. She smoothed her smock over her bump. ‘Just for you,’ she whispered.
Her mother came round the following week with some knitted mittens for the hospital bag. Julia placed them on top of the waiting duffel in the hallway before making them some tea. She laid out the tea set on a tray with homemade madeleines. They talked about the baby. Would she have Julia’s blonde hair or ginger hair like her husband, Mark? Would she be tall like Mark or petite like Julia?
‘I wonder if she’ll be like you when you were a child.’ Her mother sipped her cup.
Julia eyed the mittens in the hallway. ‘She’ll be fine. I’m seeing to it.’
As soon as her mother left, Julia picked up the mittens. She couldn’t wait to unravel them as she had the vest, and shoved a mitten into her mouth. The lavender wool set her teeth on edge as she munched; it was coarser than the cotton vest. Goose pimples rippled down her arms and legs. Fibres stuck in her throat, and she coughed and gagged. The next mitten went down easier as she folded it up before swallowing it down like a pill with a glass of water.
Mark found Julia in the kitchen a few days later, standing in her underwear, swallowing the buttons from a baby’s velvet jacket he’d bought. They’d argued, Mark becoming heated while Julia remained calm, cutting the jacket into thumbnail-sized pieces and swallowing the velvet.
‘It’s bad for you and the baby,’ he yelled.
‘It’s preventative measures. You really should get a hold of yourself; you’re losing control. There’s nothing worse.’ She popped a piece of the collar into her mouth.
He accompanied her to the next midwife appointment and disclosed what Julia had been doing. The midwife didn’t seem to understand the entirety of what was going on.
‘Expectant mothers get all sorts of strange cravings. I loved to chew a bath sponge when I was having my second. One woman I looked after used to dip bananas in marmite!’
When they got home, Julia wept, asking Mark to trust and support her. His heart broke seeing her so unhappy, so he didn’t say a word when that night she took a meat tenderizer to a pair of leather booties and ripped them apart with her teeth in the darkness of their garden. Instead, he rang his mother-in-law the next day. ‘I don’t know what to do about Julia. It’s like she’s losing her mind,’ he said.
‘She’s not always been the Julia you know. When she was a child, she did the most outrageous things.’
‘What do you mean?’
‘She’d spend a lot of time in the woods behind our house. Neighbours used to spot her naked in the trees. She’d wait there and catch birds.’
‘A little wild, but quite sweet,’ he said, picturing his wife as a little girl playing in the woods.
‘She’d bring the birds she caught home with their necks wrung.’
‘I…I don’t believe you. She’s a social worker and hosts church coffee mornings.’
‘Julia’s worked hard to be who she is now. We could barely keep control of her back then. She was just… feral. The more we tried, the worse it became.’
‘Are you saying I should do nothing?’
‘Exactly,’ said his mother-in-law.
So, a fortnight later, when he found the hanger in the bin that had previously held his unborn daughter’s corduroy skirt with a yellow flower embroidered on it, he did nothing, even when he heard his wife retching upstairs.
Labour moved along quickly. Mark rushed home from work when Julia called to say her waters had broken. When he walked through the door, he found her climbing up the outside of the bannisters. He’d yelled and rushed over, trying to talk her down. When the postman knocked, she flew at the door, roaring through the letterbox.
Contractions progressed, and there was no time to take a relaxing bath like all the books suggested. He got her into the car, but she wouldn’t stay seated. Instead, she straddled the backseat on all fours. When they got to the hospital, Mark spoke to the receptionist, then turned to find Julia gone. He found her behind a large chair in the waiting room. She swiped his hand with her nails when he reached out to her.
The midwife coaxed her out.
‘We may have to restrain her,’ the midwife said when they finally got Julia into a room. Blood dripped down the midwife’s cheek as Julia howled and banged on the window. ‘I can’t check on the baby if she’s like this.’
Mark nodded, but then Julia’s howling stopped. She stripped off her clothes and got onto all fours, panting with barely a sound. The midwife dropped behind Julia’s buttocks.
‘Push Julia, I see her. She’s coming. Push.’
Mark sat beside the midwife and watched his daughter’s head coming. The stress of the last month felt a distant memory as a crown of auburn hair squeezed forward. Then came a little body wrapped in a velvet coat, hands covered by lavender mittens. A brown corduroy skirt with a yellow embroidered flower followed with long, chubby legs and an umbilical cord protruding from it. Lastly came feet encased in leather booties. His daughter let out a small cry, and the midwife, open-mouthed, let Mark take his daughter from her. They both stared at her, mucus and amniotic fluid soaking the little outfit.
‘I don’t believe it,’ said the midwife. Then she said to Mark, ‘She looks just like you.’
A stirring wind on their face made them look up. The window was open. Julia was gone.
Rebecca Klassen is a freelance editor with a first-class master’s in Creative and Critical Writing. Her short stories have been published in Graffiti Magazine and anthologies for The Worcestershire Literary Festival, University of Gloucestershire, Superlative Literary Journal, Glittery Literary and the Dean Writers Circle. She has won a prize at the Coleford Festival of Words and has performed her work at the Cheltenham Literature Festival. Rebecca was also in the final ten of the November 2021 Stroud Short Stories competition.