And the Greatest of These…
Faith looked at the cupboard, eyeing it suspiciously. There was nothing particularly suspicious about it – all she could see from here was a door made of plain wood with a chrome handle. It was deserving of her suspicion though for two reasons. Firstly, she knew exactly what was in it, and that by itself earned the plain wood a glare every time she passed it, but secondly, there had just been a very small noise, which meant that something within the cupboard had shifted. She imagined the cardboard boxes piled higgledy-piggledy, the sides of some of them splitting at the seams, and photograph on photograph streaming from the pages of albums and covering the floor like a blanket of snow. She had heard that noise several times in the last few weeks, and she was hoping that the door would hold. She eyed it suspiciously and waited.
The door stayed resolutely shut and Faith breathed a sigh of relief. She didn’t need that job to do today; her list of chores was already huge. She turned, bowl of cereal and coffee in hand, and took two steps towards the stairs, the floorboards cold on her bare feet. When she reached the bottom of the stairs she whipped around and stared at the door. It stood there, still shut. She narrowed her eyes and then nodded.
Heading up the stairs, she went back into her bedroom and got back under the covers. Golden light streamed in through the window, refusing to be obstructed by the thick blackout curtains. Resting her head back against the propped up pillows, Faith ate her cereal and drank her coffee, avoiding thinking too much as far as she could. Her eyes felt heavy and it felt as if every muscle in her body was tense. She finished breakfast, placed the dish and cup on top of the pile of washing up, and snuggled under the covers, closing her eyes and letting go of her consciousness. It was almost midday, but a few more hours of sleep couldn’t hurt. She was bone tired after all.
No sooner had she fallen into a dreamless sleep, untroubled by the world outside, a large bang like someone was taking pot shots at her house with an artillery piece shook her from her sleep. The cupboard! She groaned and pulled the pillow over her head, pressing it to her ears so that she couldn’t hear the avalanche of boxes that would follow. Thinking about the avalanche made it more real in her head, though, even more vivid than how it would be in real life. All possibility of sleep had been driven from her. Just then, however, she heard a familiar voice shouting her name.
“Faith! Faith! FAITH!”
It was her sister, Hope, who always got up and went to bed early, which wouldn’t have bothered Faith so much, except that Hope was always having a crisis and it always happened when Faith was trying to sleep.
“I’m up here!” she yelled back.
She pictured Hope rushing from room to room on the floor below, frantically searching for her, and causing a great deal of mess. That was not particularly important – tidying up just made more room for more mess later, but it had been known for Hope to get confused and wrench open the cupboard door. That couldn’t happen again. Faith spent a paranoid moment worrying that that was exactly what happened, but then she heard Hope dashing up the stairs.
“What is it this time?” Faith asked, as Hope burst into the bedroom.
Her sister paused for a moment whilst she caught her breath, her hands on her knees. She straightened and started to draw a deep breath, then noticed the state of the room.
“It’s horrible in here,” she said.
Faith bridled a little at this. What business of hers was it how she kept house? Of course, it was pretty bad – she’d got laissez-faire about cleaning, even lazy at times, but she wasn’t about to admit that. She’d been tired, after all. Besides, what did it matter now?
“Did you want something?”
Hope, thankfully, took the hint from her words. For a moment she looked hurt, as she always did when Faith snapped. Then she wrung her hands and looked at the floor.
“I’m pregnant,” she blurted out.
“Yes, I heard that, I just mean…well, how?”
It was the only question worth asking. She and her sister had lived alone in the area since he had died and no one ever visited them. He had been their only companion, and he was gone. Faith sighed and pushed aside the image of the cupboard that had risen, unbidden, in her mind.
“How do you think?” Hope said, desperately.
“You don’t mean…him?”
“I’ll never understand why you won’t say his name,” Hope said, frowning at her.
“You know why.”
Faith folded her arms and fixed her sister with a stare. This was just like her; one minute having a crisis, the next she was full of confidence. It infuriated Faith, who may not always be the cheeriest of companions, but was at least consistent. Besides, he was one of a number of topics she didn’t want to be drawn into.
“I’m having H-”
“Hope!” Faith warned.
“Fine!” she said, with all the petulance of a younger sibling, “I’m having his baby!”
“You can’t be.”
“What did you say?”
Hope’s voice was beyond petulance now; it was cold as the arctic winds, promising nothing but a slow, lonely death.
“I said you can’t be. He died eight months ago – you haven’t changed, you haven’t grown.”
“No, it’s you that hasn’t grown, living here in your own filth, in your own fear,” Hope said, “I have changed. Look!”
She watched as her sister brought her shirt up, exposing her midriff. To Faith’s horror, there was a bulge there, reasonably sizeable, hidden by the bagginess of her sister’s clothes.
“But you’d have known before; you wouldn’t just have found out.”
“I didn’t. I’ve known for a while, I just couldn’t tell you – you’ve been so wrapped up in your own problems, staring at that cupboard every time you walk by. It’s not healthy. And it’s not eight, it’s nine.”
“Months. That’s why I came; my waters have broken. I’m having the baby. I wanted you to be there when it’s born.”
“You’re in labour? Doesn’t it hurt?!” Faith asked, incredulous.
Panic had taken over her; she jumped out of bed and ran to her sister, guiding her to the bed and sitting her down.
“I’m fine,” Hope said, waving her away.
Of course. I’m not thinking straight. Faith knew the panic was getting to her; Hope never felt any pain. Lucky cow, Faith thought and immediately felt guilty.
“It’s coming,” Hope said; there was excitement in her voice.
“What should I do?” Faith was not excited. She was terrified.
“I don’t know, I’ve never done this before,” Hope said, beginning to undress, “Get some hot water and towels.”
Faith nodded and ran from the room, taking the stairs two at a time and running to the kitchen. She ran the tap and cast about for a suitable bowl. There weren’t any. She searched the kitchen cupboards, throwing pots and pans everywhere, none of them right. Then she stopped. There was a bowl – a perfect bowl – in the cupboard. She walked slowly into the living room and up to the door.
“You can do this.”
She placed a hand on the handle. It was cool to the touch. She hesitated, drawing deep breaths, afraid of opening the door, of what would come out if she did.
“Hope needs me.”
She turned the handle and let the door come open in her hand. It was no more than ajar, though, when she heard the start of the avalanche behind and shut it again. A single photograph, passport sized, floated out through the gap and landed face up on the floor. It was him, smiling up at her. She bent and picked it up, looking at the face she had known so well, knowing that thousands of copies of it lay behind the plain wood.
“For you,” she said and opened the door.
Boxes fell to the floor, individual prints and rolls of film all spilling like a wave onto the carpet. Albums slipped down and tumbled open, disgorging their contents at her feet. Tears ran down her cheek as she stepped over them. There at the back of the cupboard, sitting on the only shelf, was a golden bowl.
She took it gently in her hands and carried it out, then ran to the sink and filled it. Careless of spilling water everywhere, she ran up the stairs and into the bedroom. She was greeted by the first cries of a baby, lying in Hope’s arms. Faith’s sister was beaming, her eyes bright.
“Faith,” she said, “it’s a boy.”
“He’s beautiful,” she said, “One in a million.”
For the first time in nine months, Faith felt alive.