THE SETTLEMENT

 

Sarah  had bought a doll for her god-daughter. It was what was called a “Reborn” - a facsimile of a real baby. When the parcel arrived and  was disrobed of its tissue paper, Sarah sat back on her heels with shock. The doll had downy hair and shiny nails. Its eyes were closed, with long eyelashes resting on the round cheeks. When she picked it up, it felt like a real baby. Except that it was cold and silent. When she walked round holding it, Sarah knew that she would never give it away. She would call it by her mother’s name, Josephine.

Her mother had died a few years before. She had not had a particularly happy life, and had looked for love in the wrong places. She had loved Sarah, who had, perhaps, kept her at arm’s length. Sarah had a sense of unfinished business when she surveyed her mother’s life. Perhaps the harm could be undone, and some of the bitterness be neutralised? Perhaps some ritual might wipe her mother’s tears away? Perhaps love might burn a path through the land of the dead?

 

Accordingly Sarah began to tend the doll with a passionate attachment. She bought little Josephine new clothes, kissed her, carried to the graveyard where her namesake lay: “once, this was you.” She held Josephine up to see the sun and the sea: “you may have come from there: but now you are here.” Her mother had never been loved enough, but this would never happen to her miniature version, if Sarah could help it. No doubt people saw her carrying her bundle, and thought she was crazy at last. But she did not care. 

 

Sarah kept Josephine in a Moses basket in her study.  One day, when  she picked her up, Sarah fancied that she must have left her too near the radiator, as she felt slightly warm. Might she melt, perhaps? She ran her hand down the tiny body. There could be no doubt: the icy chill was on the move.

 

Half afraid, Sarah left her for the night. Next morning, when she entered the room, she thought she heard a cooing and gurgling sound. It was Josephine. She had come alive, and stretched out her arms. She had Sarah’s mother’s eyes: a little timid,  a little sparkling. The telephone rang in the quiet room. It was the vicar, who wanted Sarah to go to the graveyard at once. Carrying the now wriggling baby, she ran down the road.

 

Where her mother’s grave had been, there was now a gaping hole. Sarah had planted primroses and snowdrops on it, and they had been tossed aside. The vicar, who was not an imaginative creature, surmised that the ground had settled in a drastic way - perhaps the wicker casket in which her mother lay had rotted down at last? In any event, it was not to be supposed that the body had shifted of its own accord, or at anyone’s behest. So the vicar arranged for some new topsoil to be delivered, and supervised its arrival himself. 

 

But Sarah knew her mother had gone; or rather, something of her was no longer there. She sat in the sun by the grave, and the baby looked up at her, took a deep breath and said, with some effort: “Mama! Mama! Mama!”

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© 2020 by Sue Harper

feminist gothic literature | tales of the macabre | fantastic and supernatural | gothic fiction | written by women | gothic literary tradition | gothic fiction | supernatural | fantastic and paranoia | literary female gothic | gothic narrative | stories of transformation and surprise | sue harper | short stories | feminist gothic literature | The Dark Nest | portsmouth university | emeritus professor sue harper | feminist gothic literature | tales of the macabre | fantastic and supernatural | gothic fiction | written by women | gothic literary tradition | gothic fiction | outstanding achievement award | british association of film, theatre and television | professor of film history at portsmouth university | film, media and creative arts | british academy and the arts and humanities research council | stories of transformation and surprise | sue harper | short stories | feminist gothic literature | The Dark Nest |