I named my daughter Bliss in an opiate haze and I had prayers left in me for my mother’s God that begged him to stop her shaking. I whispered ‘Bliss, Bliss, Bliss’ as my veins shrank away, and she screamed the scream that only these babies scream. Desperate for that unknown necessity: shrieks. I thought ‘I’ll keep this one, and she’ll bring me peace. Bliss. They won’t take this one away.’
She had bright blue eyes and hair the colour of apricot jam, wispy and soft beneath my fingers. Sometimes she ate, sometimes she didn’t. When the social worker came, I gave her painkillers so she’d sleep, and gave myself caffeine pills and saline drops so I could smile and nod and look like I understood. Please God, please. Keep her quiet, keep her still.
She lay limp in my arms like a dead child, little Bliss Anne Taylor.
On Tuesday my mother took her for a walk in the afternoon, and I lay exhausted on the bed, my nightshirt damp with milk and sweat, the ceiling above me squirming with nightmares.
She put the baby on the bed next to me and lit a cigarette from my pack.
‘She’s getting her first tooth, Annie. Right at the front.’
Bliss pawed at me with her little hands, big blue eyes searching for my face. I watched the colours on the ceiling twist.
‘Don’t smoke all my cigarettes.’
The mattress dipped as my mother sat on the bed, rolling Bliss away from me.
If she falls off the bed, I can take her to the emergency room, steal something from an elderly patient’s bedside table. If she falls off the bed, I can take her to the emergency room and act too manic, end up reported for neglect. If she falls off the bed, I could go to the clinic at the end of the street where they keep the drugs packed up like national secrets and a bouncer at the door to keep the methadone creeps at bay. I could go to a little green house in Marrickville and buy something to rub on my gums. I could fail my next piss test. I could lose my fucking mind and scratch the skin off my ears again.
I put my hands over my eyes. My mother reaches for another cigarette.
‘Right at the front, Annie.’ I hear her cheap acrylic nails tap on her front teeth. ‘To bite you on the arse.’
If she falls off the bed, she’ll be hurt.
‘Bliss, Bliss, Bliss.’ I whisper.
I put my arm around her, run my fingers over her candy-floss hair. She won’t fall of the bed. Not today.