Previous: Shattered by the confirmation of her phantom pregnancy, in her desperation to maintain her perfect family picture, Leona kidnaps a day-old baby boy from Galway Regional Hospital, lying to her father and telling him it is the baby that she was indeed pregnant with all along. Colm once again confines Leona and the baby boy to Leona’s attic bedroom. When her efforts to bond with the baby boy fail, Leona questions her choice of actions, and contemplates turning herself and the baby in. In an effort to hide his shameful secret from their close-knit community, Colm”s actions turn even more sinister.
The smell of feces hung thick on the air. Cathal’s cries of discomfort had long since worn him out, and he had resigned to sleeping in his own excrement. Out of the corner of her eye Leona noticed a flicker of movement, and watched a rat as it scampered out of the shadows. She lost sight of it, until she felt a wet nose touch her forehead. She forced a scream back down into her throat; the rodent hovered over her cheek and ear, sniffing, its whiskers tickling her skin. The hairs on the back of her neck pricked up, her skin crawling underneath them.
Leona watched as another rat darted under the bassinet, hiding there for a time before climbing the leg and perching on the edge. Cathal started to simper. Leona screwed her face up, grinding her teeth until she felt the nerves pinch. Finally she screamed out, overpowering the child’s desperate cries.
The bedroom door was flung open, slamming against the wall behind it. The rat on the bassinet scurried back down the leg, across the chair and dresser next to it, and out of sight.
“Please! Daddy, please!” Leona begged. “There are rats in here!”
Colm stormed toward her, taking a fistful of her hair.
“ Please, let me give him a bath!”
Leona hissed as he pulled her head back again.
“Please, Da, tie my ankle like before. I won’t try to escape. Just so I might reach him.”
“You’ll just try and get out of it again!”
“I promise I won’t, Daddy! Just so I can reach Cathal. Please.” Leona paused. “Mam would want you to look after him! She’d never forgive you if you let him die!”
She felt him loosen his grip on her hair.
Her ankle once again tethered to the bed, Leona knelt over the small galvanised iron round tub, supporting Cathal with his body submerged in the warm water. She used her other hand cupped to gently push water over him. He moved his arms and legs around, playfully splashing the water. She smiled down at him, giggling at his antics.
With Cathal lying on the changing table before her, she pinned a clean cloth nappy into place. Cathal watched her while she worked.
Cathal was asleep in the bassinet. Leona sat on the floor at the foot of her bed, picking at the knot in the rope. Again it was tied tight, but she persisted patiently.
Careful not to disturb the floorboards, Leona tiptoed across the way, reaching the bedroom door. She lifted a trembling hand to the knob, careful not to make a sound as she slowly pulled open the door. Her legs felt weak beneath her as she moved into the kitchen. Her heart sank; the refrigerator and storage cupboards were secured with chains and padlocks.
Bent over the food trough, Leona scooped the scraps up with her hands to her mouth. The gag of disgust was counteracted by the soothing ease of sustenance hitting her stomach. The world seemed to disappear around her as she languished in the satisfaction of her hunger. She barely paused to take a breath between mouthfuls, the slop dribbling down her chin.
She looked up; Aidan Kelly stood before her, his face white with shock.
Lying on the bed, the baby squirmed under the cold touch of the head of Aidan’s stethoscope pressed against his chest. Aidan removed the ear pieces of his instrument and moved his hands gently around the infant’s body.
“Well, he’s malnourished. As are you, Leona.”
Aidan sighed, saying nothing for several seconds.
“Pack your things, Leona. You’re coming with me. I’ll be back shortly.”
Colm sat slouched in a chair at the kitchen table, his empty gaze anchored to the floor. Aidan stood over him, visibly possessed by his fury.
“Have you gone completely mad, Colm?” Aidan shouted. “Why didn’t you call me? Why didn’t you tell me, ask me for help? How could you stoop this low? The mattresses are rotted! The carpets are soiled, the walls are filthy, there are dirty nappies left around the room, there are flies everywhere, the room is rat infested! There are scratches on the door for heaven’s sake!”
Colm said nothing, not looking up at Aidan. Aidan tossed his hands in the air.
“She’s coming with me. I’ll marry her and raise the baby as my own.”
Aidan returned to Leona’s loft, where found her sitting on her bed feeding Cathal a bottle.
“Time to go.”
“I’m not going.”
“It’s for your own good. Please put on your coat.” Aidan held the garment up in front of Leona. “Put it on, I said. You’re coming with me.”
Leona didn’t budge. Colm roughly threw the coat around her shoulders, attempting to wrestle Cathal out of her arms.
“Stop it!” Leona shrieked as Aidan grabbed her arm and pulled her up. “You’re hurting me! Let me go! No!”
Wrangling Leona’s arm, Colm lugged her down the stairs. “No! No! Daddy, no!”
Leona grabbed on to any solid object she could reach with her free hand as Aidan pulled her toward the front door by the other. They passed Colm, still slumped at the kitchen table.
“Daddy, please, Daddy, no!”
Aidan shoved Leona out the front door and down the steps. He opened the car door, and Leona braced herself against the opening.
“Get in the car, Leona!” Aidan shouted.
“No! Stop, please!”
Leona’s elbows buckled under the force, and as she collapsed onto the back seat. Aidan shut the car door firmly behind her. On the drive into town, Leona’s distress fell silent until they stopped outside his house. He swiftly stepped out of the driver’s seat and opened the rear passenger door, met by violently thrashing arms and legs. He managed to get a hold of Leona and dragged her from the car as she clutched a screaming Cathal to her chest. She collapsed in the mud at his feet, and looked up at him, sobbing and whimpering through the rain falling on her face. She panted from exertion, her heart racing in her chest. He extended his hand to her, nodding.
“It’s alright. Come on.”
Leona hesitantly took his hand and he pulled her to her feet. He wrapped his arm around her, helping her inside.
Aidan found Leona had fallen asleep on the bed with Cathal, fully dressed in the clothes in which she had come. He placed his hand on her shoulder and gently shook her. She looked up at him with sleepy eyes, sat up and looked around. He sat down next to her.
“I know this all happened so quickly, Leona. I just felt this was the best place for you to be now. I know it must seem strange, but it will start to seem more familiar after a while.”
Aidan and Leona stood at the front of the church with Father Braden. Leona wore a long white dress with sleeves and a small cape draped over her arms. Her veil covered her face and reached all the way to her chest.
“And the Lord God said that it is not good that the man should be alone. I will make him a helper fit for him. And the rib which the Lord God had taken from the man, made he a woman and brought her unto the man. Unto the woman he said, “I will greatly multiply thy sorrow, and thy conception, in sorrow though shalt bring forth children, and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee.”
Father Braden paused.
“Aidan, do you accept this sacred union?”
“And do you, Leona, accept this sacred union?”
“I do,” Leona uttered from beneath her veil.
She felt Aidan take her hand and slip the ring onto her finger.
“Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave to his wife, and they shall be one flesh. I now pronounce you man and wife.”
Aidan lifted Leona’s veil.
“God blessed them. God said unto them be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth. May the Lord order your steps, now and all the days of your life.”
Staring off into the darkness, Leona lay on her back, her legs spread and bent at the knees. Aidan was hunched over her, his moans matching the rhythm of the slow rocking motion of his body. She felt him kiss her neck, and her skin crawled at the touch of his lips against her skin. He kissed her, sticking his tongue into her mouth, but her lips were stiff against his. After what seemed like an eternity, Aidan rolled off of her and lay exacerbated beside her on the bed.
“You could at least show a little interest,” he panted. “I know I’m not your father, but…”
Leona looked at him.
“What did you say?”
“Oh, come on, Leona. The rumour is rife; everyone knows Cathal isn’t mine. Best make a bit of effort so the whole truth doesn’t come out.”
Leona rolled onto her side, her back to Aidan. She felt his hand on her arm.
“I’m sorry, Leona. I’m just trying to help you. Save your dignity.”