There’s an idea that true horror isn’t about gore and spectacle. After all, gore can be wiped away, the book closed or the TV clicked into silence.
The true horror is the stuff that gets under your skin, burrows its way into your mind until you never see things in quite the same way.
After losing the boys I find it difficult to watch babies sleep. Parents are meant to be grateful when their children rest and lay peacefully in their arms.
Now there is always an underlying anxiety to sleeping children with a special terror reserved for the moments when they are so tired that their mouths hang open. On good strong healthy days any niggling thoughts are easily swatted away and forgotten in the warm fuzzy glow of a peaceful child.
On the dark days it calls back to holding the boys in hospital, their mouths tilted open as they moved with my breaths in an awful parody of what should have been.
When the baby monitor is silent the urge to go up and check is overwhelming.
When births are announced my first response is one bound in caution. My pen hesitates to scratch out cheery platitudes on the maternity leave card. My story precedes me and I note hands shift unconsciously to protect the bump, gently patting for reassurance.
My first questions fall out of the standard script. Rather than asking hopeful questions about names and gender and due dates I anxiously press for details on care: are you being looked after? Do you have a good midwife? Does your consultant listen to you?
I’m being less of a friend and more of a questionaire. My careful suggestions to listen to instincts and not let concerns be so easily dismissed not so subtly mask my own experiences and the need for it to not happen again to anyone.
With the children, I veer wildly between feeling relaxed about the catalogue of scars that toddlers wear as a badge of honour and having vivid waking nightmares about the any number of things that could befall them as they stumble from one obstacle to another.
My literary role model becomes The Chaplain from Catch 22, a tragicomic figure terrified of the potential horrors that await his family while he’s away. A simple shopping trip ends abruptly when an oblivious boy racer races a red light and slams into the family car. The house ablaze due to an iron carelessly left in the rush to get to work…and so on and on and on.
The waking nightmares are dispelled by the sound of the car pulling in or the sound of snuffling on the monitor and I can relax for a moment whilst the ugly thoughts scuttle back to the dark corners of my mind.
But there will always be the watchful part looking for the reassuring soft rise and fall of their chests when they fall asleep. Just checking, I’m sure they’re ok.