You Name It
She shrugged and looked away, staring instead at the hospital wall, a sheet of pristine white that was turning grey as the days light fled. Maybe if she jumped through the window she could flee with it.
"How about Jessica?"
Jessica was her middle name. The loaf of bread that would go bad in a matter of days would not get to share her name.
He sighed and the bundle wriggled against his chest as if it could sense his pain. Shouldn't it be crying? Maybe it enjoyed their pain, its father certainly had.
The low whir of the hospital machines filled the silence. The deep ache between her legs flared and a tear escaped when she winced. She hated that he'd hurt her there again.
"Darlin' please." He stepped towards her, bringing the bundle with him. She rolled onto her side, blocking them both from view. He told her last month that he thought she should name it. After they'd chosen the adoption agency. She'd argued it would just get given a new name but he said that didn't matter. The name wasn't for the baby, it was for her. To remember. But she didn't want to remember.
"What about Tallie? You love the name Tallie."
She did love the name Tallie. It was what she had called all of her dolls when she was younger. There was Tallie One and Tallie Two, twins that she'd gotten for christmas when she was five. Then there was Tallie Three when one week later Tallie Two had been left behind at the airport and no doubt met an explosive end. Of course at the time she'd thought Tallie Two was travelling around the world having adventures. Maybe she could leave the loaf of bread at the airport.
"I don't want to call it Tallie. That's what I'm going to call my daughter."
He didn't know how to respond to that. Not when he was holding her new born baby. She felt so right nestled in the crook of his arm. He looked at his wife lying on the hospital bed. The sheets stuck out at the thin angles of her limbs and her hair was matted to her neck from the effort of giving birth. Any hope he had that she would be better once the baby was born disappeared as he watched her. She thought it was a monster because of who it's father was but any part of him was usurped by the part that was her. She couldn't see that though.
"You name it," She said. "I'm not going to."
The photo is a smorgasbord of half-remembered faces: there’s Jemma Elliot, finest girl in the class. Sigh. She regards the camera with a cool expression that suggests she knew damn well how gorgeous she was, even then. Next to her, my eye drawn to the juxtaposition as if a circus freak had popped up next to a lingerie model, is Louise Spriggs. Unfortunate. Then there are the dead eyes of Spencer Derby, who joined our reggie class that year. In the photo, he’s sitting next to our tutor, Mrs Markham. She looks terrified, and I don’t blame her. He was something else, alright. But then I remember what happened to Spencer, and it involved Graham Torrance (back row, toothy smile, massive) and weirdly, Louise. I stare at Graham, his huge grin echoing across the intervening decades. Nothing remarkable about him other than his size. Rugby player. Not in my circle. He seemed a nice enough lad.
Carseknock Academy wasn’t always the jewel in the crown of West Lothian’s secondary schools. Attending there, I remember the old sign, ‘Carseknock High’, with the ‘C’ and the last ‘k’ spray-painted out and the second syllable turned, inevitably, into ‘knob’. The current headmaster, something Francis I think, had the good fortune to arrive as the school was being changed into an ‘Academy’ and the good sense to raise the sign high enough on a pole to deter would-be graffiti artists.
Rude signs aside, during my time, the buildings were in dire need of improvements, there were fights daily, teachers were frequently threatened by pupils and I lost count of the arson attempts. It’s a miracle I got out alive, let alone with five Highers. And to think I’ve become one of the most respected lawyers in the city, on several Parliament steering groups and with the ink drying on the deeds to a holiday home on the Cote d’Azur. (No thanks to Arseknob High.)
So. Spencer Derby came in our third year, and went into the remedial class, with Louise and about four others. Remedial, as it was called before the word acquired any pejorative connotations. A bit like ‘spastic’, which is what most people called Louise. I remember her as having wiry, scraped-back hair of an indistinct brown, no friends, an unfortunate habit of breathing loudly through her nose, and crossed-eyes bridged by thick black NHS specs.
Louise was bullied by most in our year, I’m ashamed to say. The usual extra jostling in the corridors and freezing out of any social group (cool or nerdy; it didn’t matter, she was so low on the food chain). Adults tend to forget how unkind kids can be. But I’ve never forgotten, because that year Spencer arrived and made everyone else’s efforts seem amateurish. He was quite big for a teenage boy, with a slow, deliberate way of moving that could turn fast and violent in an instant. He rarely did any school work, his brain instead used for muttering sly and vile insults to anyone who fell into his cross-hairs. He knew he could have anyone in a fight, and proved as much by sending Aaron Davis, the hardest boy in the year, running home to his mum with a busted nose in week one. Spencer had come from some island through in the West – we used to joke that he’d been quarantined there for the good of society, but had escaped to wreak havoc on the mainland.
Spencer made Louise’s life even more hellish. He robbed her dinner money, mimicked her walk and her stammer. He called her every horrific name he could think of – he really was quite talented at this – and got away with it all; in class, in the corridors, the playground, wherever. The teachers at Carseknock were as scared of him as we were.
Around that time, there had been a spate of muggings in the community, marked by their unusual violence. Victims had been left with facial injuries even after readily handing over their wallets or jewellery. The assailant was known simply as ‘Mr Balaclava’, and the police were looking for a man of medium build, medium height. The only other thing they had to go on was that he always used a knife and – now and again – wore bright red gloves.
Naturally, we all speculated as to who this could be. Various brothers and uncles were weighed up, defended, brought back into the frame again. We were kids, we were rubbish at it, but we liked playing detectives all the same. At assembly, our headmaster, Mr Scripps, a thin man with a brown suit and a stoop, warned us to not walk home unless in groups of three or more. Mr Balaclava was the bogeyman of Carseknock, it seemed, and nobody could stop him.
One day, I was leaving the school late after Chemistry study class. Everyone else at the study class was well gone, because I’d stayed even later to talk to Miss Fletcher, one of the teachers. I came round the corner of the Sports Hall and found Louise Spriggs, sobbing and trying to pick up her glasses, the frames having been snapped into several pieces. Her bag had been emptied out and her things scattered around. Trampled into the mud. Wrecked. She was also holding her wrist, making the retrieval of the glasses extra difficult.
I’d never spoken to her while it was just the two of us. I picked up some of the pieces and tried to help mend her glasses but it was useless. I don’t think she knew who I was. I didn’t want to touch her and I felt helpless, like a bystander. ‘Spencer?’ I said, and she just nodded.
Just then, coming out of the Sports Hall after using the gym, Graham Torrance strode straight up to us. Now, Graham wasn’t Louise’s pal or anything, but surveying the wreckage of her school life and noticing she’d had her arm hurt, not to mention her ruined glasses, he quietly confirmed the identity of her attacker as I had. Standing there in the fading light, I perfectly recall the intensity of his gaze and his bunched jaw muscles as he approached us. He seemed even bigger than usual. ‘Do you want me to sort him out?’ he asked Louise, dropping his kit bag near my feet. The zip hadn’t been fastened properly, and I remember looking into it.
‘W-what do you mean?’ stammered Louise. ‘What could you do?’
Graham nodded grimly to himself, jaw muscles working away. In his bag, I’d glimpsed a pair of bright red gloves. I took a few steps away.
‘You name it, love. You name it.’
If naming gives me power,
I pass that power to you,
For whom the name is more than any meaning in the thing
That, in our nouns, may run or hunt or grow or feed
(But who knows how it calls these to itself).
Words may seem beginnings ,
And a Word create a world-
Of dreams and love and countless images of peace...
And yet we know a name is just a name-
For goodness knows that roses smell, as Juliet said, the same
By any name that humans may desire.
For sure, the ones who would dispute the names
For what a thing should be
-A country bounded, claimed by several lands-
May, in their lack of care, create a war :
“Let’s use OUR language, change the native word”
(Create a new mistake to bring us wealth,
Make shabby all our hopes , with grasping wordless rule) ,
And so doing, twist the notion of sweet life,
For only hearts may plumb
That depth no names may net...
And so, my friend indeed, I give to you
That power ...
That power I thus renounce to take your hand.
I trust you use it only for delight-
Creation’s friend, when names enhance the light...