Living In Sin

Entry by: Briergate

7th June 2016
Alison has to run the last few yards to make sure Sarah can make it to school before the bell rings. She feels the sparse coldness start in her stomach, heralding the beginning of a full-blown anxiety attack. Sarah half skips and half gallops ahead of her, and Alison ducks down for a quick kiss before pushing her towards the stream of pupils surging in to the classrooms.

As she does every morning, Alison stands on tiptoe to catch a last glimpse of her daughter, before turning away. And, as happens every morning, she is left with a wide circle of space around her, as the other parents remain at a distance. When she’s feeling courageous and indignant, Alison smiles at this and congratulates herself for not being caught up in the scrum of elbows the other parents have to endure. At other times, with the anxiety blooming and the feeling that Sarah’s lateness will add more fuel to the judgmental stares, she wants to cry.

Of course, she doesn’t. If there’s one thing worse than being seen as a bad mother, it’s being portrayed as the feminine dyke of the family. Jay, with her close-cropped hair and athletic build, is always typecast as the butch one. Alison is always seen as the mummy, and the femme. It’s inevitable that lesbians get separated like this, but Alison is aware enough to try and not perpetuate the stereotypes by conforming to them further.

As the children are all inside, Alison turns and makes her way to through the playground. She has around forty minutes left before she has to start a twelve-hour shift in A&E, sifting through real and imagined injuries, diseases and fractures. Jay will have to pick Sarah up, and Alison feels her stomach unclench a little knowing she won’t have to face the mothers later. She almost smiles at this, realising that a patient rushed in with a gunshot wound would be easier to face than the school drop-off.

As parents turn away from her, Alison loses her smile. I’m like Moses parting the ocean, she thinks to herself. Only without the miracles. When they first adopted Sarah, Alison had been friendly and smiled to all the other parents, and they had reciprocated. Gradually though, the smiles had dropped away. A few mornings when Alison had been working early and Jay had done the crop had made sure of that. In a village school like this, it only takes a scent of difference to send the mothers running in the opposite direction.

Walking through the school gate, Alison smiles thinking about her wife. Jay’s passion, humour and affection for Sarah brings each morning a different perspective on life, shaking Alison’s normally staid outlook with a generally nicer way of thinking. Completely undeterred by prejudice, Jay’s zest for life eclipses and sense of discomfort about being the only gay parents in the school, bringing Sarah an unswerving sense of self that they’re careful to encourage. While Sarah may be too young to notice that she gets fewer invitations to group parties than her peers, Alison is nervous of the future, when parental prejudice may influence Alison’s friends to drop her, to avoid pressure.

Thinking about Jay, Alison is suddenly shocked in to the moment as everything seems to happen at once. Ahead of her, a car swerves to avoid a toddler on a bike in the middle of the crossing. The car hits another vehicle approaching in the opposite direction, which spins and clips the bike. The toddler is tossed up from the impact like a rag doll, and everything becomes hyper-loud, with screams, the scent of hot rubber, shouting and running footsteps colliding together.

Without thinking, Alison slips in to professional mode and assesses the scene quickly. The two drivers are unharmed, so she runs to the side of the toddler now lying inert in the middle of the crossing, and drops her handbag to feel for a pulse. Carefully she moves gentle rapid hands to check for fractures, injuries or bleeds. She bends her head low and listens for the steady huff of breath from the little girl’s mouth, and her teeth clench when she can’t locate it.

She’s vaguely aware of other people crowding, shouting and crying, and as always when she’s working she phases the noise out to focus. She tilts the little girl’s neck and supports it with one hand, parting the tiny lips to give mouth to mouth. The reassuring normality of the routine, the counting in, breathing out, puts Alison in to a zone removed from everything around her. She is vaguely aware of the toddler’s mother by her side, before she starts chest compressions. Push, push, push, push, thirty times, pause, and then blow. In, count, out. In, count out. She can see the child’s chest rise and fall in her peripheral vision. And then, thank God, the chest begins to move unaided.

“Please, please help her, Alison?” the mother is crying, and Alison sits up, and looks at her. With a slight shock, she realises that it’s Mrs. Pearce, the Head of Sarah’s school. She pats her arm distractedly, and asks the group if anyone has called an ambulance.

“I think she’s going to be OK, Mrs. Pearce,” Alison says, and accepts the blanket one parent pushes in to her hand, settling the child in to the recovery position and covering her, then checking again to make sure she is still breathing unaided, with a strong pulse.
“It’s Sally. Sally Pearce,” the Head says, and then looks down, avoiding Alison’s gaze. Alison nods, and then a sickening thought occurs to her. God, what if they’re all panicking that I’ve passed on some hideous lesbian disease? They all imagine dykes are HIV positive, don’t they? She steps back and away from the child as if she’s been slapped, but can’t escape because Sally’s hand is grasping Alison’s wrist and pulling at her.

“Alison, thank you. Thank you. And…” Sally hesitates, her eyes flicking back and forth between her little girl’s inert form, and Alison’s face. “I’m desperately sorry.”

Alison feels frozen in surprise, and then nods again, patting the Head’s shoulder awkwardly. The shrill siren of the ambulance draws nearer, drowning out the sound of the other parents huddled around the child. Alison stands up, and Sally stands with her, tears streaking her usually pristine face. She pulls Alison in to a hug and they stand for a moment in the centre of the crossing, before Alison breaks away and steps back to the pavement to give the paramedics space.

When Sally and her daughter are safely strapped in to the ambulance and the paramedics pull away. Alison feels the effects of adrenalin making her limbs shake and her eyes blur with tears.

Picking up her bag, she dusts herself down and is starting to escape the group of parents, when the first few start to clap. She turns, confused, and finds herself at the centre of them, cheering, shaking her hand and clapping. She feels torn between feeling grateful for the acknowledgement, and resentful that it took saving a life to be accepted. And then she thinks of Sarah, and smiles her thanks.

On the way back home, her mind buzzing with a thousand different impressions and emotions, Alison allows herself to smile again. She smiles for the fact that things may be very different for her family, now. She smiles because sometimes, the prejudice afforded those who ‘live in sin’ or buck the moral trend can be erased by one good deed. Most of all, she smiles because the little girl will survive, and her own daughter will have a new place in this tight-knit, closed community which still has a lot to learn.