She breathed a sigh of exhausted relief as she laid her baby girl gently in the cot. Big blue eyes blinked sleepily up at her, then closed as the child finally surrendered to the deep rhythms of sleep. Georgia fingered the gaudy blue bead at her throat and said a prayer to the god she didn’t believe it that her daughter would never know humiliation she had growing up.
The necklace had been a gift from her superstitious Greek grandmother, Yiayia Gogo, on her 12th birthday. It was, she had said, to protect her from the evil eye but also carried a special charm that would protect others too.
“I know you think is all Greek stupidity, my darling,” she had said. “But I KNOW. You have your aunt Voula’s eyes – powerful eyes – and there lies the danger.”
Georgia had laughed as she thought of her sweet great aunt in the Gogo’s home village halfway up a Greek mountain. Her benevolent gaze through watery, saucer-like blue eyes looked anything but powerful or dangerous to her.
“Go on, you laugh,” her grandmother had said. “But even if you don’t believe, wear it always – please – as a favour to your Yiayia.”
So she had promised.
Every day, she wore the pea-sized stone the colour of a blue Lego brick, with a creepy eyeball crudely painted on it. Even when the mean girls at school who never missed the chance to mock her for her weight, her lack of grace, her love of books and lack of boyfriends spotted the bauble. Then one day, in a fit of teen rebellion, she slipped it off and hid it at the bottom of her pencil case.
Lucy and her gang of long limbed, expensively groomed thugs were waiting for her at the school gates that afternoon. Faster and stronger than her, it was nothing for them to take her bag and empty the contents onto the muddy verge in a fit of cackling glee, trampling her drawings underfoot. They found the necklace, drawing it out of the pencil case like it was a piece of snot on a string and screeching with laughter at its primitive gaze. Hot shame and anger flushed Georgia’s cheeks and she felt a shock, like a bolt of unseen lightning, as she glared at Lucy strutting along the side of the road pretending to model the eye pendant like it was the crown jewels.
Something shifted and cracked inside Georgia. A faint smell of singed hair tinged the air. Lucy tripped and fell back – right into the path of a speeding lorry. A scream, the screech of brakes, a sickening thud and a faint tinkle on the pavement as Georgia’s necklace landed next to her. A slick stream of red trickled into the gutter.
It was the last time that Georgia had ever taken her necklace off.
She shook herself away from her childhood memory, again burying the horror of what she knew she had done – though everyone else insisted it was an awful freak accident. It had been years since she’s allowed herself to think of that day. The exhaustion that came with being a new mother must have let her defences down.
Tonight had been particularly tough. Sam was working a double shift, and her mum refused to come anywhere near the baby until she had shaken her latest bout of flu. So, of course, the baby had screamed the house down for five solid hours. Nothing Georgia did calmed her. Not hugs, not milk, not bouncing up and down or singing every lullaby in the bilingual book. She felt like an utter failure as a mother until suddenly, without warning, the scarlet-faced infant stopped her senseless, wordless bawling and flopped like a rag doll against her mother’s shoulder.
Finally, a chance to breathe, and to wipe the baby sick off her blouse. She stripped to her bra in front of the bathroom mirror and wet a flannel to wipe herself clean. A blob of semi-congealed milk was caught on her pendant, clogging up the link connecting the bead to the chain. Carefully, she pulled it over her matted hair and held it below the tap to rinse it clean.
A piercing squeal rang out from the baby’s room. Despair gripped Georgia. She dropped everything, curling in a ball, banging her head repeatedly against the wall behind her and slapping her hands over her ears. The ear-shattering cries continued.
“WHAT? What now?” screamed the young woman. “What the hell is wrong now? Can’t you PLEASE – for the love of God – please just stop?”
A shock of static snapped the air as she spied the blue bead dangling over the edge of the bathroom sink. She scrambled to her feet, reaching for the talisman, like a drowning woman clutching at a buoyancy aid. But too late.
The baby’s crying stopped abruptly. Horror ran through Georgia’s veins like ice.
She knew, with absolute certainty, that her prayer had been answered. Her daughter never would suffer the humiliation she had known as a teenager.
She would never do anything at all.