A chilling dystopian novel about bodily autonomy and the medical establishment, for fans of Andrew Hunter Murray's THE LAST DAY or Christina Dalcher's Q.
She went willingly to the hospital. She couldn't have anticipated how difficult it would be to leave...
Mr and Mrs Sincope are anticipating the birth of their first child. On the way to the hospital for Mrs Sincope's induction their squabbling over their daughter's name betrays an unquestioning trust that everything will go to plan. And why wouldn't it?
But as the hours pass and Mrs Sincope's labour doesn't begin, the couple start to worry. And as the hours bleed into days and there is still no sign of progress, it becomes clear that there is something far more sinister going on behind the white hospital doors...
Release date: October 28, 2021
Print pages: 240
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The Big Day has come two weeks late. As a result of this delay, Mrs Sincope is booked in for an induction at the hospital this morning. With any luck, she will soon be in labour and her daughter will be born in a few hours’ time.
The Sincopes exit their flat using their building’s old, frightening lift. Standing there together beside each other as they descend, Mrs Sincope wearing the tracksuit ensemble that had unconsciously become her late-pregnancy fashion, Mr Sincope dressed as always in a perfectly presentable yet clearly cheap and slightly ill-fitting suit and tie with a much nicer bluish-grey overcoat on top, one could take a photograph of them face on and get a perfect sense of both their respective personalities. Mr Sincope looks bored and slightly put out; Mrs Sincope appears nervous yet strong at the same time; both of them stare straight ahead and give no outward sign of even being aware of their spouse’s presence in any meaningful sense.
Once outside, the couple walk towards and then climb into their Skoda Felicia, a cheap used car they had bought six months back.
‘Felicia. That’s what we should have called our daughter instead!’ Mr Sincope shouts mostly to himself as he starts the vehicle. This is precisely the sort of insensitive, passive-aggressive comment that is essential to understanding his personality. He had conceded ground unhappily prior to departing the flat in a semi-argument with his wife about what they should name their as yet unborn daughter; while the logical and honest thing to do would have been to extend the conversation, at least as far as him revealing to his wife how much naming their daughter Dorothy meant to him, even if they went with Mrs Sincope’s choice of Faith in the end, he had already decided instead to simply be lightly bitchy about the name of his daughter for the rest of his life.
‘I thought we had reached an agreement on this, dear. Unless you’d like to talk it about it further?’ Mrs Sincope asks in a take-no-shit sort of a voice. This shuts Mr Sincope up for a bit. Ten minutes go by without a further word between them as the Skoda slowly proceeds in the direction of the hospital.
‘Traffic is bad. We should have left earlier,’ Mrs Sincope says to break the silence. The comment is inspired by her recollection of her husband’s telephone conversation of the previous day, to arrange for the induction she is now on her way to face. He had seemed extremely stressed throughout the call and relayed to her afterwards that the man on the other end of the line – who, Mr Sincope felt the need to stress, spoke with a northern accent – had really gone overboard in insisting that the Sincopes not be late for the induction, but by the same token, that they not arrive too early either. It had left Mr Sincope confused and scared about what was expected of him.
‘Please be prompt,’ the man on the other end of the line had said to Mr Sincope.
‘I was intending to be precisely on time,’ Mr Sincope had sharply responded with after this slant on his punctuality.
‘If you were to arrive even two or three minutes late, I can’t be liable for what might happen.’
‘We’ll arrive early then.’
‘Good. But not too early, if you please.’
‘All right then. My wife and I will arrive fifteen minutes before the appointment is due to start, have no fear.’
‘Oh no, no, fifteen minutes is far too early, sir! If everyone turned up that promptly I’d have a right mess on my hands here,’ the northern man on the phone had said with panic in his voice.
‘Ten minutes then?’
‘We wouldn’t want your poor wife to have to be sat there for ten minutes waiting about, sir.’
Mr Sincope, a patient man when it comes to coping with mundanity, had at last begun to get genuinely annoyed with the pedantic detail involved in the conversation.
‘Fine then, I’ll get there six minutes and forty seconds early!’
‘I’ll leave that sort of detail to you, sir,’ the receptionist had said, as though the strangeness of the conversation had all flowed from the other end of the line.
Mr Sincope had been wound up before he’d made this call and afterwards his blood pressure sky-rocketed. His stress relating to this conversation with the hospital receptionist even disturbed his sleep that night, something which was a rare occurrence for him. He could snooze through almost anything in the normal run of things. The insomnia that night was, to be fair, at least partly down to the toll the month leading up to the Big Day had taken, what with his wife’s constant complaining about her late-term aches and pains and all of his work colleagues chivvying him about his flat (‘I’ve heard small flats like those, particularly ones in buildings with dodgy lifts like yours, can be death traps for infants. Surely the order of operations goes, house first, baby second.’). The worst thing for him about all this work-based badgering had been the fact that the Sincopes could actually afford to buy a house, easily if they sold the flat. But Mrs Sincope was deeply averse to the idea. She hoped for a while to give her husband the hint by lightly pushing against the plan, always finding something not to like in every house they viewed.
‘Look at these curtains. I couldn’t live in a place with these curtains.’
‘We’ll replace the curtains, dear.’
‘I don’t like the way the hallway is decorated.’
‘We’ll get it redone.’
‘I don’t like the neighbourhood.’
‘It’s two blocks away from where we live now!’
‘I think if we’re going to buy a house we ought to move up in the world, don’t you think?’
Mr Sincope was always terribly embarrassed when his wife would mutter what he would consider uncouth things in public, such as the line about ‘moving up in the world’. For him they were a demonstration of the gulf in upbringing between them. Both of his parents were stockbrokers and he grew up in a large detached house in North London where he was raised by an English nanny, something in which as a child he took immense pride (no foreigners raising the stockbroker Sincope’s boy, thank you kindly). Meanwhile, Mrs Sincope’s family was mostly still a mystery to her husband due to her reticence in talking about them in much detail. She was from the north, mostly Manchester although there was some moving about that had been done, her father being a drunk whom Mr Sincope had met on precisely one occasion and who hadn’t even bothered to turn up at their wedding. He was dead now; her mother had died when she was a child. She had a sister named Lucille whom he had never even spoken to on the phone, much less met in person. Although she had of course been invited, Lucille hadn’t turned up at the wedding either, although at least her absence was partly expected as she lived in South America.
That was almost the sum total of what Mr Sincope knew about his wife’s family. Luckily, Mr Sincope wasn’t actually interested in knowing a whole lot more about his wife’s relations despite being a little suspicious now and then about her obfuscation on the matter. What she had filled him in on already sounded ghastly enough. All those secrets; all that familial dysfunction; all that ‘northern-ness’ (Mr Sincope, as we have learned, was not a fan of northerners in general, a fact which oddly hadn’t prevented him from marrying one). Mrs Sincope doesn’t speak with a northern accent, adding an even stranger layer to everything. Her speaking voice is a nondescript, middle-class sounding RP, something which rubs up against her upbringing, at least as her husband understands it.
Traffic is bad in West London on this Big Day Thursday. Mr Sincope honks the Skoda’s horn and flings a four-letter word in the direction of a white van as it cuts him off.
‘What did we say about swearing in the car, dear?’ Mrs Sincope says, patting her husband patronisingly on the arm as she often does when he loses his temper. They had made an agreement a few weeks back not to use profanity while riding in the Skoda. This pact was made in the hope that it would help them prevent using bad language in front of their daughter after she had arrived. Using the vehicle as a sort of training ground for not f-ing and blinding, as it were.
‘If the traffic is like this the whole way, we’ll be late for the appointment,’ Mr Sincope says matter-of-factly. As luck would have it, right at that moment the traffic starts to clear and as a result the Sincopes arrive at the hospital fourteen minutes early. I’m so glad we have this car, Mr Sincope thinks to himself as he pulls the cheap, rusting machine into a parking spot. Mr Sincope was initially against owning a vehicle. He had always felt it was wasteful to own a car in London. But his workmates had bullied him into the purchase (‘You have to have a car if you’re going to have a kid, right? How are you going to get your wife to the hospital when she’s in labour – wait for a bus to turn up?’). The crucial difference to the house-moving situation and the lack of momentum there came down to the fact that Mrs Sincope was all for the car idea. Mr Sincope only had to mention it and the next weekend Mrs Sincope had bought the Skoda Felicia from an Egyptian man who had advertised it on the internet. Mr Sincope was initially appalled at the purchase of such an inexpensive vehicle and yet he grew to appreciate it. He was nothing if not exceedingly cheap.
‘Can you believe it,’ she says. ‘Later on today we’ll take little Faith home in that car seat back there.’
Mr Sincope smiles in a slightly patronising manner while placing his hand on his wife’s knee.
‘Please don’t get your hopes up too high, dear. We could well be in the hospital overnight. Perhaps even two.’
‘I know,’ Mrs Sincope says, looking down at her hands as she unconsciously folds them into a miniature cradle. ‘I just can’t wait for our baby to come.’
‘Me neither. But let’s stay realistic. We may have a tough day or two ahead of us so we should be mentally prepared for it.’
Being ‘mentally prepared’ is a phrase used so often by Mr Sincope it would be high on a list of traits to use should one wish to caricature the man.
‘Of course, you’re right,’ Mrs Sincope says as she breaks the hand-cradle, her determination to stay strong in the face of whatever was ahead obliterating the tenderness to which she had succumbed. Mr Sincope exits the car and walks over to the ticket machine to examine how much it will cost to park. This leaves Mrs Sincope to struggle her way out of the Skoda all by herself. It had annoyed her greatly as her pregnancy had proceeded that despite male strangers constantly giving up their seats on public transport for her sake, her own husband had never once thought to aid her in getting out of that tiny car, an undertaking she found an ever-increasing challenge after the seventh month.
‘Jesus Christ, it’s three pounds a shitting hour!’ Mr Sincope exclaims as he discovers the tariff.
‘Remember what we discussed about swearing, dear,’ his wife says. ‘Faith can hear you now.’
She points at her rotund belly as she shouts this to her husband. Mr Sincope hates when she does this; a dramatic gesturing to her uterus which had become ubiquitous at some point he’d lost track of within the third trimester. In his mind, to indicate to one’s lower abdomen in and of itself was barbaric and uncivilised, something belonging to a lower class of people. He also felt that to point at one’s offspring like that in any circumstance would be unacceptable as well. To compound his annoyance, the deal they had made was to avoid using profanity in the car solely, and he was clearly not sitting in the Skoda at that moment.
‘What should we do then?’ Mr Sincope snaps at her. ‘I’m not paying three quid an hour to park here.’
‘What else are we going to do? If we move the car, we’ll be late.’
His wife is correct in this assertion. And although Mr Sincope loathes feeling like he is being ripped off, the thought of getting their arrival time wrong after yesterday’s phone conversation scares him much more. Looking at his watch and realising they only had a little over four and a half minutes until they would only be ten minutes early, Mr Sincope, having decided that being between ten and five minutes early would be optimal given what he said on the phone yesterday, flies into a sudden panic.
‘You’re right, we must hurry!’ he bellows. Mr Sincope pays for the parking, runs to put the ticket in the car window, slams the door shut and then grabs Mrs Sincope’s hand a little too violently and begins to run into the hospital with her trailing behind, trying to keep pace.
‘Slow down, would you!’ she shouts at her husband while rubbing her bump ostentatiously with her free hand. She knows now that she has lost him to one of his frequent quasi-panic attacks, and so she behaves as she always does when she finds herself in this situation: she thinks about something pleasant instead. Like how she had, for the most part, enjoyed being pregnant. In the early days she was amazed at how little affected by morning sickness she had been, particularly as it had hit her neighbour, Sarah, who lived in a flat on the same floor, hard with her first-born.
‘It will be hell, trust me,’ Sarah had told Mrs Sincope over tea when Mrs Sincope first announced she was pregnant. ‘You’ll be throwing up over bloody everything.’
Mrs Sincope was terrified as she didn’t tend to have any sort of gastronomic difficulties in the normal run of things and didn’t know how she would cope with such an inelegant change. She is secretly proud of the fact that she hadn’t vomited once since she was fourteen. As it turned out, she didn’t become physically ill one single morning during her entire pregnancy. And until the final two months, she hadn’t felt particularly tired either. Having said all of that, the last couple months of the pregnancy had come with some downsides, like her aching lower back alongside the inability to find a single position that felt truly comfortable, either sitting or standing. Yet all of these were minor compared to the joyous sense of having her child inside of her, growing every moment. Thinking about this gives Mrs Sincope respite, particularly in moments like her husband yanking her by the arm at superhuman speed down hospital corridors on the day she is due to give birth to their child.
Mr and Mrs Sincope step off the hospital lift and enter the fifth floor. Mr Sincope approaches the reception desk still panting from the exertion of the mad dash from the car park. There sits a homely woman who looks to be around fifty years of age – but is in actual fact much younger than that – who brandishes a name tag that reads ‘Jill’.
‘Hello, we have a two p.m. appointment with Dr Blots,’ Mr Sincope says to Jill as he recovers his breath. The receptionist looks up extremely slowly from the copy of Gamers Bi-Weekly she is reading. Jill is the type of gal who doesn’t get out much. Her best friend in the world is her cat, Mittens. She speaks fluent Klingon. Her interests include blogging about her pet feline, electoral reform, and role-playing games. Her noted lack of general bodily swiftness on the Sincopes’ Big Day is down to the fact that she had swallowed three barbiturate tablets twenty-five minutes prior to their arrival in Dr Blots’ reception area, in doing so enacting what was perhaps the most half-hearted suicide attempt in the history of the human race. Jill is depressed because her girlfriend of eighteen months, Doreen, has finally left her. She was dumped the evening prior via a note which simply read:
I’ve met a bloke. See ya – D
Doreen had been Jill’s lifeline, one of the few close human companions she’d had in the course of her sad, lonely, cat-filled existence.
‘Have a seat,’ the depressed receptionist says to the Sincopes in her high-pitched, squeaky voice that takes both of them slightly aback. Mr Sincope quickly recovers from the surprise and leans in closer to Jill.
‘You might wish to make note of the time: we’re six minutes and forty seconds early exactly,’ he says. Jill looks at Mr Sincope as if he were completely mad, staring at him in bewildered silence. The downers in the receptionist’s bloodstream make the situation even more awkward, as to Jill it doesn’t seem like as much time is passing as is actually the case, her eyes focused on the strange man standing across the desk from her for several agonising seconds. Mr Sincope feels the need to try and explain his comment after Jill’s reaction.
‘You see, I had got the idea that showing up that sort of time before the appointment would be smiled upon here. I got that from the phone call with, um . . .’
Mr Sincope can’t remember for the life of him the name of the northern man with whom he had made the appointment the previous day – logically, as he hadn’t asked and the information hadn’t been otherwise voluntarily given out. Jill continues staring at him soundless, looking like a sedated frog.
‘Six minutes. Forty seconds. Early. That was what I worked out as being pretty much perfect. Anyhow, here we are,’ Mr Sincope finally says after another long silence, all as awkwardly as humanly possible. Following a further awkward juncture, Jill at last breaks out of her semi-coma and mercifully ends the standoff.
‘Have a seat. The doctor will be with you shortly,’ she says.
The Sincopes sit down in the most remote corner of the three-sided waiting area. Straight ahead and to their right a sign on a door reads: ‘DR BLOTS – OBSTRETICS’.
‘Obstetrics is misspelled on that door insignia,’ Mrs Sincope says in excited intrigue to her husband while nudging him in the side with her elbow.
‘And?’ he replies with a shrug, not understanding why this fact is so interesting to his wife. With anything non-arithmetical, he is not what one might describe as a ‘details man’. He often marvelled internally at what his wife was able to glean from the slightest of glances at things; the amount of information she could absorb from a conversation of which she had only heard a tiny fragment, for instance. Mr Sincope could have sat in that waiting room for the rest of eternity and not noticed that the word ‘obstetrics’ was not spelled correctly on the door from which he sat opposite. Not out of a poor grasp of orthography on his part but simply due to the way his powers of observation functioned. Meanwhile, it had taken his wife less than five seconds to note the dodgy door sign.
Seeing that her husband is not in the slightest bit interested in the error, Mrs Sincope doesn’t answer his one-word question but instead simply watches him as he scans the magazines sat on the see-through waiting room coffee table. Golf Digest is the only one he can bear to pick up and flip through; the rest of them are all directly related to child-rearing. Mammary Monthly is a title sat on the table that he recognises. Copies of it had been given out at the last of. . .
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