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Maternal Instinct

Maternal Instinct

A miracle cancer cure leaves senior public servant, Alice Mahoney, unexpectedly and illegally pregnant. In a world where children are parented by professional Maters and Paters from 6 months of age, Alice is still coming to terms with her estranged relationship with her 18-year-old daughter and newborn grandson. How far will she go to fight for the right to raise her unborn child?

2

Romance / Women's fiction


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Rebecca Bowyer (Australia)


Hot and cold needles prickled her face as she started to shiver. Alice parted her knees and leaned her head between them, trying to stay the vomit.

The patient in the surgical gown on the seat opposite coughed. The woman next to him patted his knee gently. Alice glanced at the couple through the wiry, red strands of her hair. The woman smiled but only one corner of her mouth moved.

Alice closed her eyes and focused inwardly, willing her body to comply. She hadn’t eaten in two days in preparation for the procedure and the medically induced purging of her bowels had taken its toll. Most of her morning had been spent lying in a dark room with closed eyes, fending off the mother of all migraines. Two hours sitting on a cold, hard chair in a cold, bright room, wearing nothing but a surgical gown and paper socks, did nothing to improve the situation.

‘Mr Smithson?’

The man coughed again as he stared at the nurse’s disembodied head, poking through the door. He nodded.

‘You can come through now,’ she said. The nurse pushed the door wider and stepped into the waiting room with a warm smile. ‘Your Lover can wait here, or we can call her when you’re done.’

‘I’ll wait, thank you,’ the woman said, standing to help her partner as far as the door before relinquishing his frail arm to the nurse’s firm grip.

‘Tommy, can you take Mr Smithson through, please?’ the nurse called through the doors. Muted clangs of metal on metal, soft digital bleeps and hushed voices wafted into the waiting room. A face appeared through the screen of Alice’s hair.

‘Ms Mooney?’ The words hammered into her ears. She scrunched her eyes tight and dug her fingers into her knees. ‘Alice, honey, are you ok?’

‘Yes,’ she whispered, then moaned softly. ‘I’m fine. Just a little cold maybe.’ The nurse touched her arm briefly.

‘Let’s get you warmed up, then, hey?’ Footsteps clicked away again. ‘James! I need a hand out here!’ she called through the doors. Two sets of footsteps came back, clicking and clacking and smashing through her skull. Firm hands gripped her arms.

‘Alice, honey, can you stand and walk? Just a few steps, through these doors.’

‘Mm-hmm,’ she grunted, rising and shuffling. Through the doors, she was helped up onto a gurney. She lay down, head on the soft pillow, closed her eyes and resumed her pain management exercises, visualising the pain gathering at a single point right behind her forehead.

‘Where’s she going?’ another female voice asked.

Ignoring the background chatter, Alice concentrated on channelling the pain from her bowels, bumping it up over her belly button, sending it searing up her cleavage and creeping along her throat.

‘Theatre 3. They’re not ready for her yet but she wasn’t in great shape so I brought her in.’

Warmed, heavy blankets were stretched out over her body. The black ball of pain gathered behind the bridge of her nose.

‘No worries. Just park her over here for now.’

The gurney started to roll as Alice pushed the ball through an imagined, tiny hole. Dark, wispy pain, escaped her body in a thick stream. The gurney stopped. The brakes engaged.

‘Alice, hon, how’re you doing?’ Alice kept her eyes closed, waiting for the last of the black cloud to leave. ‘Warm blanket helping?’ She opened her right eye cautiously, squinting in the bright light.

‘Yes, thank you,’ she whispered.

‘Not long now,’ said the nurse.

‘Mmm,’ she agreed, looking forward to the drug-induced oblivion of surgery.

‘Theatre 3’s ready for her.’ Brakes were unlocked, side rails raised. The bed shuddered slightly.

‘Alice, honey, it’s time. Is your Lover picking you up again today? Do you want me to call him afterwards?’ asked the nurse softly, close to her ear.

‘He’s not my Lover,’ she whispered. ‘He’s my Soulmate.’ Her left thumb rubbed against the thick tape that covered the silver, ridged band on her ring finger, ready for surgery.

‘Lucky you, honey. Not many lovers bother with that ’til-death-do-us-part palaver these days,’ chuckled the nurse. ‘I’ll give him a bell when you’re out, ok?’

‘Thanks.’



Alice opened her eyes to find a hand stroking her head. The curtains were drawn and the lights dimmed.

‘Hey there,’ said the tall, blond man folded into the white, plastic chair next to her bed.

‘Hey Ollie,’ she whispered.

‘The operation went well. They think they got it all.’ Oliver smiled and ran his index finger in a line from her scalp to the tip of her nose. ‘Rest now.’ She closed her eyes obediently and slipped into a peaceful sleep.



She woke again to the sound of a fussing baby. The snuffling turned to huffy grunting and then a thin wail. A woman hissed at the baby.

Alice smiled, reached for the remote hanging from her bed rail and pushed a button to tilt the bed head upwards, allowing her to see past the foot of her bed.

The young woman seated in the blue vinyl armchair looked up from positioning her baby at her breast and frowned. ‘Sorry, Mum, I didn’t mean to wake you.’

‘It’s ok. Is it Sunday already?’

‘No, still Friday. But I was bored and thought I’d come and see how you’re going. Ow!’ She pulled the infant away from her chest and clutched her nipple. ‘God, this breastfeeding thing sucks. Why can’t they just use bottles? I mean, seriously.’

‘Monica, your milk is specially designed…’

‘…for my baby and reduces disease and it’s more efficient. Yeah, yeah, blah, blah, I know,’ she said, trying to get the writhing baby reattached before the wailing really got going. ‘It’s just so… undignified.’ Monica pulled the baby’s blue muslin wrap over his head and covered her own chest, as though to prove a point.

Alice sank back into the pillow, trying not to laugh. Monica had never been particularly interested in babies or parenting. She resented having to do National Service. Birthing and feeding two babies over three years was an inconvenience which delayed her from following in her father’s footsteps as a molecular immunologist. She’d been doing her best to plead her way out of it since she was twelve. Six years of writing letters to every politician from both parties, the Department of Genetics and Reproduction, the Board of National Service and several major newspapers had been fruitless.

The day after her eighteenth birthday she was moved into her assigned Birthing Home and started the pre-pregnancy preparation program.

Monica was the product of a mixture of genetic material from the late Nathan Taylor, renowned molecular immunologist, and Alice Mooney, Executive Director of Operations at the Department of Genetics and Reproduction. She stood no chance of being excused from society’s gene pool any time soon.

‘Don’t worry, it’s only for six months, then you’ll get your body back,’ said Alice, closing her eyes.

‘Yeah, just in time to get pregnant again. Two years, two months and one more baby to go, little one,’ she said to her tiny human bundle, peering in through the muslin wrap to check if he’d finished his meal. ‘He’s gone to sleep again, damn it. How am I supposed to get anything done when he won’t concentrate on taking a full feed and he just falls asleep every half hour, then thinks he should feed every two hours?’ She extracted her nipple from the baby’s soft, thick lips and plonked him in the empty pram.

Alice winced as she heard the pram squeak in protest and the little boy let out a startled cry. She forced her own eyes open and felt around for the bed buttons again. She pushed with her thumb and raised herself to a reclined sitting position.

‘Could I have a hold?’ she asked.

‘Of what?’ Monica sat at the end of the bed, legs crossed, checking her email on her phone. She looked up at Alice, traced her gaze to the pram and jumped up. ‘Oh, you mean the baby. Sure, please do, he might stay asleep longer if someone holds on to him.’

‘Have you given him a name?’ asked Alice as she held out her arms to take the sleeping bundle.

‘No. They’re calling him Oscar. I suppose it suits. I just call him ‘the annoying thing that wakes me up ten times a night and makes me soak through all my tops’.’

Alice sighed and shook her head as Monica took up a plastic perch next to the bed and continued flicking through her messages.

‘Hello little Oscar, it’s lovely to see you again,’ she cooed. Oscar yawned in his sleep, showing a tiny pink tongue surrounded by matching gummy ridges. She held him up a little and rubbed her cheek against his. He responded by nestling, ever so slightly, in towards her neck.

Alice breathed deeply, inhaling the scent of memories more than twenty years old.


Competition: The Pen Factor 2016, Round 1

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Read Reviews

Review 1:


Compelling hook?

Fresh?

Strong characters?

Entertaining?

Narration and dialogue: Authentic voice
  • Your characters’ voices were convincing and authentic.
Characterization
  • Your characters were multidimensional. I found them believable and engaging and they genuinely responded to the events of the story.
Point of view
  • Point of view helps the reader identify whose perspective we are engaging with, i.e. who is narrating the story. It can sometimes be helpful to double check that the point of view in the story is successfully handled. Ensure you consistently use the same point of view and tense throughout.
Atmosphere and description
  • Your story was a feast for the senses. The atmosphere wrapped itself around me and transported me onto the page alongside your characters.
Authentic and vivid setting
  • The setting was realistic and vivid. The characters’ mood and emotions were conveyed successfully through the believable setting.
General comments from your fellow writer 1:
Intriguing and compelling, with a good exploration of the senses. I'm interested in discovering the relationships and dynamics between the characters!

Review 2:


Compelling hook?

Fresh?

Strong characters?

Entertaining?

Attention to mechanics
  • You demonstrate a professional quality of writing throughout the story.
Narration and dialogue: Balance
  • Your story struck a good balance between narration and authentic dialogue.
Narration and dialogue: Authentic voice
  • Your characters’ voices were convincing and authentic.
Character conflict
  • The reader’s experience of the story is heightened when the characters’ goals, conflicts and purpose are clear. Perhaps giving this aspect of the story further attention could be worthwhile.
Suspense and conflict
  • The joy of reading often lies in the element of suspense prompted by internal or external conflicts. Your story makes compelling reading.
Authentic and vivid setting
  • The setting was realistic and vivid. The characters’ mood and emotions were conveyed successfully through the believable setting.
General comments from your fellow writer 2:
Your description of Alice's pain was quite compelling! I recalled the helpless misery of being in a hospital, surrounded by all the advances of modern medicine yet forced to wait in pain! You built the scene nicely, focussing on the sensations she was feeling rather than being too verbose about the setting. However, there are a few points that I am having trouble understanding what is actually taking place. I understand that you are intentionally using a bit of poetic obfuscation to mimic Alice's disoriented state, but I had to re-read passages enough times that it became confusing. I would recommend making a pass to provide efficient structural information to the reader without distracting from the overall effect (i.e. you mention a lot of people or "voices" that I tried to place/follow but didn't realize I wasn't intended to until the passage was done; is she sitting in a chair or squatting on the floor at the beginning?; does she vomit on the gurney? no one seems to respond properly.) I know you're holding onto specifically what's happening to her, but maybe sort out the scene with Monica a bit. It took me a while to realize that the baby wasn't Alice's. And also, I had a sense that the operation was an abortion, so I didn't know what to do with those two pieces of information. Otherwise, strong descriptions and interesting narrative!

Review 3:


Compelling hook?

Fresh?

Strong characters?

Entertaining?

Attention to mechanics
  • You demonstrate a professional quality of writing throughout the story.
Narration and dialogue: Balance
  • Your story struck a good balance between narration and authentic dialogue.
Narration and dialogue: Authentic voice
  • The protagonist didn’t always respond believably against the backdrop of the story. Ask yourself if people would really answer to a situation in that way. Think about whether the characters’ voices could be more convincing for their age, background, gender, time period, genre, gender and ethnicity. Dialogue should be natural and consistent throughout the story.
Characterization
  • Your characters were multidimensional. I found them believable and engaging and they genuinely responded to the events of the story.
Main character
  • Your protagonist exhibited a unique voice and had original characteristics. Their actions and dialogue were convincing!
Character conflict
  • The reader’s experience of the story is heightened when the characters’ goals, conflicts and purpose are clear. Perhaps giving this aspect of the story further attention could be worthwhile.
Plot and pace
  • Maintaining the right pace and sustaining the reader’s interest is a challenging balancing act. The story had a clear and coherent progression with a structured plot.
Suspense and conflict
  • The joy of reading often lies in the element of suspense prompted by internal or external conflicts. Your story makes compelling reading.
Technique and tight writing
  • The writing was tight and economical and each word had purpose. This enabled the plot to unravel clearly. Your writing exhibits technical proficiency.
Point of view
  • The story successfully solicited the reader’s empathy through the clever use of the narrator's point of view. You show great deftness in handling point of view.
Style and originality
  • Creating a unique writing style while maintaining quality of prose is tricky. As writers, we face the daunting task of making sure we are not being predictable. Can you find a way to give the content and characters more of a unique edge? Perhaps say something boldly, something fresh or show an unorthodox approach to a topic?
Atmosphere and description
  • Your story was a feast for the senses. The atmosphere wrapped itself around me and transported me onto the page alongside your characters.
Authentic and vivid setting
  • The scene needs to be vivid and realistic in order to hold the reader’s attention. Being concise and plausible at the same time is tricky. Giving this further attention could perhaps be worthwhile.
Opening line and hook
  • Your strong opening and compelling hook was a promise of wonderful things to come!