Sunday 20th December 2009
Gestation: 12 weeks, 2 days
One year ago.
I speak too soon.
Tonight, we’ve invited Libby and Jack over. It’s hard to believe, but they’re our first real guests since this whole thing began. We’ve been in this house for six weeks without any one visiting other than our in-laws.
Anyone would think there’d been a death in the family.
For an hour before they arrive, we bustle around. I set the table while Suse cooks. I organise drinks while she clears things up. We chatter away, but she is clearly distracted.
“Are you okay, love?” I finally say.
“Sure,” she replies, without looking up. “It’s just that… this is the first time I’ll see any of my pregnant contemporaries since this all began.”
A wiser man would have seen it at that point.
But firstly: Sometimes you just don’t want to look.
And secondly: I’ve never, ever claimed to be wise.
* * * * *
We finish preparations, making the place spotless, like houseproud newlyweds. Indeed, with our new home and lack of parity, we could pass as such. We’re ready. And so, we tend to the garden together.
This really must be love.
Forty-five minutes later, Jack and Libby arrive. Fletch stands between them, a hand in each of his parent’s palms, tentatively swaying from side to side. All three of them look exhausted, but the winner in this game is definitely Libby. Her tiny frame, already burdened by milk-laden breasts, is further unbalanced by a sixteen-week bump that seems to protrude almost horizontally.
“Hey,” they say in unison, in the same flat tone. Fletch wobbles between them.
“Hey,” we return. We exchange hugs, trying not to stand on Fletch as we do.
“He’s being very quiet,” I say with surprise.
“This is the only break we get,” Libby says. “When he’s just woken up. A short, sweet respite,” she sing-songs, looking down at him. I realise that I am staring at Libby, trying to understand how it is that she is still standing. The physics of it just don’t add up.
We head inside. Fletch looks at us as we talk, gradually warming up. We all stand around him, watching the centre of their universe, as he thaws before our eyes. Very quickly, he begins to look around, to notice, to peer, and then explore. And then to walk, then run, then fall, then cry. And then get up again. Then bump once more, then squeal, then dribble, then cry. And then finally smile.
Repeat ten times.
This is their life.
Within moments, he is back outside, and disappearing out of sight. We follow him around the corner to find him, his eyes lit up, holding the garden rake. Somehow, his boy-radar honed in on the heaviest, most dangerous garden tool he could find, and has made it his toy of the day. Fletch journeys back and forth to visit it, over the next half hour. Suse accompanies him as he does, finally earning an outstretched hand, as the adult most willing to comply to his rake fetish.
Eventually, Libby coaxes him back inside. In here, there is nothing nearly as interesting as gardening implements. And again, within seconds, he has disappeared.
“Where did he go?” Libby asks, a nanosecond having passed since we last saw him. We all follow the scent, where we find him, in the bathroom, his thumb jammed in the hinge of the shower door. There Fletch stands, in a silent, breathless, agonised vigil. Jack leans down, unbending the hinge, extricating his son. But the unbending motion causes a repeat squeeze, reiterating the lesson.
Fletch’s eyes bulge, his face blotched white, his mouth open wide, like one of those clowns you put ping pong balls in. Tears stream down his face, sweat beads on his forehead, as he completes his education in new types of agony.
Those silent seconds pass, all seven of them, before he finds his lungs. His breath holding done, he lets out an almighty squeal, our collective mass doing nothing to blunt the sound. Libby bends down, threatening to topple over directly onto her pregnant belly, but again, she somehow manages to defy gravity. She takes Fletch into her arms, and he gratefully buries his head into her shoulder.
“Oh, Fletch,” she says, sighing in sympathy, “again this week, darling boy?”
“He squashed his finger in a shower door last week too,” Jack says lethargically. “It’s like his kryptonite.”
“Oh, thank God,” Suse says, “I mean, I’m sorry… I mean, I was feeling awful that we hadn’t child-proofed the house.”
“You can’t Fletch-proof a house,” Libby says, shaking her head. “There’s no way. Absolutely no way.”
We all look at Fletch, shaking his head as he wails; his puffy, bulging eyes streaming. He sticks his finger into his mouth to suck it, to only learn that it makes things worse. As his pain doubles, again his wailing becomes a breathless, airless squeal.
One of childhood innocence lost.
* * * * *
Fletch falls into a kind of coma, and for a couple of hours, we are able to conduct something resembling a conversation. We eat take-away, while Suse concocts overly-strong gin and tonics for the three non-pregnant people.
Within a couple of hours, Libby is beginning to flag. At 9.17pm. Meantime, Jack is just starting to fire up. For years, through our halcyon days, Jack and I would wind up as Libby readied for sleep.
Parenthood doesn’t change everything.
They pack up, and carefully cradling Fletch, make their escape without him waking. As they leave, Jack puts his hand on my shoulder.
“I know you guys have had a rough period. A really rough time,” he says. “But don’t forget what it is to be together, just the two of you. Try to cherish this time, if you can. Because once you have kids, you can’t just push them back in. There is no return policy.”
I smile, looking up at my tall, red headed friend.
“Thanks, Jack,” I say, hugging him. “But you know how it goes. We all want what we don’t have.”
* * * * *
We bid our friends farewell. We clear up, before settling down to Season Four of ‘Entourage’. Right now, we’re hooked. And we can often lock in three or four episodes in a night. But tonight, things are different. By the second episode, as I look at Suse, I see a decidedly sad face staring blankly at the screen.
I press pause.
“What’s up, hon?”
“I don’t want to talk about it,” she replies.
I am met with the eyes. The ones that say:
- Don’t question.
- Don’t try to reason
- Don’t try to understand
- And don’t push it.
So, I do none of the above.
I press play, and we watch in silence.
* * * * *
We get through three episodes before turning in. Our ablutions complete, we move wordlessly to bed, where the game continues. I read, while Suse bores a hole through the roof with her eyes.
And then, it happens.
In a matter of moments, her anger merges into soft grief, as she lets go, falling into my arms. Her tense, taught muscles relent and release.
“How am I ever going to make it through Christmas day surrounded by your pregnant sisters?” she manages to whisper.
She begins to take breaths, deep breaths, sighing heavily. It is her crying prequel. Almost in questioning, almost a little confused. Almost asking permission.
The sighs continue, on and on. I stroke her long hair, cradling her close. They increase in size, in emotion, in feeling; a crescendo over minutes.
“Let it out, honey,” I finally say. “Let it out.”
And with that she does. She releases it all. The tears come out, big and loud. Like welts that need lancing.
She cries deep, and full, and bruised, and hurt. She bawls, burying her head harder into my shoulder, her sweat and tears and snot soaking sweetly into my shirt.
The hurt, and the anger, and the unfairness of it all spills out. The disappointment and loneliness and wrath seeps straight in. For leaving her to this, for letting this happen to her, for keeping her from having what she so desperately wants.
And I hold her. I don’t try to fix. I don’t attempt to solve.
I just lie there.
* * * * *
Today, I rang the pathology place, and found out that the Beta-HCG was less than one. Less than one. It doesn’t get any lower than this.
It doesn’t get any lower than this.
* * * * *