Monday 21st June 2010
Gestation: 38 weeks, 3 days
One year ago.
We sit there, in the back of the speedboat, drinking in the afternoon sun. As we head out towards the coral reef we wind our way along the waterline, passing the island’s main resort – twenty times the size of the one at which we’re staying.
As the boat picks up speed, we pass a ten-year-old boy. One arm is waving, the other is pushing straight down into the water, holding something under. His mother, without even looking, yells something incomprehensible between drags on her cigarette. With that, his arm goes slack, and a smaller boy comes up gasping, arms flailing like a stabbed octopus. Again, without looking, we hear the mother shriek:
“Good boy, Jy-dyn. Good boy.” I’m don’t know the spelling, or whether the boys were named Jy and Dyn. I can only guess.
Jy looks pissed.
Dyn just looks waterlogged.
I look back at Suse, a grin across her face, before noticing the couple facing us, shaking their heads, the man mock-wiping at his brow.
“We left our little blighters back in Queensland with their Victorian aunt,” say the smiley man, just portly enough to lend his face an inviting quality. “They love her, and she loves them. We paid for her plane ticket. And she pays us back many, many times over.” His wife chuckles, never taking her eyes off her feet. Her eyes are grey, deep bags under each. She looks like Dyn would if Jy repeated his tricks for twenty-four hours straight.
“Happy to be away?” I ask. She nods deeply.
“Well, hang on,” says the husband, “don’t get us wrong. Have you got kids?”
“No, we haven’t,” I say, jumping in quickly. “And we appreciate this time while we don’t have them yet.”
“Oh, it’s fantastic,” he continues, championing the cause. “I love my kids. In fact, having them was the single most amazing and life-changing thing we ever did. Wasn’t it, Darl?” he asks, without waiting for a reply. “Kids bring a life to you that you just can’t imagine until you have them. It is absolutely amazing. No – in fact, I’d say it’s magical. Absolutely magical.” He stops for a moment. “You guys should consider it. You really should. Don’t be put off by what we say.”
“Don’t worry, we won’t,” I say. “We will. When the time’s right,” I finish, completing the lie.
Suse and I smile, and look out to sea in unison, our body language sealing the conversation dead in its tracks.
Before the virtues of family life can be extolled any more.
* * * * *
Four hours later, we are in the restaurant, looking out over the palm-scattered lawn to the beach beyond. The tropical breeze brushes against our faces as we sit by the light of the torch, like we’re on the luxury couple’s honeymoon-version of ‘Survivor’.
Through the darkness emerges the smilingly pudgy guy.
“How are you, guys?”
“Great,” I say, resisting the urge to lean over and pinch his cheeks.
“Look. I’m sorry about what I said to you before,” he says apologetically. “The second we were on our own, Michelle went through me. She said: ‘It may have been magical for you, but it wasn’t for me. For me, it was bloody hard work. I didn’t sleep right for years.’ So I’m sorry. When I said they were magical, I really should have said that they are bloody hard work. That’s what I really meant. Not magical. Hard work. That’s what I should have said. So sorry about that.”
He stops, looking slightly confused, as if trying to remember a second part to his message; one that has since flown the coop. “There was something else,” he mutters.
Suse and I look at each other and smile, acknowledging that thing which Michelle saw that her husband did not. There’s something in the sisterhood – maybe in the way that Suse and I sat in the boat, maybe our reactions, maybe the whiff of parental pheromones leaking out of our every pore – I don’t know. But there was something that caused her to see. To see the elephant in the room. To understand where we are in our plight. And as the brains behind the mouth, to demand a public broadcast of the not-so-pleasant side of the equation. If even just to take the sting out of the barb, just a little.
The man continues to stand for a moment, squirming in his undies, his palms finally rising up in contrition.
“Nope. It’s gone,” he says, almost to himself.
“That’s okay,” Suse says, “we’re under no delusions. And like we said, when the time comes, we’ll be in for as much of a shock as anyone is, I guess.”
“Yeah,” he says, benignly. “Anyway, I just didn’t want to… you know… My big mouth, and all that. I just wanted you to… you know.”
“Thanks, mate,” I say.
He turns, a slight furrow on his brow, and walks away. He falters on his fourth step, like he’s about to turn and add something, before deciding better. As he disappears into the blackness of the night, he scratches as the back of his rich brown hair, formulating his story, ready to pitch to his wife, about just how little he’d managed to fluff his meaningful, yet unnecessary apology.
* * * * *