_She told him over the washing up, her yellow-gloved hands worrying at the soap studs, her eyes fixed on his face.
“I should have told you a while ago; I’m pregnant.”
He smiled at her, his lips curving softly as he nodded slightly. “Yes.” Folding up his tea towel, he placed it on the edge of the sink, turned from her and walked towards the living room.
“Please don’t tell anyone yet”, she whispered to the disappearing bubbles that gurgled mischievously at her.
- * * * *
She ran her hands over her stomach, looking at herself in the long mirror.
“Do you think I’m putting on weight? Am I maybe showing?” she asked him as he walked into the bathroom.
“You’re perfect.” He told her, kissing her temple as he placed his hands on her hips, moving her slightly to the side so that he could reach the sink.
“Are you glad?”
“You know I am.” He smiled at her in the mirror. She watched him; massaging shaving foam into his rough skin – an image of what he might be like when he was older.
“What are you smiling at?” he asked her, smirking.
“Do you think you will be able to stay with me until we are old?”
“I don’t know; I’d like to think so. Why?”
“I think you will love our baby.”
“I hope so.”
“What do you want it to be?”
“I want it to be well.”
She laughed, wrapping a towel around herself. “No – boy or girl?”
His head was bent over the sink, washing off the foam left over from his shaving. When he looked up, he was young again. He turned to her and his smile was gone. “I just want it to be well.”
She looked down, suddenly feeling tired and tearful. “It will be.” she whispered.
He led her towards the mirror again, and with soft fingers he undid the towel, letting it pool at her feet. He placed his hands on her stomach, and catching her eye in the mirror, he told her she was beautiful.
- * * * *
“Julia told me she’s pregnant”. He told his Dad one morning over the phone at work. She didn’t want him to say anything, but the need to tell someone, anyone, was too great.
His father was silent, and he could see the frown form on his unshaven, creased face. “She ok?”
“Well, maybe that’s good. Do you think?”
“Yes. Well – it’s better. We’re happy.”
“I hope so. You made the brave choice. Well done, son. Well done.”
- * * * *
“Well done? All he said was well done? What does he mean by that?”
He shrugged at her, knowing exactly what it meant but unwilling to say.
“What about me? Did he say anything about me?”
“Not really. I think he was busy.”
“Oh. Did you say anything about me?”
“No. Why are you getting paranoid?”
“I’m not. Just assumed I featured into the equation somewhere. Obviously not.”
“Julia – ”
- * * * *
Her body was soft and warm in bed, radiating with the kind of heat that only came with sleep. He skin felt smooth on his palm, clean and fresh. Her hair was still damp, and her flushed lips told him she had fallen asleep crying, worrying her lips with her teeth and she tried to keep her sobs quiet so as not to admit them to him. She did not know how well he knew her, how he watched her and touched her in the night whilst she slept. How he could not sleep without her warmth there, and how he had stared, cold, into the darkness when she had left him.
“Julia.” He whispered her name into her soft blonde hair, brushing his fingertips across her shoulder, her chest, to rest on her stomach.
She stirred, and although he knew she was now awake, she did not look at him for a moment. He passed his hand across her skin, caressing gently, and she turned to him. He bent his head and kissed her shoulder, breathing in her smell. “You know you feature. You know you are everything.”
“How can I be everything? The baby. Tell me you’re happy.”
“I’m happy. God, I’m happy. I love you, Julie.”
“You love us both? You can’t love me and not the baby, Jack. Do you love us both?”
“Yes. Both of you. I love everything that is, and ever was and ever will be you, Julia.”
She touched his hand, pressing his fingertips into the softness of her stomach, as thought attempting to force his fingers through her skin and into her womb. Her eyes were hard for a moment, and he had to swallow his fear that she was blaming him again, that she would start hating him.
“I love you, Julia. I love you, I always will.”
“No, tell me.”
He took her face between his hands and kissed her, holding her to him pressing himself into her, praying he could blank out her emptiness.
- * * * *
Later, in the early hours of the morning, when the light had gone from deep midnight purple to a blue too lazy to be navy, she cried into his shoulder, almost asleep. He had to close his eyes against the guilt her tears created, that rested deep in his gut and made the urge to retch greater with each heavy, terrified sob.
- * * * *
He knew from that night, that this happiness could not last for her. The walls would begin to close in on her, and the more they did, the more she would cling onto her dream of the future, and the further away she would push him. The more she would hate him. He watched her, keeping an eye out for the signs that he missed, abused last time. Closing his eyes, and swallowing against the guilt, the anger, the grief that would encompass him if he let her leave him again.
“I can’t stay here, Jack. Everywhere I go, I can see her.”
“Julia, she never really existed. Not really.”
“She did for me. You have no idea how real she was for me.”
”No, maybe not. I know that maybe I can never know how much it hurt you, how much you will feel this, but I did it for you. You have to believe me, Julie – I did for you. I thought it would be best, I thought it would help you to cope.”
”To cope? How could you be so stupid, Jack? So selfish? How, how could you do that? To help me?”
“Julia – “
“Jack, you did this. And now –“
“Don’t leave me.”
“I did it for you. Believe me.”_
Now, he knew, that if she left him, he would disintegrate, fade into the carpet they had picked out together in that discounted warehouse at the back of town. She had held his hand, and smiled at him.
- * * * *
When he came in from work, there were Homebase bags stacked by the door. Julia, dressed in baggy trousers and one of his old t-shirts was pinning her hair up and beaming at him. She looked smaller in his clothes, more delicate, but he liked it; he liked crushing her to him and having the smell of himself on her, even though the taste was purely hers. She had said her clothes were feeling tight, constricting, and could she borrow some of his things that he didn’t wear anymore? Burying the familiar conflict, he nodded, and passed her these things, items his mother had bought him when he first went to university, a lifetime ago.
“What are you doing, Julie?” he asked as she pulled back from his kiss.
“I’m painting the nursery.”
“The baby is going to be a boy. We can’t have a yellow nursery for a boy, can we?”
“You don’t know it’s going to be a boy. Maybe we should wait.”
She frowned, and shook her head. “No. We might not have time. We need to paint it now.”
“Jack, I felt the baby kick today. Here, feel.” She took his hand, and placed it underneath her clothes. “Feel.”
He smiled, and perhaps he could feel a movement.
“Our baby, Jack.”
- * * * *
It happened six months and three weeks and two days after the date she had told him was the conception date. It came as no surprise to him. He had been counting down the days, the hours. The night before, he had made love to her, knowing it would be the last time he would be able to. She had been on top, telling him she was too big for any other position now. He had held her hips, keeping her steady, wanting this to last all night, never wanting to leave her, wanting to keep her here, safe, connected with him, where he could finally feel everything she felt.
Five years before, he had woken, gone to work, leaving her a note that he’d be back in time for the scan, called his best friend, Matt, in his lunch break to arrange the night’s drinks in the pub.
It was five years since he’d worked in that job. Five years since he’d seen Matt. Five years since he’d visited the hospital.
The first time she had told him she was pregnant after that time, he’d been incredulous, over the moon. He’d immediately called the hospital and ordered the scan. The nurse, remembering their case had been amazed, but happy for them. “Well, I suppose it’s not unheard of. Congratulations.” For two days, he had existed on a tidal wave of hope – the depression, the break up, the screaming and crying and hatred – they were over. They were going to be ok. That pregnancy had, again, ended in the hospital. But this time, she hadn’t even made it into the building. As he pulled up to the car park, she’d fallen silent, and it was only when he parked, that she had said, her face blank, “The baby’s gone.” She began to pull at her clothes, half stripping them off, trying to reach her skin. Her hands pulled at her stomach, her fingernails digging into her flesh until blood began to stain her top.
He was bewildered, not understanding. He got out of the car, and yelled for a doctor. Someone came hurrying up, gathered her into a wheelchair and took her inside. There, she had been sectioned, strapped to a table to stop her from clawing away at her own skin. They had explained to him.
“Your wife isn’t pregnant, Jack. She simply thinks she is. The trauma of loosing your little girl two years ago has severally affected her brain. She can’t process it. The only thing she can think is that she was happy when she was pregnant, and so she seeks to return to that state of mind. But bringing her back here reminded her of the truth, and she simply cannot handle that. She cannot exist in the knowledge of what happened.”
“But, it happens all the time, doesn’t it? Terminations aren’t uncommon, even when it’s nearly seven months on. These things happen, don’t they?”
“Yes, but I don’t think that we can ever underestimate the effect of loosing a child can have on a woman, Jack.”
“Did you know it might effect her like this?”
“There is no way we could have known.”
”Is it my fault?”
“No. Although – and please don’t take this as placing the blame on yourself, what you did was understandable – I do not think it can have helped to know that you went against her wishes and told us to terminate the baby whilst she was unconscious. But it was a decision you had to make, and you made it. I cannot say that if I was asked to choose between my wife and my unborn baby, I wouldn’t do the same.”
“What do I do now?”
“The best thing is to love her. To support her. I cannot say she will ever get over this trauma. And this kind of situation may arise again.”
“What do I do?”
“Either bring her to us and we can section her again. Or go along with it. Make her happy. It will only be temporary – it will reach a point whereby she will not be able to keep the pretence, but you may be able to give her seven months of happiness before that happens. You must do as you feel best.”_
He had chosen to make her happy. To be happy with her. To allow himself, occasionally, to sink into the same illusion. It was the selfish choice, he knew that. But it was, for him, the only real option. But now, it had ended.
She sat on the carpet of the nursery – now painted sky blue – naked, and looked at him. She wasn’t crying, she wasn’t clawing at her skin. She simply stared at him.
“My baby.” Her voice was distant, miles away from the one he knew.
“Go now, please.”
“I want my baby. Not you. Go now please.”