"Fourteen days late now," she said. "My body isn't working."
"Don't be silly. Of course it is." He wrestled with his tie staring into the mirror. "Babies come when they're ready."
"How would you know?" She turned her face into the pillow.
"The doctors say so,'" he said, brushing dandruff from his jacket. "Sorry, got to rush darling, I'm running late." He turned at the door. "Don't forget we're off to the Indian Raj tonight."
She groaned. "Worth a try," he said, smoothing a smile. "Whenever anybody hears you're late, they advise eating a hot curry. If it works we'll call him Vindaloo or, if it's a girl, Korma."
She lay in bed for an hour after he had gone, dipping back into drifts of half-sleep, trawling her mind for the genetic knowledge of maternity that all putative mothers are said to possess. She failed to find any; instead there were the thoughts that liked to exercise themselves every morning now.
It had been, looking back, utterly ridiculous to call him in from cutting the back lawn to make love at eleven o'clock on a Saturday morning. Yet when she came out of the bathroom with the predictor it seemed the obvious thing to do. Especially after Betty told her -- in strict confidence - that she was off the pill and she and Reg were, as she graphically put it, "fucking like rutting rabbits, his baby-maker is in overdrive."
They had undressed and got on the towel she had put on the bed and, yielding to impulse, she had taken his penis in her hands, massaging it gently until it stood erect, then bending her head and giving it a kiss.
He gasped. "Never done that before".
"I know, but I want to inspire it to supply me with the best quality sperm." A nervous laugh as it had been the first time she had really paid any special attention to his penis. Even after almost two years of marriage, all she knew was his penis was long and slightly curved with a mushroom head and irregular ridges running down the shaft. It brought to mind one of those phallic fertility symbols or an abstract sculpture you are not meant to understand but just enjoy. It was all about function and not beauty, as she had explained to her unmarried sister, and, she assured her, adding a small embarrassed cough, Kevin had nothing to be ashamed of in the genital department if we are talking about size and ability --which was, she whispered, about to be put to the test.
She saw him watching as she carefully creamed the entrance to her labia. She tended to get sore there and she always encouraged him to tease her first with one, then with two fingers until she could feel her arousal and sense vaginal secretion sliding down around his fingers. Still smiling, she eased a pillow under her as Betty, her oldest and best friend, told her it improved their chances. "We can then do the ante-natal classes together."
She watched him lifting his shirt over his head, pressing apart her legs and positioning himself before lining up the mushroom head. She took a deep breath. "Oh darling, go deep and really do it."
Instantly she felt pressing; had a wonderful dizzy moment as passion rushed up her spine. A jumble of thoughts: the blue dress perfect for maternity wear, her mother's face with the news, the aisle of the church and the choir that then turned magically into a golden forest with a trembling silver stream. He was lying on her, working his erection, thrusting slowly, seeming in no hurry to make his delivery. Nice to feel his arms around her, his head nuzzling hers but -- came the thought - they were meeting Alan and Shelia for a pub lunch and she would need time to do her hair and repair her make-up.
Wonderful dizzy moments and the series of grunts showing he was enjoying himself. "Oh Kevin darling, do you really, really love me?" she had said, gasping, feeling she needed to say something. She looked down and watched him invading her as if expecting it to be especially exciting this time. Instead a chilling realization: her neatly ordered life and her comfortable home would be changed forever.
She had heard so much about all the things a woman loses when she has a child: her looks, earning capacity, ambition, energy, esteem. She had always been critical of young mothers, seeing them as weak women who missed out on so many opportunities. Single friends told her all the horror stories: that for fifteen weeks you wouldn't be able to keep down your breakfast; that a pregnant woman enters a desert of sexual want; that you could be torn in labour requiring uncomfortable stitches; that you could defecate during labour; that fucking after giving birth would be like pushing a sausage down the Channel Tunnel; that men hate being with women who have been stretched. Women now had a choice, except, because it was the way of the world, they hadn't; just some flexibility when it came to timing.
She stared up at the man she had married sensing the brief pause, the half thrust and then a long deep push that took him to the head of her cervix, the head gushing, spurt after spurt. She had gasped, grasped him and thrashed her legs in an effort to lift her cervix to take it all, acutely aware of the hot jets. This was, she told herself, the moment of truth, wondrous, incredible, astounding, magnificent. She loved the sound of words like that when they belonged to her. Then came the pleasurable relaxed feeling: an emotional catharsis was how it was described in an article she had read in a magazine in the hairdressers, an article which had also stressed not leaving motherhood too late.
She had pulled the damp towel out from under her and put the pillow back at the top of the bed. "We should try again early in the morning," she had said. Now she couldn't remember if they had. Kevin always liked to sleep in late on Sundays.
Watching the summer light strengthen at the margins of the bedroom curtains, she started to worry again that her body would never work, that she would simply grow bigger and bigger. Brushing away unsummoned tears, she commenced the laborious business of getting dressed.
"Brrr,brrr, bloop, bloop, bling." Kevin had bought her a new mobile with a jokey ringtone. She had laughed the first few times but now it was driving her crazy. "Still nothing?" came the incredulous voice of her sister. "Mother is going mental, not eating or sleeping, nervous, jumpy, mostly just sitting by the phone, or staring at it. Look, try sitting on the washing machine during the spin cycle; I'm told that is a surefire solution to getting things going."
"It will come when it is ready," she said tersely.
"It'll be a boy. I have it on good authority that males are the lazy ones; They don't want to leave a nice warm womb for a cold crazy world. And I can't say I blame them."
She wanted to weep. Estimated Time of Arrival seemed a date in the distant past. It was like life after death, only she had not yet laid down her life. This was limbo. She was not currently living inside real hours and minutes. Perhaps this was what living on borrowed time meant. She imagined herself being the subject of jokes, friends and relations wondering why she could not behave in the proper, appropriate manner, why she had allowed herself to become a gross, waddling and breathless invalid clutching her stomach as though it had been borrowed from someone else. Walking was like wading through a stagnant swamp up to the thighs, and her ability to do even the simplest tasks was painfully restricted.
As for Kevin, he had been, by turns, caring, uncharacteristically amorous, and sexually assertive to beyond the boundaries of kinky. He had insisted on what he called "the more practical equestrian position with you wearing that bulge", even getting her to wear her jodhpurs and riding boots. "Horsey, horsey, he would shout and she had responded by waving a riding crop and mounting him. To her surprise this had resulted in dizzy orgasms which she credited to the position and pressure of the feotus. But in the last weeks she had been forced to warn him off.
She perched herself on the stool in the kitchen; sitting had been denied her for three weeks now. She made and buttered some toast. "Brrr,brrr, bloop, bloop, bling." It was Kevin. "You alright, ol' gal? You sounded a bit umpty when I left this morning. Worried about you."
"So you should be worried about me. I let you thrust your great penis into me and fuck me just so you could be a father. You've pumped me full of your semen and ruined my figure and I feel horrible, terrible, uncomfortable and it hurts like hell to pee. God really fouled up when he came to design the human reproductive system."
That is what she wanted to say but instead she said. "No, I'm fine, darling. Just a bit bloody bored with waiting."
"Now, you'll ring me the moment you get any of the signs. I have the phone on the desk just inches away and you keep yours with you every single moment."
"Do you mind not calling me 'old girl'."
"Sorry, bad joke. I'm so nervous I can't think straight."
She tried to do some dusting but after a few desultory flicks she fell into the sofa and pushed up some cushions to support her aching back. She picked up the family album left by her mother who seemed to believe the baby pictures of her and her sister, taken soon after their arrival into the world, would be suitably inspiring. She turned the pages listlessly: her and her sister as toddlers, then making sandcastles on the beach at Bournemouth, then when they were much, much older on holiday in Greece. There was one of Alan -- gorgeous Alan - with her, both standing knee deep in sparkling blue water beside a small fishing boat. That was the magical year the family had rented the villa on Corfu for two months while their father was convalescing from an operation.
Oh, Alan. Oh Alan! The olive grove patterned by sunlight, the pungent smell of crushed wild thyme and the restless rhythm of the crickets, azure blue sky and a glimpse between the gnarled, ancient trunks of Homer's wine dark sea. Oh Alan, you were the first and I gasped as you reached down and touched my naked and open labia, a smile spreading across your face as I told you I loved you. My body trembled as you cupped my labia into one hand, pressing the heel against my clitoris, your fingers finding my silky wetness before allowing your erection to slide in with a slow and gentle ease, just as if it belonged there. My back arched as my hips thrust forward pressing harder against you. You were Zeus and I was Leda, the swan, and I was ready to be your bride. You were throbbing in me, throbbing large and firm, great pushes that lifted me slowly to the top of Olympus, home of the gods.
Student archaeologists do not, you explained, have brides, or children, being too busy travelling the world and digging into the past to care about the present or the future. Your erection sought deep into my being and your semen, when it came in golden waves, seemed like a gift of the gods. Maybe I would have liked your child as my forever memory of you and of olive groves in the sun. Oh Alan, I did love you. All that summer I loved you and I never let you see the tears.
She rewound and began playing this, one of her favorite memories, again. The reverie was broken by "Brrr,brrr, bloop, bloop, bling." This time it was Betty. "Never mind, they're bound to induce us now. Let's make the most of our last days - this is the last time alone we'll ever have."
She heaved herself off the sofa, clutching the coffee table for support. It was a reminder of her of her grandmother in her last years, reaching for her Zimmer frame and saying, "No, I'm fine. I have to do it myself. I'm not entirely helpless yet." She took the Home Health Encyclopedia out of the bookcase and looked up induction: 'The doctor snags a hole in the membranes which surround the baby with an instrument like a long crochet hook, then the waters gush out.'
She took some long deep breaths and made an effort to return to Greece only to be interrupted again: "Brrr,brrr, bloop, bloop, bling." Her mother. How was she feeling? Shouldn't be long now? Surely? The tone was accusative implying deliberate vexation. She half listened, staring at the ticks on the calendar. That Saturday morning was 280 days ago, longer, she realized, than the German siege of Paris in 1870, subject of her prize-winning essay at school.
It was all just the same the next morning, a day that began with the same shape, same dialogue, same boring routine. "Fifteen days late, my body isn't working."..."Don't be silly, of course it is."
Except, listening to the lunchtime news on the radio, standing at the kitchen sink, the jar of instant coffee in her hand, the world turned bright blue. She stared out into the blue garden and heard the beat of her heart rising like the crescendo of an orchestra. And she seemed to be standing in the shallow end of a warm swimming pool...
"For God's sake, why are we going this way and not through the park?"
"The SatNav knows what it's doing. You heard it. Left into Bloomington Road."
"But that's not the quickest way and, oh God, I've another one coming."
"Hang on, ol' girl. You'll soon be there. This satellite navigation is state of the art and maybe it knows of a traffic hold-up that it's steering us round."
"So why are we slowing? And look up ahead. Road works. Traffic lights. Nothing's moving. The bloody thing didn't know about that, did it?"
The baby heaved itself up against her ribs and she decided a scream would concentrate the driver's attention. It did. There was wild wheel turning, hooting, and she glimpsed waving fists and heard shouting. The disembodied voice from the box pointed out they had made "a direction error".
There was a sense of ordered calm in the reception room together with that sharp smell of hospital disinfectant. "I just want to lie down, please."
A tall figure in a white apron pressed against her. "Oh, we're not ready for that yet. Not for quite a time. They'll have to come closer together before we get to that. You just sit there, Mrs Bleak. Tea or coffee will be coming up shortly."
"Blake. The name is Blake. It's been spelt wrong on the card." She grabbed for her handkerchief and mopped up the streaming tears. "That - that just about fucking well sums it all up: nine months since the impregnating fuck when I let one of his sperm invade my ova, now bleak fucking prospects."
"Now, now, Mrs Blake, we mustn't get ourselves in a state, must we. It's not good for the baby."
"Bugger, the little lazy sod."
White Apron ignored the outburst and, with a stern warning about not using mobile phones, left abruptly. She stared round at the white walls. A faded, framed print of Constable's Hay Wain was centered on one wall and a water cooler stood in a corner next to a table with a pile of old National Geographic magazines. He had said he would just be a few minutes parking the car. She could guess what had happened. Kevin would be sitting there, throwing up the curry he had eaten last night.
Picturing Kevin returning his supper, she had a sudden warm feeling. The room seemed to slowly get brighter, almost golden, and with a sense of spiritual revelation she understood Kevin was lovely and loving, sexually potent, and she just knew he would be a great father.
If there is to be a brother or sister for this one, perhaps the conception could be on a holiday in Greece rather than the bedroom on a weekend morning. She had a brief mental picture of Kevin kneeling in the olive grove beside the sea and her taking out his erection with its mushroom head and irregular ridges and making love to her to the sound of the sea and the crickets. She decided that would be nice. She looked down at the bulge and knew with a wonderful certainty she had discovered the long wanted assurance that she really was in love with Kevin. And in love with Kevin junior who had made his first public appearance in the last scan.