A wee story!
The story below was published in Southlight 7 and in the Biscuit 2012 Prizewinners Anthology
AND THEY DANCED TO KEEP WARM.
The day after tomorrow!
She watched it turn blue and she knew their lives were over. Sandy would say different of course. Sandy the optimist, the champion looker on bright sides.
No, not this time. Especially Sandy. He would know this couldn’t be fixed with a joke and a waltz around their living room to the music inside their heads. She smiled at the time he’d been made redundant at the factory and they’d danced, and she’d asked him. ‘Sing the song.’
‘ You to.’ He’d said. ‘Ready? One two…’
They’d both starting singing, badly, Stuck In The Middle With You.
Not this time though. This time they had made the one mistake they couldn’t make. The one thing that wasn’t allowed with Sandy being Sandy. If they found out…What was she on about? If. They would and…Michelle choked and grabbed tightly at the sink…Would they even get to say goodbye?
She washed her face and stared at herself in the mirror. How could they be so stupid? One mistake and everything changes forever. At last they’d found a half decent place. By their standards anyway. Okay the cottage was damp and looking its age—the farmer had told them it was going on fifty years. Michelle reckoned you could double that.
She didn’t mind though. It was theirs. And she was slow but sure getting the place like she wanted. She had to work on Sandy of course. He would have lived in the barn if she’d let him. But he always came round and she loved travelling, picking up bits and pieces of furniture here and there from second, or more likely third hand shops. They had painted and sort of decorated most of the cottage. Their bedroom was the last to be done. The paint for it was sitting in the hall.
What was she going to do with all that paint?
The farmer had even put in newish windows in the living room. A gale still blew through the cracked brick work on either sides but they wore jumpers and scarves and laughed.
And they danced to keep warm
The farmer liked them. He’d told them. Glad of good reliable tenants after that last lot, that’s what he was forever telling them. She had asked but never got a proper answer why ‘that last lot’ were so bad. Maybe they had made the same mistake as them?
A gale still blew through the cracked brick work on either sides but they wore jumpers and scarves and laughed.
And they danced to keep warm
A gentle knock came at the bathroom door.
She stared at the blue. ‘ Nothing yet.’
She heard him lean against the door.
One silly, stupid, bloody mistake.
She thought about that April night. The both of them curled up, fully clothed, in bed, the heating gone again, and the farmer promising to get there before the country chill set in but never making it.
They were warm though. They were together. And she had said it.
‘I think we’re going to be okay.’
Stupid bitch that she was for saying something like that. Tempting bloody fate.
They had made love that night without a thought and…now it was July. Outside she knew the sun would be weaving patterns across the gathered haystacks. Outside everything literally was coming up roses.
Another knock at the bathroom door.
A hesitant voice. ‘Michelle.’
She could lie of course.
No, she couldn’t. They lived enough of a lie without lying to each other.
The bathroom squeaked open.
Staring in the mirror she saw his eyes searching her reflection for any clue.
He found it.
She didn’t nod, or say anything.
They’d never stopped talking in the three years they’d been together since that late night at the bookshop, Michelle taking Frank Kafka’s ‘Metamorphosis’ from him, and asking. ‘ Do you ever read anything else?’
He had been coming into the shop every day for a week. He had bought nothing but Kafka.
‘I don’t read.’ He told her. She’d waited. He said. ‘I thought it might impress you.’
She laughed and that was that. He walked her home every night when she finished work. Occasionally they would go to a café and talk.
She told him all about studying Law, and now not being sure, how she was thinking of giving it up, but she only had a year to go.
He persuaded her to carry on.
He told her he wasn’t allowed to go to University. He’d told her why. He’d watched her when he’d said that. She didn’t hesitate. ‘ Like I said not all it’s cracked up to be.’
She’d got her degree but never practised. She couldn’t after they were married and she knew that. Sandy had wanted them to live together. Then the world would never have known.
‘ But I want to get married.’ She’d said.
‘I know.’ She said. ‘Will you marry me?’
Now the silence between them.
For three days they had tried test after test and all with the same result. The blue stayed blue no matter how many times they closed their eyes and prayed together quietly for a miracle. For three days they lay quietly together in their high ceiling bedroom, eyes gazing through the skylight, numb to the stars gathering and fading into the blue of the morning.
During the day Sandy worked on the farm. She typed in the estate agents. Sandy baled hay with an energy the farmer wondered about. She cried in the toilets with love for the dream that was their cottage. For three days they never talked about the one thing they had to talk about.
What were they going to do?
As it turned out they didn’t need to. For there were plenty of other people who could talk for them, or more particularly about them. The lady at the Chemists for instance. When the knock came at the door Michelle knew at once who had told. After all there was money to be had for telling. That first time Carol from the office had bought the kit for her. But you can only say false alarm once. After that she had shut off thoughts of getting caught and gone to chemists herself. She had to be sure. She had hid the kit of under aspirins and shampoo of course but she couldn’t hide it from the lady behind the counter.
One swipe of her card and it would have flashed up.
An illegal purchase. There they would be on the system.
Mr and Mrs Sandy Williams.
One phone call from the lady in the chemists and she would be in the money. She would say she had no choice but to report them of course. Sandy had a criminal record. It was an offence for someone like Sandy to father a child. The lady in the chemist was acting for the good of society.
For the briefest of moments thoughts crept up from Michelle’s belly and gathered like bile in her throat. They threatened to spill over the policeman taking notes from her third hand green baize couch.
She had done her best with the cushions but the springs in the couch had long ago hardened like ancient arteries. The policeman shifted every few seconds and she was glad.
No she wasn’t. For he was young and embarrassed to be asking the questions he had to ask. They could have least sent a woman.
All the time the questions were getting asked Sandy paced around upstairs in their bedroom. The first thing the policeman had said was that Sandy wasn’t allowed in the room. A wave of anger had passed over his face. Michelle had never seen that before. She had urged him with a look to do as he was told.
Eventually he had.
Once the pacing had turned into silence and the boy policeman had glanced upwards and he had changed into law enforcement man before her eyes.
She had to say. ‘He’s upset. But he won’t do anything. That’s all in the past.’
‘So you know all about his past?’ The policeman said.
‘ He was a wee boy at the time.’ She said.
‘Yes, a wee boy.’ Said Michelle.
The boy policeman was gone for good now and law enforcement man glared across at her. And Michelle hated him for her having to apologise, to explain her own husband.
My God but was he right?
No, no, no.
The policeman handed her the blue appointment card.
And with that he was gone with a parting glance at Sandy who now stood at the top of the hallway stairs.
‘When?’ He asked.
His voice was angry.
She hesitated. ‘ Tomorrow.’ She said. ‘ There’s still a chance. There is Sandy. We’ve got to believe that.’ She saw the anger leak out of him and he shrunk with it. He swayed and for a terrible moment she thought he was going to crash down the stairs.
She said. ‘Those tests are not always right. I’ll go myself.’
He turned back into the bedroom and closed the door.
She patted her stomach.
They went together to the hospital. At reception Sandy got the look up and down, and Michelle the sneering, you stupid little madam, look. They took their seats amongst the other mother and fathers to be. The walls were covered with help and advice and this phone number and that if you wanted to talk to someone, anyone, about anything.
A box of colour and well worn toys stood in the corner. Smiling faces smiled up at them from magazines scattered on tables.
Then the unsmiling face of the receptionist was looking down at them.
‘Not here. Blue tickets are down the other end of the corridor.’
Heads snapped up. Eyes met theirs. Heads were buried in magazines.
They got up and hand in hand walked the long bare corridor. Behind them murmurs and mumblings grew.
They were the only ones at their end of the corridor but it was an hour before the doctor appeared and led Michelle into the small examination room. Sandy stared at the bare walls for another half an hour.
When Michelle returned still in her blue hospital gown she sat down without a word. She stared at the wall.
Two hours later the doctor ushered them into his small but cosy looking office. Plaques on the wall told you he was a proper doctor. Photos on his desk told you he was an upright citizen—three children, two boys and a girl grinned up at them.
Michelle so wanted to lay the photo flat on the desk. To throw it against the wall.
Two printers sat on a table behind the doctor. One with blue paper, one with white.
The doctor was writing notes, and then he looked up at Sandy.
‘ What was it then?’
‘Sorry.’ Said Sandy.
The doctor waved the blue ticket. ‘ These tickets never tell you anything. Just being curious. Hope you don’t mind. Nothing violent I hope. I have got a panic button here you know.’
And all with a smile and the writing of note after note.
Sandy never said a word.
‘ Okay then.’ Said the doctor. ‘ It’s just I had a shoplifter in here not so long ago. She just blurted it out. Couldn’t get her to shut up. Some people. ’ He looked up from his notes. ‘ The thing that gets me is I can never tell. Five years doing this you’d think…I mean, you look so normal.’
‘I am normal.’ Said Sandy.
Michelle squeezed his hand, she could feel it pulse. She thought again how she had never seen him angry.
‘Did she keep her baby?’ Asked Michelle.
The doctor almost laughed as if it was the stupidest question he’d ever heard.
‘Course not.’ He said.
He said it like a doctor. He said it as a printer buzzed into life behind him. It spewed out their future in blue paper.
The doctor told them in that matter of fact doctor way that they didn’t have any.
‘ Confirmed. You are pregnant Mrs Williams. It is my duty to inform you that it is an offence to be impregnated by a criminal.’
‘ I was sixteen.’ Said Sandy.
‘Sit down Mr Williams. We have security.’
Sandy sat down slowly.
‘ Now.’ The doctor went on. ‘ You know the choices you have to make.’
She knew. Abort or the baby taken into state care.
‘ Now?’ Asked Michelle. ‘ I have to decide…’
‘ No, no. Don’t worry Mrs Williams. It used to be like that but…We’re not barbarians are we? No. I understand that this is a traumatic experience for you.’ Sandy’s hand squeezed hers to breaking. She glanced at him. He eased his grip. ‘You go home. You decide.’
‘And tomorrow you force us to separate?’ Sandy said.
‘ It’s not me Mr Williams. It’s the law. ’
‘ What happens to the babies when they’re taken into care?’ She asked.
‘ They are regularly tested for any criminal tendencies that more than likely have been passed on.’ Michelle felt sick. ‘ If they have such tendencies then…the state takes care of them.’
‘ What does that mean?’ Said Sandy.
‘ It means the state takes care of them Mr Williams.’ The doctor closed the file. ‘ But that is not your concern.’
‘It’s our child.’ Said Sandy.
The doctor sniffed loudly. ‘You have made your wife a criminal that’s what you should be thinking off.’
Sandy stood up quickly. Michelle grabbed his arm as the door behind them opened. Two security men stood there.
‘ Goodbye.’ Said the doctor.
It was raining as they were escorted to their car. Passing the chemist on the way home Michelle had an urge to turn the car and smash right through the counter. If she was a criminal now anyway.
But she didn’t. Instead she turned the car like the good official person she no longer was into the lane that led towards their cottage.
They hadn’t spoken all the way home.
That night they lay and cuddled, and as the night turned to day she said.
‘ I’m going to keep it.’
‘ You can’t.’ Said Sandy.
‘ It’s my…our baby.’
‘We can’t even be together anymore.’ Said Sandy. His voice was shaky and quiet.
She turned to face him. ‘ It’s my fault.’
He kissed her. ‘ Mine.’
She said. ‘We could make a run for it. We could have the baby and…’
He kissed her.
‘ We could still meet. In secret.’ She said.
‘ Maybe.’ He said.
‘ I love this cottage.’ She said.
They fell asleep as the sun hit the skylight.
They woke to harsh knock at their front door.