The last rose of summer dipped its head towards the river. A branch floated on the current. In many ways, the wood was perfectly still, resting on the same patch of water, as the earth moved away from it.
Angus shouted down from the roof top. He was spraying against moss, but his words were lost in the breeze and only heard by the vicar down the lane. The divine intervention told him they needed two bottles of wine. The vicar turned, muttered ‘bugger’ under his voice and he headed back to his house.
But not by Alfie, she smiled back, waved and jumped into her car. It was Friday, early, and a chance to get the supermarket out of the way before the weekend and the chaos of family erupted.
Pushing the trolley and dreaming, Alfie strolled around the aisle, finding herself in the children’s clothing section. Between finger and thumb she felt the fabric, rubbing it to feel the friction as it slid. Picking up the package she was impressed by the cost.
“I can’t believe they’ll be starting school in a few weeks!” A brown eye woman stood in her space, placing her hand on the shirt Alfie was holding. “I picked up a few last Monday. Knowing my Harvey, he’ll get through one a day.” She smiled and rocked back on her heals waiting.
Without disguise, Alfie gave a confused look at her companion. “We met at pre natal, remember, your little one was due at the same time as mine?” She beamed. Of course, but that was over four years ago, and quite frankly, Alfie had a lot on her mind at the time. It came back easily; Naomi had taken a shine to her and Angus. And as a brief encounter, Alfie had easily conversed with her.
“So you had a boy as well. I was hoping we would meet in the hospital, but I was in and out in a day. So quick, no time to get rest before your stuck with no sleep and a baby without a manual.” Naomi threw her head back and laughed at the confectionary sign that hung above. ‘Good planning’ thought Alfie, ‘putting the sweets by the children’s clothing, they don’t miss a trick.’
“Well?” questioned Naomi.
“I was two weeks early, a boy called Charlie.” Awkwardly she felt she had to volunteer information or ask Naomi to fill the gap. “Did you have anymore?”
“No, good lord, beside I need to have sex for that, and my little Harvey always arrives in our room at the wrong moment.” Again the laugh brought attention from other shoppers. Alfie blushed and let her hair hang down over her eyes. She remembered the overpowering nature and the questioning of the midwife. She dropped the pack of two white shirts into the trolley for Charlie. Made her excuses and headed out to the car park. They exchanging Facebook details, and the promise the two boys could meet up and play. Alfie did not have a page and was happy with the little lie.
Missing from the roof, she checked the flower bed at the front of the cottage, no dead husband; she clicked her fingers and shouted to the kitchen about greasing the ladder steps next time. Angus smiled, slipped past and went back to the garden. Alfie set the bags down, withdrew the shirts and headed towards Charlie’s room.
Brushing Tigger aside, she moved the stacking blocks, opened the cupboard and carefully laid the packet down on the other perfectly ironed clothing. Closing the doors she hid the shirts from view.
Standing back she stared up at the pictures. Winnie the Pooh, Tigger and Eeyore. It was the only cartoon Angus could draw. Her hand came out and touched the paint, feeling the texture of the emulsion on the wallpaper. It was beautiful.
Bad music played from the CD player. Alfie, dressed in Angus’s striped shirt, dipped the brush into the yellow. Angus plunged his into the blue. With a seven month bump she hit the wall before her brush. A giggle rose up; she blushed at the delight of her first child kicking back in response.
“Stripes?” He questioned
“Stripes it is” beamed Alfie, and in large yellow and blue horizontals the room came to life. Grabbing a spoon in the other hand, she dug out a curve of vanilla ice cream, and for good measure popped in a plum. Angus leapt onto a chair and remarked that if Alfie slipped in a prune to go with it, then there would be no more kissing this year.
That evening, they sat in the nursery, both proudly excited by the colour scheme, and of Angus’s artwork. The finishing touch of adding three small penguin sketches above the cot perfected the room. It had worked well.
“Boy, named Dylan or Theo or Charles,” announced Angus
“No a girl, Madelyn,” smiled Alfie. “Maddy” She turned and pushed her husband. He stumbled sideways spilling his wine on the carpet, apologised whilst getting evils from his wife.
She came back down the stairs and joined Angus on the patio; he had made tea and passed her a mug. “Thought you might have fallen of the roof, shame, and the insurance would have paid the house off.” He nodded and lent on the garden wall.
“I brought a couple of shirts for Charlie,” She whispered. Angus stayed put for a second, turned, smiled back and pulled his wife in close.
They had re runs of ‘Mock of the Week’ on Dave. They repeat them over again at three in the morning. Angus was curled up under a blanket while Alfie was pacing the room, breathing funny and swearing under her breath. The pain had started several hours ago, and after two phone calls, one long bath and a snack, Alfie was ready. She kicked out at the sofa bringing Angus back to life. He jumped, grabbed the keys and fell over the side table.
Minutes later they flew through the empty country lanes, slowing down and not taking any corners during contractions. “Keep breathing” offered Angus.
“I am bloody breathing you idiot” She returned
“Okay, just helping.” He looked over and decided to drop it.
“Faster, now.” His foot hit the accelerator. “No, slow down.” He withdrew it again. Wired, Angus parked the car ran to the hospital door, pressed the bell and then remembering, sprinted back for his wife. Alfie had the bags out and was stumbling towards her mad, arm waving, partner.
Inside the midwife arrived. “Name”
“Alexandra, Lillian, Forbes”
“How far apart”
“Four minutes, and here comes another.” Angus arrived, a bag in each hand and a rucksack on his back, wide-eyed and out of his depth.
Amazingly, they showed the football repeat on the TV in their room. Angus pulled up a chair and relaxed to watch. He drifted into a light sleep and woke under a chequered blanket.
What a find, slightly beaten up, and the fur needed some gluing. But a quick clean, a touch of brown paint and it was perfect. Alfie checked her purse, withdrew a twenty and picked up the rocking horse under her arm. With Charlie’s first birthday present secured, she purposefully headed back to the car and slid the wooden toy into the back seat.
Biting her bottom lip she drove around the town before heading back along the river towards her village. Covering the horse with her coat she headed in and up to the nursery. Pushed passed the dangling cuddly toy, she placed the horse at an angle and wondered what Angus would make of it. She shuddered with the thought and the cold grew in her bones. Would he understand or throw his eyes to the sky, breath deep, and calmly accept her impulse buy. He'd never said anything before, but underneath, she knew he was struggling with it.
Locking up behind her, Alfie finished her extended lunch break and clocked back into the library. Apologising to Janet, she hung her mac on her hook and grabbed a pile of books. Terry Pratchett and P J Woodhouse found their way back to the right shelves. Alfie hummed and was secretly pleased with her purchase. Warmth came back; the deed was done and would have to be accepted now.
How dare he walk out! Alfie screamed at the door. “You weak, pathetic man.” She stood in silence until the engine sounded and her frustration flooded out. On the side sat a can of beans, it crashed into the far wall, denting the plaster and dropped, rolled and was kicked back.
The flowers that Angus had brought flew outside the back door, still in the glass vase. Through gritted teeth she growled at the world, put her hands to her face and felt the hot tears burn her checks. “You said you wanted kids, you git!” Silence returned to her announcement.
Alfie slipped to the floor, straightened her legs out and lent back against the fridge. Her hand came out and pushed the can forwards and backwards. The clock ticked on and dusk set the kitchen into darkness. She watched the shadows lengthen and listen to the sound of the river moving time along.
Two weeks and he had to go back to work. And to top it all, straight back on the late shift. She was not ready, how dare he walk out and leave her to cope.
She found it attractive about him. Their first conversation, one day he wanted a family, children of his own. Perhaps a little early, but her other boyfriends had been remarkably cold on the subject. Yes, at her age it was about partying, but as she moved into her late twenties, then she often thought of a cottage by a river, and two kids playing up.
Angus hid his sandwiches and made a comment about grabbing a bite. Would she care to join him? Alfie, against her usual advice, strolled out with him, persuading herself, ‘they were just good friends’.
Slowly Angus made his move, ‘and about time’, Alfie informed her friends. How many hints did she have to throw the dope? But he had good hair, long and black and a smile to die for. From ten minutes after their first lunch date, she knew he was the man she would marry. Poor boy had no choice.
Underwater breathing flew into her brain. She snatched hold of the gas tube and took in deeper. The clock slowed down to a stop. White light flooded the room and without warning, the room filled with white coats.
Turning to find her husband, heart beat quickening, panic filling every cell, she grabbed hold of Angus.
Floating upwards, lying flat on her back, she approached the ceiling. Flipping over she faced down at her body and the room below. She watched Angus, pale, holding onto her hand. His face was switching to her, and then to the doctor at the business end. With the midwife stepping back, the doctor took control. A nurse handed a needle, pulled it ready and injected Alfie.
Everything was white, bleached, with grey floors and a pool of blood. Noise shocked her brain and changed the atmosphere. Her soul tugged, she turned over again, and dropped back into her body.
Now the gas had finished its use. Alfie pushed again, sweat falling and breaking her husbands’ hand. “The baby is in distress, we have to get it out now.” Announced the doctor, and it was clear who was in charge.
Down and out, the doctor grabbed and tugged. Alfie fell back, cried out to Angus. He fell back, glued to the wall and his eyes attached to the doctors expression. The baby was carried to the resuscitation table. Crowding around where others. The parents kept out of sight of the work happening by serious people. They spoke in whispers, with odd words floating back to the parents. “Try the pump, okay, get me the suction. No, air, no.” On it went, seconds turned into minutes, which became a lifetime. And no one paid attention to her or dared look in her direction.
Alfie’s head buzzed, the gas mixed with the world around. She needed to know, but was afraid to ask. Everything over the last nine months, their future relied on the answer.
“Where’s my baby, is he okay?” There was real fear in her voice. Angus went towards, stopped and came back. His wife searched the scene for explanation. Nothing came back from him. This could not happen, and a wall built up between her and reality. But reality bites and it smashed back and savaged. She sank back with shock, and the shakes took over.
“He would be four next week, about to start school. I only went to have a look, and then, I just sort of bought them.” She pulled away from Angus, picked up her mug and viewed the river. “I know it’s mad, but it helps me to remember. It scares me more, that one day I might forget. I never want to forget him.”
Angus swayed; a day didn’t go by without Charlie filling his mind. “Don’t worry, you do what you need to to get you through, it’s been a long journey and I guess it never really ends.” He kicked a ball from the patio down onto the lawn. “Better get the lawn mowed before your parents arrive.” He changed the subject, shuffled his feet and left.
As he approached the shed, Alfie called out. “I bought a test, I’m two weeks late.” Angus stopped and touched the petals of the rose he had planted for Charlie four years ago; they fell away and blew in the breeze towards the river. Summer was coming to an end and their journey was about to take another turn.