Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Alicia

Alicia put her head down, keeping to her course, fighting the impulse to sink to the ground. She
felt weak. Heavy but depleted.
Covent Garden was insanely busy, the crowds seemingly aiming for her, exocet missiles
keeping her from her destination. The bizarrely warm weather had brought everyone out into the
early evening darkness, clad in next to nothing, though it was late October. It heightened her
sense of walking through a dream, trapped in a waking hallucination. Her mind was dazed by
the motion of the crowds, her body crammed with the secret, pulsing life inside her.
Focus, she told herself sternly. You’ve got a job to do.
Ben had booked them a table at the Raymond Blanc restaurant overlooking the main square,
where various mad buskers vied for money and attention. A string quartet were playing a lively
Vivaldi piece, dancing as they played. A slinky girl sang in French under a waving Tricolor,
drawing a (largely male) crowd.
It was the auspicious occasion of their first anniversary and his wife had let him out to play. Ben
and Jessica had ‘an understanding’; what used to be called ‘an open marriage’. Alicia didn’t
quite know what to call it. She just took what she could get and tried not to ask for more.
But now, she would be asking for more. She wished she didn’t have to spoil their meal with the
news she was carrying. Literally.
He was waiting for her at the dimly lit table - so much the better for hiding the dark circles under
her eyes, the result of a series of sleepless nights as her hormones rioted around her exhausted
body. Her heart bungee-jumped at the sight of him, part fear, part pleasure. She felt the move of
baby joy within her.
He grinned at her. “You’re late. I was about to order coffee.”
She sat down carefully, smoothing her dress. “You got through the other three courses without
me, then?”
“I was hungry.”
“Charming.” She smiled back, her insides melting as she looked into those deep, dark, lightfilled
eyes, big and round as a child’s.
Seeing how happy and relaxed he looked tonight, she was tempted not to tell him at all. Or, at
least, to wait until desert. Or coffee. Or just after he’d paid the bill.
She was still looking into his dark, gypsy eyes, drawn in by their changing light, the secret, busy
life pulsing in that extraordinary brain of his. What thoughts were pinballing around as he looked
back at her? She reached out her hand across the table, wanting to touch his mystery, find
the combination, break the code that was Ben. Then perhaps she could prepare herself for his
reaction.
He took her hand in his warm, firm grasp, lifting it to his lips. Their soft, moist pressure against
her skin sent mad flutters all through her, delicious shivers coursing through her blood. The new
life inside her stirred again.
“You’re looking especially radiant this evening, Sweetheart.” Said Ben, lacing his fingers into
hers.
That’s being pregnant for you, she thought. She’d noticed this morning, brushing her hair,
how strong and shiny it was, the pale gold falling in soft waves. Her lips were fuller, her eyes
brighter, her skin flushed. She looked... fruitful.
“Not bad for thirty-nine.” She replied. “You won’t have to trade me in for a younger model, yet.”
Or perhaps you will, she thought grimly. Her heart gave another dangerous leap.
Menus were handed to them by a heavily accented tired-looking woman with a warm, motherly
smile. She probably knows I’m pregnant. She’ll advise me against the caramelised brie and
onion tart and the moules marinieres…
While Ben studied his menu and she pretended to, she realized afresh that she had literally no
idea how he would react. He might be delighted - a genetic joy at the growing life he had helped
create. After all, he and Jessica didn’t have any kids. But perhaps this news would break the
spell of their impossible fantasy world, ushering in the ultimatum Ben had so far been spared,
his wife at last drawing the line, making him choose. Alicia thought she knew what his choice
would be.
He had told her from the first how much he loved Jessica, how he would never leave her. That
was his non-negotiable bottom-line. He seemed genuinely oblivious to how shabbily she often
seemed to treat him, invariably choosing her various boyfriends’ company over his, coming
home when she felt like it. Not that Alicia was complaining, exactly - except on principal, on
Ben’s behalf. The more his wife neglected him, the more he came running to her. Considering
the amount of sex he got from her, it was hardly surprising. Oh, boy, the sex… An electric shock
of desire passed through her ripened body.
There was one last possibility, though. A small miracle glimpsed, glowing on the far horizon,
somewhere in the land of happily-ever-after. That he would leave Jessica, come to her. Then
they could all be a family.
This was all very well, but she doubted this land existed. And if it did, it wasn’t a place she could
ever reach. Single mums and mistresses don’t have enough air miles.
Ben interrupted her far-flung thoughts by announcing that he would start with the Lobster
Bisque.
“Did you know that lobsters scream when you put them in the water?” She teased him.
“Actually, they don’t. That’s their shells cracking.”
She flicked his fingers in mild rebuke. “I bet they still feel pain, though. Even if they can’t yell
about it.”
“I doubt it.” He said, screwing up his face in concentration, as he considered this philosophical
question. He was fond of considering such things. “Not in the sense that you mean pain. They’re
barely even sentient.”
”I know the feeling.” She said.
He laughed, a delicious sound. She felt the undulating rapture of her baby dancing to her
daddy’s melody.
Alicia thought she must be only a month gone, her baby little more than a collection of cells;
but somehow she knew that it was a girl. A sister for her two boys - a dark-eyed, sweet-smiled,
strong-willed Emily with her father’s intelligence, her creativity and a temperament all of her
own. Her miracle baby. She herself had never had a sister. But Emily would be the gift of
femininity to her two very male, boisterous boys, a new tenderness in their lives.
She thought about the photograph on her mantelpiece, a triptych of Adam and Alex, three
consecutive years of sports days, big grins on their handsome, open faces as they crossed the
tape. And now there would be a third sports day photo, her pale-haired, determined daughter,
her face screwed up with the intent concentration so reminiscent of Ben, reaching for the
finishing tape.
Adam, Alex and Emily, a trilogy of stories beginning with her love, thrust out into the world.
Alicia’s mother had always wanted a granddaughter. It looked as if she’d get her wish. Not that
it wouldn’t also be a huge shock, of course; hopefully not one big enough to put her in her coffin.
Her mum thought Alicia had gone back to being a virgin since her husband had walked out on
her and the boys, nun-like in her state of untouched single-motherhood. She would probably
say: “But how did it happen?” Sarcastic responses would be hard to resist: “There was a special
offer on babies at Tesco, Mum. Lots of extra points on my Clubcard.”
Ben had been talking, but she hadn’t heard a word.
“What are you thinking about, love?” He said. “You were far away.”
“I was just considering your erudite thoughts on the nature of sentience.” She said, teasing him,
back on safe ground. “Or lack thereof, in my case.”
He stroked her hand, gently. “Stop putting yourself down. You are a beautiful, intelligent, rare
woman. I love having you in my life.”
Tears filled her eyes. She forced a laugh and blinked them away. She didn’t know how to say
the words that could put an end forever to such tenderness, the look of focused love in his eyes,
the gentle pressure of his hand as he stroked along her arm, his fingertips pulsing against the
soft flesh. To never feel that again. But, to protect her baby, she had to be prepared for that.
“I love you, Alicia.”
“I love you, too.” She said, sadly.
“Are you pregnant?”
She looked up, sharply. “How did you -?”
“I don’t know. I just did.” He closed his eyes. “Oh, sweetheart.”
They hadn’t even made it to the starters.
She whispered: “If you’re going to say it’s over, just say it now. Please.”
For the longest time, he said nothing. The hand that rested on her arm was trembling.
“Please.” She repeated.
The universe seemed to shudder to a halt, time frozen in a galactic crisis. Covent Garden was
silenced, waiting for his answer.
“Alicia.” He sighed, shaking his head. “ I just told you. I love you.”
She stared at him, not understanding.
“I’m not going anywhere, my darling.” He smiled, a slow-spreading wonder. “You’re going to
have our baby.”
“But - what about Jessica?”
“I doubt she’ll be at the birth.” He gave a shaky laugh. “I know it’s a dumb question, but are you
sure?”
She smiled into his big, round worried child’s eyes. “Six positive pregnancy tests can’t all be
wrong.”
He nodded. “How long have you known?”
“Three weeks, give or take.”
A shadow of hurt passed across his light, open face. “Why didn’t you tell me straight away?”
She shrugged. “I was scared.”
“So, you haven’t had a scan, yet? I haven’t missed anything?”
“You and I will be the first to see our daughter. And the scan lady, of course. Ultrasound
technician, whatever.”
“Daughter -?”
She stroked her stomach tenderly. “I know it’s a girl. This is Emily.”
He resumed his familiar, sensible scientist expression. “You do know you can’t possibly tell,
don’t you? ‘If your wee smells like kippers it’s a girl, if you pass wind seven times before
breakfast, it’s a boy.’ All that stuff has precisely zero basis in scientific fact.”
She gave a loud laugh, making the couple on the next table turn and stare. “If my wee smells
like kippers, then I’ve got a urine infection.”
“You know what I mean.” He looked worried, again. “What if it’s a boy? What if Emily turns out
to be George?”
“Then I will be equally delighted. But she isn’t. She’s Emily.” And as she said it, she felt Emily
move, smiling in recognition of her name.
He laughed at her determination. “As long as it doesn’t turn out to be Emily and George.”
“Oh, dear. There are twins in my family.”
He lifted her hand to his lips. “Then we’ll get to name a baby each.”
He held her gaze for a long, long time. In the end, she had to lower her eyes, with a shy smile.
When she glanced back up, she found him looking worried, again.
“Alicia.”
When he said her name like that, she knew it was serious. In fact, he hardly ever used her
name. She sometimes teased him that it was because he couldn’t remember it. “I expect you
get mixed up, with all your other girlfriends.” He didn’t deny this nearly often enough.
She swallowed. “Say it.”
He said quietly: “You know this doesn’t mean I’m going to leave Jessica, don’t you.”
So, there it was. She had guessed, of course, but hearing it in simple words was rather
different. ‘Never’ sounded once again in her brain, that most terrible word, the one she was fond
of using, but didn’t fully believe.
“I know.”
“It’s just that… this is going to come as a shock to her. She never wanted kids herself, but still…
I can’t leave her, now. You do understand?”
“Yes.”
“She needs me.”
“I know.”
There was a silence, almost as pregnant as she was.
“How do you feel about that?” He said carefully.
How did she feel? Under the disappointment, the familiar stab of resentment the she couldn’t be
his first - his only concern - somewhere under that lot was something else. A settled resignation,
a strange peace at his decision. If he left Jessica, he would be miserable with guilt, utterly
conflicted. It would be pitiful, like caging some wild, bright thing.
“It’s O.K, Sweetie.” She said, looking back up at him. “We’ll manage. The important thing is that
you want to be in our lives.”
He smiled with relief. “If you’ll have me.”
A thought occurred to her: “You know, Jessica doesn’t have to know. You don’t have to tell her.”
Ben frowned at her. “Of course I do. Lying - even by omission - I can’t do it. It doesn’t come
naturally to me. I couldn’t keep something like this from my wife.”
She jolted at the physical pain those two words delivered: my wife and the rebuke contained
within them. Shutting her out. Lying did come naturally to Alicia, a long-learnt defence against
relentlessly critical parents. And here she was again, trying to get herself - and him - out of
trouble.
“Sorry, darling.” He said. “I didn’t put that very well.”
“We’ll manage.” She repeated, knowing as she said it that it was true. This child would be loved
by both her parents, welcomed into her new, chaotic, unconventional family. She reached out
once again for Ben’s hand, leaned across the table and kissed him, her lips tasting his. “We’ll
make this work.”
“I guess Jessica’s got about eight months to get used to the idea.”
“Till about late June, next year, if my calculations are correct.”
She watched the light dancing in his eyes, a slow smile melting across his face. He got up from
his chair, came to join her on her bench seat. He reached out his hand to her stomach.
“May I?”
“Say hello to your daughter.”
Leaning down - drawing further stares - he brushed his lips against the velvet of her skirt,
whispering: “Hello, baby.”
He stroked his soft, dark hair, just beginning to grey at the temples. She heard him sigh.
“Well, baby and I are both starving.” She said. “How about ordering those starters?”


The copyright of this post belongs to Alisha Bailey

1 comment:

  1. Fab fab fab! Loved it then love it now. Encore!

    ReplyDelete