“Joshua, get a move on. We’re going to be late!”
Maureen called downstairs as she tried to wrestle her daughter’s reluctant arm into the sleeve of her raincoat.
“Ow, Mummy, you’re hurting.”
“I’m sorry, Hannah, but can you try and help rather than just squiggling about? Look, here’s the armhole, you do it.”
Solemn-eyed, little Hannah tried.
“It doesn’t reach, Mummy. I told you.”
“Joshua, what on earth are you doing? Come up here and put your coat and shoes on.”
Maureen seized Hannah’s arm, tucked it just a little further back, so that the hand went into the sleeve. “Push,” she said. Hannah pushed and her arm slid into place. She looked at Maureen and her lower lip trembled. “You hurted me, Mummy.”
Joshua emerged from his bedroom holding a model fighter plane, and ran up the stairs. “And the F-16’s chasing the MiG in a seventy degree climb. Eeeeeeoww!”
“Joshua!” She snatched the plane from his hand, popped it down on the table in the hall. “Shoes. Coat. Now!” Joshua scowled, but did as he was told.
It was raining. It was cold. They were late. She chivvied them into the car.
“Mummy’s going to drive you to school now. If you make a fuss I shall probably run somebody over and kill them, so BE QUIET!”
Maureen knew shouting at them was unwise, but at least they shut up. She turned the key in the ignition. The engine coughed once. She turned the key again. Nothing. Third time for luck? Nothing. She took a deep breath.
“Right. We’ll have to walk to school. Out you get, Josh. Hannah! Climb out the same side as Josh, so you’re on the pavement.”
“I don’t want to walk, Mummy. I’m too tired. Can I go in the buggy?”
“Joshua, I told you to leave the plane at home. Go and post it through the letterbox. Hannah, if I push you to school in the buggy, all the other girls will think you’re a baby.”
Hannah pouted. “I could get out down the road and you could hide it,” she suggested.
They had walked about a hundred metres down the road when Sally pulled up in her bright yellow Fiat. She grinned at them.
“Do you want a lift, Mo?”
“Gosh, thanks, yes. You’re a life-saver, Sal!”
As Maureen scrambled out with the children, Sally said, “I’ll wait and give you a lift to work if you like, Mo.”
Maureen shook her head. “Thanks, but I must go back to the house to pick up my stuff before I go in.”
“That’s okay. I work flexi, remember?”
“Thanks. That’s really kind.”
Maureen knew that it was her fault they were late. She’d been worried about her doctor’s appointment this afternoon, and (stupidly) she’d delayed making arrangements for the children to be picked up after school. That had meant frantic phone calls to friends before school, until Pat had saved her bacon – but by then they were late.
It was a busy day. Maureen felt wrung out by the time she left work to visit the doctor. And he confirmed what she’d thought.
“Yes, Mrs Rogers, you’re definitely expecting a baby. Number three, isn’t it? The others are Joshua and Hannah, yes?”
‘How am I going to tell Nigel?’ she thought. ‘Only last week he was saying how nice it was that the children were growing up and we could enjoy some time together again.’
“It’s tough with three, isn’t it? Are you happy that you’ll be able to cope? I mean, there are steps that can be taken…”
“Are you suggesting I have an abortion?”
“No, no. That’s a decision that only you can make. But you would need to decide fairly quickly if you wanted to consider the possibility.”
“Yes, well I delayed coming in until I was sure, because you fitted me with the coil six months ago and I thought everything was taken care of!”
“No form of contraception is perfect I’m afraid, and you had been on the pill rather a long time.”
“Anyway, I don’t want an abortion. Absolutely not. Not a chance. In fact, I’m outraged that you should even suggest it.”
Dr Thomson did his best not to shrug. Maureen glared at him, and stormed out, bumping into someone as she rounded the corner into the waiting room.
It was Sally. And in tears. Maureen stretched out a tentative arm. Sally collapsed against her and sobbed. Maureen held her, then hugged her and stroked her hair, as she would have done Hannah.
“Do you want to come and have a coffee with me, Sally? I’m sure Pat will look after my two for a bit longer.” She crossed her fingers as she spoke; she knew that Pat normally went to Pilates on a Thursday, and was always rushing to feed the family before she left. Sally lifted a woebegone face to her.
“Can I really? Oh, thank you, Mo.”
While Sally drove zigzag up the road, Maureen rang Pat. “I’m so sorry, Pat, but something’s come up. Could you be an angel, and look after my two for another hour, please?” There was a brief silence, and then a reply. Maureen listened carefully. “Yes. Yes, Pat, I’ll take Simon to football on Saturday at nine o’clock, and Ellen to ballet at eleven. I really appreciate that you’re putting yourself out for me. Thank you so much.” As she ended the call, she puffed out her cheeks with embarrassment. Still, at least now she could give Sally the attention she needed.
When they were home, she sat Sally down in the comfy armchair, gave her a box of tissues, turned on the electric fire and made them each a coffee. Sally had wiped her eyes; she tried to look her usual bright self.
“I’m sorry, Mo, to impose on you like this.”
Maureen gave Sally a hug. “It’s no trouble,” she said.
“It was just such a shock, what the doctor said. And I don’t know what I’m going to do. What’s Peter going to say?”
“Surely he’ll support you, won’t he? We all will!”
“It’s just what he said last week, Mo. He said, ‘I don’t know what I’d do if you became pregnant. Leave you, I expect!’ He pretended he was joking, but I just don’t know. And anyway, I’m not sure I want to have a baby. I don’t feel grown-up enough.”
“You’re going to have a baby, Sal?”
Sally glanced up quickly. “Yes. Yes, I am. Didn’t I say?”
Maureen shook her head.
“Sally, of course you’re grown-up enough! You’re much more organised than me!”
Sally huddled into the armchair, as though cold.
“How do you feel about having a child, Sal, I mean if it was just your choice? You know, they’re quite fun to have around. And I reckon Peter would be a jolly good dad.”
Sally looked thoughtful. “A bit of me feels really excited at the thought. But I’m so worried about Peter. You’re right, though, he’d be a brilliant dad. He’d be down on the floor playing with them straightaway!”
“I hope you don’t mind me asking, but are you another casualty of the coil? I’ve heard that the health centre has had more than one person unexpectedly pregnant.”
“I didn’t know that. Gosh! No, I’m on the pill. But you remember Pete and I had a weekend in Cardiff a couple of months ago? Well, I forgot to take them with me, and I thought, ‘Well, missing one won’t matter…’ So it’s my own fault I suppose.”
“You know what I think, Sal? I think you should tell Peter tonight. But tell him it’s good news, and remind him of all the things you’ll enjoy together as a family.”
Sally sat up straighter. “I think I probably shall. You know, Mo, I’ve sometimes envied you, with your two lovely kids. You always look happy together. Even this morning, when you were late and walking to school in the rain you were cheerfully pointing something out to Hannah, and Josh was skipping along.”
“Actually, Sally, I’m in the same boat as you. Doctor Thomson confirmed that I’m expecting just before I bumped into you.”
“Wow! Number three. Are you pleased? No, don’t answer that – I can see! You look delighted!”
“Nigel doesn’t know yet. I shall tell him tonight. I bought a bottle of wine on Saturday as my secret weapon!”
“Good idea. I might try that with Peter.”
There was a ring at the front door. Maureen went to answer it. Sally, in the lounge, heard the clatter as Josh burst in and grabbed his plane from the hall table, heard Hannah’s voice lifted up yelling “Mummy, we had fish fingers and chips for tea. Special treat!”
“Joshua, get a move on. We’re going to be late!”