I pulled the door to Gillian’s room behind me, as quietly as pushing open a mausoleum, as if I was already covering over the tracks of having ever been there. I trudged down the stairs, dimly aware that I might bump into James Munn. If I did, I’d have just told him to go and fuck himself. That’s what I’d have told him. I looked back up to see if Gillian’s door was still shut, to etch it on my memory: what it looked like and where it was, as if it was part of her. I hesitated. Some part of me expected her to be standing there, with the light behind her. I checked to see if I’d put my other shoe on and tears welled up in my eyes.
I loped down through the bluebell woods glad that nobody could see my childish tears. I stopped. And started. Wondering if I should turn back and ask, ask her, I didn’t know what. By the time I’d reached the stepping-stones over the stream I’d convinced myself that she was only kidding; that it was some great ruse and that everything would be ok. I almost laughed. I’d see her the next day and everything would be back to normal. She wasn’t really pregnant. People make mistakes all the time. Then I remembered her red-rimmed eyes and the way that snot had run from her nose as she tried to hit me.
The kitchen light was still on. I stood in the darkness of the ash trees, wiped at my face, put on the mask of normality. I wasn’t sure that my mum needed to know. The baby might not even have been mine. It was probably for the best that I didn’t say anything. I waited, longed for everything to go back to the way it had been, but a cold wind blew away such thoughts and I banged my shoulder against the back door and let myself into the glare of silver kettle whistling kitchen normality.
‘Your dads…’mum started to say.
Mum had her cup already primed for tea at the corner of the table, and her 20 Embassy Mild and matches sitting, waiting, for a better class of smoker. She had on her old nightie, and a night robe that was an old coat, and slippers made for shuffling, pieces of cloth tied, rather than worn, around her feet. She was no different. Everything was the same, but me. I couldn’t get past her.
‘What’s the matter son?’ she said.
‘Nothing,’ I sniffed.
I longed for the sanctuary of my bedroom, to pull the blankets over my head and not to think. Mum put a hand on my shoulder and my body buckled and a sob escaped from my throat. Dad escaped from his chair beside the fire and I sniffed again trying to swallow back tears.
‘Your dad’s not been well,’ mum said, in the kind of soothing voice that she used to talk to small children and animals. She kept patting me on the shoulder as she spoke and my head turned to hide in her touch, like a bird with a broken wing. ‘He’s going to need to take a few days off,’ mum continued through my tears. ‘He’s not been very well,’ she said again.
‘What’s a matter with him?’ I choked the words out.
‘Nothing,’ said dad. ‘What’s the matter with the playboy?’ he asked mum.
‘Sssh,’ said mum to dad, leaving him standing there like a shadow.
I straightened up. ‘It’s Gillian,’ I said. ‘I think she’s pregnant.’ I shut my eyes and opened them again. ‘She is pregnant’.
‘Jesus, Mary and Joseph,’ said mum.
‘That doesnae mean anything now-a- days,’ said dad drawing out the last word.
‘Whee-sht John,’ said mum, staring dad down.
Mum’s head moved almost imperceptibly, from side to side, as if her body was rejecting what she had just heard. She took a deep breath in through her nose and let it out. Her longed for touch came when her fingers encircled my wrist, pulling me slightly off balance towards her.
‘We’ll do what we can son,’ she included my dad in her glance, but her eyes never left mine, ‘but you know that you’ve had your shot of life, and it’s finished now. All that matters is this wee baby’.
‘A wee baby’s not such a bad thing. Is it?’ said dad.
‘Aye, a baby’s not a bad thing,’ said mum letting go of my wrist, but the handcuffs she’d put on me were still there in my head. There was no getting away from it. I was going to be a dad.