Mind The Gap

A new baby is on the way in this poignant com­plete story by Karen Clarke.

The People's Friend Special - - CONTENTS -

A fam­ily story by Karen Clarke

ILAY in the half-light, lis­ten­ing to An­drew breath­ing. Af­ter eight years of mar­riage I could in­ter­pret all his sounds and knew he wasn’t asleep. I moved my hand across the mat­tress, feel­ing the space be­tween us. “An­drew?” I whis­pered. There was no an­swer. A tear es­caped and trick­led into my hair. I with­drew my hand and cov­ered my face, won­der­ing if there was any way back for us. The pre­vi­ous night he’d come home later than usual, his face pale and drawn.

“I’ve been made re­dun­dant,” he’d blurted out. “They don’t want me back.”

I wasn’t proud of the way I’d burst into tears, fret­ting we wouldn’t be able to af­ford a new house now, or for me to give up work if we had another baby. I’d dis­cov­ered that morn­ing I was preg­nant, and had planned to tell him over din­ner, but found I couldn’t say it.

“I thought your job was safe,” I’d cried, notic­ing the dark shad­ows be­neath his red-rimmed eyes.

“I thought it was, too,” he said, sound­ing wretched. “I’m so sorry, Kate.”

I was deeply ashamed that I hadn’t been more sup­port­ive. He’d worked so hard for so long – we both had. Let­ting go of my dreams of mov­ing to a big­ger house was hard, but it was even harder for him.

He’d given so much to his job, sac­ri­fic­ing his dream of be­ing his own boss in or­der to sup­port us. And now there was a baby on the way, and I didn’t know how to tell him.

I turned and stared at the wall, try­ing to think of a way to say all the things that were churn­ing through my mind. “Mummy?” I lifted my head to see Molly in the door­way, hold­ing the faded blue rab­bit she still cud­dled at night.

“Can I come in your bed?” She looked younger than her six years in her pink py­ja­mas, her cloud of dark hair tan­gled around her face.

“Of course you can,” I said, un­able to sup­press a smile. She’d of­ten scram­bled in with us when she was younger, but hadn’t done for ages, say­ing she wasn’t a baby any more.

“Come on.” I flung back the du­vet and she dived into the gap be­tween An­drew and me. She bounced on her knees a cou­ple of times, and made her rab­bit say, “Good morn­ing” in a funny voice be­fore flop­ping down on her back.

“I had a funny dream,” she said, keep­ing her eyes squeezed shut.

“Oh?” I sensed An­drew was lis­ten­ing. “What about?”

“I dreamed I had a sis­ter,” she said, open­ing one eye and giv­ing me a mis­chievous look. “It was a happy dream.”

I kept my smile in place as my heart turned over. “What did she look like?” Molly opened her other eye. “She looked like me, but smaller,” she said, dim­ples ap­pear­ing in her cheeks. She looked so much like An­drew when she smiled, and my throat tight­ened. “What if you had a brother?” She screwed her face up, think­ing. “That would be OK,” she said at last. “As long as he wasn’t bossy.”

The mat­tress shifted be­neath us as An­drew turned over and ruf­fled Molly’s hair.

“You’re our spe­cial girl,” he said to her, look­ing bleary-eyed in the shad­owy light pok­ing through the cur­tains. It was early, but nor­mally he’d be in the shower by now, get­ting ready for his com­mute to the of­fice. Molly seemed to con­sider his words. “I know,” she said. “But I still want a brother or sis­ter.”

My breath caught in my throat. Did she know? An­drew and I had planned a large fam­ily when we mar­ried, but af­ter Molly the years had flown by and work had taken over, and the time had never seemed right un­til re­cently. Or so I’d thought.

“We need to move to a big­ger house first,” An­drew said, his eye­brows draw­ing to­gether.

“But I like this house.” Molly was puz­zled. “You like it, too, don’t you, Daddy?” she asked, tilt­ing her head to­wards him. His face soft­ened into a smile. “Yes, I do, pickle,” he said. “There are lots of spe­cial mem­o­ries here.”

As the words left his lips, I re­alised he was right. From Molly be­ing born in the kitchen be­cause we hadn’t had time to make it to hos­pi­tal, to the beau­ti­ful gar­den that An­drew’s fa­ther had lov­ingly cul­ti­vated un­til his death, the house was steeped in mem­o­ries.

“The baby could sleep in my room,” Molly went on, talk­ing to her rab­bit, mak­ing his head nod up and down.

Tears swam to my eyes. Did we re­ally need a big­ger house? We’d al­ways be wor­ry­ing about be­ing able to meet all the pay­ments in­stead of just en­joy­ing what we al­ready had.

While Molly snug­gled down and fell asleep with en­vi­able ease, my mind started tick­ing over.

“What am I go­ing to do?” An­drew’s face had creased into fa­mil­iar worry lines. “I’ve let you down,” he went on, push­ing a hand through his hair so it stood up in peaks.

“No, you haven’t,” I said firmly. “Your com­pany has let you down, but it’s not the end of the world.”

He turned to me, his eyes bright with tears. “Isn’t it?” “You’ll have a re­dun­dancy pack­age,” I went on, my thoughts spilling out be­fore I could stop them. “You’ve al­ways wanted to go free­lance, so now’s your op­por­tu­nity.” His ex­pres­sion was dis­be­liev­ing. “But what about a new house?” “Molly’s right,” I said. “This one is pretty per­fect.”

I reached across to lay my hand on his cheek.

“As long as we’re here to­gether, that’s all that mat­ters.”

“Oh, Kate.” His hand cov­ered mine and he took a deep breath, as though it was his first in days. “That means a lot.”

“And I’ve still got my job,” I re­minded him, warm­ing to my theme. “When the baby comes I can go back to work and you can help look af­ter it. If you’d like to,” I added, see­ing his mouth fall open.

“There’s noth­ing I’d like more.” His voice sounded choked as he leaned over, co­coon­ing Molly and me in a hug. “But does that mean what I think it means?” he whis­pered.

“Of course it does, Daddy,” Molly burst out, her eyes spring­ing wide open, shin­ing with de­light. “It means I’m go­ing to have a baby brother or sis­ter!”

The End.

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