Wish­ing And Hop­ing

Woman's Weekly (UK) - - Short Story By Gabrielle Mullarkey -

Even as she com­forts me, I can hear all her own fears for her lost dreams, and sud­denly I feel ashamed She sits down op­po­site, hug­ging her el­bows, the clas­sic de­fen­sive pos­ture

There are two types of peo­ple, as my glasshalf-full dad said: wish­ers and hop­ers. “Same thing, surely?” I’d say. “Not quite. Hope makes a per­son act on their wishes.”

So right now, I’m act­ing on my wishes by travelling to see Anya at her hall of res­i­dence, ring­ing to say I’m on my way, and thus mak­ing it a fait ac­com­pli.

I know her lec­ture timetable by heart. On her last, de­fin­i­tive visit, she’d left a tat­tered copy on the hall­way ta­ble while sift­ing through her coat. I’d swiped the timetable, pre­tended it had gone astray, then said, “Oh dear, it wasn’t your only copy, was it?”

“No, it’s on my phone,” she’d said. Ev­ery­thing is, these days.

Cur­rent circs had ne­ces­si­tated my low cun­ning – though at the time, I wasn’t sure what I’d do with the timetable or any fu­ture meet­ing with her on cam­pus.

Tom and I had agreed a soft­lysoftly ap­proach was our best re­sponse to Madam drop­ping her bomb­shell from a great height – its im­pact par­tic­u­larly shat­ter­ing, given that our parental hopes (and wishes) were in­vested in the first of our fam­ily to go to univer­sity.

So here I am, sit­ting in an off-cam­pus cafe, watch­ing her wend her way through the ta­bles, keep­ing a firm grip on my saucer and emo­tions.

She sits down op­po­site, hug­ging her el­bows, the clas­sic de­fen­sive pos­ture, her leather jacket do­ing noth­ing for her pale com­plex­ion or greasy hair.

Still, I was the same in the early stages of preg­nancy. In­stead of bloom­ing, I went all rats’ tails and eye bags. “Are you sleep­ing OK?” I ask her, as she fid­dles with a sugar sachet. “Have you been for a check-up yet?”

“Early days,” she mum­bles, glanc­ing up to or­der a camomile tea from the wait­ress.

As she does so, I glimpse pale blue pip­ing un­der her jacket lapels. No won­der her arms are folded. “That’s my blue dress!”

“Yeah, you said it’d be OK if I looked through that bag you’d put out for char­ity col­lec­tion. This dress was in the bag, and it’s re­ally comfy.”

She’s got me there. It’s a softly bil­low­ing cot­ton, frayed un­der the arms, not skinny rock-chick Anya’s style at all – or should I say for­mer style? Al­though not a size 14 like me or the dress, she’s clearly twigged the case for com­fort as her bump grows.

Her bump. A lump of cor­re­spond­ing pro­por­tions forms in my throat. “You’re wel­come to the dress,” I say. “But it’s frayed and has the out­line of a wine stain on the front.”

“No wor­ries. I’m go­ing to put a pocket over the stain and patch the un­der­arms.” See­ing my sur­prise, she has the grace to blush. “OK, a friend who’s handy with a nee­dle will do the patch­ing. And look, I’m drink­ing sen­si­bly,” she adds as her tea ar­rives – though my gaze drifts to her nico­tine-stained fingers.

Filthy habit, but the more stressed you are, the more you crave your sus­tain­ing habit. I should know; I had to go cold turkey be­fore my 12-week scan years go. Maybe I can of­fer a few tips? Well, if she asks.

My heart con­tracts, watch­ing her watch­ing me as she sips her tea, wary as a cor­nered an­i­mal. I think of the end­less, cir­cu­lar dis­cus­sions since the bomb­shell: how it’s not the end of the world and the uni has an “amaz­ing” crèche… plus, me and Tom have of­fered to do our bit, what­ever that en­tails, and how­ever much she and Alec want us in­volved.

But I can’t help think­ing of mine and Tom’s wishes and hopes; how we en­cour­aged ev­ery glim­mer­ing in­ter­est in lan­guages, judo and cello, imag­in­ing a glit­ter­ing ca­reer first, then fam­ily and kids a long way down the line. And then I can’t help a big fat tear fall­ing on to the ta­ble; more for my­self, I sup­pose, than for all those child­hood in­ter­ests, some more joy­ously pur­sued than oth­ers.

“Stuff hap­pens,” says Anya help­lessly, hand­ing me a hanky. “The tim­ing’s out of whack, I know, and it wasn’t planned, but we do re­ally want this baby. Don’t cry. I mean, it’s not the end of the world, is it?”

In her trem­bling ques­tion, even as she com­forts me, I can hear all her own fears for dreams that might go un­ful­filled. And sud­denly – bet­ter late than never, I sup­pose – I feel ashamed.

I’ve been so busy ag­o­nis­ing for my son and his fu­ture that I’ve cast Anya, his girl­friend of two terms, as hussy/silly young girl, blow­ing hot and cold about the much-mooted idea of a pow­wow with her par­ents, who must be equally shell-shocked.

Plus, look how brave she’s had to be; com­ing to see us on her own as Alec is on his year abroad for his French de­gree. ‘Poor boy,’ I’d thought. ‘Shoul­der­ing the bur­den she’s placed on him while far from home.’

I swal­low hard. “Lis­ten, Anya, I’m aware we’ve been… less than sup­port­ive. But I’d like to change that. I’d like to get to know you bet­ter. Is that OK?”

She smiles, open­ing up her tired, wary face. “I’d like that, too, Mrs Christie.”

“Call me Stella.”

“I’ll try. Alec said you’d come round, if I gave you time, and that I had to trust him. I did

– do. You raised him to be the sort of dad I want for our baby.”

Clever girl, ap­peal­ing to my ma­ter­nal van­ity.

Al­though, as we sip tea, that sets me off on a new train of anx­ious thought. Will her par­ents come round to my boy? He’s due home next month for a six-way pow­wow. I can only hope that Anya’s equally shell-shocked mother gives him the ben­e­fit of the doubt.

Come to think of it, I’ll start wish­ing for it, too.

THE END

Gabrielle Mullarkey, 2017

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