Mind The Gap
A new baby is on the way in this poignant complete story by Karen Clarke.
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!”