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Authors: Nicki Reed

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39.

On the tram I sit opposite or next to the green-woolknitting woman. I’ve watched her garment take shape, the front the back the sleeve the other sleeve, and not looked at her face once.

Bugger talking to Ruby. She’s ringing, I’m not picking up. And Mark can go to Chicago forever.

I’m simplifying my life. Books, barcodes, online subscriptions, lunch with JJ&T, coffee from Anna, reading on the tram. I’ve shed things, it’s easy.

Every night I run, dressed in black, head to ankle, white runners, iPod. I listen to instrumental music, not songs—they’re almost always about love. I dug up my old Jean Michel Jarre CDs and put them onto my iPod.

I’m tired but I don’t care. Tired is better than sad.

I run under bridges, across railway tracks, along shopping strips closed for the evening, the lights of their milk-bar fridges ghostly. I come home and plunge myself
into the shower, standing in the heat, my body turning from cold red to hot pink. I have toast and fruit for dinner most nights and I’ve smoked the last of BJ’s cigarettes.

I’m making a BJ pile in the spare room—it’s growing fast.

‘What time are you going to bed, Peta? You look wrecked.’

Taylor has a handle on wrecked. And now I know why she talks about it so much. I’m not asking her about Glen—she’ll tell me if she wants—I know what it’s like to be dragged into conversations you’d rather not have. Yes, I’m tired—my eyelids feel like they’re sticking to my eyeballs—but I didn’t think I looked that bad. ‘It’s stress, work, Ruby, BJ. A culmination. Maybe my blood pressure is off. Maybe I’ll go to the doctor.’

‘Not maybe, I’ll drive you. We’ll push our way in.’

We were going to the movies, to see whatever romantic comedy was playing, but Taylor’s a take-charge kind of girl and I’d hate to disappoint her.

Dr Cahill listens to me complain. He takes my blood pressure, looks into my eyes, ears and mouth. He asks me about sleep, then asks for a urine sample. Stage fright: I’m not used to weeing on demand. Success.

Dr Cahill’s office has changed little in the eight years I’ve been seeing him. If anything’s changed it’s the family photos. His eldest in graduation robes looks to be the most recent.

Back at his desk: ‘Peta, you are pregnant.’

All the colour from my face is in my toes, I know it. Dread looks like an unready woman discovering she’s pregnant.

‘But…’

‘When was your last period?’

My cycle has been irregular for most of the year. My body is doing an interpretation of our public transport system and my period comes when it feels like it. Mark was supposed to withdraw, pull out, deal with it. I thought he did. I don’t remember. Is this prom night?

Dr Cahill has a due-date calculator. It looks like a colour wheel interior decorators use. The wheel turns. I’m about ten-weeks pregnant. It’s early December, the baby is due in July. We book an ultrasound.

‘You don’t look like you planned this.’

‘You’re right.’

‘What about Mark?’

‘We’re separated.’

‘Would you like to discuss options?’

I stand up, smooth my skirt, shoulder my bag. ‘Dr Cahill, I don’t need an abortion or Mark.’

‘Well, that explains the tiredness. It doesn’t explain the weight loss, though. You’re going to have to start looking after yourself. You can still run, but you have to eat more. Why don’t you come and stay with me for a few weeks.’

‘Taylor, I can take care of myself.’

Not that I have, but I’m about to start.

‘It’d be nice to have another girl in the house, between Gus and Sam, David and the dog, Mirrie and I feel overrun.’

The windscreen is clean, unscratched and the car ahead of us is a Volvo. It has two kids in the station-wagon part facing us, one of them gives us a thumbs-up sign. Cute.

‘I’ll stay at mine tonight. But I’ll come over after work
tomorrow with some clothes and we can pretend we’re a couple of girls on camp over the weekend.’

‘I don’t love it, Pete, but I’ll see you tomorrow.’

She drops me off and waits until I’m through my front door. After a dinner of steamed vegetables, a can of tuna and two glasses of milk, I fire up my computer and Google pregnancy, two months, Australia.

Pregnancy: tiredness, mood swings, fundus, cord blood donation, meconium. Too much information. And I
like
research. I switch off my computer.

The water hurtles out of the tap. I need bubbles. I overdo it and the bubbles are twice the height of the bath. I step into them. There’s water under here somewhere. I lie back and I’m gone, disappeared inside a cloud, cumulus wettus. Bubbles popping, soft, crackle. I can’t believe there are two of us in the bath. I don’t look any different, don’t feel any different. Tired, but I’m meant to be. It says so on the internet.

The last time I was in the bath was when Loz tried to warn BJ about me. Loz is smarter than we knew. It occurs to me that a hot bath might not be good for the baby. I pull the plug and lie back as the water low-tides it down the plug hole, the heat shrinking away from my body. I block my ears and remember running down the hallway with Ruby, scared of the screaming wail of the water vanishing. Two sets of soggy little footprints run along the carpet.

I have to fix my relationship with Ruby. Again.

We’ll be friends. She’ll forget I’ve been ignoring her for the last month. I’ll forget she’s with the man who put the brakes on my relationship with BJ. And I’ll acknowledge I’d been applying them myself.

40.

‘Oh, so you’re alive then?’ Ruby submits to my hug.

‘I have to talk to you.’

‘Who says I want to talk to you?’

‘You do. Every day, twice a day, for the last three weeks. Can I come in? Is Mark home?’

Ruby sighs. She steps aside, closes the front door.

‘No, he’s not home. Do you suppose we’ll ever get back to communicating without the need for an ambush?’

‘I thought he was dialling it back.’

‘He’s dialling, but they’re not picking up. He’s about to walk.’

She fills the kettle. I sit at the kitchen table.

‘I hope he knows what he’s doing.’

‘None of us knows what we’re doing.’

‘You’re wrong, Ruby. I know what I’m doing Wednesday at 10.30 a.m. I even know what I’m having for breakfast.’

I play with my keys, twirling them back and forth on
the tabletop. They sound like pocket money.

‘Can I have a look at that?’ Ruby says, pointing to my keys. I hand them to her and she throws them into the corner. They clang a hard landing between the toaster and the juicer. The kettle has boiled. Ruby pours boiling water into the teapot, steam hisses. ‘So, what are you doing then?’

‘I’m having an ultrasound to see how far along my pregnancy is.’

She doesn’t face me. ‘I don’t suppose BJ is the father?’

‘No, Rube. It’s Mark.’

‘Fuck!’ She slams the teapot into the sink. It explodes. ‘Fuck, fuck, fuck!’

Boiling water and tea-leaves spray up the window, the curtains, and burst down the front of Ruby’s T-shirt. I’m up and pulling it over her head, careful, careful.

I sit her on a chair, then soak a tea towel in cold water. Kneeling in front of her, I apply it to the burn.

‘Isn’t that my bra?’

‘It’s not like you’ll be needing it.’ Her voice is soft and tired. She speaks into my hair. ‘I’m sorry, Pete, this is going to sound a little selfish…’

‘Rube, it’s fine.’ I’m still kneeling next her and we’re both pressing the wet tea towel onto her stomach. It has become warm. ‘I don’t want him back. I’m sure he’ll feel the same way. He was never prepared to reduce his work hours for me.’

‘But he’s the father…’

‘We’ll work something out. I’m not breaking new ground. You should see how much co-parenting information there is on the internet.’

‘Hello, ladies.’

I turn around to see Mark at the kitchen door, satchel in hand.

‘So, I spend a little too much time at work and this is what you get up to. And it’s not even my birthday.’

‘The teapot broke,’ I say.

Mark kneels on the other side of Ruby, kisses her on the cheek, rubs her nose with his. He never did that with me. ‘You okay?’ She nods and he moves closer. I get out of the way, start to clean up the tea.

He lifts Ruby to her feet. ‘Ruby-roo, let’s get you cleaned up and then you can tell me what happened to the teapot. Because it didn’t just break. There’s a piece of it under the fridge.’ He looks up. ‘And there are tealeaves on the ceiling.’

Mark returns to the kitchen first.

‘Rube says you’ll tell me why she smashed the teapot.’

She enters the kitchen, slings an arm around Mark’s waist. ‘I smashed the shit out of it, didn’t I?’

‘Why?’ he looks from her to me and back, an umpire at the tennis, first serve safe return, out of court.

I play my shot. ‘Mark, I’m pregnant. It’s due in July.’

He seems to be searching for another teapot to break. He plonks himself onto a chair. He’s dazed. We all are. ‘How did this happen?’

They always say that. In movies. Then there’s a cheap laugh as the birds and the bees are explained to a thirty-five-year-old.

‘That night, I was so somebody else, I didn’t think of contraception, or I thought you’d withdraw.’

‘You weren’t somebody else. You were dumb. So was I. Ironic. We’re with each other, we talk about babies for years and years—all right, I was talking—and you don’t
want to get pregnant. We break up and you get pregnant. Margie is going to love this. Why are you keeping it?’

Fair question.

‘Mark, I’ve been tired for weeks, food tastes different, my breasts are tender. The baby has made a mark on my body already. On my life.’

‘Now what?’

‘You’re asking what I want from you?’

He nods. Ruby waits.

‘I don’t want anything. You can have access, whatever. Like I told Ruby—after the teapot—we’ll figure it out.’

Things are much simpler when you just say them.

Library housekeeping is good for the pregnant. I spend the afternoon processing. Sticky tape, brand-new barcodes, rubber stamps, royal-blue fading to purple ink. It’s pleasing work. The smell of new books, the satisfaction of finding their homes among the collection, the challenge of containing them in the space allotted.

Two weeks until Christmas and I put up our tree. It’s small and it used to sit on the reference desk, now it’s taped onto the corner of my partition. Some of the branches have been bent at their tips. The tinsel is fine, gold and red. Jasmine made the star in Grade One. Alfoil and sticky tape, shabby, but I can’t part with it.

41.

Taylor’s place is in Box Hill, on a wide street with a hill that has a church at its crest. A half-renovated Californian bungalow. There’s a swing set in the backyard and a trampoline in the front. Their dog, Blackie, is a tenyear-old Labrador with an appetite for footy boots. David is at Friday night drinks. We’ve had dinner, spaghetti bolognese and apple pie with ice-cream.

‘Taylor, when you were pregnant I didn’t pay attention. There is so much I don’t know because I wasn’t interested.’

‘You did pay attention, just not like someone who’d been there, or was planning to be. That’s fair. Sam is twelve. You probably don’t remember it.’

‘Sam’s twelve? God.’

‘Peta, your best friend’s son is twelve, you should know this. Gus is ten and Miranda is four. Boys, can you do that quietly, please? I’ve just put Mirrie to bed.’

Sam and Gus are scraping the plates, loading the
dishwasher, and there’s a lot of did not, did too. They’re using their elbows.

‘Let’s go in here.’ On the way to the lounge room, Taylor turns back to the kitchen: ‘You two, when you’re finished, you can have twenty minutes each on the computer.’

I sit in David’s recliner, lean back, feet up. ‘How did I become so dumb?’

‘Don’t worry about it. When I wanted Glen I was the dumbest person I’d met in a long time. Horny and dumb.’

‘How is Glen?’

Taylor shows me a photo of him on her phone. He’s gorgeous, buff, tattooed and posing in front of a hottedup car. Not the guy you’d bring home to mother but definitely the guy you’d bring home for yourself.

‘Holy fuck, Taylor! Shit. Is he even twenty-one?’

‘Doesn’t matter. I tell you, when the guy you’ve been banging on the side turns up on
Crime Stoppers
in black and white with a deadly weapon, it cools the fire. I got rid of him.’

‘Holy fuck!’ I’m repeating myself.

‘And just in the nick of time too. I was getting outlandish. Last month I went to the movies—there was just me and one other person rows behind me—and halfway through it I had a lady-wank. It couldn’t be helped.’

‘Lady-wank?’

‘What else can I call it?’ she says.

‘I guess. I’m still horny and dumb.’

‘Yeah, horny, dumb and pregnant. And single. We should put your profile on one of those internet dating sites.’

‘No need. I’m going to get BJ back.’

Taylor frowns. ‘She’s in France, right?’

‘She’s in my global village, we’re neighbours. It’s just that the fence is high and the bits you use to climb over— the railings—are on the other side.’

‘I like it.’ She squeezes my hand. ‘How are you going to get her back?’

‘I’m waiting her out. We both made mistakes.’ I look down at my stomach. My biggest mistake? On Wednesday I’ll see it up close and televisual. ‘I hope she likes pregnant women.’

‘Peta, she likes women, she’ll like pregnant women.’ Taylor looks over her shoulder, makes sure the boys can’t hear her. ‘So, what’s it like to make love to a woman?’

‘What’s it like to have a baby?’

‘I asked you first.’

‘Okay,’ I say, ‘but if were going to do this, let’s make it official. Every stupid, impertinent question you ask, I get to ask a question of equal stupidity and impertinence.’

I predict a big future in vagina talk.

‘Deal.’ We shake on it. ‘And the answer?’

‘You’re going to have to be more specific,’ I say. ‘Broad questions will get broad answers. What’s it like to make love to a woman? Nice. See what I mean?’

‘All right,’ she studies her shoelaces, ‘what is it like to go down on a woman?’

‘Why don’t you ask David?’

‘I’m not sure he knows.’

‘You mean…’

‘Just answer the question.’

I spend the night at Taylor’s. We watch
Grease,
sing along. Sam and Gus look at us strangely but we don’t care. ‘You
had to be there, boys.’ Saturday is taken up Christmas shopping with Taylor and Mirrie. The first year in a long time where I haven’t had it done by October. The shops are filled with angry-looking mums and kids. I don’t have a list and I can’t think. Mirrie wants everything, a drink, something to eat, to sit down, to play on the slide at the toy shop. Taylor looks as tired as I feel.

When I get home there’s a message on the landline from Keith. I call him straight back. I still have my bag over my shoulder and the only light on in the house is the one in the hallway.

‘Dad, thank you for calling.’

‘Peta, I’ve been here the whole time.’

I can’t talk and cry at the same time. I’m quiet.

‘Mark has told me you’re expecting. His mother’d be thrilled, I’m thrilled. But Peta, it’s not too late if you’re worrying about this.’

He’s asking me if I need to terminate his grandchild and suggesting he’d be supportive if I did. He would have handled a little thing like BJ and me. I’m an idiot. I straighten up. Smile. If the homemade adoption certificate was questionable, a grandchild seals it.

‘Dad, I’m so proud you’re going to be my child’s granddad. Mark and I will talk about how we’re going to run this, but Dad, don’t worry, we will. He has Ruby, the baby has an extended family and I have you.’

I don’t have anyone else, but tonight, with Keith on my phone, it doesn’t matter.

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