Pay for it

The letters started coming after the twelve-week scan. They know the baby’s going to be healthy so they’ve made their presence known. Every week the letters have been inviting me for my free abortion, reminding us of the situation. The tariff’s going up twice a year now with the new government.

It’s not just letters. Paul gets phone calls and weekly visits at work. They keep picking his brains, trying to get our decision out of him. But the truth is we haven’t made it. He gets rid of them somehow and then we silently worry about it at night.

My thoughts are always on the pile of unopened letters. The red ‘urgent’ stamp branding my conscience every time I see it. I have to look away because it’ll affect the baby. They keep coming and we just get used to the constant ebb.

As the weeks have gone by my sickness has eased off but my belly button’s popped out. They stop the scans and hospital visits after twelve weeks – that’s as far as they help you. Their way of saying that having a baby isn’t the way to go. Not having a doctor around is frustrating. I don’t know if craving pencil lead’s normal or if having balloon ankles is natural. And I’m really conscious of what I think about and what I watch on TV. I’ve been really strict. I haven’t watched any scary films since I found out I was pregnant. Nor have Paul and I had sex. My thoughts are directly linked to the baby so I’ve got to be careful. I don’t want my kid to be violent or sex-crazed. I only have a vague idea of my due date because I remember them mentioning it back in school.

Schools used to have sex education. But by the time I was old enough, they cut it. And before we could find anything else out, they’d brought in the tariffs. I tried asking Mum about it once; I remember it so clearly. I’ve never seen her that angry before. She was insulted I’d asked her. Gave me a lecture on why it’s important and then she just flipped.

‘It’s a good thing they’re introducing free abortions. Then you won’t make the same mistake I did.’ I’m an only child, so that hurt.

When I told her and Dad about this they literally pushed me out the front door. I called Mum in the day and said I had some big news to tell them. So they invited us round for dinner. Mum, being the traditionalist she is, jumped the gun and assumed Paul had proposed to me. We got there and she’d done a slap-up meal, dressed the table with candles and everything. I waited until we were on the third bottle of wine to tell them. But that only dramatised their reaction.

Dad’s still not speaking to me. But Mum came in the shop the other day to say her piece.

‘If you’re doing this for us, we don’t want a grandchild. We didn’t even want you…’ she trails off. Once again, cutting her maternal ties to me, ‘Look, if you want to ask me anything baby-related then you can. But you’re not seriously thinking about keeping it, are you?’

Nowadays, there’s no way my questions can be answered. All the baby books were banned 20 years ago.

I think I’m eight months along but I haven’t bothered asking Mum anything. When I told the neighbours they looked repulsed. And Paul and I still haven’t talked about it. His answers always mirror mine. It feels like my opinion’s out there floating mid-air and his is wedged in his throat, trying to escape through his expressions. Until yesterday.

It was Friday and Paul did a half day at work. He came home with a smile on his face, one I hadn’t seen in a while.

‘What’s up with you?’ I asked, smiling for him.

‘I got a promotion. And you know what that means? More money.’ The relief that covered me came out in tears. But then anxiety started choking me as he carried on, ‘This means we can finally paint our bedroom. And I’ll take you away somewhere.’

I was breathing hard now, trying to break the sealant of phlegm that blocked my throat. I eventually coughed up a wail and cupped my stomach, ‘What about… this?’ I could hardly see through the tears. He really didn’t get it.

That night we didn’t talk. I lay awake for hours, just me and the baby. It kicks occasionally, to let me know it’s there. I respond by thinking of myself smiling and saying ‘I know’ to it. I don’t talk to it because it won’t understand. And it’s like tapping on the glass of a fish tank; my voice is ten times louder to the baby and I don’t want it to be deaf. Eventually I fall asleep to the sound of my heart beating against my temples. Paul stays on the sofa.

The next day we try and talk about it. But I can’t help but think how much I love being alone with the baby. I’ve deliberately woken up in the night lots of times before, just so we can be alone. And I get the same feeling every time. I love what’s inside of me more than I’ll ever love the man sleeping next to me.

I don’t need to say it but I do, ‘I want to keep it.’

He looks at his hands as if they’d have an answer, ‘Are they open now?’ I didn’t know what he was getting at, ‘I’ll go down there and fill out the forms.’

*

By the time he’s back it’s gone six. I’ve made a half-arsed dinner maybe as a thank-you. Or just because I thought I should.

‘Where’ve you been?’

‘To do what you wanted.’ He sits down and starts scoffing some bread.

‘What we want.’ He doesn’t look up from his plate and starts twirling pasta round his fork.

‘So what did they say?’

‘The usual. That it’s not worth it. That the fees are going up and that we can’t afford it.’ His voice is sticky through the carbonara.

‘So. What happens now?’

‘He told me to sleep on it. Then if we still want to, I can go down first thing tomorrow and pay for it.’

*

The last of the letters arrived yesterday. I opened it.

by Jo Wigley

 

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