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An Almost Perfect Moon

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Язык: Английский
Год издания: 2018 год
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It was Vanessa again.

‘Mum, I’m fine, honestly – I’ve got Ben here … he’s being brilliant actually, so there really isn’t … no … no … we’ll call you later … NO, MUM, I don’t want you watching me give birth. Bye.’ She put the phone back.

‘Luce, please,’ urged Ben.

Lucie ambled through to the hallway. ‘Jesus, she is just impossible sometimes.’ Then putting on a shrill voice she mimicked, ‘“But darling, it’s not natural being without your mother, and Ben’s a man and he’s bound to be hopeless.” What bollocks – Oh, yow!’ she cried again, grimacing and clutching her stomach. ‘Can’t be too long now.’ She looked up, giving him a reassuring smile. With a protective arm around her, Ben ushered her out of the front door.

But there was still a little way to go yet. At the hospital, Lucie was quickly put to bed, but there was still no sign of the baby. Afternoon dragged on to evening, and Ben started to feel increasingly helpless, alternately pacing up and down antiseptic corridors and clutching Lucie’s hand at her bedside. The last few hours were tortures. Lucie’s pain became increasingly apparent, but he was powerless to do anything about it. This was a full-on attack against all his natural instincts to be gallant and protective towards her. It shocked him to see someone normally so composed and pragmatic about everything yell and clench her teeth, sweat pouring down her face. And somehow so undignified: legs straddled, and people gaping at her ever-widening vagina. Thank God he was born a man, and saved from all the shoving and prodding that went on. Strange thoughts circulated his mind. He suddenly remembered how once he’d had to drop his pants for a doctor when he was about twelve: it had been the most embarrassing moment of his life. But such concerns were clearly the last thing on Lucie’s mind as she grimaced and shrieked and puffed. He hated to think of her suffering so much, but what could he do? There was a limit to how often he could say, ‘I’m right here, darling, you can do it,’ in sympathetic yet determined tones.

But the baby finally emerged just after midnight, red, angry, but complete with a shock of dark hair. Lucie started laughing then crying, then doing both at the same time. Ben just gawped open-mouthed. His son! A brand new human being, alive and perfectly formed. He stared, unable to comprehend the magnitude of what they had achieved.

‘Look, he’s got a little willy,’ Lucie managed to say between sniffs and sobs and giggles and Ben found himself suddenly laughing too, marvelling at the tiny, eight-and-a-half-pound baby cradled in her arms. A son. He had a son. Truly, unbelievably amazing.

‘And to think you thought he would be a girl,’ said Lucie.

‘He’s perfect. Just perfect. You’re so clever, Luce, so, so clever. I can’t believe it. I just can’t believe it.’

Lucie looked at him, laughing again despite her tear-stained face, then kissed the baby’s head. ‘Thomas,’ she said, ‘just Thomas.’

‘He’s bloody perfect!’ said Ben again. He couldn’t understand what he was feeling; it was all too overwhelming. Shock, relief, happiness, fear, deep love. As the three of them lay there on the brithing bed, he knew this was the most intense emotion he had ever experienced.

Vanessa came over in the morning, with Terrence (her ‘boyfriend’ who, at forty-six, was eight years younger than Lucie’s mother) hovering uncertainly in the background. She brought with her a huge bouquet of flowers and clucked ecstatically over her first grandson. But Ben could tell Lucie was exhausted, and after the initial elation of the previous night, saw her start to become a bit riled and scratchy. A couple of hours after the birth, she’d been moved from the birthing room to the maternity ward, but in there other newborns were wailing and she found it hard to sleep. Then, just as she dropped off, the paediatrician came round to check on her, followed by the midwife, who immediately started asking her about her sex life and advising her not to have sexual intercourse for at least six weeks. Ben watched as Lucie’s expression turned from one of extreme exhaustion to that of utter disgust.

‘Couldn’t think of anything worse, quite frankly,’ Lucie told her sharply, adding, ‘Anyway, my fanny feels so huge I think Ben would get lost in it if he tried.’

Then they were left to it. No one else really bothered with them, although either side the constant pitch of crying babies became almost unbearable. Thomas soon started screaming too, his tiny head screwing itself into a deep red contortion of anger.

‘What the fuck am I supposed to do?’ Lucie asked Ben, just a hint of panic in her voice.

‘I don’t know – feed him, I suppose,’ suggested Ben.

‘This is so embarrassing. I mean, I just feel really self-conscious,’ Lucie told him in hushed tones as she unbuttoned her nightdress. It was miraculous, Ben thought to himself, that Thomas knew precisely what to do, latching onto Lucie’s breast hungrily.

‘How is it?’ asked Ben gingerly.

‘Fucking painful, just like everything else to do with birth,’ said Lucie, gazing down at the little bundle sucking noisily. Ben watched, intrigued at this new use for Lucie’s breast.

Then he said, ‘Look, darling, what about this maternity nurse? What with this deal and everything, won’t you reconsider?’

‘Darling, I know you worry, but I really don’t want anyone telling me what to do every five minutes. I’ve said I’ll manage. Anyway, could you get me a cup of tea? I suddenly feel very dry.’ He noticed her pull the sheets up, limiting further the amount of flesh on public view.

‘Course. Sure you’ll be all right?’

Lucie just smiled at him weakly, so he kissed her, then kissed Thomas, and wandered off towards the canteen, a place he’d discovered early on the previous afternoon.

But on his return, he discovered both his wife and son fast asleep, Lucie’s arm gently supporting Thomas. He watched them for a moment. It was hardly surprising she was exhausted; he felt exhausted himself, physically and mentally. Placing her tea on the grape-and flower-table by her bed, he looked at his mobile, thought about ringing the office, then put it away again. Just for a few hours, he could be forgiven for not thinking about work, and for concentrating on his wife and son instead.

With contented thoughts swimming around his mind, he decided to quickly wander outside and get some fresh air. The sanitized constant-warmth seemed suddenly cloying, almost stultifying, and he started walking increasingly briskly to escape. Endless squeaky corridors of shiny linoleum led into one another, but eventually he found the exit and walked out, blinking in the bright morning sunshine. To his left flowed the river and opposite, the great Gothic minarets and towers of the Houses of Parliament. Images from the future filled his mind: his son clinging onto his hand as they walked down to the playground, or at the beach building sandcastles together; then later playing football in the park. Thomas would love him unconditionally, depend upon him, think him the best dad in whole wide world. They were good thoughts. His family was going to be different – they were going to be happy, carefree and close, and he was always going to look after them.

Sitting on a bench, looking out across the river, relief surged through him. Lucie was fine. Thomas was fine. Nothing had gone wrong. Their child was perfect. Throughout the pregnancy, he’d feared that Thomas would be handicapped or deformed in some way, and worried about how they’d cope. Worse was the worry that Lucie would die in childbirth. He knew this was ridiculous and that he was indulging in Bronteesque melodrama, but he couldn’t help himself. As the birth drew closer, these fears and his desire to protect her constantly increased dramatically. The previous evening, there had been times when Lucie appeared to be in so much pain he felt stabs of panic that she was about to leave him, one final gasp before life slipped away for ever. It didn’t bear thinking about; he’d be lost without her. She was the only person who made him feel safe, secure and, most importantly, deeply loved. How lucky he was. So, so bloody lucky.

A deep wave of emotion engulfed him. It rose from the pit of his stomach, up his throat, bursting to express itself, and he knew he was about to cry. Desperately trying to repress it, he felt the water welling up at the edges of his eyes, making it hard to focus. Then he could take it no more. Relief, intense happiness, and gratitude for the twin gifts of his wife and son, overwhelmed him so completely that he began to cry. A couple walked by, but Ben looked at them without apology, making no attempt to halt the flow. He stood up and clutched the railings, but as his breathing juddered and he struggled to control himself, he realized he was no longer crying, but laughing instead.

Twenty-four hours after first going in to hospital, they were back at home, surrounded by flowers. Ben insisted Lucie sit down on the sofa with Thomas and do nothing, while he took the flowers and fetched anything she required. But despite this activity on his part, all the tension of the previous weeks had oozed out of him; he felt soft-limbed, his heartbeat back to normal.

Pausing to sit with Lucie, and admiring his son’s perfection for a while more, Ben wondered whether fatherhood would always be this good.

‘Don’t you think we should start ringing a few people?’ asked Lucie sleepily.

‘Probably should really.’ Ben grabbed the phone and began tapping in a number.

‘Who are you calling?’

‘Steve.’

‘Steve? Can’t you forget about work for just today?’

‘Darling, you know I can’t. I haven’t spoken to him once yet today.’ He’d felt even Carl wouldn’t have expected him to work that morning, but now they were back at home, it was his duty to call in. If only the deal could have happened two weeks before. He put the phone to his ear. ‘Oh hi, Steve. What’s the latest? Is the press release in yet? … It is. OK … A boy. Thomas … Fine … Sure … Bye.’

He looked at his wife. ‘Sorry, darling, but you know I’m only doing it for us. And now we have Thomas there’s even more reason to work hard. There’s someone else to think about now.’

‘I know,’ said Lucie gently, leaning her head against him.

Ben punched in another number.

‘Who now?’ asked Lucie.

‘Harry.’

‘What about your brothers though, darling?’

‘They can wait. Harry?’

‘Ben! How’re you feeling?’

‘Unbelievably content. Bit weird.’

‘How’s Lucie?’

‘Couldn’t be better. More tired than me,’ Ben told him.

‘Get him to come over,’ Lucie whispered loudly.

‘What, now?’ Ben replied, moving the handset away from his head.

‘Yes. Well, later. I feel I need to see someone normal and I want to show off our creation.’

Ben put the phone back to his head. ‘Why don’t you come over after work. Bring Julia if you like.’

‘I’d love to, mate, but I don’t want to get in your way. I mean, don’t you want to be on your own?’

‘Not at all – we need to show off Thomas. As long as you’re not expecting supper.’

‘Tell you what, I’ll bring it. Some Chinese or something.’

‘Harry, you just don’t know how good that sounds. Thank you.’

‘And Ben? I can’t wait to see Thomas. You must feel fantastic’.

‘Yeah, it’s brilliant – but very strange. Amazing though, really, really amazing. More than amazing. And it makes you unable to talk properly.’

Harry laughed. ‘I’ll see you later,’ He rang off.

The house soon looked even more like a hothouse. But despite the arrival of yet more flowers and their deep happiness, Ben and Lucie felt strangely alone and vulnerable that afternoon. They simply didn’t know what to do. Lucie had tried to change a nappy, with Ben watching.

‘Bloody hell,’ he said, ‘how could so much poo come out of such a small bottom?’

‘God knows,’ replied Lucie, trying to keep her face well away, ‘but the pong and mess of it is revolting. Makes me feel quite nauseated. I also feel really uncomfortable. I think I’d like my old body back now.’
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