Maggie opens her front door, and I hand her a screwdriver set.
“Oliver said you needed this urgently,” I say. “He says there should be one in there that fits, but let him know if there isn’t.”
I try not to sound irritable, but really — did Maggie require this so urgently that I had to interrupt a nap and traipse here? The last thing on my wish list right now is another needy middle-aged woman. My mother already occupies that job slot, and it seems that my beloved Maggie is picking up her bad habits. They’ve spent a lot of time together over the last few days; in fact, today, Mum has been at Maggie’s house since before lunchtime. There was no reason she couldn’t have brought the desperately urgent screwdriver set to Maggie.
But why stop at blaming middle-aged women? Oliver, for that matter, could have brought it to Maggie himself when he got home from work, but no: “You take it to her, Libs. I’m shattered.
And I’m not, of course.
Maggie takes the screwdrivers from me. “Come in,” she says, opening the door a little wider.
“No, it’s OK.” I turn to leave. “I have to get back. Jack needs his dinner.”
Maggie reaches out and grasps me by the elbow, drawing me back. “Jack will be fine with Oliver for a few minutes. Come on,” she urges. “Your mother just put the kettle on.”
I don’t want tea. I want to give Jack his dinner, put him to bed, and then I want to go to bed myself.
“All right,” I say with a sigh, and step into the wood-panelled hallway.
“Go and make yourself comfortable,” Maggie says. “I’ll be with you in a moment.” She trots off towards the back of the house.
Wearily, I turn left, into the living room.
Then I feel my jaw drop.
* * *
“It’s usual not to have a shower for a second baby,” Maggie says behind me, as I gaze at all the people congregated in the living room. Mum. Charlie, Anita, Julia. A few moms from Jack’s new nursery school. Even Caroline. “But you’re a special case.”
Pink and blue bunting criss-crosses the room. Pastel-wrapped boxes lie piled in one corner. Pink- and blue-iced cupcakes nestle together on a three-tier stand.
Welcome, Twins! on a big banner over the fireplace.
I feel my eyes prickling. “Thank you,” I whisper, looking round at everyone. I hug Maggie, not quite able to believe that I’m the centrepiece of my own surprise baby shower. “Thank you so much.”
Anna appears from the kitchen and hands me a glass of something that looks like champagne. “Sparkling grape juice,” she says, before I could object. “Although you might want the real thing before the evening’s over,” she murmurs, her eyes darting in the direction of my mother, who’s sitting in Maggie’s rocking chair and talking earnestly to Charlie.
“Delivery rooms aren’t my scene,” she’s saying. “But Libby would like me to be there, I think.”
“No way!” I mouth at Charlie, any rush of sentiment for my mum receding rapidly.
Charlie’s lips twitch. “Of course, with it being a C-section delivery, they probably won’t let you in.”
Mum takes a deep, huffy breath. “That’s not what I’ve seen on A Baby Story. It’s a real family occasion for all those women.”
Heaven preserve us. Mum started channel surfing four days ago, and all her “I didn’t come to America to do this, that and the other” arguments vanished.
Apparently, her raison d’être in America is to watch The Learning Channel all day. If I’ve seen one woman give birth on these dreadful programmes since Sunday, I’ve seen thirty, and believe me, it’s not a good idea when your own birth experience has been scheduled for seven days hence, and your mother has decided that an impromptu family party in the operating theatre would be fun.
Yes. The twins will be extracted from me on April 26th at 9am. My slightly elevated blood pressure was still causing Dr. Gallagher some concern at my last appointment, so he booked me into his busy timetable for next Thursday.
I’m not happy about it, or even convinced that it’s necessary, but what can you do?
Oliver says: Look on the bright side. At least there will be no getting out of bed at three in the morning because your waters have burst and the bed’s a swamp.
Always has a way with words, does my Oliver.
So, as I was saying — what can I do?
Sod it. Enjoy the party. That’s what.
“Cheers, everyone,” I say, raising my glass of grape juice.
* * *
Charlie fetches her car—everyone had parked their cars in the next street so I didn’t get suspicious—and packs all the gifts in the trunk to deliver them to our house. I feel so lucky, so loved, and overwhelmed with the generosity of these women, some of whom I barely know. It’s a sense of female camaraderie that I never experienced in my hometown of Milton Keynes. A sense that I belong. Belong to something good.
“I just wish it didn’t have to be this way,” I say to Maggie as I put my outdoor shoes on, waiting for Anna to bring her car round to drive me the short distance home. “I’ve always dreaded the idea of being sliced open, but I don’t have much option if Dr. Gallagher thinks it’s too risky to let me go on any longer…”
Maggie snorts disbelievingly. “If I know dear Gerry, he’ll have a golf tournament lined up in a couple of weeks that he doesn’t want to miss. Take my word for it, your hospitalization is less to do with your safety, and more to do with keeping his handicap.”
“No!” I’m shocked. “He wouldn’t do that — would he?”
“He’ll take very good care of you, don’t worry. Better to do it his way than to have a complete stranger delivering those twins, don’t you think? Imagine — you could end up with that frightful witch, Elspeth Wojcik.”
I shudder. One visit to that particular obstetrician, whom I’d nicknamed Doctor Death, had been enough. The possibility that in Dr. Gallagher’s absence she could deliver our twins was horrifying. But I still balk at the idea of having my midsection cut open, no matter how unnoticeable the scar might be afterward.
“You need some alone time with Oliver. That’s what you need,” Maggie says.
“We went out for dinner only last Saturday,” I protest.
“Ribs and fries aren’t going to bring on labour, are they?”
“What?” Maggie’s twists of conversation confuse me sometimes. Quite a lot, actually, these days.
“Alone time at home, is what I meant,” she says. “Not alone time at the local steakhouse.”
The penny drops.
“Oh!” I’d forgotten about that little trick to bring about labour. And it sure beats glugging castor oil.
Maggie nods. “Send Jack and your mother round here every lunchtime for the next few days, and see if you and Oliver can spoil Gerry Gallagher’s plans.”
The gravel on Maggie’s driveway crackles as Anna’s Mustang draws up outside.
“You’re on,” I say.
* * *
A Massachusetts spring heatwave. Sun pouring in through our bedroom windows. A chickadee chirruping close by.
Oliver feeds me another strawberry. “I should get back to work,” he says. “But instead, I think I’ll call in and say you’re not well.”
“Again? Will they believe you?”
“Don’t care if they do or not.”
“You could always work at home,” I suggest.
“Or do something else at home. Does this old wives’ tale really work? Technically, you’ve still got four weeks to go. ”
“It’s supposed to work. So they say.”
I lie on my side and gaze out of the window, at the slight breeze moving through the tall oak trees at the end of our garden, and I listen to the silence of Woodhaven.
The babies have been quiet for a couple of days; still, sleeping a lot, getting ready for their grand entrance.
No. It won’t be long. I know it.
© 2012 Kate Allison