The woman in the café is about to give birth.
I can tell it’s her first by the way her mother fusses and instructs, and that it’s soon by the bursting rotundity of her belly. Sophie’s pretty, blonde, retroussé-nosed. She’s polite to the server. But she’s not happy; she twists her limbs, exhales with effort. She half-smiles at photos of her mother’s Christmas pudding party but it’s hard to tell if she cares. Perhaps she thinks there are better foods to celebrate.
Sophie’s husband comes in, opens his arms and cocks his head like a spaniel. He also has a belly, which isn’t unusual – some men gain weight when their partners are pregnant; it’s an empathy thing. He orders a cappuccino, adds three sugars and howls at his mother-in-law when she says she smoked when she was pregnant.
‘The doctor said I’d have an easier birth,’ she says laughing.
‘Ah, the good old days,’ he says. Sophie scratches her elbow.
He asks his mother-in-law about her Brussels trip.
‘The Christmas markets are wonderful,’ he says.
‘Have you been?’ she replies.
‘Well, no, but they’re amazing. Did you drink glühwein? Did you try the moules frites? Delicious.’ Sophie’s husband is a man who knows everything, even about places he’s never been and things he’s never seen. He rubs his stomach. He likes his food. He likes his life.
Sophie pecks at poached eggs as if eating is a chore. Sophie’s husband talks about Sophie’s birth plan and what they want and don’t want. He talks about her generous maternity allowance. He’s less happy about the loft conversion, which should have been finished weeks ago. ‘Dems the breaks,’ he says, in an accent. Sophie’s cheeks flush.
‘Have you decided on names?’ Sophie’s mother asks her daughter.
‘Eva for a girl, George for a boy,’ Sophie’s husband says.
Sophie’s husband leaves for the gym. He kisses Sophie’s forehead and shouts goodbye. Sophie’s mother orders more tea and talks about a neighbour’s cat – it got trapped in someone’s motorhome and died from stress, but not before destroying the upholstery.
‘It cost thousands to refurbish,’ says Sophie’s mother, shaking her head.
‘Mother!’ Sophie says.
No one fears for Sophie but I do – everyone’s saying it’s the best time of her life but her bottom lip is bitten and her eyes dart like a scared bird’s. Perhaps she feels the odds are stacked against her but she’s too primed by privilege to say so. Perhaps she’s scared that when her contractions start her body or baby will betray her. Sophie, your spotty blouse is modest and your earrings are tiny pearls – my top flaunts a crinkling cleavage and I wear fuck-you-forty hoops. I doubt you’ll swear at your child, I doubt you’ve gotten high and floated on your back in the Thai Gulf, dripping in phosphorescence, convinced you can hear the secrets of the sea. I doubt you call people ‘love’ and your vowels aren’t flat. But I have your back, I have your aching back.
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