When the sales assistant scanned the flat-pack baby cot, the machine made a happy little ping. He looked up, made friendly eye contact, and said: Congratulations, you’ve won a complimentary flat-pack baby. Do you want boy, girl, or gender neutral?
Lauren rested a hand on her goldfish-bowl belly. I’m 32 weeks pregnant. Why would we want a flat-pack baby?
Oh, you know, things happen, the sales assistant said. He leaned over, slid a card into her palm. As part of this program, we offer you the chance to share your birth-baby with us. If you so desire. It’s a nice little side-hustle. Only available to platinum members like yourselves.
What do you mean, share? asked Ben. Sell?
Yes, “sell”. The sales assistant put careful air quotes around the word to indicate it was Ben’s choice, not his. We offer it to someone in need. Spread the love.
Lauren and Ben couldn’t decide on a flat-pack baby. Finally they picked a gender-neutral one, to keep their options open.
They assembled the cot in no time. Two seconds flat, they joked. But the baby proved trickier. The body parts squirmed like tadpoles as soon as they were unpacked. The screw-on bum pooped on the screw-on head. The mouth wailed.
Oh-my-god-oh-my-god I can’t deal with this. Lauren flopped on the couch, hands over her ears. As well as constant morning sickness, she had heartburn, constipation, thrush and varicose veins.
We’ll take it back. Ben was stuffing soft little giblet-y bits back into the box. He broke the speed limit to get there before closing. You park, he said, leaping out. He sprinted towards the sliding doors with the box, for some reason, balanced on his head.
Lauren found him arguing with a sales assistant while a queue lizarded behind him.
I’m sorry, Sir, you can’t return a free gift, the sales assistant kept saying. Lauren and Ben waved their arms, shouted, called his boss and his boss’s boss.
I feel for you both, I really do, said his boss’s boss’s boss. I’d love to say yes, but it’s against store policy. Once a program has been rolled out, we don’t have any discretion to, you know, massage it to suit individual customers.
He rubbed Lauren’s arm. It felt good.
Pregnancy is tough, right? I’ve been there. Well, my wife has. Twice.
He rubbed her other arm. You’ve got our card, right?
The birth-baby thing? she asked. Shaping the words felt like committing a murder.
Our care and share program. He rubbed both of her arms.
It’s designed to lighten the load of busy, stressed people. So if it all gets too much, just remember, we’re here to help.
Lauren grabbed Ben’s arm, steered them away without another word.
You forgot something! The boss’s boss’s boss pointed to the flat-pack baby box. The dimples in his cheeks deepened to two funnels.