When I come here on my own I make myself proud and quiet, I sit queenly in the waiting room and I sit up quite straight. I found it was worse when there were friends who came with me to give their support. They just made me feel I should be sad and sombre amongst them, as if lonely had been outlawed. It is easier on my own. But then I’m not alone at all and I shouldn’t forget that-that I’m not alone is the whole reason I am here. Slap. The woman holding the baby next to me this time goes for it. Her child screams more and more. Its cries are heavy and hang in the air like cartoon Bisto fumes.
The brown carpet tiles look like they have pubic hairs woven into them. I stub them with my Doc Marten bootcaps. In the corridor there are children running about under and around crossed legs, waiting to be examined. Water on the cheeks, faces not yet formed. Their hands held tightly across roads. The way their tiny fingers fall around the index finger of a mother, around their snub noses as they suck thumbs. It cuts off the lower half of their faces. The furrow in the brow, harmless groove between… and I can’t look into their wise wee eyes for long.
She comes out, old and officious this one, and calls too loudly across the room. Eyes forward to my name I stand and the gazes of the mothers prickle my skin, Why is she here? Or worse, We know why she is here.
I follow her and the door is closed behind me with a No Entry sign.
She knows full well what we’re doing here and there is none of that kind, easing sympathy that we’ve found in our conversations with the other doctors. She clears her throat and clicks her pen. So there, it goes. We can still hear sounds from the waiting room outside. The mothers crossing and uncrossing. And slapping again.
After the usual questions, ‘Yes I am sure – about six weeks,’ she makes me strip from the waist down and lie on a thin, padded table always covered in disposable paper. Then she puts on gloves and begins to prod my stomach. Even through the rubber her hands are cold, but she doesn’t apologise or smile once for the stark, alien feeling on my skin.
From behind the glass of the sonogram screen it emerges. Monitoring the pulse, she covers the still flat stomach with sensitive gel. ‘I can’t see anything yet,’ I say, hopefully.
But then there you are, suddenly. Unmoving, a blip on the landscape. The air fuzzy on the screen around you as though you emanate something that disrupts the atmosphere. The woman holding her hand firmly on our stomach has her back turned from us. She wears a long white coat that is so stiff it has the effect of a lampshade, starched out away from her wire legs. I breathe in and out; causing shudders along that cord which holds the me to the you. Us. Amongst the rubber and slime of our insides, the spongy purple and pink of our crowded space, there has grown a link.
We are glad to leave, to walk along the enormous backalley behind the clinic and feel quietly immune to the gangs who might shout across to us. The streetlights make us unreal and you make me untouchable. Orange and red we are stage lit on our small, first walk home together.
And in the meantime.
He sits at home and watches Match of the Day so as to believe in something.
The screen flickers green-blue on his face. Shadows jump off the sides of the bed, but they are the only thing that moves. His arms are folded although the team he prefers is winning. His head is bent towards his chest and he sucks in through his teeth the withered remains of a butt. The room is stale and his eyes are drooping red.
‘You took your time,’ he says and holds his arm out, limp in a dead gesture. The shadow of his hand claws the opposite wall. His head is already turning back to the television. The quilt is pulled up around him-a scrunched-up piece of paper. He sniffs as the referee pronounces a goal disallowed, and with him, over on the screen, the crowd roars annoyance. The arm is let lie on the quilt, dead to the world.
‘What’s the score?’
‘Suppose it is.’
Then there is a suspension, time stops still. We want him to turn and see us, all of what we are.
‘Why don’t they put the clock in the corner of the screen when they’re showing highlights?’ we say, to get his attention, show how much we know.
He looks at the ceiling, pushes out a sigh. ‘It adds to the tension, I guess. I don’t know, maybe they have to edit it quickly.’ This only happened today.
Oh. We try again. ‘Want a cup of tea?’
‘There’s beer in the fridge.’
‘No.’ He moves his feet over the edge of the bed. The toes gape, the joints in his ankle crack as he makes a circle with his foot. The action on the screen switches to another game, just different coloured shirts.
‘Offside!’ He shouts from the bed, his body suddenly animated. He is waving the fag end at the screen and ash is sprinkled onto our clean sheets.
‘I never understand offside,’ we venture. ‘Seems like the only rule there is really.’
He yawns, ‘It’s a passing thing.’
‘Let’s hope so,’ we mutter.
In the kitchen things have been left to solidify, the coffee is bonded so far into the base of a mug it is impossible to tell what colour the cup once was. The fridge spills out holy light onto the floor. Milk, butter, beer, celery and eggs-that’s all there is. Starving, we beat the yolks around in a blue bowl. The more you stir, the less those icky snot-globules happen. You can pull them around on the prongs of your fork, wait for them to slowly fall and it teases them away. Then we melt real butter in the frying pan. We whisk faster and then pour the mass into the pan. There is a hiss as it hits the fat. The smell eases our stomach over, the air inside us froths upwards and we burp.
Out on the bed he shifts himself over so that we can sit down. His thighs are a footballer’s width-wasted muscles strained and unused to activity. There’s a sidelong glance from him.
‘Eggs are hen’s periods you know,’ we tell him.
He wrinkles up his nose.
‘Uggghhh, I really wanted to know that.’
‘I really wanted my eggs.’ We wave the fork and pretend to flick a large lump onto his face.
‘Stop! Why the fuck are you so cheerful?’
‘Not cheerful, playful – wanna fight?’
‘We fight all the time.’
‘Come on then if you think you’re hard enough.’
We throw a pillow over at his head. The plate on our knees unbalances as we move.
‘Quit being so fucking hyper,’ he says. Volatile and dark he thinks he is, our man.
‘I can’t help it – it’s my hormones.’
‘Huh, for a change.’
He shakes the packet of cigarettes on the side of the bed.
‘Bollocks, only one left-d’you want it?’ He only pauses for a second before he lights it and the smoke writhes upwards. Our stomach rubs itself around a corner. Then we are biting our tongue and staring hard at our fingernails-where is the bowl? Our mouth fills with saliva.
‘O Jesus Christ! Why the… ‘
Now he’s holding our arms back, rubbing, while the scrambled eggs rescramble across the bed. Still we retch.
‘There’s nothing there!’ But still it doesn’t stop. Our shoulders and elbows shudder intermittently. A chill furs across the base of our spine. He puts his hand there as if he knows how we feel. In his other hand, though he is still holding the cigarette. He looks at us, bemused.
‘Aw… giz a break-it’s my last one!’ he tries to look sheepish. ‘And you’ve just practically vommed all over me.’ We run away across the room; have to move.
‘Hey are you alright?’ He staggers across to the bathroom, where we are draped over the rim of the toilet bowl, clutching it as if it holds the answers to everything.
He lingers in the doorway – one foot still in the bedroom.
Vines of hair are stuck around our chin, falling into the bowl. We have to hold it back with one hand. We have to work around the insides of our mouth with a finger to get it all out.
‘Yes, I’m fine.’
He goes away and promptly swears as he collapses onto the sick on the quilt. He stumbles through to the kitchen and there is the sound of the washing machine door being
‘What you eating?’ he says.
‘Use a sleeping bag,’ we manage to call to him.
The fluffy landscape sits on the plate and wobbles itself from fork to mouth.
‘I’ll have to.’
Later, we lie there and wait for him to stop. We pull faces at him in the dark while he concentrates hard on his own actions. The bed squeaks interminably and it’s impossible to lie still under him as we keep shifting to find a quiet spring. This makes him think we are involved. Bless him. He gets faster and he hauls our hips up from the bed to a position he must know never works, he wants to pull our feet behind his head. Still it goes on. We scream-make all those cries to accelerate things.
But really it’s just the pain, the counting backwards and searching for those waves that mean you might come, but there’s nothing there. When he suddenly stops we turn over to sleep but even this gets misunderstood. It’s going on somewhere else, so far away we can almost fall asleep there, close our eyes and push our face into the pillow. We reach for his hands behind and try to smooth it into something we can catch up with but he won’t give up his pace. His hands grip hard onto ours and every time he falls onto us now we gasp for air, as if he is pushing out our life’s breath. The headboard cracks against the wall and he sucks with his face down onto our neck. His teeth are clenched when he comes.
‘What the fuck was up with you?’
‘Sorry,’ we hear ourselves saying.
He leans over on one elbow and pulls the sleeping bag around us.
‘Yeah well, no cigs left either, are there?’
The cold metal of the zip is by our knees. In the morning there will be train tracks indented at random in our skin. We sneeze and can still feel sick burning at the back of our throat. He had to kiss that taste. His breathing slows down, becomes heavy. In the middle of the night his arm circles our waist and inadvertently his hand smoothes over the bank of our stomach. It spans the length of the womb. We turn away and edge our feet out over the side of the bed and go over to the window.
Far down on the pavement outside a man walks his dog. There is steam rising from the road gully and the heavy syllables of a lorry changing gear a few streets away. Behind us his breathing pollutes our air in laboured strokes. Down in the street the man reaches down and strokes his dog’s erratic head. It nips his hand and he gives it a rap on the forehead and says something. The dog jumps round and licks him, runs round and around his ankles, totally unaware of the sacredness of night.
We breathe hot air onto the glass, make an O in the condensation. We love padding around our tiny room at night in bare feet, until our toes get numb.
The man in the street sees us and waves up, his dog yelps at the diversion and strains at the lead. We are glad we’re wearing that scummy old Arsenal shirt so that all he can see of our flesh is the tops of thighs. He seems harmless enough, but why out at this time? He lights a cigarette and the look on his face is so beatific we understand. Banished spouses, signalling to each other that all is fine and below board. The washing machine in the kitchen drains and starts to spin.
We think for a long time and way after the man has gone we are there still.
He comes to pick me up at five o’clock but because of the demands of the day we still have not gone in yet.
‘I’ll wait,’ he says.
‘If you must.’
Now there is no scope for a goodbye. A dour-faced West Indian man comes in and shakes our hands.
I’m going to insert something now that will relax your muscles, alright?’
We nod, numbly and our man looks awkward as he sees what is about to happen. I’m not sure I want to see this, his face says.
‘Ermm… I think I might wait outside for a bit – an hour they said right?’
He kisses us on the cheek and we nod, woosily, already drowning.
Somewhere across the way there are the other outpatients. Men having ingrown toenails, cysts and wisdom teeth removed. The curtains around our bed shield us from them. But they must know why we are here. Unlike them we have no distinguishing marks or features; no bandages or dressed wounds. Everything about us is internalised, folded over and hidden.
The beds are sparse and behave like the adapted trolleys that they are. The wheels shift if we turn over too quickly. When the West Indian doctor has gone, the sheet around our body that was pinning us down comes away from under the mattress and we are left exposed and suddenly too weak to ask for help. Then they come and wheel us down the corridor and into a room filled with crane-like lights. A valve is put into our hand. They ask us absurd questions.
‘No, not right now,’ I hear us murmur, from far away, and: ‘It’s nice to know I can have them some day.’
Then the West Indian doctor is there again.
‘Count backwards from ten,’ he says, drawling at us and we think of counting in bed, under him, wanting and waiting for it to finish and then we lose our hands, they fall away and the rest of us follows.
My man is there when I wake up and has brought Fruit Corner yoghurt to bring back the sense of taste to my mouth. He feeds me, says he has ordered a taxi and helps me fit my failing limbs back into my tracksuit. He even does up the drawstrings on the pants.