In dim, squat light, shadows cast low across the room, he sat at his desk, nibbling the cuticles on his left hand, while he typed with one finger, the index, with his right. She shuffled and twitched, disabled from deep sleep when the light was on, unable to sink below until he had come to bed. But she dared not say anything, intrude upon his solitude, his need to offload by the milky glow of the screen. It was good, she knew, that he was getting down to it, the poetry, after all these years of talk, despite it making him morose. He clenched and unclenched his jaw in the silence while she slipped in and out of sleep, saying nothing but unintelligible mutterings, the snatches from her nether world.
She had claimed she would abort it.
I will, she had said.
She had twirled his hair, looking up at him bearing over her, hot and fleshy.
I bet, if it really does happen, he had said, that you’ll change your mind.
He had eyed her.
I cannot promise something like that.
Ha, you see, you’ll change your mind, if it does happen.
It won’t happen.
That night he had cum inside her. She had a condition, chronic, such they were sure it would never take seed. He clenched once more and typed with one finger, uncomfortably, an ache spreading through his right shoulder. He gripped his cock in his left hand, trying to vanish it, squeezing it to mush. He was not hard, but not entirely soft either. For two weeks they had known, promised to not tell another living soul, but she had told her friends, two of them, just the best ones.
I had to tell someone, she had said, pushing the trolley in the fruit and veg, they’ll come with me, help me sort it out.
Why, he had said, does it need three of you? You lied to me.
She chose a melon she thought was ripe.
I never said it’d get rid of it.
No. I didn’t.
I could’ve sworn you said you did.
Well we can’t go back in time, so I guess we’ll never know.
If only we could.
He picked up an orange, smelled it, then put in back.
Still, I never make you – she waved her hand at his crotch - inside me.
But it’s so hard not to.
She had liked this, made a little dance with her shoulders.
What’s so damn funny?
You can’t resist me.
Through meat, spices, cereal, then, once past the row of nappies, creams, remedies, she turned and said, You do love me, don’t you? cupping his face in her hands.
Course I do. You know I do.
They had work the next day, and had to be up. Four hours sleep would be just enough, though he’d feel strewn, a whole body tiredness that hollowed out his chest. He shut down and switched off the light, and was lost to a blackness that blinded him for two, three, four long, slow seconds. His eyes adjusted, made shapes and he saw something curled and a circle, maybe a head. He sneezed nastily, with a jolting force that hurt his neck. She stirred. In the darkness, he edged round the bed, and slipped his hand under the covers, to the warmth of her gut.
She slipped her hand on top of his.
What should we do? she said.
I don’t know. Maybe keep it.
But you don’t want to.
I don’t know. What about you?
I want what’s best?
What does that mean?
They sighed, seeking each other’s eyes, hers imploring. But the dark was fresh and blinding.
Let’s sleep on it, see how we feel in the morning.
He lay on his back, listened to her breathing become regular, rhythmic. Birds had begun to tweet in the pre-dawn. In murky light he was held in a stillness that felt like the one he would feel at the very end. He saw and knew, as fact, the laughable truth, doubtless and total. It awed him. He nudged her awake.
Cathy, listen. Listen. I like Clara for a girl and Clarence for a boy, after my great grandfather.
She paused, for the briefest moment, then sat up.
Oh Charles, that’s silly.
I’ll read him poems.
If it is a boy.
I think it will be. I think it will.
They giggled and hugged and fell asleep, embracing, hands and fingers linked, entwined. After three hours sleep he awoke and cracked two eggs into a bowl, with a little pepper and herbes de Provence, and spent that day in a thoughtless, wondrous haze. He saw details - eyelashes, nostrils, fingernails, hair. He thought he saw the yellow glow of his son’s eyes in the yoke. That weekend they bought pot plants and pored over colour charts, shades of lilacs for the walls.
They weren’t to know that Clarence would be born unborn.