It had to be Sunday didn’t it? Shelly had snuck out of the house to watch the dog while Sammy was working out mathematical complexities, none of which Shelly understood a symbol of.
Carthenage had come up trumps and she was bending and poking when she heard the back door open and stood up hiding her hands behind her back. Joan was greeted with a guilty look that wouldn’t even have fooled Sammy.
‘Oh, thank God it’s you. I thought you were Sammy. He hasn’t followed you, has he?’
‘No, he’s in the lounge. And hello to you, too. What the heck are you doing?’
‘Prospecting for gold, Hun, prospecting for gold and I hear tell that there’s gold to be found in that there dog turd.’ Shelly had bent back over Carthenage’s offering with her marigolds on and her stick at the ready.
‘You aren’t doing what—oh my God, you are. Shelly that’s disgusting.’
‘It may be disgusting to you,’ she replied, triumphantly up righting herself and holding out two pounds coins and a fifty pence piece, ‘But it’s nearly two litres of petrol to me. Don’t just stand there, with your nose screwed up, go and get the kettle on, this stinks.’
She dropped the money into the soup tin filled with bleach at her side and left it by the doorstep to marinate. Stripping off her gloves she dropped them straight into the dustbin and then followed Joan into the kitchen.
‘You haven’t brought that into the house have you?’ Joan was still coming to terms with her friend’s capacity for minging.
‘No, I’ve left it in bleach; I’ll sort it out later.’
‘Here, coffee. I hope you’re going to wash your hands.’
‘Of course I am,’ she said going to the sink. ‘You’re spending too much time with our Sammy, you’re turning into him. ‘Will just the once do, Ma’am?’
‘I suppose. Hell, if you’re that hard up, Shelly, I’ll give you two pound fifty. Sorry I couldn’t have Sammy for you, I had nine calls yesterday. How did you get on? No operation, I see.’
‘That’s okay, we coped—just. But, I’ve never been so embarrassed in my life.’
‘Oh, oh what did he do?’ Joan looked amused. Shelly laughed.
‘He only accused the vet—the drop dead gorgeous, sex God of a vet by the way—of having sex with animals.’
‘Bless who, the vet or Sammy? And never mind them, what about blessing me? It was one of the worst moments of my life. Graham—that’s the vet’
‘Yes graham. Anyway, he shoved his thermometer up Carthenage’s bum and that was it, away we went on every warped, dirty, perverted bit of text ever written on the delightful subject of Beastiality.’
‘What the hell was Sammy doing knowing about that kind of stuff?’
‘Well, that’s what I’ve been asking myself. And there’s me telling the vet,’
‘Yes graham. Will you stop interrupting? I was telling him how devoted Sammy is to his dog and thinking all the time that the vet’s thinking, “I bet he is.” It was awful.
‘Well never mind all that. Tell me about Graham.’
‘Nothing to tell. Happily married. Told me him and his wife are off to Marbella for a week and to keep Carthenage away from my purse in the meantime.’
‘See, see, it’s obvious. He wants you to go back.’
‘Rubbish, behave yourself. I’ve told you, he’s married, ‘ she dunked a digestive into her mug, watching it carefully to see that it didn’t break and slop into her coffee, ‘But if he wasn’t—I so would.’
Joan looked thoughtful, ‘Do you realise, that’s the first time that I’ve ever heard you express any kind of romantic interest in a man.’
‘It’s the first time since my marriage broke up that I’ve seen one even remotely fanciable.’
‘You know what that means don’t you?’
‘Your cervix is twitching, girl, it’s time you got yourself some action.’
‘Don’t be bloody ridiculous. I’ve got Sammy.’
‘He’s not a ball and chain, Shelly. You can still have a life of your own, you know?’
‘Oh shut up, you sound just like John.’
‘Maybe he had a point.’
John looked at Marian. ‘What do you mean it’s over? You’re having my baby.’
‘I know, and I promise you, I’ll never stop you from seeing the baby. You can come and see it whenever you want to.’
‘I won’t need to come and see it because I’m not going anywhere. I live here, with you. This is just a wobble, Marian, come on, let’s talk about this and deal with it like adults. Then we can move on.’
‘It’s not a wobble John. I don’t want to be with you anymore. I don’t love you. I’m really sorry. Please don’t make a fuss. I’ve packed your things. I just want you to leave. Please.’
‘You can’t do this. Everything between us has been so good up to now. You can’t throw me out after one little argument.’
‘I can’t be with you anymore. I’m sorry.
‘Is it Sammy?’
She hesitated, looked at him, as though already trying to gauge his reaction before she replied. ‘Partly.’
John let out a sigh of relief. ‘Oh, listen Marian; you’ve got it all wrong, love. He’s not normally like that. Look, it was all my fault. I messed up. I should have known that he wouldn’t cope with a day at a theme park. You haven’t seen the real Sammy, yet, he’s such a great kid. I promise you, love. He’s not like that usually. Next time will be better. We’ll take it really easy. I won’t throw you in at the deep end again. We’ll meet up separately, in a park. That’s it, a nice, quiet park where he’ll be calm and it’ll be fine. Ten minutes, that’s all, we’ll take it ten minutes at a time and you’ll learn how to deal with him. I’ll teach you.’
‘I don’t want to learn how to deal with him, John. I don’t ever want to see him again. Don’t you understand? He terrifies me. I’ve never been around anyone like Sammy before. I’m scared shitless of him. I’m I know that’s blunt but I’ve got to be honest with you. I’ve been lying for long enough.’
‘Now you’re overreacting. He’s my son. He’s not some monster who’s going to hurt you.’
‘He bit me, John.’
‘He didn’t mean it. He was just scared, that’s all.’
‘I’ve never been physically hurt by anyone in my life. Nobody’s ever laid a finger on me.’
‘No, you’re just Daddy’s little Princess. You wouldn’t know anything about the real world. Life isn’t all about you, you know?’ John was instantly contrite, he rubbed his hand through is hair, his temper had come up, and had gone down again, in an instant.’ I’m sorry. I’m sorry, that was a cheap shot. Completely uncalled for,’
‘This is getting us nowhere. Just go. Please. Leave.’
‘No. I want us to be a family, you, me, the baby and Sammy. We’ve got to make it work Marian. It has to.’
‘He’ll never be part of my family John. You don’t get it, do you? I can’t be around him. I don’t want to get to know him. And anyway, he hates me.’
‘He doesn’t hate you Marian. He was freaked out. He doesn’t think the way we do. Sammy doesn’t hate anybody. He doesn’t know how to hate. And apart from that damned dog of his he doesn’t know how to love, either, or laugh for that matter.’ He kept talking trying to make her see that Sammy needed their love. ‘Do you know, when he was born he’d cry. And we’d pick him up and hold him close. And the closer we held him the more he’d cry. We tried to wrap him up all cosy because we didn’t understand that it was our love that was hurting him. But as much as he can’t stand to be coddled, he needs even more love because of that. More than other kids, normal kids even. He needs us, Marian.’
‘This isn’t just about Sammy. It’s us.’
‘What then? What is it? Us? What does that mean? What’s wrong with us? Us is great, we’re good together.’
‘I don’t love you.’
‘You do, you do love me. We’re going to get married. Let’s go to bed. We’ll sleep on it. I’ll sleep on the sofa if you like, give you some space. I’ll bring you breakfast on a tray, the way you like it. We’ll talk some more in the morning and it’ll all look different. You’ll see.
‘I want you to leave now, John.’ Her voice was a whisper.
‘No, you can’t do this to me. I’ve given up everything to be with you. I gave up my marriage just so that we could be together. I want to spend the rest of my life with you.’
‘It wasn’t meant to be like this. It was supposed to be fun. No strings we said. And then I got pregnant and it all just rocketed out of control. We’re living together and picking out prams when I want to shop for shoes. We’re talking about beach weddings and, inside my head, I’m just screaming for it all to stop.’
‘You wanted to get married. You said so.’
‘I know. I tried to want it. I tried really hard. I met a mate of mine today—’
John tensed, ‘Who?’
‘A girl, just a girl, John. Jeez, somebody I went to college with. We saw her the other week when we were getting the shopping, remember, tall girl, blonde hair?’
‘Yeah, I remember, the one you didn’t introduce me too?’
‘Well, anyway. I was talking to her about us, the situation, you know? And she said that she thought you were my dad.’
‘Oh my God. Does that matter? Does it really, when you’re carrying my baby?’
‘Yes, it matters. Not what she thinks, not what anyone thinks, but it matters that I’m not ready for all of this,’ she spread her hands in a gesture of hopelessness. ‘I’m not ready for you, or the baby, or all of this bloody—responsibility. I’m twenty-three years old John.’
‘Not in your head. Not in the board room. Marian, listen to me. You’re the most grown up twenty-three year old on the planet. That’s what first drew me to you. You blew me away with your confidence and your maturity. The age difference, we said loads of times that it doesn’t matter. We said that we don’t notice it. Is there somebody else? Is that it?’
‘Not really, no.’
‘Not really?’ John exploded, ‘What the fuck does, “Not really, no” mean? Either there is, or there isn’t.’
‘There’s this bloke. We hung out a bit before I met you. He’s got tickets for this gig in Prague, a music festival. We’re leaving tomorrow.’
‘But I’ve given up everything for you.’