Hey all. Just a quick note before I put up a little something of what I am working on. This exerpt contains some crass language, and I was conflicted as to whether or not I should put it up. I don't know if I mention this often but I have a two person grandparent fanbase who support me every step of the way and read my blog. I love my Grandma and Grandpa very much. They believe in me so much and that is very touching. Out of deference to them, I usually make sure I keep my language PG on this blog. But I don't always in my writing. Because I am so proud of last night's segment, I am going to bend that little rule of mine today. If I apologise profusely, perhaps I will be forgiven.
On that note, FOR THE LOVE OF CHERRY RED LIPSTICK, never ever ever censor yourself. Don't ever feel like you can't write something because it might offend someone. Writing is for yourself. And if you turn the muse away when she knocks on your window, she might try the house next door.
If you're reading this, Grandma and Grandpa, I love you! :)
Bundles of joy.
There was something growing inside Catherine that made her hungry and tired and fat. It was like a little tumour, except she wasn’t allowed to think that. Every time she thought that, she felt bad. She hadn’t told Peter yet, but surely he had noticed that her belly was thickening, or that her skin was worse, or perhaps he’d just noticed that her breasts were bigger. That she had breasts, for once. Maybe she wouldn’t ever have to tell him. Weren’t babies the desired outcome of a coupling? Wasn’t it more appropriate for wives who had not conceived to be the ones breaking news to their husbands?
Catherine took to walking about the house and jiggling, hoping that the thing might slide out of her. It wasn’t that she wanted to harm the baby. If she’d wanted to do that, she might have done something more excessive. She’d read that there were certain things expectant mothers could eat to bring on miscarriages. Or she could drink excessively. At a stretch, she could try falling abdomen first down the front steps.
The foetus in her made her crazy. There were always bags under her eyes. She kept on working, like a zombie. By night she cleaned and cooked. By day, she worked at the post office, selling stamps. At one point, a customer asked her opinion on two different books of stamps. One set had Queen Elizabeth on them, with various coloured backgrounds. The other set had pictures of buildings in Perth.
“Excuse me,” said the man. He was wearing a neat grey hat, and Catherine noted irritably that it didn’t cover his bald testicle of a head. She blushed. She’d never said the word testicle out loud before, and this was the first time she’d thought it. Then the image of Peter naked came to her mind, and the blush cleared from her face with clinical precision. She adjusted her pony tail.
“Which book of stamps do you like better? I’ve had the Elizabeth’s before, but they’re classic, aren’t they?”
“Certainly sir. And she is a lovely looking woman.”
The man sniffed, and scratched the hollow of his nose. She could tell he desperately wanted to pick inside his nostril, but refrained out of deference to her.
“But the ones with the Perth buildings on are better for sending to my friends in England, who’ve never been here before. They’ve seen the Queen lots of times.”
Catherine leaned forwards on her little white counter to see the stamps closer. She saw so many stamps a day that they’d ceased to be something that registered in her thinking. To Catherine, a stamp was a stamp.
“But then again, I don’t know if he collects stamps you see, and then the effort would be wasted.”
“It’s up to you. Which ones do you prefer?”
The man took off his hat. There was not a hair to be seen under it, but there was a little sunburnt patch. Catherine pinched at the pressure point between her thumb and forefinger. She had a headache. Her ankles were hurting too. She was only three months pregnant, and under her red Australia Post smock, no one could tell anyway. But the foetus wouldn’t let her forget.
“Oh. Well. They’re just stamps, really, aren’t they?”
Catherine sighed. She opened her little white gate and came out from behind the counter. Smartly, she walked over to the customer, her neat little court shoes going clack clack clack. He smiled at her brightly, expecting her to do something that solved his problems. Instead, she reached out and took the books of stamps off him, first snatching the Queen Elizabeths, and then snatching the City of Perths. She dropped them in the pocket of her smock. Then, she went back behind the counter, and opened the drawer, her face like a thundercloud. In the drawer was another book of stamps. This one with tropical fish. She pulled it out, rang it up on her little cash register and then slipped it into an envelope.
“Five pounds, sir.”
“But I don’t know what you even put in there. Which one was it?”
“You’ll see when you get home and open it.”
He frowned. “This is highly unusual.”
“So is wasting energy deciding which book of stamps to buy. This is a lucky dip. Like in school. It’s fun, sir.” Catherine said all this with a bleak look on her face and a droll note in her voice. Bottom lip jutted out in a sulk, the man fished a handful of coins out of his wallet and dropped them on the table. He snatched up the envelope and put it into his pocket.
“Keep the change,” he said.
A few moments later, the phone rang. Catherine waited the obligatory three rings, and then picked up.
“Post office,” she said.
“Hello,” said a male voice. “I was just in your store a moment ago. Could I speak to the manager please?”
Peter was waiting for her when she got home. He hadn’t taken his mackintosh off yet. He was sitting on the arm of the couch. She hated when he sat on the arm of the couch.
“Cathy,” he said, the end of her name with a downward inflection. There was a hint of disapproval in that. “Cathy. You should have told me you were pregnant.”
The foetus made her want to say something absurd. She took her shoes off and kicked them into the middle of her room. The carpet felt luscious through her stockings. She smiled and closed her eyes.
“You must be tired, Love. Come, sit down, and tell me how long you’ve known,” he said. He didn’t sound excited. Wasn’t he supposed to be excited that he would be a father?
“I suppose I’ve known two months.” She didn’t go into details of why. Men hated it when women talked about their monthlies. Women hated it when men talked about their ailments, but it didn’t usually stop them. Catherine smirked at the thought. She was becoming cynical in her pregnancy.
“You could have come to me. We have some money saved. You didn’t have to keep working.”
“I like my job,” she said. Then she coughed as the taste of cigarettes filled her mouth, like it always did when she lied. What she meant was, I need something in my life that is not here and is not you and is not my depressing, invalid father-child.
“It’s no place for a woman in your condition.”
She smirked and crossed one leg over the other. “In my condition,” she repeated.
Peter put his hands on her shoulders. “Cathy, you’re exhausted.”
“I think we should hire a maid.”
The words were going into her ears but coming straight back out through her mouth. Peter used his thumb and forefinger to swivel her face towards him. “Cathy? Cathy are you alright?”
Catherine went to stand up. There was something she was supposed to be doing. Laundry to be put in the oven. Dusting to be mended. A roast to be ironed. But it was like someone had found her switch and flicked it off. She felt the steady power down of her body, and then her eyes closed like shop shutters, and Catherine fell back into Peter’s arms, unconscious. Her body had forced her to sleep. The foetus had made its presence felt.
As Catherine got more and more pregnant, Don called her Jane more and more often. Every time he did it, Catherine felt a little sick. She started to feel as if she needed to hide from him. When they walked together, she would walk behind him. Even needing such a wide berth herself, it annoyed her how slowly he walked. His back was like a big, heavy upside-down U shape, and his legs were skinny and too weak to move his body forward any faster than the speed of someone learning to waltz. She took to counting as he moved. One two three, left foot, one two three right foot. Eventually, she would breathe to this rhythm too. When her child was born, she would breathe to this rhythm without thinking twice about it.
Things that it was okay to get Peter to do— taking in cups of tea, waking Don when he fell asleep by the radio— she delegated. Catherine still did all the heavy labour. She was the one who had to help him when Don was too dazed to shower himself. But Peter picked out his clothes. Catherine dressed him, but Peter sat with him and ate breakfast over the morning paper. It was like shift work.
Catherine found that she missed her father, but spending time with him when he thought she was someone else did not really count as spending time with him. So she continued to miss him for six more months, and pretended that she was practicing for when she had her baby.
It always seemed like the washing grew exponentially. The mound that was her stomach prevented her from lifting up for very long, because her back muscles all folded up on themselves like an accordion when she tried. Peter bought her a little washing line that folded out like a trestle table. It was only for sock and underwear, but she sat on a lawn chair next to it and pegged out one load at a time. The washing took five times as long but at least she was in no pain.
While she pegged, she’d devised a little game to pass the time. It was called The Alphabet Name Game and in it, she listed a strange and vaguely erudite name for her baby, one for every letter of the alphabet. Albert, Bertoldt, Chester, D’Artagnon, Emil, Franz, Gunther, Harold, Isaiah, Jenevieve, Kingsley, Langford, Maynard, Nathaniel, Oliver, Prudence, Quentin, Ramsdale (which she wasn’t even sure was a name, but it sounded nice), Scarlett, Tobias, Umberto, Victoria, Wallace, Xanthia, Yorrick, Zachariah. From the percentage of names that were male to those that were female, Catherine could tell that the foetus was mostly sure it was going to be male. It was usually the same list of names, and after a while, it became a remembering game rather than a creating one. When she couldn’t sleep one night, she got up and wrote them all down on the back of a receipt. The next morning Peter found it and thought that she had become clucky. She told him it was a poem.
© E.P. 2011