' I need this cup of tea, I’m exhausted, and a mince pie. Woman! You’ve eaten the last one. I didn’t even see it go, I didn’t have time to wave it fare-well.’
‘Wasn’t me. A centipedy hand reached out and grabbed it. Just put your hand on my belly, just here – you can feel it munching away.’
‘Yep; munch munch munch. If it’s a girl centipede will she want high heels? High heels and designer jeans? Hundreds of them? Or will she be content just to have fifty different pairs and wear them on different legs every day? Or will just the back legs need jeans and the rest can manage with leggings? How many legs will be arms?’
‘No. Stop it, Ed, please. Suddenly it’s not funny. I want just one beautiful, normal baby. I lie awake at night, listening to my tummy rumbling, and wondering who’s in there. I want one ordinary, wonderful, lovely baby boy or baby girl. I want her or him to have a normal happy life and fall in love like we did and live a long, useful and contented life and, oh shit! I’m so scared. Hold me. Hold me. Tell me it’s going to be all right.’ She closed her eyes to shut out the darkness. He pulled her to her feet and embraced her, whispering, stroking her back, assuring and reassuring her as best he could.
‘Our baby will be fine. We’re young and healthy and we get good care. It’s normal to worry, I expect, and to be concerned. You’re a fit English thoroughbred and I’m a, well, I don’t know what I am; I’m a mixture of excellencies; our baby will be as beautiful and intelligent and fit as both of us put together. If anything had been wrong it would have been detected long ago. Both your parents are in bustling good health and humour – well, until they see me. My dad lived to a ripe old age and my mum’s indestructible. Her granddad lived to be a hundred, and that’s in a country with limited resources. Come on, let’s go for a drive round the lanes, then you can put your feet up and I’ll sing you to sleep. How’s that for an idea?’
‘Promise no singing?’
‘OK. No singing. Promise.’ He hovered anxiously as she put her coat on and lumbered to the door. The day was warm, gently mild; the kind of day when romantic poets wooed their disenchanted lovers. He had already rolled the fabric roof of the little yellow car back in readiness for the trip. She settled herself in and allowed him to fuss with a rug round her knees, and tolerated him checking that if he closed the door it would not trap any part of her anatomy or clothing. Heavens, she longed for him to accept she was not made of chocolate icing, likely to melt or crumble or shatter if a breeze or a dragonfly or a speck of dust ventured too near. He started the engine, double checked the mirrors, looked over both right and left shoulders and pulled carefully out onto the deserted road. He glanced at her. She was the loveliest, sexiest woman on the planet. She slipped her arm across his shoulders as he drove, stroking the nape of his neck with one finger and smiling to see him smile. He turned back to his chauffeuring with a wide grin on his face. He drove carefully, avoided overtaking anything faster than a bicycle and returned his precious passengers an hour later, refreshed and sleepy, to their front door.
The crunch of broken glass underfoot alerted them to disaster. The daubed obscenities across the fresh white paintwork disgusted them, and the parcel of excrement that had been flung through the broken window had them staring in frightened horror at one another.
They stared at the desecration of their lovely home.
‘Why? Who could do this? What’s the point? What have we ever done to deserve this?’ They had no answers. Jane reacted first.