Every fucker’s pregnant.
Every single one.
You follow a parade of swollen bellies, sashaying from side to side. Mothers-to-be click-clacking along, glowing stars of their own sell-out musicals. My Fair Baby, Jersey Babies, The Sound of Baby. All teeth and jazz hands, the costumes, Bretton stripes.
You know some have got one already, screaming in the pram. Doesn’t matter to them. Their ovens are still stoked, cooking up a bun. Fucking three-tiered cake is what it fucking looks like.
It’s not their fault, you do know that. But you absolutely hate them. Every single one.
Your friend is pregnant.
Your colleague is pregnant.
And your dentist too.
That stray cat. Good for her. Whoop-de-fucking-doo.
Bobbies on the beat.
What a bunch of fuckers.
Every. Single. One.
You found a gynaecologist; hoped she could tell you why. Why you’re the only one. The only one who’s rootless, labouring fallow land.
Fat lot of use she turned out to be.
You long for an escape. A break from this tiresome fucking thing. An antithesis of maternity. Something adventurous, something ill-advised if only you were a fucker too. Skydiving, abseiling, wing walking all at once while juggling fire, swallowing knives, and drinking yards of ale. Maybe just the yard of ale. A pub. You know the one. Where the carpets looked old 20 years ago and five o’clock shadows cast dark and wide. Where the closest thing to fecundity is infrequent jets of Cif squirted down into the toilets.
This pub is what you need.
The barmaid grins like the Cheshire Cat, pleased with herself, like she’s the greedy Mr Man. She sends nuts and crisps skittering across the floor with her gargantuan bump.
‘It keeps getting in the way.’ She laughs a fruitful, fertile laugh.
You sip your drink. Suppose at least you can – a threadbare silver lining, a bright side dim as dusk. Wonder how many more it will take to douse the scorching hate.
The door bursts open, a flood of tulle and satin crowns into the room. The glee repulsive, triumph nauseating. A baby shower. Fucking marvellous. A clucking brood of women surround a bulbous hen.
It’s the bastard gynaecologist. Up the fucking duff. Because every fucker’s pregnant.
The Whale Rider
CW: Loss of a child
They refused to listen to me when I said there was a right whale in the road, slowing down the traffic. Crashing its great body through the puddles and sending waves over the kerb to swallow the feet of everyone who was stopping to stare at it. They just told me not to be silly. Mum. And Dad. With their faces like pebbles. Told me to be quiet, but then carried on with their conversation. Whispered but sharp. Their mouths full of esses, like the tide creeping closer.
Steve, please. I don’t think I can do this.
We don’t have a choice.
Jesus Christ, his whole class is here.
But it definitely was a right whale.
I know because they’re really slow swimmers. I remember all about them from the last time Joel read to me. Joel knows everything about the sea, and he has this heavy hardback book he reads to me at night, when Mum and Dad have given us our last warning to get to sleep, flicking off the bedroom light as they leave the room.
First, we lie quietly but as soon as the lounge door clicks shut downstairs, Joel’s torch flashes like a lighthouse, and he pokes his head over the top bunk and tells me about what his favourite fish was that day. And the last time he read to me it was all about the right whale.
The first time he read to me I didn’t believe him that seawater was salty. Then we all went to Scarborough on holiday, and I scooped up the foamy white wave in my hand and swallowed a mouthful to see if he was lying.
And if water can be salty then why couldn’t a right whale turn up in the middle of the road and slow down all the traffic?
The whale stopped then. We stopped too. Close enough to hear its sad cry.
I told Mum again, that there was a whale in the road, but she wouldn’t even look at it.
Its skin is shiny, wet, and black as coal. Or as dad’s suit and tie. Its upside-down smile is full of baleen, flashing as it hunts for more food to swallow in giant gulps. Behind its head, a smooth rounded back with no fin sticking up. That’s how I know it’s a right whale instead of anything else like a killer. Their back fins grow tall like yacht sails. Right whales don’t need those fins because. Actually, Joel never mentioned why.
I turn to his seat, to ask him but it’s emptyempty. Mum unclips me, hauls me up into her arms, even though she normally says I’m too big to carry. Her eyes are full of the whale now, and of Joel tucked up in a wooden box, deep in its belly. I taste the sea as I kiss her cheek and tell her not to be sad, Joel would be so happy he got to ride a whale.