- Published: 16 June 2014
- ISBN: 9781743484982
- Imprint: Penguin eBooks
- Format: EBook
- Pages: 304
Be My Baby
I want to throttle her. I want to reach across the oceans and continents between us, grab her by her pudgy neck and squeeze it until her eyeballs bulge like a goldfish’s. I want to shake her by the shoulders until she’s dizzy. I want to slap her, scream at her, clench my fists and stamp my feet until she realises what a colossal idiot she is. Instead, I employ my extensive journalistic vocabulary and say, ‘Huh?’
‘I said I’m pregnant,’ Helena repeats patiently. ‘Sixteen weeks along.’
‘Sixteen weeks! And you’re only telling me now?’
Pregnant. Just the word sends chills up my spine.
She sighs. ‘Well, I only found out myself at twelve weeks. And I’ve been trying to speak to you for a month. Haven’t you got my phone messages or my emails? You’re not the easiest person to get hold of, Anna.’
Helena, quite rightly, sounds peeved. I cringe inwardly, remembering the countless unreturned messages on my voicemail and ‘call me!’ emails in my inbox. I’d meant to phone her, really I had. Life had just got in the way.
‘Anyway,’ she goes on, ‘you’re going to be an aunty!’
Now is not the time to point out that, as we’re not actually related, I’ll only ever be an aunty in the ‘moustache-like-a-chimney-brush spinster family friend’ sense of the word.
‘But Hel, are you sure you’re pregnant? You don’t even have a boyfriend.’ Because obviously this makes all the difference.
‘Yes, I’m sure,’ she says, giggling. ‘Just because you inhabit a haven of, ahem, domestic bliss, Anna, doesn’t mean the rest of us aren’t getting a bit occasionally. It’s Adam’s.’
Adam . . . Adam. The nightclub bouncer with the lazy eye? No, that was Darren. The brickie’s labourer who lived above the chip shop? But he was well over sixteen weeks past his use-by date. Adam. The mechanic with the —
‘Oh God, you don’t mean the mechanic with the souped-up Escort? The one who claimed to be half French but thought Versailles was a type of conjunctivitis? The one —’ I lower my voice to a whisper, ‘Helena, he’s not the one with the teenage girlfriend?’ Even through 24 000 kilometres of ocean and fibre-optic cable, I can feel my best friend cringe.
‘She was nineteen, Anna, not thirteen. And they’d broken up, so she was his ex-girlfriend,’ Helena says. ‘I knew he wasn’t The One. I never intended it to be anything more than a fling, a bit of fun. I guess I just didn’t realise I’m so damn fertile.’
I’d also put money on the fact that she didn’t want to ruin the moment by asking him to put a condom on his adolescent-shagging appendage, but this isn’t the time to point that out either.
‘So . . . what are you going to do?’ I ask, gritting my teeth and praying she’s not going to tell me she wants to —
‘Keep it,’ Helena says.
Again, my thoughts swing to violence. Perhaps a swift kick to the shin will bring her to her senses. How is it that she can’t see what a truly ludicrous idea this is? Of course she wants to keep it. Helena has wanted children as long as I’ve known her and her desire to spawn has only grown stronger as she’s grown older. This is despite the fact that she’s never had a long-term relationship, still lives with her parents and once near-drowned a guinea pig trying to give it an aromatherapy bath. She can’t make toast but she can make whole people. How about that.
‘Are you sure it’s the best thing, Hel?’ I say, trying to be diplomatic when I really want to scream ‘Abort! Abort!’ space shuttle-style. ‘You’re only twenty-five and you have so many plans. What about going back to university? What about travelling?’
What about not ending up on a housing commission estate with only toothless women called Chardonnay-Krystle for company? I want to add.
‘I can still do all those things. I’ll just have a child in tow. We’ll be citizens of the world,’ she says dreamily.
I can only sigh. Helena has never been one to let reality get in the way of her lofty ambitions. At last count she’d embarked on – and dropped out of – four separate university degrees. Apparently her desire to be a photographer/lawyer/economist/photographer wasn’t quite so powerful as her desire to avoid doing any actual work.
‘Okay, so what about Adam? Have you told him?’
‘Er . . . yeah. He’s not quite so optimistic about impending parenthood.’
‘What does that mean, Helena?’
‘Look, he’s told me to get rid of it, okay? But that’s not important. What is important is I’m going to have this baby no matter what anyone says, including Adam and including my mother.’
Oh God. Her mother. Frosty isn’t the word for Brigitta Stanley. When Helena was thirteen and carrying a bit of puppy fat, Brigitta kindly suggested she familiarise herself with the ancient art of thrusting her fingers down her throat after every meal. The woman makes the Islamic State seem forgiving.
‘How did you tell her?’ I whisper, as though merely discussing Brigitta will conjure her up at my desk.
‘I didn’t. I told Dad and let him tell her,’ she says.
‘How did she take it?’
‘How do you think? Called me a failure. Demanded I terminate the pregnancy. Said if I go through with it she’ll disown me. You know how she is.’
I’m sure my heart actually shatters at the resigned tone in Helena’s voice. She would have expected nothing better from her mother.
‘Oh Hel, I’m so sorry,’ I offer.
‘It’s fine, Anna. I can do this by myself. I know I can.’
‘You won’t have to. I may be 24 000 kilometres away but I’ll do anything and everything I can for you.’ I’m not quite sure where this strength of resolve has suddenly bubbled up from, but I’m running with it.
‘Actually,’ Helena says. ‘There is something I wanted to ask you.
When she’s born, would you —’
‘Wait – she?’ The pitch of my voice causes several colleagues to turn and stare. ‘You’re having a girl?’
‘Oh my God, didn’t I tell you that? I just found out,’ she says, and I can hear the excitement in her voice. ‘They usually can’t tell you ’til twenty weeks, but the woman doing the scan said she could see the gender and asked if I wanted to know. I was so sure I didn’t, but as I looked at this tiny blob moving around on the screen I just had to know whether it was my first glimpse of my son or my daughter.’
In spite of myself, I’m visualising pink Babygro suits and a pair of adorable miniature Reebok trainers I’m sure I saw in the fashion editor’s cupboard.
‘But listen, Anna,’ Helena continues, ‘I wanted to ask you if you would be her godmother.’
In my shocked state, I seem to have slipped into some alternate universe, a surreal place where my best friend has just asked me to assume partial responsibility for a child’s spiritual wellbeing. A creeping panic rises like bile in my throat.
‘I’m sorry – what?’
‘Come on, Anna. You’re my best friend in the whole wide world and the only person I knew I could count on to support my decision to have this baby,’ Helena pleads. ‘I can’t think of a better woman to warn my daughter off dodgy guys and teach her the difference between Marc Jacobs and Tom Ford.’
This is interesting. It reminds me of a terminally dull airline pilot I dated briefly. I quickly learned to tune out his sleep-inducing droning about aircraft technicalities, but one tid-bit did stick in my mind: the Collision Avoidance System. Basically, if you’re thundering through the sky in a pressurised tin can, also known as a 747, and another 747 is about to slice through the cabin, a computerised voice in the cockpit will politely ask the captain to ‘climb, climb’.
I had always liked to think of my ability to steer clear of children as my own Collision Avoidance System. Kids always seem to be in my airspace – friends’ bubs, screeching brats on the Tube – but whenever one gets close enough to interrupt the in-flight movie of my life I ‘climb, climb’ as fast as humanly possible. I am not a ‘kid person’. Never have been. And now here’s Helena, trying to force one such missile directly into my flight path.
‘Uh, Hel, are you sure about this? I mean, I hardly have a child-friendly lifestyle. I never get to bed before two a.m., I’m constantly surrounded by coke-snorting degenerates —’
‘Also known as celebrities,’ Helena interrupts with a giggle.
‘Whatever. And I spend all my money on cocktails and clothes. I can barely look after myself. Are you sure you want to let me within corrupting distance of a child? Your child?’ She has to realise what a mistake this would be.
There’s a pause. ‘Well . . . yes. While you’re in London, all those things are true, but one day you’ll come back to Adelaide and that will change,’ Helena says softly.
I roll my eyes. This is how my mother’s ‘When are you going to come home and settle down’ speech always starts.
‘And in the meantime you’ll be the fabulous London godmother who sends her tiny Ralph Lauren twin-sets and sparkly Dolce & Gabbana party shoes. But you won’t have to be here to watch her throw up on them.’
Her tone is upbeat but suddenly Helena sounds so far away, so frightened, that I want to cry for her – and kick myself for being such a judgy, cold-hearted cow. Whatever my own feelings about children may be, they’re no justification for abandoning my best friend.
‘Of course I’ll be her godmother, Hel. I’d be honoured,’ I say, valiantly ignoring the little voice in my head whispering, What are you thinking?
On the rare occasions Claire allowed herself a stroll down memory lane, Scotty Shannon was always her destination.
I know I can do this, I know I can. Whatever anyone else says. It’s just a matter of perseverance.
Max looked at his watch, and a sinking realisation that he was late plunged through him.
At ten o’clock of a rainswept morning in London’s West End, a young woman in a baggy anorak
JUNE 12, 1954— The drive from Salina to Morgen was three hours, and for much of it, Emmett hadn’t said a word.
Standing on the edge of the cliff, Grace Elliott turned her face to the sky.
The October wind twirled coffee-coloured willy-willies south across the Queensland border.
From his height only a hundred feet above the trees, the pilot could see two people running over the ground below – one coming out of a wood, another through a gate in the lane, clinging on to his hat as he ran.