And while she lies on the sofa, sated, stomach warm from melted cheese and soft doughy bread and still with the tang, the bite of garlic on her breath, the house is settling down for the night.
Pipes gurgle, floorboards in the kitchen contract, just a fraction, a cold wind blows against the glass of the conservatory, rattles the blinds.
The house notices that lights have been left on, it considers her wasteful, profligate , but it remembers that she has always slept with the lights on, always left doors open so that heat flees out, always used too much hot water, left the radiators luke warm, the water tank empty, gasping.
The house likes to be taken care of, cleaned, polished, a regular routine of maintenance and small repairs. It has noticed that these things have happened less frequently, has noticed the cob webs in the corners, the unswept, unused rooms, the worrying noise that the boiler has developed, but, the house has been here before, has seen the residents grow old, fail, go away,always to be replaced by new people who dust and clean and sand and paint, so, the house is confident that things will get better and it waits.
The house is very good at waiting.
It has counted all the stories placed around it, knows there are exactly 30, although it has no idea why these pieces of newsprint have been placed so carefully around it, but then the house rarely understands anything and is satisfied to watch without comprehension.
It knows exactly where they are , these little squares of other people’s’ lives ;
Underneath the bedside table lamp in the big bedroom.
Pushed into an ugly green vase on the book-case in the dining room
On the top shelf of the medicine cabinet, next to a pink shiny box of elderly rose scented talcum powder
In the glass bowl of the food processor, held in place by the small plastic blades
Slap, bang in the centre of the dressing table, flanked by a hair brush, a china shepherdess and a comb that has been missing 2 teeth for ever.
The house wonders how many of these she will find, how many will lie quietly, undisturbed and what will happen to them and then, because it is night-time and the house knows that night-time means stories even when no-one can hear, it composes itself and starts another narrative.
The Next Untold Narrative – ” Twins not quads for Mrs Fletcher”
She has to ask him to say it again, she has heard the words, his tone is loud, confident, but they have simply made no sense, just a jumble of sounds and so she sits up and looks directly at him
“What, sorry, I don’t understand??”
He turns away from the sink, where he is busy washing his hands, faces her
“I said, looks to me like there’s more than 2 babies in there, we’ll need to send you in for a scan, but I’M pretty sure you’re having quads”
There is a pause and then he speaks again
“Quads, that’s 4 babies”
A tiny part of her, the part that is not completely submerged in trying to process this new information,wants to snap at him. tell him she knows what bloody quads are thank you very much, but she bites it back and waits for him to continue speaking.
” We’ll need to get you off to the hospital, get a proper scan, just to confirm, but congratulations, well done you and Mr Fletcher, of course” and he smiles, that bloke type smile and because there isn’t another man here, she tries to smile back in kind.
She doesn’t really remember leaving the surgery, heading up the road, through the estate, all the houses with the same red front doors, towards her own red door.
It’s a warm day, the sun is comforting on the back of her neck and as she walks, she absently strokes her belly, wondering what exactly is going on in there, for a second she has an image of tangled limbs, but that’s so unsettling that she shakes her head to dislodge it and continues walking up the hill.
The gardens are full of children too small for school, every garden awash with plastic toys, paddling pools, buckets and spades and of course the mothers, many of them young, so young, bikini clad, catching rays , drinking tea, chatting over fences and for once she isn’t jealous, doesn’t want to scream out her anger and hunger and loneliness.
Because she knows something that they don’t, she has achieved something that none of them have, she is carrying not one, not two, not 3 , but 4 babies.
After all this time, the waiting and the trying and the sideways glances and the half asked questions, she is going to show them all.
She is going to be a little bit famous, she is going to be the women who had quads.
She’s not stupid, knows that 4 babies is unusual but not really extra-ordinary, but it’s enough for some local fame, some local attention, maybe even her picture in the paper, but it will be enough and she smiles at the anticipation.
No more poor Mrs Fletcher, no more of Kens’ simmering anger as she monitors her temperature, counts days, weeps at the end of every month or waits for the inevitable 5 or 6 week fail.
He will feel pride, that dumb mail pride, he’s better than other men, not firing blanks at all, his is super sperm, not just one baby but 4. She can imagine him, in the pub, head help high, shoulders back, all man.
At the front door she fumbles for her keys. the door is stiff, warping in the heat and she has to shove it hard, use her shoulder and then the door gives and she almost falls int the hallway.
Immediately, her hands come forward, ready to protect her stomach, keep them, and she savours that word, them, not just him or her, them, her babies.
“Ken” she shouts up the stairs, knowing that he will probably still be in bed, a tangle of sweaty sheets, hairy man, stale air in a room where the windows need opening
“Ken, I need to talk to you , now” and she heads up the stairs and then stops, dead still , 3 steps from the top, realising that she has no idea of how to actually tell him.
(to be continued)