She takes a deep breath, squares her shoulders and walks into the bedroom.
Ken is still asleep, but the heat of the day has roused him enough so that he has pushed the duvet away and is lying, a white chubby starfish, filling the whole of the bed.
She calls out
“Ken, wake up, wake up now, it’s important”
There is a movement and a mumbling and slowly, very slowly, he begins to emerge from sleep.
Finally, he sits up, rubs his eyes, scratched his crotch and automatically reaches out for fags and a lighter.
Bitter experience has taught her that Ken is not a morning person and so she waits, hands across her belly until he has had the first drag, the first cough and then she tells him and when he doesn’t seem to understand, tells him again.
There is a pause, Ken smokes and she stands, looking down at him and then a smile cracks his face
“See, I told you it wasnt me, told you I wasnt firing blanks” and he is grinning , a big shit eating grin and finally she feels confident enough to move across to the bed, sit down next to him and take her hands away from her stomach.
Ken lights another fag off the stub of the first and lies back, blows a smoke ring, sighs
“This has gotta be worth something, never been that many babies born to one woman on this estate, least ways, not that I know. I need to think about this”
and his face closes down, deep in money-making thoughts, her presence forgotten.
She stands up, mutters something about putting the kettle on and he pays her some attention, does the little boy smile, the one that used to make her stomach flip and says that a bacon cob would hit the spot.
Downstairs, kettle on, frying pan fat jumping, she lets her shoulders slump, this was not what she was hoping for, for a split second as she walked home, she visualised quite a different scene, her lying on the bed, her feet up while he, solicitously, lovingly, is here now, tea making, finding a nice cup, even a biscuit to go with it.
She rubs her belly
” hey babies, how you all doing in there?” and she smiles, imagining 4 little faces all looking up at the sound of her voice.
Ken is on the phone when she brings him tea and his bacon cob, deep in conversation, he just points to a space next to the bed to leave his breakfast and continues his conversation
“Yeah man, innit, safe”
he is doing that fake gangster voice, the one he knows she hates, but she can hear the pride in his voice and so , she perches on the bed, wishes she brought another cup of tea for herself and risks a sip of his even though she knows it will be too sweet.
Suddenly Kens’ voice changes, become business like, harder
” Yeah man, gonna ring the paper now” and then he laughs ” True bro, 6 would have been better..yeah….yeah…….maybe next time……..yeah laters”
before he can make another call, the phone rings, he answers it, voice going from gangsta to his more usual midlands whine in 2 words
“Yes, we’ll be there, 9.30 – no problems, thank you”
and then he turns to her
“they want us to go into the hospital tomorrow, get the babies scanned”
he has never used the word us or ours throughout this pregnancy, hasn’t been up and out of the house before midday for as long as she can remember
he pats her stomach
“you never know , they might find another one”
and then he gets busy with the bacon, mouth biting into the bread and red sauce, leaving a trail of crumbs on her side of the bed.
The day goes on, she cleans up, a bit, makes herself a slice of toast and then, thinking about the 4 mouths inside her, has a second and then a third piece.
Ken appears downstairs, finally, but is dressed properly, as if for a Saturday night, she wonder si f they are going out, maybe a celebration, wonders if her black dress still fits and then he is gone with shouts of laters and babe and she sits on the sofa, flicking from channel to channel, but with a feeling of excitement.
She half watches East Enders, but the little bubble of something is moving in her chest, making it hard to concentrate and then he is back, stinking of beer and weed, but clutching a McDonalds bag
“here babe, got this for you” his words are slightly slurred, but not enough to make her anxious ” gotta keep your strength up now”
The food is cold, chips greasy, but she eats them anyway, smiles and remembers to say thank you.
They sit together, while he shouts at the tv and digs a quarter bottle of vodka from the carrier bag at his feet and she tastes and re-tastes the cold burger and strokes and pets her stomach.
It is the most peaceful evening she can ever remember.
[ to be continued]