Maggie opened her front door, and I handed her a screwdriver set.
“Oliver said you needed this urgently,” I said. “He says there should be one in there that fits, but let him know if there isn’t.”
I tried not to sound irritable, but really — did Maggie require this so urgently that I had to interrupt a nap and traipse here? The last thing on my wish list right now was another needy middle-aged woman. My mother already occupied that job slot, and it seemed that my beloved Maggie was picking up her bad habits. They’d spent a lot of time together over the last few days; in fact, today, Mum had been at Maggie’s house since before lunchtime.
But why stop at blaming middle-aged women? Oliver could have brought it to Maggie himself before his after-work shower, but no: “You take it to her, Libs. I’m shattered.”
And I’m not, of course.
Maggie took the screwdrivers from me. “Come in,” she said, opening the door a little wider.
“No, it’s OK.” I turned to leave. “I have to get back. Jack needs his dinner.”
Maggie reached out and grasped me by the elbow, drawing me back. “Jack will be fine with Oliver for a few minutes. Come on,” she urged. “Your mother just put the kettle on.”
I didn’t want tea. I wanted to give Jack his dinner, put him to bed, and then I wanted to go to bed myself.
“All right,” I said with a sigh, and stepped into the wood-panelled hallway.
“Go and make yourself comfortable,” Maggie said. “I’ll be with you in a moment.” She trotted off towards the back of the house.
Wearily, I turned left, into the living room.
I felt my jaw drop.
* * *
“It’s usual not to have a shower for a second baby,” Maggie said behind me, as I gazed at all the people congregated in the living room. Mum. Charlie, Anita, Julia. A few moms from Jack’s new nursery school. Even Caroline. “But you’re a special case.”
Pink and blue bunting criss-crossed the room. Pastel-wrapped boxes lay piled in one corner. Pink- and blue-iced cupcakes nestled together on a three-tier stand.
Welcome, Twins! said a big banner over the fireplace.
I felt my eyes prickling. “Thank you,” I whispered, looking round at everyone. I hugged Maggie, not quite able to believe that I was the centrepiece of my own surprise baby shower. “Thank you so much.”
Anna appeared from the kitchen and handed me a glass of something that looked like champagne. “Sparkling grape juice,” she said, before I could object. “Although you might want the real thing before the evening’s over,” she murmured, her eyes darting in the direction of my mother, who sat in Maggie’s rocking chair talking earnestly to Charlie.
“Delivery rooms aren’t my scene,” she was saying. “But Libby would like me to be there, I think.”
“No way!” I mouthed at Charlie, any rush of sentiment for my mum receding rapidly.
Charlie’s lips twitched. “Of course, with it being a C-section delivery, they probably won’t let you in.”
Mum took a deep, huffy breath. “That’s not what I’ve seen on A Baby Story. It’s a real family occasion for all those women.”
Heaven preserve us. Mum started channel surfing four days ago, and all her “I didn’t come to America to do this, that and the other” arguments vanished.
Apparently, her raison d’être in America is to watch The Learning Channel all day. If I’ve seen one woman give birth on these dreadful programmes since Sunday, I’ve seen thirty, and believe me, it’s not a good idea when your own birth experience has been scheduled for seven days hence, and your mother has decided that an impromptu family party in the operating theatre would be fun.
Yes. The twins will be extracted from me on April 26th at 9am. My slightly elevated blood pressure was still causing Dr. Gallagher some concern, so he booked me into his busy timetable for next Thursday.
I’m not happy about it, or even convinced that it’s necessary, but what can you do?
Oliver says: Look on the bright side. At least there will be no getting out of bed at three in the morning because your waters have burst and the bed’s a swamp.
Always has a way with words, does my Oliver.
So, as I was saying — what can I do?
Sod it. Enjoy the party. That’s what.
“Cheers, everyone,” I said, raising my glass of grape juice.
* * *
Charlie fetched her car — everyone had parked their cars in the next street so I didn’t get suspicious — and packed all the gifts in the trunk to deliver them to our house. I felt so lucky, so loved. You remember all those things I had returned to the baby shop because they’d cost so much? Maggie had taken note of the items, and now most of them were once again on their way to the babies’ room.
I felt overwhelmed with the generosity, the camaraderie, the shower of affection. No wonder these parties are known as showers. I felt — far more than I had ever felt in my hometown of Milton Keynes — that I belonged. Belonged to something good.
* * *
“I just wish it didn’t have to be this way,” I said to Maggie as I put my outdoor shoes on, waiting for Anna to bring her car round to drive me the short distance home. “I’ve always dreaded the idea of being sliced open, but I don’t have much option if Dr. Gallagher thinks it’s too risky to let me go on any longer…”
Maggie snorted disbelievingly. “If I know dear Gerry, he’ll have a golf tournament lined up in a couple of weeks that he doesn’t want to miss. Take my word for it, your hospitalization is less to do with your safety, and more to do with keeping his handicap.”
“No!” I was shocked. “He wouldn’t do that — would he?”
“He’ll take very good care of you, don’t worry. Better to do it his way than to have a complete stranger delivering those twins, don’t you think? Imagine — you could end up with that frightful witch, Elspeth Wojcik.”
I shuddered. One visit to that particular obstetrician, whom I’d nicknamed Doctor Death, had been enough. The possibility that in Dr. Gallagher’s absence she could deliver our twins was horrifying. But I still balked at the idea of having my midsection cut open, no matter how unnoticeable the scar would be afterward.
“You need some alone time with Oliver. That’s what you need,” Maggie said.
“But we went out for dinner only last Saturday,” I protested.
“Ribs and fries aren’t going to bring on labour, are they?”
“What?” Maggie’s twists of conversation confused me sometimes. Quite a lot, actually, these days.
“Alone time at home, is what I meant,” she said. “Not alone time at Ruby Tuesday’s.”
The penny dropped.
“Oh!” I’d forgotten about that little trick to bring about labour. And it sure beat swigging castor oil.
Maggie nodded. “Send Jack and your mother round here every lunchtime for the next few days, and see if you and Oliver can spoil Gerry Gallagher’s plans.”
The gravel on Maggie’s driveway crackled as Anna’s Mustang drew up outside.
“You’re on,” I said.
* * *
A Massachusetts spring heatwave. Sun pouring in through our bedroom windows. A chickadee chirping close by.
Oliver feeds me another strawberry. “I should get back to work,” he says. “But I think I’ll call in and say you’re not well.”
“Again? Will they believe you?”
“Don’t care if they do or not.”
“You could always work at home,” I suggest.
“Or do something else at home. Does this old wives’ tale really work? Technically, you’ve still got four weeks to go. ”
“It’s supposed to work. So they say.”
I lie on my side and gaze out of the window, at the slight breeze moving through the tall oak trees at the end of our garden, and I listen to the silence of Woodhaven.
The babies have been very quiet for a couple of days; they’re still, sleeping a lot, getting ready for a big day. Their peace makes me woozy, detached, and I feel myself mentally withdrawing from the world just as they prepare to meet it.
No. It won’t be long. I know it.
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