Kelly is a man trapped in a pregnant female bodysuit. His ex has transferred all his money out of their joint bank account and he’s about to become homeless. Who’s he going to turn to?
The outside was nothing special, just a typical late Victorian house in Walthamstow, now split into flats. My heart was in my mouth as the doorbell rang. I could feel it beating even faster as she opened the door. She stood there looking me up and down. I couldn’t tell what she was thinking. Then she pulled me into a hug and everything was alright. She didn’t say a word, for which I was glad.
Fiona showed me inside. When I had reached out to her initially, she didn’t believe it was me. I can’t rightfully say that I blamed her. I mean if a man had called me and said he was Fiona, I wouldn’t have believed it either. She even seemed leery when I recalled things from Uni that only we would know. In retrospect, I could’ve told some girl all of that before a call. She only accepted it when I told her how Jamie had ordered the nanosuits and that a mistake had been made. I didn’t notice the way she said, “That was some mistake,” with a dry chuckle.
“Over there’s my room,” she said, walking down the hall. I looked in. There was a queen-sized bed, with the sheets askew on one side only. There was a side table with all of the accoutrements I would have expected – book, lamp, a pair of reading glasses. The book was “Days Without End,” the Costa Book Award winner last year. I was proud of what I had written but knew that it would never win any awards. What was striking was how the other side of the bed was immaculately preserved. There was an old IPhone 3 on it along with a watch, a pair of cufflinks and an expired Oyster Card. As if she expected John to walk through the door.
“You’ll be sleeping in here,” she said, showing me a room with a single bed and a television. “The bed’s a little small. If you want, we can switch,” she said, with obvious reluctance. “I remember what it was like when I was pregnant,” which she followed with a small giggle. “I am sorry, Kelly. That was utterly inappropriate, it’s just…”
I smiled, “That’s quite alright, Fi. If it weren’t me, it would be hilarious. This is not the situation I expected to find myself in, and I am utterly in your debt for letting me stay here,” I said, putting down my things. I felt awful. They had moved shortly before everything happened with John and we didn’t come visit enough. We’d go to hospital and I’d call but, now that she was there for me, I realized that I hadn’t been there for her. “I will be fine in here. It’s more than enough,” I said, and then I winced.
“Are you alright?” she said. “Do you need to sit? Sit,” she said, taking me by the hand to the bed.
“I’m fine,” I smiled, “the little bugger is all fluttery.” She rested her hand on my stomach. I was amazed at how many people did this including people I didn’t know. If it were anyone other than Fiona, I would have said something, but she and I had known each other far too long for me to be upset.
“I’m sorry,” she said, with an apologetic smile. “I was remembering what it was like when I was pregnant with Sophie, I mean Matthew. I still cannot get my head around this.”
I smiled and touched my stomach. “That makes two of us. How did she, er, I mean he, tell you? I mean, were there signs?” This was an utterly asinine thing to say, as if transgender children walked around with big signs saying, “I want to be a girl” or “I want to be a boy.” It just seemed like the only thing I could come up with in that instant. I plumbed the depths of my memory to see whether I could recognize any signs that Sophie was not what she appeared to be. To be honest, I never paid much attention.
I remember taking her to the park once. She’d insisted on climbing to the top of all the climbing frames unaided. Even when some of the older kids had shied away. Did that make her a tomboy? Most of the ‘natural’ boys didn’t do it. I would have been too scared. Maybe that was the reason why I was stuck like this?
Over all Jamie and I wanted children but when it came to actual children, I was at a loss. We would see Sophie a couple of times a year, on birthdays and the odd weekend but our visits would consist of us handing her a toy, her perfunctory thank you and then some awkward chit chat (“So what year are you in now? Year 6, ah great.”) Then a pause where we all stared at each other. Then Fi or John granting her and us parole. She struck me as moody, but she was a teenage girl and I assumed that was normal. It wasn’t as if she walked around in boy’s clothes asking to be called Jack.
Fiona sighed, “I’ve spent countless hours asking myself that. I’ve asked what I could have done even though the gender specialist said that it has nothing to do with me. You look for signs like when someone commits suicide.” I didn’t mean to but I must have looked shocked, because she said, “I’m sorry. I love my…child…and want her, him to be happy but I feel a loss. It’s not enough to have lost John but this hurts. I feel,” and she started to cry. I had known her since Uni and could count on one hand the number of times I had seen her cry. When her mum died and obviously when John did, but not beyond that. She had always been the rock. I clumsily tried to hug her but my ever growing stomach made that difficult, so I sort of leaned on her. She started to laugh, “Thank you, Kelly. I needed that. How are you feeling?”
“Well, let’s see, I’m gassy AND constipated,” and with that, I let one go. “Sorry,” I mumbled, while she laughed. “On the plus side, I’m not vomiting every fifteen minutes but I have heartburn if I look at food. My gums are bleeding and oh, my wife, or should I say husband, tricked me into doing this. Sorry, Fi, that was more than you sought, isn’t it?”
“Four months? That’s about right. John used to call me Trumpet, with all the gas,” she said with a sad smile. She tried to hug me from the front, fumbled around, laughed and then sat at my side and put her arm around me. “Have you heard from her at all?”
I dug out my phone and showed her the calls. “HE calls but I don’t answer. I delete the voice mails. I have nothing to say to HIM. I feel…violated.”
She looked at me, “I thought you said that the suits were switched by accident.”
“Well, he knew and didn’t tell me, but he felt it funny enough to tell his friend Siggy when we were there. That leads me to believe this was no accident. I was impregnated without my consent. If this were Kate, would you be so positive?” I paused. “I am sorry, Fi. You’ve opened your home to me and I’ve ripped your head off.” I started to itch. When I was stressed, it felt like the nanos made the pain that much worse. I wanted to tear off the suit but couldn’t bring myself to do it. It would be like killing the baby. It was an innocent victim of a cruel trick and needn’t suffer.
She pulled me closer. “No apologies Kells. You’re right. If it were Kate, this wouldn’t be an issue. I would have forced her to the police. This is new territory for me, especially with Soph…Matthew and all. Tea? It’s best to avoid coffee, you know”
“Do you have club soda?” I asked. “I’m not really in the mood for tea right now.”
We went to the kitchen and she made tea for herself and club soda for me. The kitchen had French doors leading onto a little garden, a rarity in London. I had a couple of biscuits to get something in my system. We talked about our friends from Uni, the weather, bloody Theresa May, anything but the two elephants in the room, Matthew and Jamie. “Perhaps,” I thought, “they could meet and discuss how to best disrupt the world around you.” Then I realised that was unfair. Matthew was a child dealing with what I could only imagine was horrific pain. Jamie was a predator.
We sat for a while and then Matthew came in. I don’t know what I was expecting. Jack Monroe, Conchita Wurst? Someone dressed in a football kit with muscles? What stood before us was a medium sized boy wearing a Smiths t-shirt, boots and black jeans, with his hair shaved on one side and long in the front, drooping over his right eye. He was emo, if that was still a thing. I had long since stopped keeping up with trends. After a certain point, they moved you to copy for adult products, mortgages, Stannah Stairlifts, Scottish Widows, that sort of thing. I’d find myself thinking of how desperate the thirty and forty somethings looked to me at twenty-two, and wondering if that’s the way the interns saw me. Fiona said, “Matt, Kelly will be staying with us for a while.”
He looked me up and down and tried to place me. “Uh hi,” he said in that way teenagers do when introduced by their parents to a strange adult. I could see him calculating how long he had to stand here and make idle conversation before he could ask to be excused. I wanted to tell him that it was good practice for life.
“Do you remember Kelly?” Fiona asked.
“Should I? Sorry, I don’t,” he apologised to me.
I smiled. “I wasn’t pregnant the last time. And I was male.” I watched as a light slowly turned on. He broke into a smile. It struck me that smiling was not something with which he had much acquaintance of late.
“Oh, Uncle Kelly!”
“So you are a girl now.”
“A woman S-Matthew,” Fiona said. “Not a girl. A woman.”
I appreciated Fi sticking up for me, but it felt weird.
“You look different,” he said, the smile not leaving his face. I felt ridiculous but didn’t say anything. I imagined that he and Fi didn’t spend much time laughing these days.
“Ha ha Matthew.” I almost said, ‘so do you,’ but felt that cruel and bad practice, if I were going to be staying here. “Yes, I am pregnant. This is a nano suit. I was given it by mistake and, well, thank you for letting me stay here.” I thought about not saying anything but he knew me and he was fifteen. His school would have covered pregnancy in Sex Ed years ago, and thus he knew how babies were made. If I didn’t give an explanation, well, that could get awkward.
“I apologize Uncle..er, Aunt..er, Kelly, but I have a maths exam coming and I need to study. I’m down the hall, if you need anything,” he said. I heard the door close.
Fi shook her head and smiled, “Well, that’s more than I get most days. I’m really at a loss. So what do you think?”
“What do I think about what?” I asked, scratching at my arms. I made a note to ask Fi for calamine lotion before I made myself bleed.
“S-Matthew?” She said, giving me the sort of look she reserved for our friend Thomas. At Uni, we’d been part of a pub quiz team and he was the weakest link.
“He seems like a fine young man. Polite. I could live without that haircut but otherwise a nice kid,” I said with a smile.
FI seemed unsatisfied. “That’s all you have to say?”
“Look at me, Fi. I’m not really in a state to question someone’s identity, am I?” What I was surprised by was his body type. I expected, I don’t know, someone heavier as if to compensate for wanting to hide his female body.
As if reading my mind, she said, “I suppose s-he’s fortunate. He took after John’s side. They’re all thin hipped.” When we were at Uni, Fi was gorgeous. I remember a group of us going on holiday to Greece and her drawing stares on the beach. She was still gorgeous, but we all had gotten older, plus she had John and Matthew to deal with on top of that. I admired her for getting out of bed in the morning and felt bad to be judging her, especially given my situation. “That’s enough. How are you doing?”
I gave the only answer I could. “I don’t really know, Fi. Needless to say, of all of the outcomes for my life I could have predicted, this was not among them. I’m certainly angry.”
“You should be. She really left you broke?” I had to tell Fi. Otherwise, what was my reason for staying?
“Yup. She took the money from our joint account and switched it to her own. She’s decided it’s not enough to trick me into this, to impregnate me, she needed to leave me without funds,” and I started to cry. I knew it was the suit but I still felt embarrassed. “Sorry, Fi,” I sniffled.
She looked angry. “For what?”
“For crying. For burdening you with my problems. You must not think much of me.”
“Kells, I think the world of you. You did nothing wrong. You were violated. Full stop.” Then she smiled, “As far as the crying, I cried constantly when I was pregnant. At nothing. At adverts. For McDonald’s.”
I laughed. “Well, they can get quite sentimental. Seriously, Fi, I feel like a freak. I can’t thank you enough for taking me in. I hope I don’t create a problem for you with anyone.”
She looked at me gravely. “Why would you create a problem? As far as anyone knows, you’re another pregnant woman. If you don’t mind me saying, it agrees with you. You look beautiful. Sorry if that’s weird.”
What was weird was that I wasn’t entirely bothered. That a part of me, a growing part of me, liked that. I had started to show and I found myself liking my reflection. I had been examining my life often, and not just the here and now. I found myself reflecting on my entire life. Was there a part of me that didn’t want to remove the suit? Why didn’t I fight it before we left for Iceland? Would a real man have allowed the trick to continue?
I had never been the most masculine of boys. It’s not that I was outwardly feminine like Anthony Guest, who would play hopscotch with the girls. Rather, I was the sort of boy who avoided physical contact and was picked last for football. S-Matthew would climb to the top of the climbing frames. I would not have. My friends would race to the top, challenging each other to go higher. I would timidly climb up to the lowest permissible height that would allow me to avoid taunting. Intellectually, I knew that I was being ridiculous. There was no causal link between S-Matthew climbing and his desire to be a boy nor my desire not to and my being here, I knew that. Yet, I couldn’t stop looking for signs. It was easier than looking within.
The next morning I woke early. I lay still listening to the sounds of the house. I could feel panic rising but couldn’t place a specific cause. Eventually I heard the whispered voices of Fi and Matt coming from the corridor. It made me sad to think of them feeling like they had to keep quiet in their own flat, so I decided to get up.
“Hey,” Fi smiled at me.
“Hey,” it felt weird to run my hand through the mass of hair on my head. I still expected it to be short.
“Do you need the bathroom? I’m afraid it gets a bit busy this time of morning. He likes his long showers.”
“No, I’m fine. Do you want coffee?”
I caught the worried look on Fi’s face.
“Decaf for me, obvs.”
She let out a little laugh, “Yeah, if you sure you can bear to make it but not drink it?”
“I’ll make do with pretend coffee and the fumes.”
There was dew on the grass of the garden as I opened the French windows. I took one of the plastic garden chairs and used a tea towel to wipe it clean. The plastic felt cool though my thin pyjama bottoms.
“Hi Aunty Kells.”
I turned to see Matthew standing there. He looked younger in his school uniform.
“Hi Matt, what’s up?”
“School,” he didn’t sound best pleased.
“It must be nearly summer holls,” ‘holls’? I was talking to him like he was a little kid.
“Two more weeks.”
“Nearly there. Will next year be your final year?”
He pulled up another plastic chair, wiping of the dew with his hand, “Yup,” he looked away.
I remember how desperate I was to leave school at his age. I also remember the fear of what would come next.
“FE College is way better, believe me. Most of the dicks are doing Sport Science.”
He laughed. It was a pleasure to see his face lit up.
“Don’t tell your mum about the swearing.”
He tapped the side of his nose conspiratorially. We both laughed.
“What’s got into the two of you?” I turned to see Fi.
“Just enjoying the sun.”
“Have you seen a doctor yet, Kells?”
I hadn’t really thought about that. To be honest, it was too much to think about, just being pregnant. “I guess I just thought the nanosuit would take care of it,” I mumbled, realising how stupid that sounded.
She looked at me and laughed, “At least you realise that’s asinine. I’m making you an appointment. I have no idea how these suits work but I know pregnancy. You need an check-up.” She noticed the look of horror on my face and said, with a smile, “it’s not that bad. I’ll come with you and hold your hand. But you need to do this.”
“Yes, mum,” I said, as she punched me on the upper arm.
The flat felt empty once they had left. I knew there was an email waiting for me from Susan. The first rewrites. It was exciting to get the chance to work with someone as good as her. I also knew there was an email waiting for me from Jamie.
The flat was messy. Not unclean but untidy. I guess what you’d expect for any household with a fifteen year old. I could do a little tidying, a way of saying thanks to Fi and avoiding catching a look at Jamie’s email. I decided I’d spend the morning cleaning and then face the outside world after lunch.
With the French doors open and 6 Music on the DAB radio the morning passed quickly. I didn’t have any problem with housework. After mum left us, I’d helped my dad out around the house. He’d made it a ‘team’ thing with music and jokes. Thanks to his positive reinforcement, I found it almost meditative.
I’d been picking up clothes as I went so I figured I’d put a wash on. After that, I was sweaty and dusty so I showered and changed. I had some of Siggy’s old clothes but putting those on reminded of me Jamie and what she did. Thankfully, Fi had let me borrow some of her pregnancy clothes for her time with Matt. Most were too big, I had that to come, and she was a little taller than me now. I found a pair of dungarees that fit OK if I rolled the legs up a little. They were on the baggy side, but that was good for me.
I spent a futile ten minutes trying to pin my hair up. Eventually I gave in and YouTubed it. I was shocked at the number of different options to choose from. But I felt pleased with myself when I managed to pull of a simple bun without rebel strands breaking free.
Right I told myself, it’s time to just do it. Like ripping off a plaster in one. I opened up Jamie’s email. I didn’t even read it properly. I skimmed catching fragments like, “I had to do it, you left me no choice…” and “It’s my child was well…”
The sad thing was that I was missing her like hell. If she’d emailed apologising, she might have got me to buy a flight to Reykjavik there and then. All I wanted to do was curl up and hide, but I told myself no. I wasn’t ready to face Susan’s revisions just yet, but I needed to set myself a task.
Dinner, that’s it! I’d cook for them. I still had my credit card. At least I didn’t think Jamie had a way of cancelling it. I’d go out get ingredients.
Walthamstow has two options for food shopping. Thankfully, both were in a short walk from Fi’s flat. The first was the Village, a cute couple of roads and a little church that where all that’s left of the original village that was swallowed up by the city. The second was the market and the mall, a dystopian landscape with a square dominated by a giant 1984-esque TV screen. The supermarket in the mall was much cheaper and I didn’t know when I’d get the modeling money or when my next pay cheque would be so, visual be damned, I headed in that direction.
It was a Monday so, along with a few young mums and the elderly, I had the supermarket to myself. I was away in my own little world trying to remember if Fi had said anything about what Matt liked when I felt a hand on my belly.
“How far gone?”
I looked into the smiling face of an elderly woman, “Erm, this is the fourth month.”
She kept her hand there, “Is he kicking?”
“No. I mean yes, a little. Moving around mainly.” I didn’t want to think about it.
“He’ll be a big one,” her accent was genuine Cockney. You rarely heard it nowadays.
“How do you know it’s a he?”
“Shows,” she smiled as if it was the most obvious thing in the world.
“Who’s your friend, Jenny?”
I turned in horror to see three more older women joining us. Hands moved around touching my belly, not one of them asking my permission.
“I had to stand there listening to a long list of ailments,”
Fi laughed, “You’re an expectant mother. I’m afraid some people believe you belong to the world now.
“Is there really such a thing as pregnancy piles?”
“Afraid so,” she gave me a hug.
“God really is a guy then.”
“I can’t believe you did all this,” Fi looked around the kitchen, “And cooked as well.”
“It’s just sweet potato chili, nothing much…”
“Lucky me, I’ve always wanted a wife,” she smiled and walked off to check on Matt.
‘Wife’ I thought. Was that how I had acted? I suppose. I tried to reassure myself. Most of the couples I knew shared the domestic duties to a certain extent. That said I hadn’t really thought about it and just ended up taking on the domestic duties. Right then I really wished I could indulge in a glass of wine (or a whole bottle).
"I'm really not sure."
"Come on, it'll be fine."
I wasn't convinced. No matter how much Fi smiled.
"You've met Jenny and Anjali before."
"Not like this." My hands fell on my swollen belly.
"Don't be paranoid. Anyway you love pub quizzes."
It was true. That's how we got to know each other, through the Student Union's weekly quiz. I'd seen her in my Media Studies lectures, but hadn't built up the confidence to go and talk to her. Then one random Thursday evening, we'd ended up sitting next to each other after both of our teammates failed to turn up. I'd impressed her with my knowledge of European capitals and 1980s cartoons. She wowed me with her knowledge of Dutch Renaissance art.
I grumbled under my breath as we entered the Fox and Hounds. The pub still had its beautiful Victorian bar and features, but had otherwise been done up in the hyper-trendy style of the East End. On the wall were propaganda posters from the WWII. Their messages of stoic resistance contrasting with the opulent, early 21st century decadence. Frankly the way things were going a German invasion didn’t sound so bad.
Anjali was standing by the bar. She'd put on a little weight since becoming a mum, but was still the same smiling South Asian woman I remembered from Uni. Next to her was a tall blond woman who seemed completely at ease with herself. In a t-shirt, fitted jacket and jeans, she looked effortlessly cool. I knew that to look that effortless took a lot of effort - and money. I may have been new at this game but I figured there were a few designer labels discreetly tucked away.
"Hi lovely," The blond woman made an exaggerated show of putting her arms around Fi. "You look great, have you lost weight?"
Anjali returned my sheepish look. I hoped we'd be let in on the conversation soon.
"Beatrice, this is Kelly. The friend I was telling you about."
Beatrice looked me up and down. She was smiling but I still felt awkward.
"Kelly, look at you! How far gone are you?"
She put a hand on my stomach. I had to fight the urge to pull away.
"Only four months," I mumbled.
"Four months, you look further on."
Hmmm, I held my tongue.
"We've got a table," Anjali pointed to a corner where I spotted Jenny for the first time. She gave us a little wave.
"I was going to get us a bottle of white to share. ABC of course!" Beatrice looked only at Fiona when she spoke.
"Well Kelly..." Fiona said.
"Don't be silly, you guys share. I'll just get a lime and soda." I didn't want them to think I was a heel.
Beatrice placed a hand on my arm but still didn't look at me directly, "Where did you find such a great team player?"
I tried to hide my envy as she doled out the wine. I distracted myself by watching the pub quizmaster as he walked between the tables. It was two pounds each to enter, the winning team taking the whole pot at the end. He was tall and looked like he spent time in the gym. Normally I’d have hated him for his easy good looks but now it didn't seem to matter. After all I was benched. No horse in the race to mix a metaphor.
"Hello." He brushed a strand of hair from his eyes. Even Beatrice had stopped talking. To my surprise he turned to me, "Are you all in?"
"Ur, yeah. I think so."
He was smiling at me. I felt hot, unable to sit comfortably in my seat.
"Do you have a team name yet?" He placed a couple of sheets of paper on our table and a pint mug full of pens, "Do you need a pen?"
I just nodded, struck dumb. The way he was looking at me was creeping me out. I knew he had done nothing wrong. It just felt wrong to me.
"Well, well, well. I hope Kelly's husband doesn't find out." Beatrice's mouth smiled but her eyes wished me a painful drawn out death.
“Don’t listen to her,” Jenny looked amused. “Bee’s just annoyed the dishmaster was looking at you rather than her. Normally she gets the pen.” She put an emphasis on the word ‘pen’.
“Anyway,” Beatrice gave her friend a dirty look, “I’m sure Kelly’s husband isn’t the jealous type.”
"Kelly is separated." There was force behind Fiona’s words. It almost made me blush.
"Really," all the women turned to look at me. That time I really did blush.
"Kelly's husband James got her pregnant without telling her." The three women gasped.
"What!" Jenny said.
"That's horrible!" Anjali said. “What a bastard.”
Bee smirked. “How does someone get you pregnant without telling you?”
Before I could say anything, Fi shot her a dirty look and said, “Enough Bee.”
"But you decided to keep it?"
I nodded. I really didn't want to get into this.
I didn't speak again and barely made eye contact until a young man came up to our table. He was carrying a basket, it looked heavy.
"What's in there?"
"Pumpkins. The Pumpkin carving round was a big hit at Halloween so we decided to give it another go."
"They always have one mad round," explained Fiona, "A couple of weeks ago they had a biscuit crumb tasting. You have to guess what the biscuit were from the crumbs. Harder than you think."
"Here," Beatrice pushed the pumpkin in front of me, still not looking at me. "Fiona says you are the artistic type."
"Writing," I murmured but Beatrice was already talking to Fiona about something that had happened at work.
Anjali leaned into to me, "I'm sure you'll do brilliantly."
I wasn't. I thought back to my half-baked attempts at art at school. One time at primary school, I knocked over a jar of dirty water that was used to clean the brushes, and ruined everyone’s pictures. I don’t think I ever enjoyed art after that.
"OK, round one." The quizmaster's voice came over the little speakers. "Lets see what your remember of this week’s news. And we start with Brexit..."
The room was filled with loud boos.
I noticed how serious everyone became around our table. I was able to help out a little bit; for instance I knew all about Beyonce's new album. For the most part I sipped my drink and watched Fiona and Beatrice answer the questions. I thought it was funny how two successful career women put so much energy into naming the Australian city where a teenage boy jumped into a crocodile infested river to impress a girl.
By the second round, the girls were ready to order another bottle of wine. Anjali and Jenny were careful to apologise to me. I waved them away smiling, although a little part of me was regretting coming to a pub. I wondered where Jamie was. Perhaps she was enjoying a drink with Siggy and Egon?
Rather than mope I decided to focus on my pumpkin. I had a plan. First I cut out two tiny eyes and then a small, angry mouth. As the others focused on the questions, I used the blunt knife they’d given us to cut off the top, turning it inside out so the scraggly orange bits were on the top.
The third round was where I came into my own. Match the song to the 80s movie soundtrack.
"Karate Kid," I whispered to Fiona for the last question.
"Bloody hell, how did you get them all! I don't even remember half the films."
"Well the Breakfast Club and Ghostbusters were easy..."
"But Flight of the Navigator wasn't," Anjali added. I noticed that Beatrice had her arms crossed.
"So what have you carved?"
I turned suddenly to see the dishmaster standing behind me. He passed me a tea light candle as I sat there with my mouth open.
I placed the candle inside the pumpkin, "Voila, President Trumpkin!"
"Ugh! But also brilliant," Fiona was beaming at me. Beatrice seemed to be looking away, for some reason.
All the tables had to walk around and vote on each other’s pumpkins. I stayed with ours for obvious reasons. As people walked past, I joked, "For the love of god don't vote for him!" And, "Surely there's a more qualified female pumpkin you can vote for!"
In the end we came third. Trumpkin won his election, both in the popular vote and the Electoral College (whatever that was). Not bad, a podium finish on my first go. The pub emptied after the quiz was over. Jenny and Anjali had young families to get back to. Beatrice disappeared to talk to some friends she had spotted. Fiona and I decided to retire to the comfortable sofa near the window. It was a relief to be able to lean back.
"See, not too bad." Fiona smiled at me.
"Yeah, actually this was exactly what I needed. To come out and see the world isn't all sore breasts and bad backs."
"I'm glad you finally realised it," Fi said.
Beatrice came over, her friend at her side. "It must be nice Kerry,"
"It’s Kelly," I said. “What must be nice?”
"Sorry, 'Kelly.’ It must be nice to be able to go out of the house looking such a mess.” I saw her friend suppress a smirk.
I wanted to say something back. Normally I would have, but all my confidence had left me. I looked down at what I was wearing. A baggy t-shirt and comfortable jeans. The slip on shoes Fiona used for gardening. I hadn't thought I looked that bad but at that moment I saw every food stain and crease.
"I think she looks radiant," I felt Fiona's hand on my knee. For a moment I remembered the stories at Uni about Fiona having a girlfriend in the first year. I hadn't paid it much attention at the time, there were always rumours about everyone. Anyway, it hadn't been long until John came along.
Beatrice shocked me by putting her hand on my stomach, "'He' certainly does." With that, Beatrice and her friend left.
"Y-you told them?"
Fiona tried to say something but I was already off. Not that I could move at much speed right then. My vision was already blurring with tears by the time I reached the door.
My face was in my hands. My bum on the metal of the old Victorian bench.
"Hey, I'm sorry about that."
"Sorry! How could you betray me like that. You are no better than Jamie!"
I could feel Fiona waiting for me to calm down, which only made me madder.
"I didn't tell her," Fiona's voice sounded patient, "She's a lawyer so she knows how to spot the details. She figured it out from something Anjali said.” Anjali must have figured out it was me which made sense, as much sense as anything now did. Was it that obvious? “You know I wouldn't do something like that. Not to my friend."
As she spoke I knew it was true. I hadn't trusted her, after all she had done for me. This made me feel even worse.
"I'm just some stupid freak,"
I felt her come sit beside me.
"No you’re not." Her arm came around my shoulders. Without thinking, I leaned in and rested my head on her shoulder. I needed the comforting.
"Look women like Beatrice," she paused, "I mean, I love her, but..."
"They spend their whole lives competing with other women. Maybe they got too much attention when they were younger, maybe too little. I don't know. You just can't take it all too seriously."
"Uh huh," I sniffled. I wasn't in the mood to forgive Beatrice.
"Society pitts us women against each other. We have less than the men but we are expected to fight for our share of the scraps. It makes some of us mad, and others mean."
I smiled a little. She had referred to me as one of them. It made me feel a little less like a freak.
“Sorry Fi. You’ve been nothing but kind and I took your head off.”
She smiled. “It’s the hormones. Yours and hers.”
“I really don’t think this is necessary,” I feebly protested, as we stood at the entry to the gynecologist’s office. I was wearing a white blouse over leggings that Fi had bought me. She said that it was important to wear them to prevent varicose veins. Great, I thought, on top of everything else, I could look forward to that. It wasn’t enough that I had heartburn and there was fluid leaking from my breasts, now I could add something long lasting like varicose veins.
Fi looked at me and said, “You’re being ridiculous, Kells. You need to do this and you know that.”
“I know,” I said. “I’m just nervous. I mean I’ve never been to an obstetrician before much less been a patient.”
“Really? When you and she were trying, you never went?” I had noticed that, as of late, Fi had ceased to refer to Jamie by name, just as ‘she’ and ‘her.’
“I mean I went, but I just met with the doctor after. I wasn’t there for the process or anything.”
She gave me a patient, indulgent smile. “We’ve been through this. You’ll put on the paper gown, get onto the table, put your feet in the stirrups…” Fi had had me practice keeping my feet in the stirrups by moving two chairs into her bedroom and having me put my legs on them. It was uncomfortable but when I suggested the bedside tables, she blanched. “Then the doctor will take over. Be careful, the speculum can be really cold.” She had to explain what a speculum was to me. Yet another sign, god was a man.
“I’m nervous. Someone will realise I’m not a woman and then what?”
“Would you stop? No one will notice anything. You’re a beautiful woman, Kells. That’s all anyone will see. The old biddies in the shops keep asking me about how my sister-in-law is doing and they’d be the first to notice.” We had crafted a story whereby I was John’s younger sister. My husband was overseas working and Fi had very generously offered to let me stay. She was right. Whenever I went to shop, they all surrounded me and asked me questions. “Now come on. Let’s go,” she said, taking my hand.
We walked into the office and, as expected, it was full of pregnant women, some alone and some accompanied by their husbands. Some smiled at me and others looked up briefly from their phones and then went back to them without giving me a second glance. We took a seat next to a young couple, who looked to be in their late twenties. They looked me up and down and I realised that, to them, I must have looked like a young girl on her own.
The wife gave me a smile. “How far along are you?”
“Er, four months, more or less,” I said. “You?”
“Six and a half,” she said, patting her belly. I noticed how much bigger hers was than mine and felt a strange jealousy. I guessed that, somewhere under here, I was still a guy. It was still all about who was bigger.
I didn’t know what to say. Should I say ‘you look beautiful’ or is that weird coming from another pregnant woman? ‘What are you having?’ ‘What should I look forward to?’ I was tongue tied around women before and this made it no better.
Thankfully, the woman saved me. “Is this your first?”
I involuntarily smiled. “Yes. You?”
The husband gave a smile. “It is.” Then he turned to Fi. “Congratulations.”
I was confused until I saw Fi stifle a giggle. Great, they think we’re a couple. I mean that was my dream at Uni but not quite like this. I didn’t know what to say. It’s not like I could explain the nanosuits and Jamie. ‘You see, I’m actually a 36 year old man whose wife, who’s now a man, ordered nanosuits and one thing led to another….’ That would be weird. Unlike this.
Fi said, “Why thank you. You too,” and she squeezed my hand.
They called the couple in. “Good luck,” the wife said.
“Thanks,” I said. “You too.”
As they went into the office, Fi laughed then whispered, “See, no one knows anything.”
“Great. They think we’re a couple.”
She smiled, “Is that so bad? You could do worse, you know.”
I laughed. “I know. This is just all a little strange is all.” I decided to play with her, “Thank you for coming dear,” I said, putting my head on her shoulder. Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed an older woman, who was there with her daughter (granddaughter?), give me a dirty look. ‘Fuck her,’ I thought. ‘We have just as much a right to be happy as anyone.’
“Of course, Kells. I’m actually excited. It’s strange to be on the other side of the table, as it were.”
The nurse brought us in. “OK, dear,” she said, handing me a paper gown. “Get undressed and put this on.” Then she handed me a specimen cup. “And we’ll need a sample. To check your sugars.”
I got undressed. It was getting harder to reach my shoes and I was glad Fi told me to wear slip ons. I went into the bathroom to undress and give my sample. I came out, holding the cup with one hand and trying to hold the gown closed with the other. “This is embarrassing.”
Fi smiled and moved the hand holding the gown. “Give it up,” she said, laughing. “It’s hopeless. You’ve really never done even this before?”
“No. Why would I?”
She looked down. “I guess when we went through all the tests with John, he…”
I felt like an ass. How could I not realise that? He would have had to. “I’m sorry, Fi. I feel awful. I totally…”
She wiped away a tear and then put up her hand. “Please, Kells. It’s OK. You’re getting pregnancy brain,” she said, with a big grin.
“Shut up,” I said. “That’s not for real, is it?” She just smiled at me.
The nurse came in and said, “Stick out your arm.”
“Ow!” I screamed, as she stuck in the needle. “Warn a g..girl, why don’t you?”
She looked at me. “Haven’t you been through this already, dear?”
Fi jumped in. “This is her first appointment.”
“I was in Iceland,” I stammered. “I didn’t realise that I was….oh never mind. Sorry.” The nurse looked at Fi, shook her head and walked out with my blood and urine.
The doctor came in. She was South Asian. She looked too young to be a doctor but then I caught my reflection and realised that I looked too young to be a mother. “Hi, I’m Dr. Patel,” she said, looking at the chart. “You must be Ms. Cooper,” she said, offering her hand.
“Yes, uh hi. And this is Fiona, my….friend.”
Dr. Patel smiled and shook Fi’s hand. “You don’t need to mince around it with me. Congratulations, you two.” Fi smiled at me. “So, the nurse tells me that this is your first prenatal visit. How far along are you?”
Fi jumped in. “She’s about four months.”
The doctor shook her head. “Ms. Cooper, that’s not good,” she said, in the tone you use with a misbehaving child. “You should have come sooner.”
I mumbled. “I didn’t know and then I didn’t know what I was going to do. Oh, and I was in Iceland.”
She smiled indulgently and shook her head. “Well, you’re here now. So hop up on the table and put your legs in the stirrups.” I did as I was told I never felt more vulnerable. You’re lying there with your legs spread open wide in your paper gown and you realize that there is nothing protecting you and no way to protect yourself. Add to that that I was broke, female and that the woman I loved was 2300 miles away. I didn’t know if I ever wanted to see her again but I wished she was here.
Then, Dr. Patel stuck in the speculum. “Ooh,” I said, “that’s cold.”
She smiled at Fi and said, “Sorry, Ms. Cooper. There’s no need to be nervous,” she said. Then she put her hands on my belly. I supposed that I should have been used to it from the village but it felt different when done by a professional. She got a concerned look on her face.
“Is everything OK?”
She smiled. “Yes, sorry. Sometimes, I get ‘resting bitch face’ when I’m checking. I need to work on that. I was just checking your fundal height.”
“Er, fundal height?”
She smiled. “It’s the distance between your pubic bone and your uterus.” Of course, everyone knows that. I wondered if Jamie knew. “There’s this thing called the Internet now. You should try it. Sorry.”
Fi laughed. “I’ve been telling her that, doctor.” She hadn’t. “She never listens.”
“Everything looks OK. From your fundal height, I’d estimate that you are in week 15.”
“You didn’t notice missed periods? Were you regular before?” Yes, I was regular. Until 15 weeks ago, I never had one, thank you very much.
“I, uh...oh never mind.” Dr. Patel and Fi laughed.
Then she moved over what appeared to be a sonogram machine. I recognised it from when I had torn my meniscus. “OK, so now we are going to check for the baby’s heartbeat.” She squirted some goo onto my stomach and I flinched. “Sorry about that,” she said. “If women designed it, it’d be warmer. Here we go,” she said.
I heard a thumping noise. “What’s that?” I said.
Dr. Patel smiled. “That is your baby’s heartbeat.”
It was suddenly very real. There was baby inside of me. Yes, it was technically the nano-suit but it was me. I was having a baby. If I had any doubt about keeping it, that went away when I heard the heartbeat. This was a baby. I begrudge no one that choice but my decision was finalised then. The heartbeat sounded rapid. “Is everything OK? It sounds fast.”
Fi smiled. “That’s normal Kells. When I was pregnant with Matt,” and I noticed that she was able to say that without hesitation, “I thought the same thing. Right doctor?”
Dr. Patel smiled. “Absolutely. Your baby sounds fine, wonderful.”
I started to tear up and Fi put her arm around me. She gave me a kiss on the forehead. “Amazing, isn’t it?” she said.
Dr. Patel said, “So let’s talk about what’s going on. We are going to run a series of tests on your blood and urine. The urine is to check protein and sugar levels, to make sure you don’t have gestational diabetes and pre-eclampsia. We’re going to run an alpha-fetal protein test on your blood to make sure that there’s no issues, Down’s Syndrome, trisomy 18, those sort of things.” I suddenly got very nervous. What if the baby had Down’s? I may have looked 24 but I was 36 and Jamie 39. Was I at risk? Dr. Patel smiled, “The risk increases over 40, so you have a long time before you have to worry about it. If there are any concerns and,” she saw the look on my face, “I don’t expect any, you’ll have amniocentesis, although again at your age, I don’t see any problems.”
“Again,” she said, scolding me. “I’m not happy that it took you this long to come in, but thankfully everything looks OK. Your blood pressure is fine, the heartbeat is fine, so I’m not too worried.” She took her prescription pad and wrote something down. She handed it to Fi, “These are prenatal vitamins I want her to take. You’ve been through this before and she’s young, so I’m counting on you to make sure she does it.”
Fi smiled, “I will, doctor. Right, honey?”
I rolled my eyes. “Yes, dear.”
Dr. Patel laughed. “Have you been feeling movement yet?”
I smiled, thinking of the heartbeat. “Mostly, it feels like fluttering. Like butterflies in your stomach come to life.”
“Well, you can expect him or her to start moving around a lot more soon. If it gets too bad, try laying on your side with a pillow between your legs.”
“We should have the results in a week or so. The nurse will call you and I want to set up your 20 week appointment now. I don’t mean to be a scold but you’re lucky. Let’s not be lucky. Let’s be safe. At the next appointment, we’ll do the full ultrasound.”
“You mean where you see the baby?” I said, suddenly excited.
She smiled. “You’ll see everything, even the sex if you want to know.”
I started to tear up. “Sorry, it’s just so….”
Fi gave me another kiss, tenderly on the cheek. “It is, Kells. It is.” We made the follow up appointment and left.
“That was amazing, Fi! Wasn’t it amazing? It was. I can’t believe it. Did you hear it?”
Fi smiled. “It’s amazing Kells.”
“Thank you for coming, Fi. You didn’t have to.”
She kept smiling. “Someone had to get you here. Besides, I wouldn’t have missed it. I remember when it was me, when I heard it. I couldn’t believe that there was this person inside of me. I mean you know it intellectually and you feel the morning sickness and the gas and everything but then you hear the heartbeat and you realise that you have this little person in you.” I was surprised to see Fi get so sentimental. She loved Matt but she wasn’t one for sentiment. I didn’t remember it from when she was pregnant but, then again, maybe I wouldn’t have noticed.
I smiled, thinking about what she said. “I know. There’s this person and,” I started to think of Jamie and began to cry.
She moved me to a bench and sat me down. I began crying into her shoulder. She put one hand on my stomach and the other rubbed circles on my back. “Let it out, Kells. It’s OK.”
“I miss her. I know I’m an idiot but I miss her. She should be here.”
“I know, Kells. But I’m here. S-Matt and I are here for you and we’ll be here for you.”
I smiled up through red eyes. “Really?”
“Of course, Kells.” She moved her hand around. “I think I felt it move. Wow. It feels different this time.” She took my hand and we walked to the car. She dropped me at home and caught a train to work. “I may be a little late,” she said. “Is that OK?”
The question surprised me. “Of course. Why wouldn’t it be?”
She smiled. “I just thought, with S-Matt…” I noticed that she was getting better at just calling him Matt, not S-Matt lately. It only came out when she was nervous or stressed.
I smiled. “We’ll be fine. He’ll be studying. I’ll make us dinner.”
She gave a me a hug and a peck on the cheek. “Pretty amazing, isn’t it?” I smiled and rested my hand on my stomach.
I spent the rest of the day humming to myself. I was reviewing the rewrites that Susan sent and she was, as I expected, on target. I had created a foil for Ingrid, Inspector Gudrunsdottir. I wasn’t sure what her point was - friend or foe or neither. Susan made one comment, about how she’d noticed that Gudrunsdottir made Ingrid a coffee each morning showing her maternal and protective feelings for my main character, and it made me realise that she was Ingrid’s mother figure, Ingrid’s mother having left when she was a child. Around 2:30 PM, an hour before Matt was due home, my phone rang. The display said, “Siggy.” I debated hitting “ignore,” but decided that I had faced the OB-GYN, I could face someone 2300 miles away.
“Hello Siggy,” I said coldly
“How are you,” she said tentatively. “Are you…”
I let her dangle for a second. “I am fine. I had a doctor’s appointment today. My first.”
“I hope not the last. Sorry sorry.” I heard the pain in her voice. I looked over at a shirt she gave me and felt awful.
“No,” I said. “It isn’t.”
“Is everything OK?”
“Yes, apparently I have a fundal height and it says I’m 15 weeks along.”
She laughed. “Sorry sorry. I was just picturing Egon in the doctor’s office with his legs up.”
That made me laugh, against my own will. “Bloody hell. That and the speculum, god is a man.”
She laughed some more. It felt good to hear her laugh. She had been my friend, as much as she could be. “Is everything OK?”
“The doctor says so. I heard the heartbeat.”
“That is something,” she said, sadly.
I thought about asking when she lost the baby but decided not to pry. If she wanted to tell me, she would. “It is. I have a sonogram in a few weeks, we’ll know more then. I hope it’s all OK.”
“I am sorry Kelly. I should have told you.”
“Yes, but he should have more.”
She took a deep breath. “He would like to speak with you.”
“Stop,” I barked. “I don’t want to hear about HIM. I don’t care what HE wants. I’m happy to speak with you. It’s good to hear from you. I will keep you apprised of my pregnancy and you can tell HIM what you want but I don’t want to hear HIS name again. Fair?” I didn’t care if it was fair. It was the rule.
“I’m sorry Kelly.”
“I’m sorry HE put you in the middle, Siggy.” I realised I was still shouting and calmed myself down a little, “How is Egon?” I wanted to know how Jamie was, how the film was coming along but I wasn’t going to ask. There was no answer I could hear that would truly satisfy me. If Jamie was doing great, I’d be angry. If she was miserable, I would be miserable. I hated her, but still loved her.
“He’s fine. He always asks after you. He has been worried since you left.”
Because his friend left me pregnant, broke and homeless? “Tell him I’m fine.”
“Tell him to go fuck himself. He knows why. I have to go. I have things to do. Bye, SIggy.”
“Kelly, please. I am sorry. I will always be sorry.”
“I know. I can’t deal with HIM now. I’ll let you know how things are.”
“Thank you,” she said and then we hung up.
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