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My New Year's resolution two years ago was to get pregnant. Top result, I thought, as the previous year I had given up drink forever after dislocating my shoulder in a dive bar on New Year's Eve well, New Year's Day at 6:00 A.M., to be precise. I lasted a week. I thought that this resolution would be a lot more realistic and should be a piece of cake to achieve off the pill, some sex and Bob's your uncle.
It was high time I had a baby. I was thirty-three and although I may have felt and, truth be told, behaved like I was twenty-five, it was time to knuckle down and get up the duff. I told James later that night when he came home from work. He seemed pleased if a little surprised that I was feeling broody as I'd rough-handled his nephew over the Christmas holidays. I reminded him that little Thomas had turned the TV off at a key moment in The Sound of Music, the scene in the cemetery when the Nazis are chasing the von Trapps I mean, come on, it's a life-or-death situation. And I had merely nudged him gently aside. It wasn't my fault that the child had no sense of balance, fell down and hit his head on the video recorder.
"That's not how Imogen saw it," said James.
"Well, Imogen is highly strung, uptight and neurotic," I said, smiling sweetly at James who is very handsome, by the way.
When I first introduced him to my family I could see they were surprised, shocked, even. Before James, I had gone for a guy I thought I could save you know, the tortured artist, unshaven, grubby and dirt poor. But then I met James and he saved me from myself, mostly.
He's tall, has chocolate-colored hair, lovely brown eyes and a killer smile. His nose is a bit big, but it looks good on a man. It did worry me, though: what if we had a daughter and she inherited it? Mind you, they can do wonders with surgery.
James's sister-in-law, Imogen, was a nightmare and had never liked me. She had wanted James to marry an English rose, some boring, horsey private-school chick just like her, who would sit around in twinsets and pearls talking about ponies, gymkhanas and "maaahvelous" recipes. She was horrified when James produced me Irish, passionate about everything, opinionated and, worst of all, a redhead.
To be honest I don't think James's parents, Mr. and Mrs. Hamilton, were too thrilled with me either. They had hoped that James would only spend a year in Ireland, training the Leinster rugby squad, but instead he met me and decided to stay for good. However, after three years of me studiously scraping my hair back into velvet bows and donning "respectable clothes" when we went over to see them, they had come 'round. I also held my tongue unusual for me when Mr. Hamilton talked about ridding England of its immigrants. "Send the lot of them home and let us get on with it. Coming over here, sponging off our government, taking our jobs and then whingeing about it. Send them all back, I say. That'll stop the buggers."
I was going to point out that two of my uncles and my brother were immigrants and ask if he wanted me to bugger off right now or would it be all right if I finished my apple crumble? But then I looked at James, who was shaking his head and mouthing "no," so I thought better of it. Besides, Daughter-in-Law of the Year, Imogen, had piped up, "I so agree, Jonathan, this country just isn't the same anymore."
James thought Imogen was "nice" and refused to criticize her out of loyalty to his brother, Henry. There were only the two of them in the family, so it was important that they got on. Henry had christened me Paddy (better than Spud, but still not terribly endearing) on our first meeting. Despite this little hiccup we got on quite well in an odd sort of way. He was obsessed with horse racing and seemed to think that because I was Irish I'd been born and reared in stables a bit like Jesus, I suppose, if you think about it. He was always asking me what I thought about horses and jockeys I'd never heard of. I have an unfortunate habit of never admitting I know nothing about a topic. Ask me any question, no matter how obscure, and I'll have a shot at answering it. So Henry and I had long chats about horses, bloodlines, jockeys and trainers. We once had an hour-long conversation on what it was about Dawn Run that had captured the hearts of the racing public. Henry reckoned it was her refusal to give in.
"She was an extremely tough horse, all right," I said, nodding and praying he wouldn't ask me any direct questions about her career history.
"Wasn't she?" said Henry. "That win in the Gold Cup when she was headed between the last two fences and just managed to get her nose in front again on the run-in really summed up her desire to win."
"I'll never forget it," I lied.
"But what a tragic end to a glittering career."
What did he mean "tragic"? Hadn't he just said the stupid horse had won the race? "Oh, it was desperate," I said, shaking my head and sighing.
"So brave of her to try to repeat her earlier victory in the Grande Course de Haies at Auteuil. A broken neck. What a way to go! She was definitely one of the brightest lights to grace the National Hunt," said Henry, his eyes misting.
"So sad," I agreed, thinking, Come on, Henry, get a grip it was a bloody horse, not a member of your family.
Anyway, back to Imogen: When I grumbled on about her being a witch, James jumped in to defend her: "She may be a little overprotective, but that's only to be expected in first-time mothers. I'm sure you'll be the same."
"James, I think it's fair to say that I'll never be anything like Imogen. I am not boring, uptight or neurotic."
"No, darling, you're spontaneous and just a little insane."
"Better mad than boring. I'll make a brilliant mother though, won't I?"
"Yes, darling, you will. Now, shouldn't we stop talking and get down to baby-making?"
A week later I phoned home to tell my mother about our decision to have a baby.
"Hi, Dad, it's me."
"Oh, hi, how are you?"
"Grand. How's himself?"
"Fine. Any news?"
"Not really. Well, your sister's in the doghouse. Some poor eejit turned up here on Friday night in a dinner suit with a big flower and a box of chocolates to take her to a ball, but she was off at some party in Cork. The poor fool was sitting here like a lemon while we tried to call her. In the end your mother felt so sorry for him she offered to go to the ball herself. That got rid of him, all right," said Dad, as we both giggled. "Oh, here's Barbara now. I'll let her fill you in."
"See you, Dad."
"Hi, Babs. What's going on?"
"You mean apart from our mother losing the plot completely and accusing me of ruining her life? God, I forgot about the poxy ball. What's the big deal? He's a total nerd anyway. I only said yes because he cornered me in the library and I couldn't think of a good excuse quickly enough."
"In the library? Were you lost?"
"You're hilarious. I was trying to find Jenny so I could cog her notes. Anyway, I went to Cork to a mad party and had a great time. I would have had a shite time at that crappy ball."
"So you didn't forget?"
"Well, okay, not really. But if you saw the state of him you'd understand."
"Bit mean, though."
"Yeah, I know, I know. I'll go and hunt him out in the library tomorrow and apologize."
"Careful! The library twice in one week? Bad for the image."
"I'll wear a wig. Oh Jesus, here's Mum. I'm off before she starts spraying me with holy water."
"Hi, Mum," I said, trying to stifle giggles.
"Funny, is it? Funny to bring disgrace on your family? Some poor young lad all dickied up with a beautiful corsage turns up at the door to take her to a ball and she's off gallivanting at some rave party in Cork. Well, the poor boy nearly died, as did we. We had to bring him in and feed him stiff drinks. He was as red as a beetroot. I was mortified myself and, to make matters worse, it turns out he's Liam and Eileen McGarry's son."
At this point my mother paused for dramatic effect, but it was lost on me: I had no idea who these people were. "Who?"
"You know, Liam and Eileen McGarry from the golf club and isn't Liam the captain this year, so the whole place will be talking about what an ignorant so-and-so we've raised. I'd say that boy will never go outside his front door again. It's a dangerous age for boys, you know the percentage of suicides among boys between the ages of eighteen and twenty-five is very high."
I decided to step in. "Mum, relax. I'm sure it'll be fine. She's going to apologize to him."
"Pffff. Anyway, enough about that young pup. How are you?"
"Great, thanks. Actually, I've decided to have a baby."
"What do you mean?"
"I mean, I've decided to have a baby. I'm going to get pregnant."
"Lord, Emma. I hope you haven't broadcast this around."
"What do you mean, broadcast?"
"Well, these things are best kept private. Why does everyone nowadays feel they have to tell the world their private business? I blame that Oprah Winefrid myself."
"Her name is...oh, never mind. Just think, this time next year you'll be a granny."
"It doesn't always happen overnight, you know, especially at your age. It's not always that straightforward, Emma."
"Well, thanks for all your support. Hopefully at the grand old age of thirty-three my ovaries haven't totally shriveled up."
"There's no need to be dramatic. Just keep your business private and get on with it."
"Fine, I will. I'd better go now and hop on James before my biological clock stops."
Your cycle is twenty-eight days, so you should ovulate (isn't that just the most cringe-making word? It sounds like something fish do) midway. On day fourteen, when James came home from work, I was waiting for him.
Instead of greeting him from my usual horizontal position on the couch, eating chocolate biscuits in my pajamas and Gap hoodie, I was waiting for him in the bedroom in my garter belt and stockings, which hadn't been trotted out since our honeymoon a year ago. I had lit scented candles and left only a small lamp on in the corner of the room. My thighs and stomach look a lot better by candlelight believe me.
Stunned not to find me on the couch, James walked into the bedroom, sniffing the air suspiciously. When he saw me in my garter belt he began to look really worried. "Okay, what have you done? You crashed the car, didn't you?"
"No, I did not. I just thought this would be a nice surprise for you. Make a change."
James sat down on the bed and took my hand in his. "It's all right, darling. The most important thing is that you weren't injured. Just tell me how bad the damage is."
"James! I did not crash the car." I was getting frustrated now and the garter belt was digging into my waist. I had starved myself for weeks before the wedding and that was a lot of meals ago. "I wanted to surprise you and inject some fun into our midweek routine."
"Fine, but is there anything you want to tell me? I promise, no matter how bad it is, I won't get annoyed."
"Aha, I know. Your parents have separated and your mother's moving in with us?"
"No, they have not. What do you mean, my parents have separated? Do you think they might? Why should they? They get on really well."
"Emma, I'm just trying to figure out what you've done."
"For goodness' sake, stop being so suspicious. I just felt like spicing things up a bit. And, besides, I'm ovulating." I had to admit it before he cast any more aspersions on my parents' marriage. I thought they seemed happy enough. Granted, they weren't Mr. and Mrs. Mike Brady, but they got on all right.
James looked a bit taken aback. "What?"
That's the problem with men who've been brought up in all-male households and go to single-sex boarding schools they tend not to be very au fait with the inner workings of the female body. When we first moved in together James called from the supermarket one night to see what I wanted for dinner. I asked him for chicken tikka and a twelve-pack of Tampax Supers as I'd run out. He nearly passed out. He just wasn't that relaxed around feminine hygiene products. But, as my friend Jess said, it's all about training. I was working on him, slowly but surely.
"I'm ovulating you know, popping eggs so we need to go for it. It's day fourteen. Come on, let's get to it."
"Right, right, of course, yes. Do we have time for foreplay or should I just shoot from the hip, as it were?" said James, laughing, as he whipped off his tracksuit.
Copyright © 2005 by Sinead Moriarty