The Wrong Forecast
The weather forecast was wrong the day Dr. Harmon told me
about you. Clear skies with a light south-westerly wind, only a five
percent chance of rain. Normally I would’ve stood in front of
my kitchen window and watched the clouds. I would’ve
checked for frost, for rain, for sun, my chamomile tea
warming my hands, its steam unfurling towards the ceiling.
But thanks to Luke switching off my alarm (apparently I
needed the sleep), I’d been running behind my planned
schedule all day. I didn’t have time to check the clouds that
morning and blamed the BBC for my decision to leave my
umbrella in its ceramic stand by my front door. My favourite
suede shoes, heavy with the rain that wasn’t supposed to
have fallen, squeaked on the linoleum floor as I walked to Dr.
Harmon’s room. When she first gave me a tissue from the box
on her desk, it was to wipe away the water trickling from my
hairline into my eyes. The second tissue caught the tears that
fell when she said you were growing inside me.
You would’ve been so small that Wednesday afternoon.
Smaller than a fingernail, smaller than the freckle on my left
nipple, and yet, when I knew you were there, it was like I
could feel you. Each cell forming, dividing, growing. At 41,
thanks to regular Pilates classes, fruit instead of chocolate,
and only the occasional glass of red, my stomach was, if not
firm, then definitely flat. But with the tissues scrunched
between my fingers, and my palm on my stomach, it didn’t
feel so flat anymore. How could it? It was now a house to one
tiny, rapidly developing occupant. You.
Dr. Harmon gave me several leaflets, booked in my next
appointment, asked if I had any questions. I had thousands.
But with my toes curled against damp suede, my left hand
on my stomach, and my right hand full of tissues and leaflets,
my questions dissolved before they could be asked. As I
walked through the too-bright waiting room, the squeak of
my shoes was obnoxiously loud. I gripped my leaflets tighter;
the squeaking got faster. I didn’t look up as I walk-ran to my
car. I slammed the door on the rain and threw the tissues and
leaflets on the passenger seat. I tried to breathe, felt my breath
hiccup in my throat, once, twice. By the sixth I was fixing my
mascara in the rear-view mirror. I smiled at my reflection; told
myself what Mum told me the day Dad left: we’ll get through
this. You’ll see. By the time I pulled up to my drive, I’d ripped
my thumb nail down to the bed. The stinging helped me
focus, or rather it kept me distracted. I just had to make a
plan. I sat at the kitchen table and smoothed flat the leaflets,
got my good pen and my good paper (the ruled kind, 120 gsm
– only the best for you). I sucked at my thumb to stop the
blood seeping onto my clothes – blood stains are such a
nuisance. We could do this. I could do this.
I’m good at research, always have been, it’s what I do three
days a week for Luke’s firm. Made it easy to fit around your
appointments. Luke thought I should stop working, reduce
the stress to my body. What does he know? After sixteen years
he still struggles to find my G-spot. It’s not like it’s moved.
When he suggested I give up work, I laughed more than I had
for months; it wasn’t part of my plan to give up working,
never was. Besides, all the websites and articles had
suggested keeping to a normal routine. They recommended
removing unhealthy and sugary foods, said adding daily
walks would help stimulate blood flow and, of course, that
occasional glass of red was the first to go.
Three mornings after we found out about you, Luke joined
me in the kitchen. He took the mug of chamomile tea, which
had been burning my palms in the most pleasant way, and
placed it onto the counter with a soft clink. Then he turned
my face away from the window, away from the clouds,
towards him. He took my hands, rubbing his thumb in small
circles against my skin. His hands smelt of cocoa butter and,
as they were still slightly slippery from applying moisturiser,
they struggled to hold tight to mine.
‘How about we call our families round and tell them
together?’ he said. ‘What do you think?’
I had wanted to wait a bit before telling anyone. Maybe
speak to Dr. Harmon again, maybe just sit with you under
some clouds, but I did like how efficient Luke’s idea was.
Besides, I suspected Luke wanted to speak to his mother
about you, and my mum would be furious to know I kept you
from her. So, on the Sunday after Dr. Harmon first told me
about you, our families all crammed into our perfect-for-two
living room. My mum and sister sat on our cerulean velvet
sofa, Luke’s mother perched in the single armchair next to
our oak bookshelf. His father stood, muttering under his
breath by the window. The clouds behind him were of the
cumulus variety – the white cotton balls would look
spectacular come sunset. Luke’s brother and his husband sat
on the floor with their three year old son, Tom. Tom’s fingers
were sticky from God knows what, and I winced as he
flattened his small hands on my Persian rug.
I almost laughed when we told them about you. There was
the expected shock; Luke’s father was silent for once. Then
came the tears. Big fat tears spilled down my mum’s and
sister’s cheeks, dropped onto the sofa. Where they fell, the
cerulean dappled to navy. Then they were all hugging us,
squeezing so hard my back clicked. It seemed almost fake, a
performance straight out of a movie. I half expected a director
to yell ‘cut’. Only Tom seemed real to me, still on the floor,
trying to smoosh his grubby little fingers into the yellow
fibres of my rug.
I think Sarah, my sister, thought Luke and I were
divorcing. I always called her after we fought, that occasional
glass of red turning into a bottle, sometimes more. On those
days, she’d remind me that if I needed help stashing a body,
her rotting vegetable patch was always available, saying
that’s what big sisters are for. It’s funny how your arrival
fixed things that had been broken for so long. Luke was
touching me again, finding any excuse to hold me, kiss me.
When we talked, we talked about you. Not about work, or
taxes, or who’d forgotten to buy milk – again.
Mum started calling me every day after we told her. Our
conversations centred on you, though Sarah did get the
occasional mention: ‘Sarah came round yesterday. She said
she was there to see me, but really she just stole my green
turtleneck again. I’m going to have to put that jumper under
bloody lock and key.’ Sometimes a call was not sufficient for
her and she’d join me on my daily walk. She’d tut at the state
of my nails, mark my breathing and the flush in my cheeks.
If she ever felt I was overexerting myself, we’d return home
for tea and biscuits. She prefers the chocolate ones, I favour a
custard cream, but we always argue over whether to dunk or
not. Mum’s pro-dunking. I think it makes tea disgusting, bits
of soggy biscuit swimming around, no thanks.
The next time I saw Dr. Harmon, the scan showed you’d
grown to about the size of a walnut. Luke got the morning off
work to come with me, said we were in this together. I knew
he was trying to be supportive. If I checked his iPad search
history, I’m sure I’d find bookmarked articles on “how to be
an empathetic partner”. But it’s not his body you’re growing
in, it’s mine. Besides, he wasn’t much company – kept
complaining about how uncomfortable hospital chairs are, no
lumbar support apparently. At least the forecast had been
correct: cloudy and mild throughout much of the day, heavy
showers expected early evening in the South. Even though the
rain hadn’t fallen until later that day, the grey clouds meant
my umbrella was under my chair and my new suede shoes
were at home. When Dr. Harmon told us I was further along
than she thought, Luke gripped my hand to stop me biting
my nails. My fingers flexed between his and I pulled at the
dry skin of my lips instead. Luke has always hated my
nervous habit. Mum tried to stop me doing it by using that
vile tasting varnish, but I learnt to quite like the taste.
Our appointment didn’t last long, and outside Dr.
Harmon’s door I shared a small smile with a woman who was
sitting on one of the plastic chairs in the waiting room. Luke
held my hand the entire drive home; I don’t think he’d have
let go even if we’d had a manual car and he’d had to shift
gears. It would’ve been nice if his hands hadn’t been sweaty.
He didn’t want to go back to work after he dropped me at
home. The skin around his eyes was scrunched up in concern.
He needn’t have worried; I knew what to do. After he
checked for the fifth time that I would definitely be ok, he
kissed me goodbye and reversed the car back out of the drive.
I think before that appointment I’d thought of you as more
of an abstract possibility than a real eventuality. But Dr.
Harmon’s face as Luke held my hand told me you were
growing quickly, and we weren’t ready.
I was surprised to see Luke when he got home late that
evening, I hadn’t realised it was almost nine. I’d been
packing my things for almost ten hours – it would’ve been
longer, but I’d had to go and buy the boxes. I was in the
living room, surrounded by boxes that had spilled out into
the kitchen. I loved our place. It was small, but it was ours.
We bought it ten years ago, chose it for its proximity to work,
its quiet middle class neighbours. One bedroom, a kitchen, a
living room, and a garden that backs onto Richmond Park.
Perfection. I would miss it; miss the eggshell walls, miss
seeing the deer pick their way through the park. Luke was
silent while I showed him the boxes and their labels. I
explained how each one was colour coordinated by room.
He needed to understand my system. He took the
alphabetical list I gave him, glanced at it only once before he
placed it on one of the boxes, the one marked bedroom in
purple pen. When he started shushing me, I realised I’d been
shouting, my volume raised over the sobs that had bubbled
in my chest. You had made me cry again, and I really didn’t
like crying. He grabbed my hands. I got blood on him then.
I hadn’t even realised I was bleeding. I’d been biting my nails
again. When I looked at the boxes, smears of blood rimmed
where I’d taped them, the red drops ruining my colour
system. I knew Luke wanted to say something, his lips were
pressed together so tightly they’d puckered white. But he
didn’t let out the words that were probably hot on his
tongue. Instead he pulled me close, my back against his
chest, and wrapped his arms around me. His hands were
warm where they rested on you.
Before you, he might’ve said something, but his
bookmarked articles probably suggested just being quiet,
being there for what I needed. Where was this Luke before
you arrived? Before you, I’m sure our arguments had been
the talk of the street, our decision to move to a quiet
neighbourhood coming back to bite us. But we’d been
together for years and you don’t just throw something like
that away. Besides, we had you to think about now. You had
carved out a space in our lives that stole all our attention,
good and bad.
It was nothing but clear skies the day the vomiting
started. If I had looked out of the bathroom window, I
might’ve seen two plane contrails crisscross to form a white
‘x’ in the sky, I might’ve seen a hot air balloon, I might’ve
seen Santa-fucking-Claus fly past, but all I saw was the
bleached off-white of a toilet bowl. It got so bad I made a nest
out of blankets and towels so I wouldn’t have far to go before
my intestines made a run for it up my gullet. The cool
pinpricks in the centre of my forehead and the blush
vanishing from my cheeks were the only warnings my body
deigned to give me before I’d be on my knees, hugging the
toilet like I was adrift at sea, heaving and heaving and
heaving. Cooled mugs of chamomile tea surrounded me like
a ceramic fairy ring, Luke’s offering of comfort when he
didn’t know what else to do. It was so bad that Mum came
around on the days Luke was at work. She rubbed my back
in clockwise circles, singing the made-up songs she’d sung
to my sister and me as children.
Two little girls flew on a swing,
one went up, one went down.
up and down
went the pretty little girls
so high and so fast
they even grew wings.
The circular hand motion actually made me feel worse,
but I didn’t tell her that, enjoying being cared for like a child
again. The times I was alone and wasn’t vomiting, I’d lay with
my forehead pressed against our cool tiled floor and pull my
knees as close to my chin as I could. I’d lay there and cup my
stomach, cup you.
Is it weird that I haven’t named you? When Sarah and I
met at the pub (a pint of Hogstar for her, soda and lime for
me), she said I should call you The Beast, because of what you
were doing to my body. I thought about it when she went
outside to smoke. I watched her through the window, red
flaring at her mouth. Sarah’s smoking started young. She
preferred to be out with her friends, stealing lipsticks from
Woolworths and sharing damp cigarettes with the boys from
the year above, than staying home with me to listen to Mum
and Dad fight. At lunch last week, Mum used my condition to
try for the hundredth time to get Sarah to quit. She’d clearly
failed. I watched as the clouds behind Sarah hurried through
the air. I could see her shiver, despite her green turtleneck.
The Beast might’ve been more of an official name, but I
suppose you is still a name of sorts; it straddles the line
between accusatory and affectionate. It lets me address you,
you who are now the size of a peach.
The radio had been saying all week that there was a cold
front coming to the UK from across the Atlantic, bringing the
potential conditions for heavy snow. On Friday, I saw frosted
grass and the darkening sky through the kitchen window, so
I had my fluffy socks and gloves at the ready. On my way to
work I overheard several groups of school children talking,
hoping for the most treasured weather phenomenon; snow.
Their breaths mingled in warm clouds above their hatted
heads; they were all excitable, giggling at the likely prospect
of days spent at home building snowmen. I understood that
they were excited, but did they have to walk so slowly? I tried
to slip between them, but they had linked arms and spanned
the width of the pavement. I sucked my left cheek in and bit
down to keep from saying something I’d most likely regret.
Instead I stepped down onto the road to overtake them.
My right foot was in the road, my left still on the curb,
when you decided to make yourself known. It felt like you
had grabbed hold of my insides and were ripping and tearing
at them with thousands of sharp little knives. I think I might
have screamed; I definitely fell, the back of my skull
connecting with the curb with a loud smack that vibrated my
jaw, clicking my teeth together. I know now that I was
concussed. At the time, it was like everything had slowed.
The children were asking me if I was ok, and I wanted to say
yes, say that I was fine, but the words slurred into a formless
sound. The back of my head was feeling warm when an adult
joined the hatted heads looking down at me. I tried to sit up,
but the woman, I remember she had curly black hair and
wasn’t wearing a hat, placed a hand on my shoulder to keep
me down. I remember the sky; the clouds had merged to form
a nimbostratus and the blue lights of the ambulance arrived
when the first snowflake caught in a strand of the woman’s
hair, the white stark against the black. The radio weather
forecast had been right.
I’d done my research; I knew what that intensity of pain
meant. Dr Harmon didn’t need to tell me, though she did.
See, not content to stay in my cervix, you’d spread yourself
across my uterus, to my lymph nodes, stretching as far as my
lungs. Aggressive little thing, aren’t you? Luke went quite
grey when he heard, Sarah and my mum each gripped one of
my hands. I was surprised that I cared more about not being
able to get at my nails than I did about what Dr. Harmon was
saying. I kept silent, let my mum do the arguing, ask the
‘There must be other options!’
But there weren’t. Chemo hadn’t killed you and you’d
spread too far to operate. I could hear Dr. Harmon trying to
placate my family. I wonder how much of her job is actually
about dealing with the patient’s family. Mine certainly
weren’t going to make it easy. I winced when Sarah’s hand
tightened around my own. When I turned to look at her, I saw
that she was crying soft, silent tears. They ran down her
cheeks in such perfect rivulets, they belonged on a film set.
Mum’s cheeks and neck were flushing red, her grip on my
hand becoming painful, her voice getting louder – poor Dr.
Harmon. Luke was shaking his head, quiet ‘no’s’ making it
past his lips to my ears. It seems the articles he’d read could
only prepare him so much. I wanted to say, save something for
when I’m gone, but I don’t think they’d have appreciated my
attempt at humour (though Sarah might’ve). Instead I looked
out of the window.
The clouds had thickened while I’d been out, eddies of
snow now swirled in the wind. Sarah and I used to love
catching snowflakes on our tongue. She’d told me they were
magic sweets and, if we ate enough, we’d become magic too.