Six Geese a-Laying

Six Geese A Laying In Kindle

sophie’s introduction

Six Geese A-Laying is a mini short story which I wrote in 2011. It’s a Christmas short story with a twist and is free to download to your e-reader (or you can read the story in full here on my website)!

synopsis

Christmas is approaching, and Ginny is looking forward to the birth of her first baby. It’s a pity her partner Dan is so useless, and she has to keep reminding him where he’s going wrong. Luckily she’s enrolled into the most exclusive antenatal class going – all the highest achieving, smartest mothers-to-be aspire to be taught by the legendary Petal Harmon. Like the other five women in the class, Ginny already knows exactly what she wants, and how she’s going to handle motherhood.

But when they turn up for the final class it isn’t quite what they expect. As Ginny discovers what parenthood is really going to be like, she begins to realize the things that really matter…

extract

We’re a fairly exclusive group.

Which, OK, I know sounds awful and conceited. If I were talking to anyone else I wouldn’t even say it. But you understand. This isn’t just any antenatal group. You can’t just turn up. You have to be chosen.

Petal Harmon, our teacher, conducts all the interviews herself. She isn’t affiliated to any of the hospitals or nationwide chains, but let me tell you, she gets enquiries from all over London. People travel miles to be in one of her classes. And she doesn’t even advertise. It’s all word of mouth.

The women who have had Petal Harmon classes are different. They have a strange look in their eye. They know something the rest of us don’t. The thing I’ve heard, over and over, is that Petal changed their lives.

Which sounds a leetle bit of an exaggeration to me, but I take the point. So naturally I applied for her classes as soon as I heard I was pregnant, like everyone else round here. I didn’t do anything special at the interview. So many girls have asked me if there’s some special trick but all I can say is, I was myself! We talked about my pregnancy . . . and my work in personnel . . . and Dan . . .

Dan’s my husband, by the way. He’s the one who dropped me off tonight – although he missed the street, and had to go round the one-way system. Which is just typical of him. He said the sign was covered in snow so he couldn’t read it, but honestly. He’s just useless. How he’s going to cope with a baby I’ll never know!

So where was I? Oh yes, the interview. So I was just very natural, very bubbly, and the next thing I knew a handwritten card had arrived, inviting me to the classes.

Obviously I was thrilled. Not that I would gloat or anything. I’ve barely mentioned it more than a few times to my neighbour Annabel. (She didn’t get in, poor love. Even though she took Petal a bunch of flowers and some of those earthy biscuits she makes.) We all feel the same way, all of us in the class. We’re not smug, obviously not. But the fact that we were all selected gives us . . . I don’t know. A little glow. We must have some special quality that others don’t.

There are six of us altogether, all due around the same time – Christmas. As I walk – well, waddle – into the room, the fire is glowing and the fairy lights are twinkling and it really looks quite Christmassy.

Geraldine’s holding forth about something or other, balancing a cup of tea on her bump. She’s still in tailored suits, believe it or not. Adjusted to fit, naturally. She had them made up on her last business trip to Singapore.

She’s fun, Geraldine, but a bit abrasive, if you know what I mean. When a midwife came to talk to us, Geraldine’s first question was ‘If you were negligent during my delivery, would I sue you individually or the hospital?’

‘So there I am, lying on the couch – and the midwife starts texting her friend!’ she’s saying now. ‘I mean, it’s tantamount to negligence, ignoring a patient like that. I’m complaining.’

‘Which midwife was it?’ asks Georgia alertly. Georgia has blonde highlights, is very posh, and has already put her baby down for Eton and Suzuki violin lessons.

‘It was that bloody Davies woman,’ replies Geraldine. ‘I tell you, I’m writing to the senior midwife, and I’m CC-ing the consultant and my chum in hospital management. I’m going to make her life hell. It’s the only way to get results with these people.’ She scribbles something on a leather-bound notebook and stuffs it into her Mulberry briefcase.

‘I saw my midwife today too,’ says Gina, who is sipping her own organic raspberry tea. ‘I told her my birth plan. No pain relief.’ She smiles contentedly around the room. ‘I’ve told Ralph, as well. I’ve said to him, even if I beg you. Even if I scream for an epidural!’ She leans forward earnestly, her plaits falling over her shoulders. ‘Don’t listen to me. I won’t know what I’m saying.’

Ralph is Gina’s partner. He has a goatee beard dyed three shades of red and apparently at the father’s evening he read out a poem he’d composed himself about placentas.

‘You’re brave!’ says Georgia. ‘Didn’t Petal say we should be open-minded about pain relief?’

‘I’ve been practising yoga and meditation for years.’ Gina looks smug. ‘I think I know how to work with my body. It’s all in the mind. You can see it as pain, or you can see it as empowerment. Plus, Ralph’s taken a course in aromatherapy. He’s going to make me my own personal blend of oils.’

‘He’s very supportive, Ralph, isn’t he?’ says Georgia, with a slight frown. Her husband is called Jonno and works non-stop at a merchant bank.

‘He’s great.’ Gina still looks smug. ‘We really connect, on every level. That’s why I’m so confident about labour.’

‘And Dan’s supportive, isn’t he Ginny?’ Georgia turns to me. ‘He seems really sweet.’

‘Oh, he’s crap!’ I say with a burst of laughter. ‘Utterly useless! He put up the changing table yesterday. I said, if you’re as cack-handed as that with the baby I’m not letting you near it—’

My laughter’s interrupted by the door opening. Petal is at the door in her purple crinkly skirt. She really does look like a witch sometimes.

‘Are we all here?’ she says, her eyes darting around the room. ‘Our special guest speaker has arrived, but I’ll wait until the whole group is assembled.’

‘No Gabby yet,’ says Geraldine. ‘I know her firm’s handling a big merger this week, so . . . ’ She shrugs. We all know what she means. Gabby’s attendance hasn’t been great. She always arrives late and often leaves early – and one week she sent along her PA in lieu. It makes you wonder why she’s having a baby. Actually, we know why she’s having a baby. It’s because her husband wanted one. She’s already booked her Caesarean and her twenty-four-hour nanny, and is going back to work three weeks after the birth.

‘Last lesson!’ says Georgia brightly to Petal. ‘If we don’t know it now, we never will!’

Petal says nothing for a few moments, just looks at her with that mysterious, slightly eerie gaze she has. ‘There are certain lessons each of you has still to learn,’ she says at last. Her gaze moves around the room, lingering on each of us in turn. Then she quietly disappears out of the room.

‘Oh God,’ says Geraldine as the door closes. ‘It’s the breastfeeding counsellor, I know it. They’re worse than Bible bashers, my friend Lucy said.’

‘Breastfeeding raises the IQ,’ Georgia says at once. ‘Breastfeeding and Mozart. Did you read the article?’ She pulls a glossy magazine entitled Intelligent Baby out of her bag. ‘I’m planning to play the Mozart clarinet concerto every day to my baby.’

There’s a sudden flurry of snow against the window, and we all jump in surprise.

‘Look at that!’ Gina exclaims. ‘It’s going to be a white Christmas.’

It hasn’t snowed like this for years. Real, proper snow. Dickensian snow, Dan called it this morning.

‘Speaking of Christmas . . . Georgia looks around, a little coy. ‘Has anyone thought of names yet?’

‘Holly?’ says Geraldine with a grin.

‘Ivy,’ I say with a laugh. ‘Or Noel. Dan suggested Bianca. I said, that’s the kind of name you would think of.’

‘Only I’ve thought of one that’s rather unusual . . . ’ Georgia looks around, her mouth twisting with pleasure. ‘Melchior.’

‘Melchior?’ echoes Geraldine. ‘You can’t call a baby Melchior!’

‘I think it’s rather lovely,’ says Georgia, looking offended. ‘For a girl or a boy. Mel for short. What do you think, Grace?’
We all turn to look at Grace in the corner, and as usual, she stares dumbly back with that frightened-rabbit expression she always has.

Now. I’m sure Petal had her reasons for inviting Grace into the class. But frankly . . . she doesn’t fit. She’s barely out of her teens, for a start. I mean, fancy having a baby at the age of twenty-two! People just don’t do that any more. So of course she hasn’t got the confidence of the rest of us, bless her.

And to be honest, I think it’s a shame. The last thing the rest of us need is some drippy, insecure girl bringing us down. Especially when the classes are so oversubscribed. You’d think Petal could have found someone more . . . suitable.

‘I haven’t even thought about names,’ she says, her voice barely above a whisper. ‘I just,’ she swallows. ‘I just can’t get my head round it.’

‘I’ve got a book you can borrow . . . ’ begins Georgia.

‘Not just that. All of it.’ Grace looks imploringly around at the rest of us. ‘Motherhood. Being responsible for another life. What if the baby gets ill and I don’t recognize the symptoms and it dies? What if I don’t bond with it?’

‘You’ll bond with it,’ says Gina in sure tones. ‘It’s nature.’

‘But what if I don’t? I listen to you all talking away and I think, how can you all be so confident?’ She sounds almost desperate. ‘Don’t you ever have any worries? Don’t you ever doubt yourselves?’

Oh, for goodness sake. This is what I mean. She’s all wrong for the class! Maybe some people go to antenatal classes to moan on about their insecurities. But we’re just not that kind of women. We know what we want. We know ourselves. Frankly, we don’t have any doubts. I think it’s an age thing.

I glance at Geraldine, who has a perplexed frown. Georgia looks rather blank. Gina is stroking her bump with a beatific smile.

Then Geraldine glances down at her watch. ‘I call this a con!’ she says. ‘We’ve paid for Petal Harmon’s time. Not some jumped up health visitor—’

The door opens and we all swing round, but it’s only Gabby, in her black Formes trousers and jacket, holding her Palm Pilot open and talking into her mobile phone headset.

‘Yup,’ she’s saying. ‘Yup. FedEx both of them off. And get me the Anderson figures. OK, I’ve gotta go now. I’ll call as soon as I’m out of this place.’ She snaps her PalmPilot closed and looks around. ‘What’d I miss?’

‘Nothing,’ says Geraldine. ‘We’ve all just been sitting here waiting for some “special speaker”. Special rip-off, more like.’

‘I assure you,’ Petal’s calm voice from the back of the room makes us all jump, ‘my last speaker is not a rip-off.’ She’s walking to the front now as Gabby takes her seat. ‘I might go so far as to say this last lesson will make the information I have given you in the preceding weeks seem irrelevant.’

There’s silence in the room. As Petal looks around there’s a faint smile at her lips and her eyes look even more witchy than usual.

‘Some of you may have wondered why you were offered places in my class. You will be aware that a lot of women apply, but not many are accepted.’

A glow of pleasure creeps over me. As I glance around I can see the same smug smiles on everyone else’s faces too. All except Grace, who’s looking as petrified as ever.

‘Let me just say that I felt you could all particularly benefit from this final lesson.’ She reaches for the switch and dims the light, then draws the door closed. We all exchange glances through the gloom.

‘Sounds quite mysterious!’ says Geraldine with a laugh. ‘I wonder what this is all about.’

‘I did once hear a rumour,’ begins Gina, lowering her voice. ‘I heard that Petal Harmon can foresee what kind of labour you’re going to have. And that she tells you on your final lesson.’

‘I heard she could tell the sex of your baby,’ says Gabby, busily texting. ‘But what’s the point, with ultrasound? Anyway, I know what kind of labour I’m going to have.’

Suddenly the room goes even darker, although no one’s been near the switch. The only light comes from the white of the snow outside the window and the glow of Gabby’s mobile.

‘Great,’ says Georgia, looking up from her notebook. ‘How am I going to take notes now? D’you think she’ll give out a sheet?’

She stops as the door opens, and we all turn to see a figure standing in the doorway. Tall and slim, wearing a long black dress with a kind of snood affair over her head. Without saying anything, she glides into the room and I see she’s holding a laptop.

She turns to face us, but still says nothing. The hood thing is masking her face. All in all, she’s hardly the most prepossessing of speakers.

‘Not very talkative, is she?’ Geraldine whispers in my ear.

The woman dips her hood, reaches for the laptop and switches it on. Visions are flitting across the screen but whatever CD-rom she’s using, it’s not up to much. It’s more like some old cine-film. The colours are washed out, and the actions jerky. We all peer silently, our eyes trying to adjust.

Then I see it. It’s a woman in labour. She’s sighing and puffing, her head in her hands.

‘Oh for God’s sake,’ murmurs Geraldine. ‘Excuse me?’ she says in a louder voice. ‘We’ve seen several videos of giving birth. I really think our last lesson would be better used in discussion, or recapping what we’ve already covered.’

But the woman doesn’t seem to hear her. The images flicker on and we all gaze at the screen in silence. It’s strangely compelling, even though you can hardly make out what’s going on.

‘Hang on,’ says Georgia suddenly. ‘Gina, that’s you.’

‘What?’

We all crane forward and peer at the woman’s face.

‘Oh my God,’ breathes Gina.

‘It is!’

‘How can it be Gina?’

‘I think I’ve heard about this,’ says Geraldine uncertainly. ‘Video-empathy. It’s to help you visualize your birth. They must have superimposed your head on the screen. It’s a bit of a cheap trick.’

‘But how have they got Ralph too?’ says Gina, sounding freaked out. ‘Look!’

Sure enough, on the screen, Ralph is approaching the bed that Gina’s lying on. ‘Love?’ he says. ‘I’ve brought the oils.’

‘Ralph.’ On-screen Gina lifts her head, her face is contorted with pain. ‘I want pain relief. Proper pain relief.’

‘But love, you told me, no pain relief. I’ll rub your back with lavender and jasmine . . . ’

The sound of Gina’s moaning dies away and the screen goes momentarily blank. A moment later she reappears on screen, looking even worse than before.

‘Ralph, I need something,’ she’s panting. ‘Please. I’ve changed my mind.’

‘She doesn’t,’ Ralph is saying to a midwife. ‘Look. It’s in her birth plan. “Even if I beg, do not give me pain relief. My body will adjust.”’

‘Please!’

‘Gina. Love.’ Ralph hurries to her side, and strokes her hand soothingly. ‘Remember, it’s all in the mind. Work with your body. That’s what you said . . . ’

‘But I didn’t knooow!’ Gina’s voice rises to a howl. The screen flickers and dies to nothing.

There’s a staggered silence. As I glance around, everyone looks stunned.

‘Who are you, anyway?’ Gina’s voice bursts out, trembling. ‘What right have you got to come in here, making things up?’

The woman says nothing, just inclines her head slightly.

My skin starts to prickle all over. My heart is thudding.

‘Maybe she wasn’t making it up.’ I take a deep breath. ‘Are you . . . showing us our futures?’

‘Oh, for God’s sake,’ says Geraldine. ‘Get real . . . ’

‘I don’t believe in mediums,’ says Georgia firmly. ‘It must be a trick—’

‘But how did she do it?’ Gina’s voice rises in agitation. ‘That was me and Ralph! Right there on the screen!’

‘I know who it is,’ says Grace suddenly. ‘It’s the Ghost of Babies Future.’ She looks at the figure, her face white with fear.

‘Is that right?’

There’s a taut silence. Then the figure bows her head.

‘Oh my God,’ says Gina, sounding almost hysterical. ‘That was true?’

‘That’s it.’ Geraldine’s voice snaps. ‘I’m not sitting around to hear a lot of ridiculous gobbledegook! I tell you, I’m complaining to Petal Harmon—’

The woman silences her by lifting her hand, and another flickering image appears on the screen. It’s Geraldine. She’s sitting on a hospital bed, wincing with pain.

‘Just a few details first,’ a midwife is saying kindly, pen in hand. ‘Then we’ll get you sorted out.’ She gives Geraldine a sympathetic smile. ‘Your name?’

‘Geraldine Foster,’ puffs Geraldine.

‘Ge-ral-dine . . . ’ the midwife begins writing. Then she stops and her sympathetic smile disappears. ‘Geraldine Foster?’ she says in a different tone. ‘You’re the one who complained about me.’

As she moves, the badge on her uniform comes into view. It reads ‘Davies’.

‘This woman complained to all the big guns!’ she’s exclaiming indignantly to a second midwife. ‘I was given a formal warning. For one lousy text message!’

‘She complained about me too,’ says the second midwife, and shoots Geraldine a scathing look. ‘Said I hadn’t followed protocol.’

‘Er . . . could I have some pain relief?’ Geraldine’s voice is strained.

The two midwives look at each other.

‘The protocol says we have to examine her thoroughly first,’ replies the second. ‘I’ll fetch some gloves.’ She saunters towards the door.

‘Will it take long?’ Geraldine sounds desperate. Both midwives raise their eyebrows.

‘You wouldn’t want us to rush things, would you?’ says one innocently. ‘We’ll take as long as we have to.’

The images fade away and we all glance awkwardly at Geraldine. She’s gone rather pale.

‘Listen,’ she says at last. ‘Ghost. Or whatever you are. Are you showing us things which will happen? Or . . . which might happen?’

The spirit doesn’t reply.

Suddenly I become aware that Gabby is murmuring into her mobile phone. I don’t think she’s even noticed what’s been going on.

‘Look, I’m sorry,’ she says, getting up from her chair. ‘Crisis at work. I’ve got to go. Thanks very much for the presentation, but to be brutally honest, this baby stuff doesn’t really interest me.’

She breaks off, as a kind of angry flash comes from the spirit. On the screen appears an image of Gabby in a maroon suit, holding a baby. She’s just standing there in a white room, holding a tiny baby, while in the background someone’s shouting ‘Gabby! Taxi’s here!’

Her face is utterly stricken.

‘Gabby!’ comes the voice again. ‘You’ll be late! Just bring the baby down, he’ll be fine with the nanny—’

A tear trickles down on-screen Gabby’s face. Then another. Then another.

I risk a glance at Gabby. She’s staring at the screen, transfixed. There’s a faint sheen to her eyes.

‘Er . . . Tristan . . . ’ she says into her mobile. ‘I’ll be along later. Yes well, this is important.’ She snaps her phone shut and quietly takes her seat again.

There’s a subdued atmosphere, and I can’t help feeling a rising apprehension.

‘I can’t believe it’s all doom and gloom!’ says Georgia defiantly. ‘I’m sure some of us are going to have perfectly wonderful labours and gorgeous babies!’ She looks around, as if for support. ‘And I’m certainly not going back to work. I’m going to devote myself to my child!’

The spirit seems to regard her thoughtfully for a moment. The next moment, an image of Georgia appears on a screen. She’s breastfeeding a baby in a vast, expensive kitchen, while Mozart plays in the background.

‘There,’ says Georgia smugly. ‘I knew it! Of course, I have prepared for this baby very thoroughly . . . ’

The image fades away and is replaced by one of a small boy in a school playground.

‘Milky . . . Milky . . . ’ a gang of boys is chanting around him.

‘Don’t call me Milky!’ he yells desperately. ‘I’m Mike!’

‘No you’re not! You’re Milky Melchior!’

The images fade away and Georgia clears her throat.

‘All children are teased,’ she says, sounding a little discomfited. ‘It’s perfectly normal.’

Another image comes into view. This time a man in his twenties is at the entrance to a smart restaurant together with a blonde girl, her hair in a very peculiar hairstyle. The place looks rather like the Savoy Grill, although they’ve done a few strange things to it. ‘My name’s . . . Mel.’ His face twitches in a nervous tic.

‘Are you all right?’ says the maître d’.

‘I’m fine.’ He gives a tight smile and hands over his coat. Then, as piped music becomes audible through the loudspeakers, his whole body seems to tense. ‘Oh my God. No.’

‘The music,’ says the blonde girl urgently to the maître d’. ‘Can you turn off the music?’

‘I can’t stand it.’ The young man’s hands are to his head and he’s heading for the door. ‘I can’t stand it!’

‘It’s the Mozart clarinet concerto!’ the blonde girl shoots over her shoulder as she hurries after him. ‘He’s phobic!’

The images die away. I dart a glance at Georgia – and she looks utterly shellshocked.

‘I knew it.’ Grace’s trembling voice comes from the back. ‘That’s why we were picked for this class. Because things were going to go wrong for us.’

The spirit lifts her head and seems to look directly at Grace. And all of a sudden a new image is on the screen. It’s Grace.

Her figure has snapped back into shape, she’s had a new haircut and is walking jauntily down the street. In fact if I’m utterly, grudgingly honest, she looks better than anyone.

Must be her age.

Now she’s sitting in a café, holding her baby and sipping a smoothie. The baby starts to cry, and with an expert ease she slips a finger into its mouth and carries on drinking. She looks totally content and natural.

‘Your hair’s fab!’ says Georgia. ‘Where do you go?’

‘I dunno,’ says Grace in bewilderment. ‘I never cut my hair.’ She peers at the screen. ‘I don’t understand. What’s wrong?

What’s the catch?’

‘Nothing, apparently,’ says Gina, sounding a little petulant.

‘Maybe that’s what you had to learn, Grace,’ says Geraldine, sounding kinder than I’ve ever heard her. ‘That it would all be OK.’

I’d murmur some agreement, but I’m feeling too tense to speak. I’m the only one in the room who hasn’t seen her future yet.

‘So, what about me?’ I try to give a casual laugh. ‘What’s going to happen to me?’

There’s a pause. Then the spirit nods, and the screen lights up again.

Even though I was expecting it, I can’t help feeling a jolt as I see myself on the screen. I’m holding a baby, watching Dan as he taps at a crib with a hammer.

‘You’re useless!’ I’m saying. ‘It’s a rocking crib! It should bloody rock!’

The image segues straight into another one. Dan’s changing the baby’s nappy while I hover behind.

‘That’s not how the tabs go!’ I’m snapping. ‘You’ve done it wrong!’

As I hear my own voice I feel an uncomfortable twinge. I never realised before how sharp it was.

And I’ve never seen Dan with that hurt expression before. I stare, transfixed, as my screen self turns towards him and he quickly wipes it away with a smile.

‘Well you’re OK too, Ginny!’ says Georgia, sounding a little piqued. ‘Everything’s fine!’

‘It’s not.’ My voice sounds a little hoarse to my own ears.

Now the images are coming thick and fast. Dan with me and the baby at home, at the shops, at the park. And a constant soundtrack of my own voice, snapping at him. ‘You’re useless!’ ‘That’s wrong!’ ‘Give it here, I’ll do it!’

Shut up! I want to yell at myself. Leave the poor man alone!

But my screen-self just keeps on relentlessly hectoring and criticising. And all I can see is Dan’s face, gradually closing in on itself. Until he looks as though he doesn’t want to know anymore. As though he’s had enough.

I feel a shaft of panic.

‘Spirit . . . ’ I say quickly. ‘You didn’t answer the question before. Are these the things that will happen? Or that might happen?’

I look up. But the room is empty. The spirit’s gone. Slowly the lights are coming up.

I look around – and the others are all blinking. Georgia’s rubbing her eyes. Gabby looks as though she’s in a trance. As though from nowhere, Petal has materialised at the front of the room.

‘That was your final lesson,’ she says in soft tones. ‘I’ll ask you all now a small favour. I would prefer that the exact contents of my classes be kept to yourselves.’

We all give stupefied nods. I don’t think any of us can quite speak.

‘Please, take a few moments to gather yourselves.’ Petal smiles around at us. ‘You can leave whenever you’re ready. And good luck. All of you.’

Before any of us can say anything, she makes her way to the doorway and vanishes. We all sit in dazed silence for a few moments. Then there’s a small crash as Intelligent Baby slithers off Georgia’s lap onto the floor.

‘Here you are,’ says Gina, picking it up. Georgia surveys it for a few moments.

‘Thanks,’ she replies. She takes it from Gina’s hand and rips the whole thing in two.

There’s a scuffling next to me, and I see Geraldine pulling her leather notebook out of her bag. She rips out the page on which she’d written ‘Davies – COMPLAIN’ and crumples it up.

‘There,’ she says, and exhales sharply.

‘Does anyone want to go for a drink?’ says Gabby suddenly. ‘I could do with one.’

‘Absolutely,’ says Georgia in heartfelt tones.

‘Me too,’ says Grace, stepping forward. Her cheeks are glowing and she looks like a new woman. She shakes her hair back, as though practising for her new style. ‘I’m in no hurry.’

‘Sod the baby,’ says Gina. ‘I need a double vodka.’

‘Ginny?’ Geraldine looks at me. ‘You coming?

‘You all go.’ I say. ‘I . . . have to get home. Now.’

***

As I arrive home, Dan’s in the nursery. He looks up as I approach, and for the first time ever I notice the wary look in his eyes.

‘I’m trying to make up this crib,’ he says. ‘But it won’t rock.’ He shoves it in frustration.

‘I don’t know what the hell’s wrong with it—’

‘It doesn’t matter.’ I cut him off. ‘None of it matters. Come here.’ I hold out my arms and Dan looks at me in startled bemusement.

I feel a small icy plunge. It’s too late. It’s all too late.

Then, slowly, Dan puts down his screwdriver. He comes forward and takes me in his arms, and I find myself clinging onto him.

‘Happy Christmas.’ I say, my voice muffled with emotion. ‘And . . . and thank you. For making the crib. And everything. Thank you for everything.’

‘That’s OK!’ says Dan with a surprised laugh. ‘Happy Christmas to you too, darling.’ He smiles down at me, stroking my bump. ‘And Happy Christmas to this little one.’

For a while the two of us are silent, standing by the window arm-in-arm as the snow falls endlessly outside.

The three of us, I should say.

God Bless Us Every One keeps running through my head, over and over. But naturally I don’t voice it aloud. Instead, after a while I murmur, ‘You know, I was thinking about names.’

‘Really?’ Dan looks up. ‘Any ideas?’

‘Well . . . I was thinking we probably shouldn’t call it Melchior . . . ’

audio extract

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