In her dream, she was five. It was late spring and the field of rape seed stretched far far away, further than she could even see. A yellow brick road leading up to the horizon and beyond. She stood at the stone wall, waiting on her daddy, her feet getting hot in her black wellies and her arms getting cold in the breeze. It was a funny old day as her daddy would say.
She saw him walk towards her. He seemed impossibly tall, the tallest man in the whole world and his wellies were way bigger than hers. They made a funny sound too as he marched along. Whoosh, whoosh, whoosh.
Deirdre scrunched up her eyes to look up at him, because the sun was behind him. There was a halo around his head, like Jesus.
A robin caught her eye as he hopped on the wall in front of her. Deirdre sucked in her breath but knew enough to be statue still. The robin cocked his head, staring her up and down. Deirdre remained frozen, fascinated by this tiny creature. He hopped nearer her and she held her breath. Her daddy stopped too and put his finger to his lips. Eventually, the robin plucked an insect from the wall and flew off.
“Did you see that?” Deirdre shrieked. “He came this close.” She made a little space with her thumb and forefinger to show her daddy how close the robin had been.
Her daddy told her that he had. Then he took her hand in his. His hand was big and warm and rough. She skipped alongside him, almost on tiptoes because he was so tall and she was only five. He told her about the robin. He’d told her that the robin was a cheeky fellow, a real ‘Jack the Lad’. He said it in amusement, his mouth turned up in a smile. In contrast, the humble and boring Jackdaw, who he pointed out to her, was a faithful chap, not as cute as the Robin but a better bet as a friend. She’d asked him why the birds were so different. He’d shrugged and said that that’s just the way they were. Then added, his face scrunched up, “I suppose now, that the robin is a sort of solitary bird, which means he lives alone, so I suppose he never gets to find out about families and how nice they are. Maybe he’s scared. The Jack daw lives with lots of others and they’re close. Maybe that’s why.”
Deirdre nodded. She felt sorry for the robin. “I’d like to be a Jackdaw so,” she said.
Her daddy laughed and lifted her up and swung her around and told her that she could be anything she wanted and that he’d always love her because she was his lovely girl.
His lovely girl.
Deirdre woke with a jerk. It was her new producer Suzi, letting her know that she had half an hour before she was expected in studio to talk about the rare sighting of a Semopalmated Sandpiper. It was her first nature radio show and she was dreading it. But it was a great opportunity, everyone said so.
Deirdre brushed the tears from her face. Having that dream always made her cry in her sleep which was weird.
“How did it happen?” Abe sank into a chair and looked up at Zoe. He even looked sexy when he was in shock, she thought, all dark hopeless eyes and tense shoulders. His mouth hung open, reminding her of the door in her apartment that he’d promised to fix and hadn’t. She bit back a grin. This really wasn’t a funny situation.
“Well, we had sex. Obviously.”
“Zoe, this isn’t a funny situation,” he said.
“I didn’t deliberately get pregnant,” she defended. “It wasn’t exactly on my five year plan.” Ten year plan, maybe, but hey, she and Abe had only known one another eight months.
“I bet I know what it was,” Abe said sounding suddenly energised, “It was those cheap condoms you buy. What was it? Five thousand condoms for four euro?”
“Four euro for fifty condoms actually,” she corrected, trying and failing to sound superior. The thought had crossed her mind too. “And if you think about it, it was good value. The other ones are way too expensive.”
“Yeah, probably because they work.”
“I never saw you buying any.”
“You never asked.”
“Well, I shouldn’t have to.”
They glared at each other.
Abe was the first to drop his gaze. He heaved a great sigh. “I’m sorry.”
“’SOk.” She smiled at him.
He gave a watery smile back. He looked impossibly young. “So what now?”
Zoe felt guilty seeing him look so dejected. Abe, despite his reluctance to embrace impending fatherhood, was a good guy. He spent a lot of time in foreign countries bringing water to people and helping them grow crops. He even built their houses. He gave generously to collections and there was nothing he didn’t recycle. In fact, Audrey, her flatmate and best friend, was going mad because Zoe, having listened to Abe bang on about leftovers, had large amounts of compost in a bag in the kitchen. Abe had called to collect it and so Zoe had taken the opportunity to tell him that she was pregnant. She’d started with the statement, “I have some positive news.” It had been a joke that fell spectacularly flat.
“Well, what happens now is that the baby grows, I get fat and then in a few months we become parents.”
Abe swallowed and choked out, “Please don’t make jokes.”
“It’s not a joke,” Zoe stopped smiling, “I was being flippant but it’s not a joke.”
“I’m scared too, you know.” She slid into the seat beside him and tentatively took his hand.
“Good,” he muttered, but he didn’t pull away. “We’re only twenty-two.” He sounded like a kid who’d had his best football card nicked.
“I know, but I think we’ll cope, don’t you?”
He didn’t answer.
“We can take it one step at a time,” Zoe said carefully. “See how it goes.” She paused and when he still said nothing, she added, “I am going to have this baby, Abe and if you want to be involved, great but if not, walk away now.” She didn’t know how she sounded so confident. If Abe walked, her mother would have a big ‘I told you so’ face on. She didn’t like Abe ever since he’d refused an invite to her fiftieth. “Men who don’t ‘do’ family don’t do family,” she’d said at the time. At least if Abe was around, it gave Zoe some credibility. And besides, children needed a family around them.
“I’m not someone who walks away,” Abe said, in a surprisingly loud voice, sounding offended, “I’m not walking away from anything.”
“I never said –
“No, no, I’ll stick around,” Abe nodded, half to himself. He sounded as if he were about to do ten rounds with Ali. He smiled in that unexpected way she loved, his mouth curving up at the corner, “It makes it easier because you’re so damn gorgeous.”
She smiled back. She hoped that she’d still be gorgeous when she got fat.
Lily was losing her mind. Day by day, bits and pieces of it were floating away. Things she should know, names of familiar people, places she’d been, all disappearing like sugar in tea. There was one time, long ago, when she wanted to lose her mind, to forget things that had happened, but now, quite suddenly, that seemed the most precious thing to hold onto. She wanted to remember, she needed others to know now. To understand. To forgive. And so, she lifted herself up from the sofa, her frailness reminding her that she was hitting eighty and not the bright young thing she sometimes thought she was, and shuffled her way into the kitchen. She found the diary in a drawer, bright blue, her favourite colour. Most of it was filled in, written in her neat flowing script. She’d written it after getting it as a present for her fifteenth birthday. There were gaps in it’s narrative, sometimes years, and just a few months ago she’d attempted to fill in what she supposed might be the end of her story, but then the memories had washed over her and she hadn’t been able to go on. But she would now. She was losing her mind and she did not want to lose those memories not before passing them on. And her girl needed to know the whole story, one which Lily had never really told her, and she needed to know why Lily had done what she’d done and it was important to write it down before she forgot...
Then she would make the phone call.