Meet Scarlett O?Hara. In her life, everything goes according to plan. Until now . . . Now, Scarlett is back in her childhood home with her plan in tatters and a baby on the way, while John Smith ? actuary, proper grown-up and Scarlett?s boyfriend ? has left her to join an archaeological dig in a tiny village somewhere in Brazil. But that?s not the worst bit. The worst bit is she can?t be sure who the father of the baby is . . . even though she?s slept with exactly four-and-a-half men in her entire 35 years. As a distraction, Scarlett throws herself into her job as a wedding planner, but even that?s not going smoothly. Because of her growing feelings for her most important client?s husband-to-be . . . In the end it?s the person she thought she knew best ? herself ? who surprises her the most. Join Scarlett as she tries, for the first time ever, to navigate life without a plan.
Release date: January 21, 2010
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton
Print pages: 481
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The postman rang the doorbell this morning. I love when he does that because it means that he’s got something that can’t be delivered through the narrow mouth of the letterbox. He’s got a parcel. It was the uncorrected proof of this book. The hefty weight of it in my hands. That gorgeous September smell of New Book. The book that I thought I’d never be able to write. Just because you write one doesn’t necessarily mean you can write two, does it? But everyone thought that was a stupid thing to think. So I parked that, as the Americans say. And I applied myself, as my mother always advises. And I wrote it. And here it is in my hands, smiling up at me like a brand-new puppy. So today seems like a great day to thank everyone who helped me along the way.
A HUGE thank you to all the lovely readers of Saving Grace who wrote to me and emailed me and – one woman – who stopped me in my local SuperValu to say how much she and her husband enjoyed the book. Readers have no idea how much this means and how grateful I am for all your kindness. Thank you. Thank you so much.
Writing is a solitary profession. It’s up there with lighthouse keeping and manning the complaints desk at an Irish beer festival. So it’s lovely to have an excuse to get out of the house which I did a couple of times under the guise of ‘research’. In this way, I met Caroline McCafferty, a nurse who works in the ICU unit in Holles Street National Maternity Hospital. Caroline took time out from her busy life to show me around the unit and answer my millions of questions. She is one of Ireland’s unsung heroes. One of thousands of our nurses who do a difficult job every job and make the time that we have to spend in hospital a little more bearable with their wise eyes and their attentive care. Thank you Caroline, for your time and your patience. Any mistakes that I have made in the narrative are all mine.
There were moments – more than I would like – during the writing of this book when I felt the need to lie on someone’s couch and whinge and say I can’t do this. That person’s couch belonged to my brilliant and gorgeous friend Niamh Cronin. She made me tea just the way I like it; in a mug, with chocolate on the side. She listened to me and gave me advice and sent me home with a smile on my face. I am so glad Niamh Cronin is my friend. She is the kind of person who makes you smile.
I once asked Breda Purdue – the managing director of Hachette Book Group Ireland – if I might have a job in her office. It seems like the kind of place I’d love to work. Everyone is lovely and stress seems like a foreign country that people might have heard of but no one has ever actually visited. (Breda said ‘No vacancies at this time’ by the way.) Special thanks must go to my editor, Ciara Doorley, who knows things about writing. Great things. Good things. And the best thing is she shares them with me. Thank you Ciara.
And my agent Ger Nichol. She has enough faith for the pair of us. I love that about her. Thank you Ger. Thank you for everything.
My UK editor, Carolyn Mays and her colleague, Francesca Best. Thank you both for your support and hospitality and all-round loveliness.
I was busy when I wrote this book. First, I was pregnant, then I gave birth to my beautiful Grace, then my husband Frank had a back operation and I panicked and thought I would never get this book written. But I did. Because of people who believe in me and love me. Frank for one. He minded the children at the weekends (once he got over the hump of the back operation, of course) while I escaped to Malahide Library to make stuff up. My stalwart parents, Breda and Don. Who minded my children on busy afternoons while I snuck upstairs to make stuff up. My fabulous sister Niamh, who minded my baby while I sat at a desk and made stuff up. During the writing of Saving Grace and Becoming Scarlett, my sister gave birth to her two gorgeous boys, Ríain and Finn. She is the kind of mother everyone should have. And even though she is my younger sister by many years, she is the one I look up to. For everything. Thanks to my children – Sadhbh, Neil and Grace – who make me laugh out loud. And smile. And swell with pride. Thanks must also go to my extraordinary brother-in-law, Owen O’Byrne, who painstakingly bound many drafts of this book with an actual needle and thread, just to make it easier for me to read.
Thank you to my kind and gentle sister-in-law, Niamh MacLochlainn. The first reader of this book from start to finish. Every writer should have a reader like you. You’ll know what I mean when I say that you are Gorgio-Armani.
Thank you to Emma McEvoy who read an early draft of this book and gave me the type of feedback that made me believe I could do it. Thanks also for your emails of support and encouragement. Writing a book is a bit like running a marathon; you need people cheering from the sidelines and handing you bananas along the way. It’s the only way you can keep running.
And finally, thank you to our hardworking postman, out in all kinds of weather, with the unenviable task of delivering unfeasibly lengthy Visa bills to our house. But not today. Today he delivered Scarlett O’Hara.
I hope you like her.
The missed period happens on a Friday. It is due at 11.23 a.m. By 11.30 a.m., I am worried.
Now it is a quarter past two in the afternoon and still no show. Fear grips me like a vice and for a moment I struggle for breath and wonder if I am hyperventilating, the way Maureen does.
‘Are you all right, Scarlett?’ It is Elliot, my boss and the company’s closet Westlife fan, because there’s always one. His head curls round the edge of the door.
‘I have to go out,’ I say, getting up.
‘You’re like a cat on a griddle these days,’ Elliot says.
His concern is like a bowl of noodle soup and I nearly tell him. But I don’t. Of course I don’t. He will not see the seriousness of the situation. He will tell me that a delay of – I check my watch – two hours and fifty-two minutes cannot be described as ‘late’.
‘Anyway, you can’t go out. It’s time for the monthly meeting.’
‘I’m not going.’
‘You have to. You know I can’t go on my own.’
‘You’re forty-bloody-two. Of course you can go on your own.’
‘I’m not forty-two till next month. You know that.’
I can’t look at his face. If I look at his face, he’ll persuade me to go. I stare at my computer screen. ‘I’m too busy.’
‘You’re not. You’re playing backgammon. I can see the reflection in the window behind you.’
Dammit. I should have pulled the blinds down.
‘Fine,’ I say, snapping off the game. ‘But you shouldn’t bring me to these meetings. It makes you look bad.’
‘Bringing you to the meeting makes me look good,’ Elliot insists. ‘Everyone knows I won’t be able to answer any of Simon’s questions if you’re not there.’
‘Tell me again why you’re my boss?’
‘Because my mother is a media mogul who makes Rupert Murdoch look like a paperboy,’ recites Elliot off by heart. ‘Not to mention the fact that she owns stackfuls of shares in the company.’
‘Don’t you mind?’ I’ve often wondered but I’ve never asked the question before. My discretion seems to have fled, along with my boyfriend.
Elliot pauses before answering. ‘Well,’ he says eventually, ‘I might mind if she owned stackfuls of shares in a morgue and she got me a job embalming corpses or something like that.’
‘I don’t know,’ I say. ‘A morgue would be a lovely, quiet place to work.’
‘Upbeat, aren’t we?’
‘What’s there to be upbeat about?’
‘I think we need a little hug, don’t we?’ Elliot moves in my direction.
I stop him with my stare, the unblinking one with eyebrows in the shape of London Bridge high on my forehead. ‘If you hug me, I’ll bite your ear until you cry like a girl.’
‘And I won’t go to the meeting with you.’
Elliot stops walking and lowers his arms. ‘Fine, fine, fine. I was just trying to cheer you up.’
‘I know,’ I say, doing my best to smile at him.
‘Do you have toothache?’ he asks, concerned.
‘You just looked like you were in pain there.’
I stop trying to smile and sigh instead. I am exhausted. Probably because of my period, which is on its way. Any minute now.
‘Fine. I’ll come. I just need to go to the loo first.’ To see if it has arrived without my noticing. Although that’s as likely as Filly missing an episode of Home and Away.
The management meeting happens on the last Friday of ev-ery month. I’m not technically management but Elliot insists I go with him. He’s a little nervous of Simon Kavanagh, our MD, which is understandable, given the peculiar bulldog-ish disposition of Simon’s face and his tendency to shout (he’s deaf in his left ear and refuses to get a hearing aid on the grounds that it will attract attention to his ear hair, which is thick and dark and in direct contrast to his head hair, which is thinning and grey). I know this because Simon’s long-long-long-suffering PA tells Filly everything, who, in turn, tells me.
The fact that Simon insists the monthly meetings be held on a Friday afternoon is really all you need to know about the man. I never want to go and I am more adamant than usual on this particular Friday. The absence of John is something I am learning to cope with from Monday to Thursday but I haven’t got the hang of the weekends yet. I get a heavy feeling in my stomach on Friday morning (as if I’ve eaten a sausage sandwich, which I have not, because I’m a vegetarian) and the feeling only really starts to lighten on Sunday evening with the prospect of a return to work on Monday.
It seems impossible that we had our last conversation three weeks ago. In John’s flat. Already I am calling it John’s flat.
‘I’m leaving,’ he’d said.
‘No, I heard that bit. What did you say after that?’
‘The bit about . . . ?’ His voice fades away.
‘The sentence directly following the one where you said, “I’m leaving.” ’
‘I said . . . I said . . . What I said was . . .’ He glances at my face. ‘I’ve decided to join an archaeological dig in Sao Paulo. Well, near Sao Paulo. About seventy-five kilometres away. That’s in Brazil.’
I know that Sao Paulo is in Brazil. I am a woman who knows things. Except this. I am – and I hate this word but I’m going to use it anyway – flabbergasted.
‘But you don’t even speak Portuguese,’ I say. For a moment I wish I had older brothers. Huge ones. Hairy. I’d ring them – they’d all live together in a big converted stable somewhere – and I’d tell them about John and they’d say nothing, just nod at me down the phone (they’re a taciturn bunch, strong, silent types) and then they’d go and sort him out. But there are no brothers. Or sisters. There’s only me.
‘I can learn. It’s a derivative of Latin, as most of the modern languages are.’
‘But you’ve never studied Latin,’ I point out, like this is an argument I can win.
Somewhere inside me I know this is not a normal break-up conversation. People don’t discuss languages when they break up with each other. They shout. Sometimes they break things – like plates or the other person’s big toe when they drop something heavy on it, like an iron. Sometimes they throw things – like the other person’s clothes out of a window, preferably a top-storey window. But we do none of these things. We are not that sort of couple. I stand there looking at his familiar face and his mouth is moving and I know this mouth so well. The way the top lip is half the width of the bottom one, the fleshy colour of it, the way it is careful to cover his teeth when he smiles because of the braces that march across them like a heavily armed platoon. I almost smile at him but then he opens his mouth and the sunlight catches the metal and glints against it so hard I almost have to shield my eyes.
‘We can still keep in touch,’ he says.
‘No we can’t,’ I say.
He doesn’t say anything to this. He just looks at his shoes. They are sensible brown leather lace-ups and nothing about them suggests that he is going to leave me and sift muck in Brazil. He shifts from one foot to the other.
And that’s when I know. That he is leaving.
I move along the corridor towards the boardroom, concentrating on placing one foot in front of the other. This Friday is particularly bad. This third Friday. It feels like the thirtieth Friday. The weeks are like weeks in Lent when you’re eight and you’ve given up sweets and crisps and Catch bars.
The world comes back slowly at first. Shadows and shapes. Sounds like the ones you hear underwater. Whispers in slow motion, gentle as a warm breeze. For a moment, I allow myself to float in this quiet landscape.
‘I think she’s waking up.’
‘How do you know?’
‘I saw her eyes move.’
‘But they’re closed.’
‘I still saw them move. You know how observant I am.’
‘Christ, I hope she’ll be OK. This weddin’ isn’t going to plan itself.’ A frosty silence greets this particular gem, and then, ‘I’m joking. Of course I’m joking. Just trying to lighten the mood. Kerr-ist, one near-death experience and everyone’s sense of humour evaporates.’
‘She didn’t nearly die.’
‘She did. You weren’t there.’
‘Stop it.’ A third voice. ‘Filly, go and get someone and tell them Scarlett’s waking up.’
As soon as I realise that Bryan is there, I allow myself to open my eyes. Just a chink. My worst fears are confirmed: Sofia Marzoni is here, a fiercely protective look on her face, like a lioness with a brand-new clutch of cubs.
I want to know where I am but I don’t want to say, ‘Where am I?’ like some C-list actress in a made-for-TV film on TV3. Instead, I say, ‘What are you all doing here?’ My mouth feels dry and it is hard to get words to come out of it.
Bryan hands me a glass of water. ‘Filly phoned me,’ he says.
‘And I phoned Filly.’ This from Sofia. ‘Right after I phoned for an ambulance.’ Sofia smiles at us, her chest puffed out even more than usual.
Filly strides towards us and that’s when I realise that I am lying in a corridor. I lift my head. I’m not the only one. There’s lots of people lying in this corridor. Surrounded by groups of people – tired, fidgety people, shifting their weight from one foot to the other and looking up and down the corridor every so often, like people at a bus-stop, waiting for a bus that never comes. And that’s when I figure out where I am.
‘I’m in A&E, aren’t I?’ I say.
The three nod their heads.
‘On a trolley.’
Again, the heads nodding in unison.
It is a whisper and Bryan leans over and squeezes my hand. ‘Don’t worry,’ he says, ‘it’s Tuesday and the nurse told us that Tuesdays are generally their quietest time.’ He has to shout to be heard over the wails and moans and death rattles coming from the other – I do a quick head count – fifty-seven people on trolleys in the corridor.
‘Ah, we’re awake, are we?’ The four of us jump when a nurse appears, unannounced, at the side of my trolley. Her voice is cheerful and sounds out of place in the war zone of the corridor. We’re all awake so we all nod our heads and wait for her to say something else, in a voice that is like a warm fire on a cold night in November. The first thing I notice about her is her name badge (Dympna, a solidly reassuring name) and the fact that she carries a clipboard with a pen at the top, attached by a sturdy-looking cord. I smile at her. She looks like a woman who knows things, a woman who can get things done.
Dympna consults her notes, holding the pen between her fingers without chewing the top of it. ‘Well, the good news is that you’ve stopped bleeding . . .’
Dympna lowers the clipboard and looks at me. ‘Did you have any pains before you collapsed?’
‘I didn’t really collapse,’ I say. ‘I just felt a bit weak.’
‘You did collapse,’ Sofia interrupts. ‘She did,’ she says again, this time to Filly, Bryan and Dympna, not wanting anyone to think she’d summoned an ambulance for a woman who just felt weak.
Dympna ignores Sofia and leans closer to me. ‘Well? Did you?’
This morning seems like a long time ago now. Then I remember. ‘Yes,’ I say. ‘Kind of like cramps.’
‘In your abdomen?’
‘Low down? Here?’ Dympna places her hands just above my pubic bone and I nod. ‘Could you be pregnant?’ Dympna continues, brisker now, writing something on the clipboard.
‘NO!’ Filly and Bryan say the word at the same time, both as emphatic as each other, then smile sheepishly, the way people do when they draw attention to themselves in a public place. And no place is more public than the A&E corridor on this Tuesday morning.
‘Eh, well . . .’ I say, with no idea of what I will say next. You can’t lie to a medical professional. What is the point? But the truth is messy and complicated and not something I am ready to blurt out. Especially with an audience.
I am saved by an arc of vomit that erupts – really unexpectedly – from my mouth. Dympna catches it in a bowl she whips from a pouch at the front of her uniform. I can tell she’s done that before but even she cannot resist a small smile of satisfaction at her efficiency. She sets the bowl on the trolley beside me because she knows – even before I do – that there will be more.
As I retch, Filly speaks to the nurse in a loud whisper. ‘Her boyfriend left her. A few weeks ago.’
Dympna looks confused. ‘And . . . ?’ She waits.
‘You see, Scarlett wouldn’t have an unplanned pregnancy. She doesn’t do anything unplanned,’ adds Bryan.
‘She’s a wedding planner.’ Sofia puts in her tuppence worth, not wanting to be left out. ‘My wedding planner, actually.’
‘Oh,’ says Dympna. ‘I thought you were all part of Scarlett’s family?’
‘We are,’ says Filly, louder than necessary, perhaps sensing an eviction order in the offing.
‘I’m her cousin,’ Bryan explains. Dympna looks at him from underneath a pair of busy eyebrows crying out for a good plucking. Dympna looks like a woman who has no truck with beauty salons. ‘Her first cousin,’ he adds.
‘And I’m practically her sister,’ says Filly, thrusting her chin up in the air, which is her defiant, not-backing-down look.
‘An’ as I said, she’s my weddin’ planner,’ says Sofia, although even she has to concede that this link – at least from an outsider’s point of view – might be considered tenuous at best.
Dympna puts a full stop at the end of whatever she had been writing on her clipboard. She looks like someone who has reached a decision and we crane towards her, to hear what she might say next.
‘Right, Scarlett, I’m going to find you a bed and then we’re going to run some tests, OK?’ Before anyone has time to ask what kind of tests or marvel at Dympna’s optimism (finding a bed in an Irish hospital is up there with spotting a dodo or an empty seat on a commuter train in Dublin at eight o’clock on a Monday morning), two skinny, ageing porters materialise on either side of the trolley and begin inching it along the corridor without speaking.
‘Bryan, you can go with Scarlett if you like,’ says Dympna, smiling – gently but firmly – at Filly, who trots along behind the trolley.
‘Come on,’ says Sofia, placing a hand on Filly’s shoulder. ‘Let’s go to the canteen and play Russian roulette with some hospital food.’
Filly lets go of the trolley, her hand slowly lowering. She smiles at me although the smile fades when Sofia adds, ‘We can talk about the wedding. It’ll take your mind off things.’ Sofia curls her arm around Filly’s elbow in an old-fashioned link and frog-marches her down the corridor.
I can hear their heels growing fainter and nearly smile at Filly’s fate. I lie on my back, my eyes open now, watching the long tubes of fluorescent lights passing overhead. Bryan slips his warm paw of a hand into my cold, clammy one as he walks alongside the trolley. He never mentions Newry, how I am supposed to be there having my teeth drilled like a road.
The pain is gone. The baby is probably gone too.
I place the hand that Bryan isn’t holding on my belly. I feel tired. And empty. This is what I’d wanted. What I’d planned. The thought brings no comfort and I close my eyes and try to think of nothing at all.
The day seems as long as a jazz concert. I sleep through a lot of it, without really meaning to. Bryan sits beside my bed and doesn’t ask any questions. He is like an armchair: big and soft and comforting. People come and go, taking my blood pressure, my temperature and samples of blood and urine.
‘When was the last time you ate?’ Dympna asks, hooking me up to a drip.
I think about the one-eyed gingerbread man, discarded on a plate at the airport. ‘Yesterday. I think. Tuna fish.’ I’d eaten it straight out of the can, dishing most of it into Blue’s bowl. I think about Blue then, lying on the back of the couch in the den, occasionally lifting his head to scan the driveway, waiting for me to come home. I think about Mr Ashcroft, checking his watch, sighing and shaking his head as he realises his one o’clock is a no-show. Thinking about the nine holes he could have played instead. I meant to phone the clinic earlier. To explain. But somehow, with all the lying around, there’s been no time.
Dympna enters the ward sometime after three and walks towards my bed. The one by the window. ‘Where we put the celebrities’ daughters,’ Dympna jokes. I know what she is going to say. I see it in her gait. Slower now. More careful. I can tell by the smile on her face, a half-smile, a trying-to-be-a-smile smile. I know it in the way she holds her clipboard now: no longer bet up against her chest but hanging loosely from a hand, the bottom of it touching her knee, the pen now trailing on the ground behind her, still attached by the cord but struggling to keep up. At least, that’s how it seems to me. When Dympna reaches me, she pulls the curtain all the way round the cubicle and sits down on the edge of the bed, the springs creaking and moaning beneath her weight. She looks at Bryan first.
‘I need to speak to Scarlett,’ she says.
Bryan nods and gets up from the chair.
‘No. Wait,’ I shout, my hands outstretched like the hands of a clock, in a sort of ‘ten to two’ formation.
Dympna and Bryan look at each other and then at me.
‘I . . . I mean . . . I don’t mind if he stays,’ I say. ‘I’d . . . I’d like him to . . . Bryan, will you stay?’
Bryan nods and resumes his seat. Dympna looks at him and then turns back to me.
‘I’ve had a miscarriage, haven’t I?’ I say suddenly, wanting the conversation to be over so I can get back into my clothes and my life as soon as possible. My hands grip the bars at the side of the bed, my knuckles straining white against the skin.
‘It’s a possibility, yes,’ says Dympna.
‘Well, it might be what we call a threatened abortion,’ explains Dympna, consulting her notes.
The word hits me like a slap. Dympna hurries on. ‘The pregnancy test is still coming up positive but the cramping and bleeding are textbook symptoms of miscarriage.’
‘I was on my way to London today,’ I whisper at her, ‘to have an abortion.’
‘Look, Scarlett,’ says Dympna, setting her clipboard down on the bed, ‘let’s get you sorted out first. We need to give you an ultrasound scan and then we’ll know what’s what and we’ll go from there, all right?’ The nurse’s tone holds nothing but kindness and compassion, which I feel I do not deserve.
At least there is a plan in place. It is like a banister that I can hold on to. I grip it with both hands.
The room with the scanner is quiet and dark, like a church on a winter’s afternoon. My breathing thunders into the silence, despite my best efforts to still it.
‘Now, Scarlett . . .’ The radiographer – ‘Call me Pete’ – is a thin, fidgety man and speaks in the high, excited tones of a teenager whose voice is about to break.
Bryan, still there, tightens his grip on my hand. The doctor squeezes gel from a tube and smears my belly with it. The coldness is shocking and I clamp my lips together to stop myself from gasping out loud.
‘So your old man is Declan O’Hara, is he?’ Pete says. He lowers his hand to my belly again and moves the Doppler across it, in what feels like a figure of eight. An image jumps on to the screen. A grainy image. Like looking into the mouth of a cave on a moonlit night.
‘Eh, yes,’ I say. I’ve had this conversation many times but it feels different, wrong somehow, to be having it here, in this room, at this moment.
‘I loved him in that film. What was it called again? The one where he plays the soldier who goes AWOL?’
‘Absent Without Steve,’ I say.
‘Ah, yes, that’s the one. Loved him in that. And . . .’ Pete stops talking and bends his head to the screen. ‘Aha!’ he says.
I crane my neck to see what he sees. I can’t see a thing.
‘What?’ says Bryan. I take comfort from the fact that he can’t see a thing either. ‘What can you see?’
Pete looks at the pair of us as if we are both deranged.
‘Is it a . . . ?’ Bryan begins.
‘Yes, of course it is,’ says Pete, nodding at the screen.
‘But the nurse said . . .’
‘Nurses aren’t always right,’ says Pete with an injured air. ‘They just think they are.’
‘But I . . .’
‘Yes, Scarlett?’ asks Pete.
‘I can’t see anything. There’s nothing there.’
Pete sighs the long, inevitable sigh of a genius who is surrounded by half-wits. ‘Hang on,’ he says. ‘I’ll zoom in.’ He worries at some dials on the machine and the image jumps closer.
I lean closer. And then I think I see something. A pulsing blob of jelly with an oversized head. Jerky. A bit like a mini-Michael Jackson in the ‘Thriller’ video.
I point at it. ‘Is that . . . ?’
‘That’s the embryo, yes,’ says Pete. ‘About an inch long, I’d say. When did you have your last period?’
‘On 14 January.’
‘That’s what I thought,’ says Pete, rather smugly. ‘I’d say you conceived this baby about four weeks ago.’
I do the maths, although there’s no need. I already know. John left four weeks ago. I went out with Filly on that stupid, stupid night four weeks ago. Four weeks ago, I had a life. A lovely one. Four weeks ago, there was no such thing as men in real life called Red Butler.
‘Is everything all right?’ asks Pete, looking at my face.
‘You just sort of squeaked there.’
‘Squeaked?’ Four weeks ago, I was not a woman who squeaked in public. Or indeed anywhere. ‘I’m fine,’ I say.
I wipe the goo off my belly with the tissue that Pete hands me. He pushes a button on the scanner and the image fades until there is nothing but a black screen.
‘So,’ I say, ‘you think the . . . the embryo . . . is . . .’
‘You can call it a baby if you like,’ Pete offers. ‘I call it an embryo because I’m a professional. That’s what we call them at this early stage.’
I can’t think of anything to say to that.
‘Is the baby all right?’ asks Bryan, which is what I wanted to say.
‘Looks as it should at this stage,’ says Pete.
‘What about the cramping and the bleeding?’ Bryan says in a low voice, as if he’s afraid the baby might hear him.
‘I could theorise,’ begins Pete, sitting at his desk now, making a pyramid with his hands. ‘Of course I could. But I’d prefer Scarlett to speak directly to her doctor.’ Pete bends his head and writes something on a piece of paper.
Bryan and I look at each other and then back at Pete. When he looks up again, he seems surprised that we are still in the room.
‘You can go now,’ he says. ‘If you like,’ he adds, perhaps considering his earlier tone a little abrupt.
‘Eh, grand so,’ says Bryan, beginning to wheel my bed towards the door.
‘You’ll have to wait for a porter,’ says Pete, pointing his pen in Bryan’s direction.
‘OK, I’ll . . .’ begins Bryan.
‘Just park her out in the corridor,’ Pete says, as if I am a car being brought in for a service.
‘Wheel me back to the ward,’ I hiss at Bryan when we are out in the corridor with Pete’s office door firmly closed.
‘We’re supposed to wait for a . . .’ Bryan begins. After one morning in the health system, he is already institutionalised, not wanting to interfere with the hospital hierarchy, which greets us like a stone wall at every turn.
‘Those porters are like a fecking lunar eclipse of the sun, they’re that rare,’ I remind him.
Bryan puts the brake on the bed and looks down at me. ‘You look terrible,’ he says after a while. There is such tenderness on his face I am afraid I will cry.
‘It’s only because my make-up has evaporated off my face with the heat in here,’ I say.
‘We need to talk,’ he says eventually.
I nod. I know this is true but I can’t think of where to start.
‘Nothing’s worked out the way I thought it was going to,’ I say eventually.
‘Sometimes things don’t,’ says Bryan. ‘That’s not always a bad thing.’
‘How is that not a bad thing?’ I am confused, as if Bryan has suggested that the Black Death had its moments.
But Bryan’s respons
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