Baby brother’s crying in his cot. I peer at him through the white-painted bars. His face is very red and one little arm in its knitted cardigan flails against the bars. He has thrown his little bear. Where is it this time? I get down on my hands and knees and crawls around in search of it. There, against the curtain-hem. How did he throw it that far? Must be very strong. But boys are strong. I brush the dust off the little bear. It’s blue, with rainbow stripes across the chest. Very soft, it feels. I push it back through the bars. A minute later it comes sailing out again.
I carry my satchel on my back, leading my brother by the hand. It’s his first day at Infants and he’s getting in a pickle with his coat, his own little satchel and his Mr Men lunchbox. Mum was too upset about saying goodbye so I ended up bringing him. I lean across to take the Mr Men lunchbox from him. He resists at first, but then lets go. He knows I’m trying to help.
And here we are on Brighton beach. I am fourteen. There is me, my little brother and my Mum, and the new brother or sister that’s inside Mum. Mum doesn’t want to know if it’s a boy or a girl as long as it’s fit and healthy. Dad isn’t with us. He doesn’t come with us to the beach because he lives with another lady now. Her name’s Janice. Dad refers to Mum’s new man, Darren, as her Squeeze. Darren’s the baby’s father, of course. Squeeze is a coarse sort of word.
Pick up your brother’s bucket and spade, would you, Carrie? He’s gone and left it down there and the tide’s coming in.
I am going on my first date, carrying my first grown-up handbag. It like it. It’s crocodile, see? Not real crocodile – crocodile skin pattern. I mean, you wouldn’t get a pink crocodile. I have all sorts of stuff in it – too much, probably. What do you need on a date? I have brought along some money, both change and notes, and my mobile phone. I have brought paper hankies in case of mascara smudges and for blotting the new lipstick, which I have also brought. I have brought a fold-up mirror, in case there isn’t one where we are going. I don’t know yet where we are going. I have brought a hairbrush and a comb, and a notebook and a pencil in case of… in case of… emergencies. Or whatever.
We are Christmas shopping. It’s our first Christmas together, so very romantic. Money is tight so I’ve made a list, allocating a certain amount to each person. It’s quite fun, finding stuff when you’re on a budget, but hard work. Have to shop around, literally. And all the time you’re lugging the stuff with you in those extra-deep Christmas bags with the silly string handles that cut into the palms of your hands.
Got room in one of those bags for the calendars, Cazza? They’re a bit awkward. Need my hands free.
I ease myself into the coffee-shop armchair, almost tearful in my gratitude for its cosy support but wondering if I will be able to get out of it without help in half an hour’s time. How embarrassing to have to call out to the waitress for a tow. The child weighs heavy in my womb. Going to be a big baby, Mum says. And overdue. Only by a few days, though. They say the first is often a bit late. My back hurts so. I want my body back.
How much longer?
I am packing the car for a visit to my brother and his wife. We need a bigger car really. Once you’ve got all the baby stuff in there – disposable nappies, wipes, plastic bags, spare Babygro, in fact two spare Babygros, toys, bottle, formula –not much room left. And that seat takes up so much space. Buggy folded and crammed into the back. Maybe if hubby gets that promotion we can get a bigger car. Hopefully before the next baby comes along.
We are walking in the woods. It’s a family outing. I am giving my little girl a piggy-back. She started to get tired half a mile back, started whingeing. All right now though. It’s one of those Forestry Commission places. Lovely, lovely day. The sun beats down through the leaves and dapples the path ahead of us. Top of my head is really quite hot with it. Should have brought a sunhat. They do say to protect the back of your neck. At least I thought to bring her sunhat.
Ibiza at last. Here we come, just him and me, finally empty-nesters. Two whole weeks of lying about by the pool reading dog-eared paperbacks. In theory. Sun-tan lotion, check. Cardigans, check. It can get chilly of an evening. Both our bathing gear, check. Insect-repellent, check. His asthma inhaler just in case, check. Passports, check…
Well, that’s the café visit accomplished. It gets harder and harder work, being out of doors with him. Don’t forget your stick. Huh? I said, Don’t forget your stick. My…? Stick! Your stick. It’s fallen under the table. Hang about, I think can reach it. Now, your coat. Coat! Left arm back. No, into the sleeve. You’ll need to bend it slightly. I said, bend it slightly! That’s it. Now, right arm back…
Damn, that’s the stick gone again.