I MEAN, I WAS ONLY TRYING TO HELP (Angels & Other Occurrences 3)

You see, that’s the trouble with people, they don’t want to be helped.

I mean, you’d have thought she’d be grateful, a woman at her time of life, suddenly pregnant. I mean, who’d have thought it? Didn’t think Zak had it in him, but obviously…

And she’s such a little mouse of a thing, I mean, wouldn’t say boo to a goose. You’d think she’d be pleased to have a woman of my experience, mother of no less than seven kids. I mean, I do know what I’m talking about when it comes to childbearing.

I told her, it’s no good pretending it won’t hurt. It’s agony. I mean, I remember with Kerry, my fifth…

I could see her going a bit green around the gills but… I mean, it’s better to be a realist, isn’t it? Face up to it? Better to know what’s in store for you.

Personally, I think the pair of them are a bit soft in the head. She said an angel appeared to Zak, and the angel announced it to him, and then Zak came home but couldn’t speak. This angel had struck him dumb, apparently. Load of old nonsense! Angels! I reckon it’s flashbacks. All that drinking when he was younger probably fried his brain. Not that he hasn’t reformed. I mean, he doesn’t touch a drop nowadays. Turned into a good provider and all that – held down that job at the castle for years now. Well thought of, too, I gather. Don’t know what all this struck-dumb business is about.

He had to write it down for her. Write it down! Beth, by the way, you are in the pudding club – or words to that effect.

I was only trying to help. I brought her some of my kids’ cast-offs. Thought she’d be pleased – I mean they’re not at all well off. Poor as church mice in fact. She looked at him and he looked at her, and she said thank you, but I could see she didn’t mean it. I could see she had no intention of actually using them. Not on her baby. Not on an extra-special baby that’s been announced by an angel, oh no!

When the baby actually came – well, it was lucky I was there. Zak was off at work when she started. She couldn’t get through – he must have had that mobile of his turned off again – although I suppose if he can’t speak there’d be no point – and she couldn’t find anyone else, so she came knocking at my door. Asked me to drive her to the hospital, she did. Well, after the business with the clothes I was half inclined to say no but you can’t, can you? We ladies have to stick together in times of trial. And I must admit I did rather want to be in on the action at the hospital. I thought perhaps I could go in with her. I mean, women nowadays, you can have what they a birthing partner, and it doesn’t need to be your husband; it can be anyone you nominate.

But she didn’t nominate me. Or perhaps – I don’t know – perhaps they didn’t ask her. It was all a bit of a rush. The first one always tends to be quick. After that, well, everything’s sort of stretched and sagging. All your muscles gone, you know. Gone for ever; slows everything down. I remember with my second, Mikey – went on for forty-seven hours. Forty-seven hours of absolute agony… how I didn’t die of exhaustion I honestly don’t know.

And to cap it all, there’s been this name business. I popped in to see her afterwards. Worn to a frazzle, she was. White as a sheet. I mean at her age, poor old thing. It’s too old to be having your first one, over forty. You don’t have the reserves like when you’re younger. I mean, it’s manual labour, is labour.

Anyway, the midwife was asking her what name she should put on baby’s little progress chart, and I told her Zacharias, because of course they’d be calling him after his father. People always do that with the firstborn son and Zacharias is a nice name – unusual, like. I mean, ex-alkie or not, Zak’s a good enough man and it’s a nice name and – why wouldn’t you? But then Beth opened her eyes and started shaking her head at the nurses. No, she said, his name is John. It’s John!

But Zacharias is a lovely name, I said. Whyever would you want to call him…

I mean, John. How plain can you get? Who calls a baby John nowadays? Sounds like a politician, or maybe someone who designs railway timetables.

John!! she said. She was beginning to get a bit stroppy by this time. I mean, labour, it does take it out of you. Can’t blame her for being a bit snappish, like.

And then there was this voice from the door, sort of rusty. It was Zak.

John, he shouted. John, his name is John. That’s what it said. That’s what the Bird of Light said. It said his name will be John.

What on earth was he rabbiting on about? But he seemed happy enough, crying and laughing. And somehow he’d got his voice back, after all these months of writing notes and waving his arms about. John, John, John he shouted. This baby’s name is John. And he did a little dance around the room.

Well, I’d had enough by this time. I came away. I mean, it’s not as if I haven’t enough to do at home, without getting dragged into other people’s business.

Luke 1 (57 – 64)

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