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Authors: Andy Jones

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BOOK: The Two of Us
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I’m pondering all of this from the sofa in the living room when the doorbell rings, and I am suddenly convinced the midwife will take one look around this death-trap and mark us as unfit
parents. The bell rings a second time.

‘Can you get that?’ shouts Ivy from the bedroom.

The midwife, a rotund lady with a thick Caribbean accent, introduces herself as Eunice. I lead her up to the flat, muttering non-sequiturs about the banisters and stair gates and child-proof
locks and DIY and floorboard sanders.

‘Plenty of time for that, darlin’,’ says Eunice, smiling, but at the same time casting an appraising glance around the flat. ‘Let’s worry ’bout mum first. She
home?’

Ivy arrives on cue, hair still wet from the shower, no make-up, beautiful. Her skin is slightly flushed from the shower, highlighting the scars on the side of her face. Ivy must be used to them
by now, but it’s still new to me and I feel embarrassed and protective on her behalf whenever we meet people for the first time.

‘Hello, darlin’,’ says Eunice. ‘Don’t you look lovely. Not showin’ yet?’

Ivy puts a hand to her tummy. ‘I don’t know,’ she says, beaming. ‘Maybe a little.’

And it’s true, Ivy is beginning to show a hint of a bump behind her tight T-shirt.

Eunice waves a hand in the air dismissively. ‘Pshh, I never bin that flat in me life.’ And she laughs deep and hearty. ‘Come,’ she says, sitting on the sofa and patting
the cushion beside her, ‘sit.’

Ivy looks as bashful as a schoolgirl as she takes a seat next to Eunice.

‘How far along are we, sweetheart? Ten, eleven weeks, is it?’

‘Nine and a half,’ says Ivy, sitting beside the midwife.

‘Excitin’ time,’ says Eunice, widening her eyes. ‘Very excitin’.’

Over the next half-hour or so, Eunice asks Ivy questions, she takes samples of blood and urine, and together they fill out various forms. Besides making tea, I’m essentially surplus to
requirements.

Before she leaves, Eunice asks if we have any questions. Ivy says, no, they’ve covered everything she can think of for now.

Eunice turns to me. ‘And what ’bout dad?’

It’s the first time anyone’s called me ‘dad’, and the effect is astonishing. As if there’s a ‘dad’ gland buried somewhere behind my breastbone and
it’s been waiting to hear that one special word before it triggers and releases a whole bunch of dad hormones into my bloodstream. The effect of these chemical messengers, it seems, is to
raise a small lump in the throat of the soon-to-be father and make him grin like a monkey in a nut factory. Unlike the adrenaline fight-or-flight response, it’s unlikely that this biological
quirk confers any evolutionary advantage, but it sure does feel good.

‘Actually,’ I say, still grinning, spurred by this surge of dad hormone, ‘I do have one question,’ and I glance at Ivy and smile.

It’s as if Ivy can read my mind, because her mouth tightens, her eyes narrow by maybe a single millimetre and her head moves fractionally left and right in a minuscule, pleading,
head-shake. But it’s too late; I’m committed.

‘Yes, darlin’?’

‘I was wondering if it’s okay to, you know . . . have . . .’ and despite the immediate medical proof that Ivy and I have had sex at least once; despite the fact that that sex
and its natural consequences are the very reason Eunice is now sitting on Ivy’s sofa, I am too embarrassed to say the word. So instead, I attempt to communicate the
idea
of sex
through a series of facial expressions, head movement and gurning innuendo.

‘Sex!’ shouts Eunice. ‘Ha ha, oh my Lord, yes!’ And she gives Ivy’s knee a squeeze. ‘O’course you can ’ave sex, my darlin’. But no vigorous
thrustin’, okay?’

Eunice winks at me, and Ivy lowers her gaze to the floorboards.

After we say goodbye to Eunice, Ivy is aglow and it seems all the day’s transgressions have been forgiven. As we take the stairs back up to the flat, I am again reminded
how fine Ivy looks from behind. Ivy talks excitedly as she clears up the coffee cups, takes them into the kitchen and fills the sink with water. But now that we’ve had a green light from our
midwife, I’m finding it hard to concentrate on anything apart from getting Ivy into bed, and pronto. It’s as if there’s a sex klaxon going off in my head, and as Ivy plunges her
hands into the hot, soapy water, I feel the beginnings of an uprising in my underwear. If not exactly battle ready, the old campaigner is certainly getting himself psyched up.

‘. . . don’t you think?’ says Ivy.

I have no idea what she is talking about; the sex klaxon is still blaring inside my skull. ‘For sure,’ I say, and it seems like this is the right answer, as Ivy nods and starts
drying the mugs. Ivy pushes a checked tea towel into the depths of a mug and revolves it deliberately around the inside. From where I’m standing it looks fantastically erotic, and all the
primal systems are on full alert. It’s been so long since we last made love, though, that the thought of initiating sex outside of the bedroom and during daylight hours makes me itch with
self-consciousness. The trick, I reassure myself, is spontaneity.

‘You okay?’ asks Ivy.

‘Fine,’ I say.

‘Your face is very red.’

‘Fancy a shag?’

Ivy regards me for a moment and then laughs. ‘God,’ she says, ‘I know!’ And in a bad impersonation of Eunice: ‘No vigorous thrustin’!’ and she laughs so
hard she has to sit down and fan her face.

‘Funny,’ I say, and my forced laugh is even less convincing than Ivy’s Caribbean accent. But she is laughing too much to notice.

By the time she has recovered – and it takes a while – Ivy is exhausted and says she needs to lie down for a nap. If this – laughing Ivy into bed – had been my plan
along, I’d be a genius. But it wasn’t and I’m not. The moment has now passed, the klaxon is silent, and little Fisher has renounced the cause.

When Ivy gets out of bed, for the third time today, the sun is fading and the boeuf bourguignon is bubbling nicely on the hob. This was the first meal I cooked for Ivy. I like to think of it as
our special dish. Maybe it will help rekindle Ivy’s former passion.

‘What’s that smell?’ Ivy puts her arms around my waist and kisses me.

‘Our special dish,’ I say, lifting the lid on the bubbling casserole.

‘We have a special dish?’

‘Boeuf bourguignon. I cooked it the first night you came to my flat’

‘Oh,’ says Ivy with an expression that reveals this is a piece of trivia she had not retained. ‘It’s very sweet of you, babes, but I don’t know if I fancy something
so . . .
heavy
.’

‘It’s not
heavy
, it’s . . . it’s rich. Rich isn’t the same as heavy.’

‘To be honest, I’m not that hungry.’

‘The midwife said you should eat plenty of iron,’ I remind her. ‘Plenty of iron in beef. Well, there should be the price I paid for it.’

‘Would you mind putting a lid on it,’ Ivy says. ‘The smell’s making me feel a bit . . .’ She blows out her cheeks to suggest nausea.

‘Yeah, ’course. We can have it later.’

Ivy opens a window, letting in a cool breath of autumn air. That’s another thing this place has on Brixton – if you open a window in my flat at this time of night, you can get high
off what wafts in.

‘What I really fancy,’ Ivy says, ‘is a bit of caesar salad, chicken caesar salad.’

‘Got a craving?’

‘No, just like caesar salad,’ says Ivy.

I open the fridge but we have no chicken, no salad and no dressing.

‘Want me to go get the bits?’ I say.

‘Would you? And some pineapple? Sorry, babe, I’d go myself but I’m zonked.’

It’s dark by the time we start eating our supper in front of some romantic comedy on the box. The salad is fine as far as salads go, but it’s a poor substitute for
boeuf bourguignon and my stomach is not happy about it. Ivy takes the dishes into the kitchen then comes back and curls up with her head in my lap.

‘Are you disappointed?’ she asks, and whether she’s referring to the film, the salad or the celibacy I don’t know, but the answer’s the same.

‘No,’ I say. ‘Why?’

‘You went to all that trouble, cooking.’

‘It’ll keep.’

‘I’ll take you for supper,’ she says. ‘Friday. Anywhere, you choose.’

I kiss the parting in her hair.

‘How was Joe?’ Ivy asks.

‘Good,’ I tell her. ‘Sends his love.’

‘Liar.’

‘Well, he asked after you.’

Ivy laughs.

‘He asked me to be his best man.’

Ivy swivels her head around so she is facing me. ‘That’s nice of him. You going to do a speech?’

‘Have to,’ I say. ‘Part of the deal. You’re invited, by the way.’

Ivy turns back to the TV. ‘Cool,’ she says, but it’s not very convincing. ‘What was the script?’

‘Loo roll.’

‘Loo roll as in
for
loo roll, or loo roll as in, it’s shit.’

‘Both,’ I tell her.

‘So long as you’re happy,’ Ivy says.

Onscreen, the rom-couple have fallen out due to some hilariously crossed wires, but somehow I think everything will work out in the end. I have nothing against genre formula; I love it, in fact.
Good wins over evil, love conquers all, the world won’t end – and that’s all right by me. Wouldn’t have it any other way. What I do object to, is some Hollywood director
getting paid in the region of a million dollars to do nothing more than stand behind a camera: the set-pieces are clumsy, the editing is crude, the performances predictable; there’s no craft
or invention or, from where I’m sitting, any evidence of direction whatsoever. I could do that. I could do better than that. But instead, if I’m lucky, I get to shoot thirty seconds of
bog roll for less money than this chancer makes on his coffee break.

‘You think I should say no?’ I say to Ivy.

Ivy doesn’t answer.

‘Obviously I could hold out for something better,’ I tell her. ‘But I have you two to think about now, don’t I?’ And I place my hand on Ivy’s tummy.

Ivy makes a noise as if she’s about to speak, and then begins to snore.

Chapter 7

Ivy is ten weeks pregnant today, and all of a sudden the pregnancy feels significantly more real than it did when I last saw her thirty-one hours ago. Yesterday and today Ivy
is working on a promo for a new band all the hip kids are into. The shoot didn’t wrap until late last night and she had an early call today, so we spent a rare night apart. When I woke this
morning there was a picture message waiting for me on my phone.

The picture is a close-up shot of soft female stomach – the faint scar travelling from top to bottom of the image confirms that this soft female stomach belongs to Ivy. Using what
I’m guessing is a lipstick, she has drawn a voice bubble emerging from her belly button. It contains the message:
10 weeks preg today! Xxx

And just like that, this thing has approximately ten times the gravity it had yesterday. I called Ivy straight away, but it went through to voicemail. I wrote and deleted five different
responses before settling on a roman numeral joke –
X!
– which surely came off as nothing more than an apathetic kiss. I wrote an explanation, but it seemed hugely patronizing
so I deleted that too.

Joe and I just spent an hour and a half discussing the loo roll commercial with the ad agency. I think it went well but I found it hard to concentrate. The ad involves a giant bunny, and the
notion kept snapping me back to Ivy’s message –
10 weeks preg today
. I found the knowledge heavily isolating. Everybody getting excited about costumes and casting and bad gags,
and me wanting to tap the side of my mug with a teaspoon and announce:
Guess what, everyone? I’m having a baby!
But Ivy and I are keeping the news to ourselves until we’ve had
the twelve-week scan a fortnight from now. So I pretended to listen and take notes, and when everyone else laughed, I joined right in. It seemed to do the trick, though, and Joe is convinced
we’ve got the gig. Travelling back to Brixton on the Victoria Line, I’m a mixed sack of emotions. It’s a two-day shoot and I’m paid by the day, so it’s a good amount
of cash for the increasingly-imminent-family fund. On the other hand, it’s still a commercial for toilet paper.

More than that, though, something has been scratching at my subconscious all day and I can’t quite get hold of it. I think it has something to do with underwear. Ivy is taking me for
supper tonight; she’ll bring a bag with a change of clothes in it, and maybe she’ll stay for the weekend or maybe we’ll decamp to Wimbledon. It seems neither of us goes anywhere
lately without a pair of underpants in our pocket – and half of the time those underpants need a wash. It’s never occurred to me to ask for a drawer in Ivy’s flat or to offer her
one in mine – maybe because it feels like a pretty flimsy offer considering our situation.

Walking back to my flat I pass a key-cutters, and all of a sudden I know what I need to do. Or maybe I’ve known since this morning, when I walked past the same kiosk on my way to the
tube.

Next stop is a cheap jewellers where my request to purchase an empty ring box is met with stark incomprehension.

‘It’s a surprise for my girlfriend,’ I explain.

The girl behind the counter wears three gold hoops in one ear, four in the other and a stud through her top lip. ‘What, an empty box?’

‘Yes, no, I’m going to put something in it.’

‘Wot?’

‘A key.’

‘Wot?’

‘For my flat, you see. I want to put it in a box – the key, for a surprise.’

‘We don’t sell boxes.’

I do my most endearing smile. ‘Is there any chance you could just give me one?’

‘I shouldn’t fink so.’

‘Well, what’s the cheapest thing you’ve got?’

The stud in her top lip slides forward and back in its piercing. ‘She got her ears pierced?’

‘Why, how much are the earrings?’

‘Fourteen ninety-nine.’

‘Perfect.’

The girl opens a drawer beneath the counter, selects a pair of silver earrings and drops them into a purple, faux-suede, heart-emblazoned pouch.

‘Excuse me,’ I say with infinite patience and politeness. ‘Could I have those in a box?’

BOOK: The Two of Us
3.7Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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