Serve My Kidneys With
a Good Lambrusco?
I can't decide what to wear. Should I go for fat, black, baggy jumper or fat, blue, baggy jumper? At least the bottom half is easy: a pair of jeans that look like two tents sewn together and topped with more elastic than a support bandage.
I used to be attractive. Not Jennifer Aniston -- drop down on my knees and thank God for my genes -- gorgeous, but pleasant, passable and after a good scrub up, attractive. I guess I still am -- if you're one of those guys with a fat fetish.
So I've decided that God is definitely a man. If She were a woman this whole pregnancy thing would be far more efficient. We'd be able to unzip our bump and put it in the oven while we were washing windows or doing a trolley dash round Sainsbury's.
I've just realised that I sound more domesticated than Nigella Lawson on cleaning day. I think I need a long lie-down in a dark room. My tenth one of the day. That's the other thing. Whoever says pregnancy makes you glow is lying. Or mistaking the shine of perspiration, as you try to manoeuvre more flesh than a fully grown seal from place to place. And don't even start me on piles. Whose idea of a sick joke is that? I know, I'm ranting. I'm allowed. I'm nine months and three days pregnant. I therefore qualify for emotional extremes, including self-pity.
I weigh up the options: get dressed and go meet the girls, or close the blinds and get horizontal. It's an easy choice really, because if I'm so much as five minutes late there will be a stampede of high heels rushing to my door with hot towels, a kettle and bicycle pump to blow up the birthing pool.
Black baggy jumper wins and in ten minutes I'm out of the door and safely ensconced in a cab. It's the one highspot of being pregnant -- the panic-stricken look on every cab driver's face as you use a crane and Vaseline to prise yourself into their back seat. That's followed by a fierce look of concentration as they speed to your destination quicker than a space shuttle, meticulously avoiding speed bumps and cobbled streets. Don't they realise that careering round London streets at ninety miles an hour causes enough terror to induce labour?
On second thoughts, driver, put your foot down -- let's get this bump on its way into the big, bad world. Poor bugger. It doesn't know what it's coming into. Or maybe it does and that's why it's refusing to come out. I've got a mental picture of it with one foot on either side of my cervix, suction pads in its hands, shouting, "Don't make me jump."
As I enter Paco's I spot the girls at our usual corner table. It's the worst one in the restaurant -- right outside the kitchen doors and camouflaged by several plastic pot plants. Paco has made us sit here ever since we had a party for fifty which two hundred turned up at and caused so much accidental destruction that he was forced to refurbish. We still come every week figuring that our contribution to his turnover will go a little way to paying off his decorating bills. I'm sure they do illegal things to our food before they serve it to us.
The girls see me coming and start singing the Jaws theme in their Scottish accents. It's amazing that we've all lived in London for years, yet we still sound like Lulu. Except when we sing, unfortunately.
It's getting louder as I get to the table. The other diners are wide-mouthed and there's a stampede of waiters to the kitchen to request the night off. I sit in the chair with reinforced steel legs.
Kate, Carol and Sarah eye me anxiously. I can tell they're trying to deduce my emotional state. Is it tears and tantrums, or earth mother karma calm?
"Hi, sweetie, how're you doing?" Kate asks with obvious trepidation. That's usually my cue to break down into uncontrollable sobs, or rub my belly gently and smile serenely. I shrug my shoulders, point at my ever-expanding mass and reach for a garlic breadstick. "Not a contraction, not a drop of broken waters and it's still doing the salsa."
They groan. So do I. Why didn't they warn me about pregnancy? This lot have seven children between them. Seven! And Carol has twins, for God's sake. It's bad enough carrying one, but two would definitely tip me over the edge -- I'd have been giving myself an internal with a sink plunger to get them out long ago.
"Any word from him yet?" Sarah ventures. Now "him" is not a reference to my gynaecologist. Nor does it refer to God, my boss or Butch, my long-lost poodle. "Him" is Mike Chapman, father of bump and the man I joined in matrimonial bliss barely a year ago. Don't ask: do you want to see me cry?
I shake my head. To be honest, it's probably a good thing. If he walked in here right now I'd end up in jail for assault with a deadly ciabatta. I can feel the tears welling up. Don't cry. Don't cry. I try to replace sorrow with anger. Bastard, bastard, bastard. It's working. I take a deep breath and I'm back in control.
The girls look relieved. I've put them through so much stress in the last few months that it's a miracle they haven't developed stutters and nervous tics.
Kate rubs my hands, concern oozing from every pore. She was born maternal and spends her whole life worrying about our welfare. Although lately she's had enough dramas of her own to keep her occupied. You see we all have very defined roles in this little group. Kate: soft, motherly. Sarah: sensible, reasoned. Carol: tactless, glib. Carly: hopeless, hilarious. We've been friends since primary school, since the biggest decision in our day was what to spend our dinner money on. Even then, Kate would fuss and make sure we ate a balanced lunch.
Kate was a hairdresser until she married Bruce Smith, a highly successful architect, and had three children, Zoë, Cameron and Tallulah (we're sure that the after-effects of an over-enthusiastic epidural were responsible for the name of her last born). Thereafter, she decided to devote her life to creating a haven of family bliss in her Richmond semi. Fortunately, we girls constitute family members too, so she does everything from serial nagging (in a nice way) about our cholesterol levels, to buying our condoms. She must have been on holiday nine months and three days ago.
Lately, though, Kate's been a bit distracted. In fact, the onset of the distraction can be traced back to when Keith Miller (alias Builder Bob), construction entrepreneur, bought the other half of her semi. She's been weirder than Tantric sex ever since.
Carol, on the other hand, is our in-house beauty consultant and provider of salacious gossip. She's a "just a wee bit too old to still be called super" model: auburn tendrils that hang to her twenty-four-inch waist, eyes like chestnuts and a figure that mannequins would kill for. She's in more demand than ever as she now comes complete with the most beautiful twins that were ever put on this earth. This is obviously down to hereditary blessings. Her husband Cal also struts the catwalks and he makes Brad Pitt look average. It would be easy to be jealous of her (OK, sometimes in my extreme emotional state I do have the odd encounter with the green-eyed monster). But Carol is so lacking in pretension, has more hang-ups than the fashion floor at Harvey Nicks, and is so hilariously shallow that you can't help but adore her.
Sarah has taken on what was previously my role: sensible, focused and utterly devoid of madness. She teaches primary children and honestly enjoys it. Personally, I'd be threatening the little buggers with violence, but Sarah is more compassionate than Claire Rayner. What's more, since being rescued from a life of impoverished singlehood by her lovely husband Nick, she radiates happiness from every moisturised pore. Now that makes me insanely jealous. I know, I'm a terrible person.
Nick was actually an ex-boyfriend of Carly (sister of Cal, are you confused yet?), who just for a change is obviously late. Yes, I'm being sarcastic. Carly has never been on time for anything in her outrageous life. She is our entertainment co-ordinator and social convenor. Mostly, the entertainment is just listening to the weekly events in her perpetual soap opera. Only Carly would have a mid-life crisis at thirty-one and go off round the world seeking out her ex-boyfriends (Nick being one of them) to re-evaluate their husband potential. She single-handedly proved that you should always take chances in life because her insane man-mission was successful -- enter one Mark Barwick, lawyer and Carly's childhood sweetheart who has the wisdom of Solomon and the patience of a school bus driver. I'm sure he's aged ten years since he married her.
There's a sudden commotion at our table. I look to check if my waters have broken, but no, it's just the girls shuffling round to make room for Carly as she launches herself through the door and sprints to our corner in her usual manic manner. She's a sight to behold: five feet eight inches of sexy curves, white T-shirt, ripped jeans, hair that resembles a blonde toilet brush and carrying a motorcycle helmet.
"News, news, news," she yells. "First, Kate, any developments on the Builder Bob front that you wish to share yet?" That's the thing about Carly; she breaks the ice quicker than the Titanic.
We laugh as Kate simultaneously shushes her and shakes her head sheepishly.
"Ok, Carol, did my brother get the Calvin Klein contract and did you get the Mothercare one?"
"Yes to both," Carol smiles. I bet her bank manager will too.
We raise our glasses and do a Mexican wave -- two pints of celebration margaritas (non-alcoholic for me of course) coming up.
"Sarah, does Nick have the opening date for the restaurant yet?" Nick is opening his second London restaurant specialising in traditional Scottish food. His first one has been full every night since Sean Connery was spotted there with Pierce Brosnan and Roger Moore on some kind of weird Bond reunion night.
"One month from today -- get your sequins and Jimmy Choos ready, girls."
Carly turns to me. "And what about you, fatty, ready to drop the sprog yet?"
I splurt my drink as the whole table collapses in laughter. The world would be a duller place without Carly Cooper (she refuses to change her name to Barwick, because she says it keeps Mark on his toes and reminds him that she's an independent woman of the new century. The truth is she just couldn't be bothered changing her name on her forty-seven different credit cards).
I clutch my ever-expanding sides. My arms would need to be made of Silly Putty to go all the way round my stomach now. Ouch! A sharp pain just shot through my abdomen. I bend over double, but it's not easing. Oh, holy cow, don't let me give birth in Paco's, he'll have a stroke.
The girls suddenly stop laughing and dive to my side. Kate has her arms round my shoulders.
"Deep breath, take a deep breath," she's urging.
"I. CAN'T. FUCKING. BREATHE," I stammer.
Carol orders Paco, "Call a cab!" He's gone a whiter shade than snow.
"I. Don't. Think. There's. Time," I whisper between pains.
"Did anyone bring their car?" Carly looks desperately at the girls. They all shake their heads.
"Oh, fuck, Jess," she tells me, "there's nothing else for it. We'll have to go on my moped."
Never in all my nights lying awake and imagining the arrival of my first-born child, did I envisage being rushed to hospital on the back of a bright pink moped called Martha. The pain ceases long enough for me to get outside and strapped on. Thank God the hospital is only five minutes away, although it takes us ten because I yell to stop halfway when another pain comes. My waters finally gush while doing thirty miles an hour down a main road.
"It's OK," Carly shouts. "It'll give the guy behind us something to wash his windscreen with. And don't worry, Jess, I've seen Scrubs. I know what to do if we don't get to the hospital in time."
If I wasn't crying, I'd collapse in hysteria. This is the most ridiculous thing that's ever happened to me. I try to breathe a sigh of relief as we screech to the reception of the maternity hospital.
"Baby coming, baby coming, clear a path," Carly shouts to the receptionist. The stunned woman's training kicks in and in five minutes I'm on a bed in the labour ward, being examined by the most George Clooney-like doctor I've ever seen. Oh, the indignity. I finally meet a gorgeous, successful, single (no wedding band) man and I'm sweating like an Eskimo in a sauna and screaming like a banshee. Fuck it. I hate men anyway. The doors open and Kate, Sarah and Carol rush in.
Aaaaaaaa! Oh, my God, nobody warned me it would be this painful. I feel like the midwives are doing a Hannibal Lecter and whipping out my kidneys for a bite of lunch. Served with a good Lambrusco, of course. Well, Chianti is a bit upmarket for us. And it doesn't have any bubbles. I think I'm delirious.
Aaaaaaah! This isn't a baby I'm having; it's a rhino. A rhino with a large horn, which is tearing through my internals like an Exocet. How do other women do this more than once? I swear I'm never having sex again. I'm officially celibate. Not that I have much choice in this at the moment, since I don't have the rhino's father lovingly holding my hand and whispering endearments. Bastard.
I open my eyes a millimetre just to check he hasn't sneaked in on his belly like the reptile that he is. But no, it's females only. I'm giving birth to my first child surrounded by four women. I suddenly feel like one of the Nolans.
Kate's holding my hand, saying, "Push, push, push," like a removal man trying to get a piano down a flight of stairs. Sarah is holding an ankle, with a look of sheer terror on her face. She can obviously see the rhino's horn. Carol is putting on her make-up in the corner. I don't know if that's for the after-birth photos or because George Clooney is due back any minute. And Carly, well, she passed out about ten minutes ago and is lying face down in a pile of coats.
Aaaaaah! I can't do this for much longer. Get this baby out now. What's it doing in there, having a picnic? I would cry, but it would get in the way of my glass-shattering screams. This isn't the way it should be. I should be in a state of euphoria, staring into the bastard's eyes and planning the christening. How could he do this to me? I swear as soon as I can stand I'm going to hunt him down, tie him up and remove his testicles without anaesthetic. Slowly.
Oh, God, another pain! This baby has body armour on and it's fighting its way out. I thought this labour lark was supposed to last for hours? I've had facials that have lasted longer than this.
The doctor is back now. He's looking very serious and telling me to push. Then stop. Then push. Make up your fucking mind. I squeeze my eyes so tightly shut that I'll need a crowbar to open them. That's if I survive this. I swear I'm dying. This is what death feels like.
"Push, come on now, one more push," Dr. Delicious urges.
I want to punch him. I know he's never done anything bad to me. He's never promised to love me then betrayed me quicker than a double agent. He hasn't promised to spend the rest of his life with me then baled out at the first sign of parole. But I don't care. He's male, therefore I hate him. I hate all of them.
Suddenly, I feel a slipping sensation down below.
Kate bursts into uncontrollable sobs. Sarah's hand flies to her mouth. Carol puts down her mascara. Carly sits up, sees what's happening and collapses back into the coats.
"The head's out," Doctor says. "One more push, come on, one more."
My mind is racing. I want to have an out-of-body experience. Amputate from the neck down please. Now! And get this bloody man away from me! Don't you realise I hate the male species?
Another slipping feeling. Then suddenly, there's an indignant wail. I stop breathing and look down at the doc as he lifts what looks like a green blancmange and puts it on my chest.
"Congratulations, Mrs. Chapman. You have a son."
Copyright © 2002 by Shari Low