by Sam Pennington
What is it with women of a certain age, and babies?
I sigh, and shuffle my weight from foot to foot. If they don’t hurry up and serve me, I’m going to scream. Well, maybe not, but I’m definitely going to drop my shopping. I knew I should have taken a basket. Why didn’t I take a basket? Mind you, I never though I’d find so much stuff in a shop like this. I hope Dave likes the t-shirt; hope it fits. And his mum is going to be so chuffed with this mug; Brownie points to the daughter-in-law who’s found something to match the new kitchen. And candles for the candelabra from the junk-shop. Dave will be pleased. Maybe I ought to cook something special for dinner, have a candlelit meal. That’s a good idea, especially after last night.
Hurry up, I want to hiss at the matrons behind the counter, but they are too busy cooing.
“What a beautiful baby!”
Hurry up. I grit my teeth. My arms are aching, and the mug is threatening to slip from my grip. I give the pram a cursory glance; social conditioning makes me smile. I suppose it is a beautiful baby, but I really don’t care. I just want to go home.
Finally, it is my turn. My arms turn buoyant with relief as I deposit my shopping on the counter. The assistant scans each item while her colleague packs them into a bag.
“Seventeen pounds, twenty-three please,” she says, still mooning over the pram.
“How adorable,” her colleague gushes, not to be outdone.
I swipe my card, and count the seconds until they hand me my receipts. I just want to get home. I’m hot and tired, and I’m afraid I might faint. I want to get out of here. I mutter thanks, pick up my shopping, and turn to leave.
A hush follows me, but by the time I notice, it’s shattered by a shriek, a sound laced with disbelief and reproach. I am distracted by thinking about how one sound can say so much, so it takes a minute before I realise it was aimed at me.
“Excuse me, but aren’t you forgetting something?”
I do a swift inventory; handbag, shopping, purse, keys and phone. Nope, all correct and present. I turn to face a gaggle of shocked faces peering at me from around the patterned pram.
“Your baby?” The shrieking assistant squeaks, stopping short of calling me an idiot. I look at her, and the navy and green pram with its shiny, new wheels, in surprise.
“It’s not mine,” I say, shaking my head. There is a collective gasp.
“Yes it is,” a queuing woman squawks. “I saw you come in with the pram.”
“It’s not my baby,” I insist. My face is burning, my heart is pounding, my palms are sweating, and this time I am going to scream as they all start flapping and yelling. It’s got nothing to do with me. Why will no one listen? Even Dave’s a part of the lie. He shouted at me last night, and he swore.
“For fuck’s sake Natalie, will you just get on and feed her? She’s starving.”
I blinked back the tears, opened my shirt and put it to my breast, even though I hate the way it sucks, because I don’t like being shouted at, and I can’t believe he swore at me. But these people, who do they think they are, pointing and accusing?
I have to get out of here. I have to get home. There’s only one way out of this.
I turn on my heels, and run.
Sam Pennington can be found most days either flashing(!) or procrastinating here.