In the pause, that silence that followed, our fridge stood humming innocently between us, brightly decorated with the alphabet, a jumble of words sprayed head to toe like the multi-coloured yawns of several poets. The slightly charring smell of fish, mixing in the evening air, made me almost lean against it for support. I pushed the tiny particles of sound between us to break up the quiet, my hot frustration drying the stick; “You said it would be okay!”
Without a shred of hesitancy or uncertainty, with a total conviction that I will thank him for forever, Clifford replied, “It will be okay,” and he drew me inwards, curling his solid arms around me, “I love you so much,” and I melted into him with breathless tears.
Just hours before, we had been in Columbia Road flower market, moseying happily among the pollen like blissfully ignorant bees, stroking all the foliage that enjoyed shade and trailing my mum while she picked out potentials for our little back yard. Every so often she’d dip in and out of a Knick knack trinket and hipster bookshop lining the road like an indoor extension to the market. It was in one of these paperback caves that she pulled out a beautiful picture book that I remembered from my childhood. “Hairy Maclary”, (it’s about dogs, I recommend it). After she’d flicked wistfully through it, each page heavy with nostalgia, she placed it back with a dramatic sigh and exclaimed, “I just don’t have anyone to buy it for.” Whereas typically I would antagonise her with a comment about how rectifying that was really not my problem and the very last thing on my agenda, this Sunday I remained mute. Later, when we got back to our flat and were talking about the possibility of moving, she said, “well you’ll want more than one bedroom,” before turning to look Clifford dead in the eye, brazen, adding unnecessarily, “for the babies.”
Given that this had been a staple slice of our dialogue for many years, with these “hints” (way past hints) containing no effort anymore to be camouflaged or diluted, I knew my mum was probably going to have a heart attack from this news. I felt like I needed Clifford there when I told her. I felt like I wouldn’t be able to actually form the words on my own, that they wouldn’t take me seriously, or I wouldn’t take me seriously, and after my newsflash spilled out there’d be canned laughter and one of us would slip on a banana skin. Her directness also told me that she was expecting this the same amount as I was.
“Oh my god oh my god oh my god,” my best friend shrieked from over ten thousand miles away and, although it felt like she was there in the kitchen with me, slicing up fruit for the blender and pouring eyeshadows all over the counter to rifle through it for her e-cig, I was reminded of her existence in a parallel time frame, cooking curry for dinner as I munched on my morning toast. That feeling I get when I reach to phone her in the middle of her hot Australian night, wishing she was closer. “I’m totally shocked but also, I’m really not?”
Clifford departed for work at Boomtown (a music festival), our tiny pop-up tent packed in because his caravan had fallen through, and I took the train into the rolling downs for my mum’s birthday meal. We’d decided to tell our parents together, once Clifford was back, so I sat sipping feebly at my fizz, making very unconvincing excuses about being tired and having a headache. It was terrible and I cried the entire train journey home with the weight of it.
The next day was my mum’s actual birthday, I tapped her name in my phone and paced the worn-out kitchen patch as the dialling tone longed-out in a way reserved only for those hair-twisting minutes when a quick response is crucial. “I’ve got another birthday present for you,” the words rushed over one another while I kept my nerve, “You’re going to be a grandma.” A beat. “Oh my god Alice,” the formal use of my name mixing with a half groan. Relief and disbelief, tangled up, like she didn’t want to or couldn’t allow herself to trust it. She went away from the receiver for a moment and I heard my dad shout, sounding confused; “You’re joking!”
Somewhere in a murky, signal-weak, Winchester field, Clifford was having a similar conversation. He phoned me afterwards, “It’s very early still,” we agreed. “We should just tell our close friends, now our families know.” It still felt too intense to be figuring out how I felt while someone stood before me, ovaries frothing over, asking questions about my life that I’d never even considered before. So, of course, Clifford hung up, got bang-on the festival vibes and told everyone he came into breathing contact with that he was going to be a Dad, so much so that it was mentioned on stage by an MC to a crowd of a few thousand people!
But for Clifford there wasn’t ever anything to get straight. From the moment I held out the test, the way he looked at me had changed (it totally freaked me out). He was suddenly observing me with this total admiration that I wasn’t used to and didn’t think I’d done anything to warrant. Clifford doesn’t over think things and he is invaluable in my life for stopping me getting in the way of myself. When my mind cork-screws out of control, he remains constant, reeling me back in. Clifford was riding a different kind of festival high. When he came home, like the prodigal traveller returning to the village after a world of time had passed, he fell through our door, still grinning from one wiry-bearded ear to the other, tuffs of strawberry and dirt main perturbing out unpredictably in all directions, smelling like a man who had spent ten days in a tent pitched under a lorry. But there was no trace of come-down on him, no grouchy post-festival blues. He’d been away ten days but it felt like ten years.