Episode Thirty Five
The train shuddered as it switched tracks. Andrew turned from reading the article in Mother & Baby he was sharing with Jill to staring out the window. I can’t believe I’m going to be a father. The autumn was advancing. He noticed many of the trees were now nearly bare of leaves. Leaves on the line. That’s what Network SouthEast will be announcing. Perhaps the wrong kind of leaves. Brexit leaves, perhaps? He glanced at his mobile. We should be arriving at Buxted soon.
‘Are your parents going to meet us?’
‘Uh?’ Jill looked up from the magazine. ‘What did you say?’
‘Are we being met at the station?’
‘Mum only comes to pick me up if its raining.’ It’s a beautiful sunny day, so we’re spared any possible scene at the station. He looked at Jill’s stomach. Does she look pregnant? He couldn’t tell. His mind turned the forthcoming meeting with her parents. Why hadn’t we simply told them when we Skyped? There’s no good answer to that. No, that’s not true. You can’t tell them something like that on the phone—even if it has pictures. We have to tell them face to face. He looked at Jill. I know you’re dreading the meeting. That’s why we put it off. You put it off. His mind wandered back to their discussion.
* * *
‘I think we must tell them.’
‘No, Andrew. They’ll go ballistic.’
‘But the longer we leave it…’
‘We’ll go down to see them and tell them then.’
Unwittingly, his gaze descended to her midriff.
‘Do you think it shows?’
‘Oh no, I don’t think so. How long has it been now?’
‘Well, based on the doctor, it must be four months. But I think it’s three.’
‘What about letting your parents know?’
‘We can phone them from the delivery room.’
‘Are you being serious?’ She shook her head. ‘You’ll be expected to go home at Christmas. Your parents would insist. What then?’
‘I could say we’re going to your folk.’
‘They’d only suggest the New Year, then.’
‘Suppose so.’ She gave him a drawn smile. ‘I’m not looking forward to it, you know.’
‘Well, I’m not enthusiastic either.’ But since we are here, we are here. There’s no escape from telling them. The longer we leave it, the worst it will be.
‘Let’s not go, then.’
‘No, Jill, we must. And the sooner the better. After all, three or four months, they’ll be hurt you haven’t said anything earlier.’
‘And we’re agreed on what we’re planning?’
‘Keeping the baby? Getting married? Of course.’ Well, I think so.
She beamed at him.
* * *
The train slowed as it came into the station. Andrew read the sign: Buxted.
Jill touched his arm. ‘Well, this is it.’ She smiled at him.
He got up and went over to rescue their bags from the luggage rack. Jill joined him at the door. The train stopped. She pressed the release button and the door opened. He followed her out of the carriage.
He looked up and down the station. ‘It doesn’t change, does it?’
‘It’s a sleepy part of England, if that’s what you mean.’
‘I can’t see your parents.’
‘It’s a postponement, not a reprieve.’ Jill rubbed her stomach.
‘My stomach feels queasy. Perhaps we’ve eaten something we shouldn’t?’
Jill laughed. ‘Probably a dodgy Prêt A Manger sandwich.’
‘You think so?’
‘No, of course not. Well, let’s go, we’ve got to face them sometime.’
She led him along as he rolled their overnight cases behind him as they walked towards her family home. It was as he remembered it from his last visit. The same suburban houses. The same well-tended gardens, now autumnal.
They entered the cul de sac. Whether it was nerves or because the ground over which he had to pull their cases was rougher, but he slowed up as they got nearer to the house.
Jill unlocked the door. ‘Mum. Dad. It’s me.’
Susan emerged from the kitchen.
‘Jill! How lovely to see you.’ She hugged Jill and then smiled at Andrew. ‘Welcome. You’re earlier than I expected. I thought you said you wouldn’t be here before six o clock?’
‘We took an earlier train.’ Jill looked around as if searching. ‘Where’s Dad?’
‘Oh, he went off to get some more gin. I forgot to get some when I was at Waitrose.’
Jill took her mother’s arm. ‘There’s something I’ve got to tell you.’
Susan glanced at the two of them. ‘Shouldn’t we wait till your father gets home?’
Jill tugged at her mother. ‘Come into the lounge.’ They all went into the living room. Susan sat down on the sofa. Jill took a seat next to her. Andrew occupied the nearby armchair.
Susan looked at the both with a somewhat quizzical expression. ‘Well, this is all very mysterious. Are you planning a surprise for him?’
Jill frowned. ‘It will be a surprise, yes. But it’s not about him. It’s about me.’
‘I see.’ Susan turned to look at Andrew. Well, yes, I’m involved too.
Jill tugged on her mother’s arm. Susan turned to her. ‘I’m pregnant.’
‘Oh!’ Her hand up shot to cover her mouth. There was a silence. Susan turned back to Andrew then looked at her daughter. ‘You intend to keep it.’
Jill nodded. ‘Andrew and I will be getting married.’
‘Ah!’ Again, Susan paused. ‘Have you set a date?’
‘We thought we’d wait until after the baby is born.’
‘I see.’ Susan got to her feet. ‘I’ll make us all a cup of tea.’
Jill got up. Andrew followed. They traipsed into the kitchen. Susan fiddled with the kettle, pulled out a teapot and several mugs.
‘When is the baby due?’
Andrew could see her doing the mental arithmetic about when conception took place.
‘So, you’re thinking of summer for the wedding, then?’
‘Andrew and I were thinking of September.’
‘Do you think Dad will be furious?’
‘I’m sure he wants what’s best for you.’
‘You think he’ll take it badly, don’t you?’
The kettle shrieked. She clicked the off tab, poured some water into the teapot, sloshed it around before returning it to the kettle. She snapped it back on.
‘It might be a good idea if I talked to your father before you tell him.’
‘You know Daddy best.’ With one hand Jill fiddled with the sleeve of her other arm. ‘You’ll tell him, won’t you?’
‘Oh, Jill, shouldn’t you be the one to let him know?’
‘I hope he’ll be pleased.
‘I’m sure of it.’
Andrew took hold of Jill’s arms. ‘Let’s get ourselves unpacked. You can rest up for a while.’
Jill looked at him, pulled free of his grasp, then patted his arm. ‘I think that’s a good idea.’
As they collected their luggage, they heard a car arrive. It pulled up in the drive. The engine stopped.
‘Daddy’s back, Mum.’
‘Thanks.’ She went towards the door. ‘I’ll call you down when I’ve talked to him.’
With Jill leading, they scuttled upstairs.
On the landing, Jill looked down as they heard the door open. Andrew could hear voices but not make out what was being said. The unheard conversation was cut off as David and Susan went into either the kitchen or the living room.
‘We’ve been given separate rooms.’ Jill pointed at her bedroom and the spare. ‘But I think we can share mine tonight.’
‘Won’t that be rubbing it a bit in their face?’
‘We’re a couple, aren’t we?’
Andrew smiled. ‘A couple with a baby on the way.’
‘See.’ She pulled him into her bedroom. ‘Mum will fetch us after they’ve talked.’
It was about twenty minutes later that Andrew heard someone on the stairs. Susan knocked before entering. She lingered in the doorway. Andrew examined her. She seems quite stressed. That’s not good news.
‘’Oh dear. Your father’s not taking this very well.’ She stood away from the door. ‘He’s waiting to talk to you downstairs.’ Her voice broke a bit. ‘Don’t keep him waiting.’
Jill reached out a hand to Andrew. ‘Let’s go.’
They went down the stairs side by side and made for the lounge. David was standing by the window looking out.
He turned, scowled at them before indicating they should sit down.
‘Your mother tells me you’re pregnant.’ He turned to Andrew. ‘You’re the father.’ Andrew nodded.
‘Oh daddy, I know you’re disappointed. It was a mistake.’
‘Really?’ He gestured towards Andrew. ‘You took advantage of my daughter.’ If only you knew! It’s her, not me.
‘We got carried away.’
‘Is that what you call it? In my time, we had more self-restraint.’ He harrumphed.
‘We are going to get married.’
‘So your mother says. She mentioned the autumn.’
‘Well, after the baby is born.’
‘What will my friends think? What of my work with the party? Did you think about that before you…’ His voice trailed off.
‘Daddy, it’s not as if it is uncommon.’
‘Is that how you put it? It’s being common is it? That’s not how I brought up my daughter.’ He looked up. Andrew turned. Susan was standing in the doorway. David gestured in her direction. His voice rose. ‘See how you’ve upset your mother.’
Susan came into the room and sat down next to Jill. ‘David, you said you’d keep calm about this.’
‘I am keeping calm.’
‘No, you’re not. You’re raising your voice.’
‘I’ll raise my voice if I want to.’
‘David!’ Susan jumped out of the sofa. ‘Stop it!’ She pointed at Jill. ‘It’s your daughter, not some Trollope on TV.’
Jill got to her feet. David and Andrew likewise stood up.
‘Mum, Dad, please. Arguing about it won’t make it better.’ She grabbed Andrew’s arm. ‘I thought you’d react this way. That’s why we kept putting off letting you know.’ She hugged Andrew. ‘We’re going to be married.’ She confronted her father. ‘I was hoping you’d want to walk me down the aisle.’
David looked at the three of them before turning away. He made towards the door to the hall.
‘David! She’s your daughter, for Christ’s sake.’
He turned and glared at them. Andrew could see the hurt and anger in his eyes.
‘Not anymore.’ He slammed the door.
‘Oh dear, oh dear.’ Susan was in tears. Jill was digging her fingers into his arms. What a bloody mess.
* * *
Ahmed hooted the horn. The driver in front v-signed him back. Ahmed leaned out the window. ‘Get a fucking move on, yah garden tool.’ He honked again. The car edged forward before picking up speed. Ahmed followed behind.
They came to a red light. The car in front stopped. Ahmed pulled up behind. He turned to his passenger. ‘It’s getting bloody worse every day, yah know? Idiots at the wheel everywhere.’
‘I know what you mean. That’s why I don’t drive.’
‘Yah don’t?’ Ahmed shrugged his shoulders.
The lights turned. The queue moved on. But movement was slow. Ahmed honked.
They got stuck at the next lights. Ahmed swivelled to be able to see his passenger. ‘Sorry ‘bout the progress, mate.’
‘It isn’t your fault.’
‘Yeah, but I’d like to get yah to your destination, double quick-like.’
‘I’m sure you’re doing your best.’
The car in front of him revved its engine. Ahmed turned back to see it move forward as the light had gone green. Ahmed managed to get his car through just as it turned amber.
On the other side of the lights, the traffic now moved faster. Ahmed had to concentrate as cars tried to cut across in front of him.
There was another light ahead. As he raced towards it, following the cars in front, the lights started changing. The car in front of him accelerated to get through—but the light was now red. Ahmed braked and stopped.
Ahmed watched as the other car raced across the intersection. Then, as he watched in horror, the lights jumper ploughed into a car coming from the side street. The speeding car was flung into the air and did a leap over the other car before crashing down to the ground again. Ahmed heard the crunch it made as it hit even insulated inside his Prius. Panels and tires from the wrecked car flew off in every direction.
Ahmed put on his warning lights, unbelted, opened the door and got out.
He waved at his passenger. ‘Bit of a problem, see.’
He rushed over to the wrecked car. When he got to the crash he noticed a strong smell of diesel. He looked at the wreck. The smashed car had a puddle that, as Ahmed watched, grew larger. He went to the driver’s side. The driver’s window had been smashed. He looked in. The airbags had inflated. Ahmed reached in. The driver did not respond when Ahmed shook him.
Someone ran up to Ahmed. ‘You shouldn’t move him in case he’s suffered an injury.’
Ahmed gestured towards the puddle. ‘The fucking tank’s ruptured. This could go up in flames any second.’ He pulled open the door. ‘Ere, give us an ‘and with ‘im.’
Ahmed reached over the driver for the release for the seatbelt. But he struggled to get it to work. Then it clicked open. He pulled the man sideways and disentangled him from the belt.
His helper grabbed the man under the arms and yanked him out.
Between the two of them they got the man to the side of the road.
Depositing the injured driver Ahmed was able to pay attention to what else was happening. Spectators had gathered. Some were going up close to use their phones to take pictures.
Ahmed left the casualty and walked over to the photographers. ‘Get back. The car could go up in flames any minute.’
‘Yah kiddin’ right?’
There was a whoosh. The car burst into flames. People backed off.
‘I was friggin’ right.’
In the distance Ahmed heard a siren.