by John Boyne
I’m waiting for her at home; I’m always waiting for her. She comes through the door just as I’m putting the place mats on the table, setting the knife and fork down beside them, moving the salt and pepper to the centre and then changing my mind, putting them closer to her side so that she can reach them without having to ask. I smile when I see her, I cometowards her, I kiss her, I place a hand against her stomach for a moment but she pulls away sharply. Don’t. She’s starting to show at last. Every day my ties to her grow stronger and every day I know that I’m losing her a little bit more. She didn’t think I was anything special when we met, I know that. But now she’s stuck with me. She’s settled. For now. ‘Just in time,’ I say. ‘Just in time forwhat?’ she asks, taking her jacket off and throwing it on a chair. I go over and pick it up; I bought a coat-stand over the weekend and set it up in the hallway and that’s where items like this belong in a home. She hasn’t mentioned it. ‘Just in time for dinner,’ I tell her. ‘It’s nothing special, I’m afraid.’ The smell coming through to the living room from the kitchen makes a liar of meimmediately. I’ve been chopping vegetables and reducing tomatoes for most of the afternoon. I know the types of food she likes – nothing spicy, nothing pretentious – but she’s been having mood swings lately, cravings. It’s hard to know what to cook for her. ‘Busy day?’ I ask her and she shrugs. ‘They’re driving me crazy,’ she says, or mutters to the room anyway as she’s not looking in my direction. ‘Whoare?’ ‘Those bloody students. I worked my way around the class today, asking each one what they were reading and they looked at me as if I wanted them to list the security council members of the United Nations. I don’t understand them. They want to be writers but not one of them ever picks up a book. Does that make any sense to you?’ I shrug. She can see I’m thinking of something to say but then Idon’t read much either and she won’t like it if I defend them. It’s best just to change the subject. ‘How are you?’ I ask her. ‘How are you feeling?’
‘Fine,’ she says, turning away from me. ‘Better than I was this morning anyway.’ She was sick this morning; nauseous and noisy. That’s normal, they say. I’ve started reading the books so I know something about it. I tried to hold her hairwhile she threw up in the toilet but she pulled away from me and told me to get out and close the door, to just leave her alone. If she wasn’t pregnant she wouldn’t be with me, I know that. But she is. It has no future, I know that too. She’ll leave me soon. When she feels more confident about being alone. But not yet. ‘Did you take anything?’ She shakes her head. ‘I ate some dry biscuits in myoffice between classes but they made me feel worse. I don’t know why people say they’re good for you.’ ‘They settle your stomach,’ I tell her. ‘It’s something to do with the starches, I think.’ ‘How would you know? Have you ever been pregnant?’ No, but I’ve developed an interest in the chemistry of biology. I wonder whether her sudden mood changes have anything to do with the way the blood trafficsthrough her system. Or whether it’s a hormonal matter inflicted by the life within. And I’d like to know why I feel so alive when she’s standing near me, despite the lack of love in her eyes. This has no future, I know that, but I’m clinging on. It aches to be around her. As we eat dinner I tell her about Pete’s phone call. ‘I don’t have to go,’ I tell her. ‘I could stay in if you’d prefer it. Wecould rent a movie.’ She shrugs. ‘I’m probably going to have a bath and an early night anyway,’ she says. ‘I wouldn’t be very good company.’ ‘I don’t like leaving you on your own.’ ‘Why not?’ she asks, looking up with genuine wonder on her face. ‘In case…’ I think about it. I say those two words without knowing how the sentence will progress. ‘In case you need me,’ I say finally. She stares at me....