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‘You won’t be late, will you?’  Ellie’s rinsing dishes so she can’t see Ben, who leans his head, for the briefest of moments, against the side of the fridge.

It will be their first scan and Ben is caught up in swirling clouds. He doesn’t want a baby, doesn’t want to be with Ellie, doesn’t want any of this new life he’s being pushed into having. But it’s probably too late. It is too late.


‘No. I won’t be late. I’ll be there.’ He’s convincing himself as much as anything. Then he makes his escape, off to teach a whole bunch of kids who would rather be somewhere else too.

The scan. The light and the dark of it. The gathering nimbus.

That same afternoon Ben sits in his classroom once the Year Twelves have swept out and stares at his hands. They make him feel sick but he keeps on staring at them because they’re him, and that’s some kind of anchor, maybe. Other men celebrate – with whisky.

In the waiting room Ellie had complained about him not seeming excited enough. He’d held her hand and squeezed it. What else could he do?  They’d disagreed about whether to find out the baby’s sex or not. He’d pissed her off by backing down and saying, ‘Whatever.’

And now he is back at work, staring at his hands, while she is being comforted by somebody else. Nothing is right but none of it matters now. None of it.

He’s vaguely aware of background yelling. The door flies open and Ash Whelan is there, wild-eyed.

‘Mr Vickers, there’s a fight. James and Troy. Again.’

Ben stares at his hands. ‘Okay.’

The boy looks at him, really looks at him, and Ben realises it’s the first time he’s made eye contact with anyone for days, weeks even. He pulls himself up and follows.

Later, trying to sleep, it churns through his mind. That growing silence when Ellie asked the young radiographer if something was wrong. The woman kept her eyes on the screen and kept clicking the mouse. ‘Ah, I’ll be back in a moment.’ She sidled out.

Ben tried not to look at the screen, the baby, or at Ellie, or at the clock. He just stared at a light socket while they waited.

Another room. It was all a tornado then. Worst case scenarios flying. Ellie, a thunderstorm of emotion.

He’d watched the specialist’s mouth move, the wetting of the lips, noticed how heavy the sky was in the world outside the window. ‘. . . like a zip left undone . . . further tests . . . amniocentesis, a needle through the mother’s stomach . . . some risk . . . the baby may require immediate surgery after birth
. . . paralysis . . . other doctors . . . choices . . . failed to join together . . . different forms of spina bifida . . . no right or wrong feelings . . . need to know more.’

Ellie lies on her side. Foetal position. Awake.

All he can do, and it takes all he has, is to take his hand and lay it on her arm. Hold on. Be a man.

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