My Bundle Of Joy: Part Thirty-Six

This is the thirty-sixth part of a fiction serial, in 800 words.

Anyway, Richard. I should really move my story on. I can’t expect you to sit through endless hours covering each year, all sounding much the same.

Some things got better, others worse. I got help from my parents to go out occasionally, even if it was only to a couple of socials with the women from Unicorns. I stopped going to them after that, as the only thing anyone ever talked about was their kids, and the varying levels of disability. But mum and dad came over to look after Leah while I went out, and they didn’t complain about having to watch her like a hawk now she was moving around.

The older, fully mobile Leah reminded me of robots in old films. She moved wih determination, at a slow pace, and if turned around, she carried on moving in the other direction. Luckily, she didn’t develop the deductive powers to manage to step over any of the gates barring her way, and when her legs encountered them, she just stopped where she was. I had to reduce her food intake too. She wasn’t running around and playing like other kids of her age, so started to get decidedly chubby.

As soon as she was old enough, I enquired about one of the local Council daycare centres. Someone came to assess her, and he told me she was going to be listed as ‘None to low ability’ and would need one of the centres where constant attention was possible. That meant a waiting list, and I went on it. Or to be accurate, Leah went on it. One thing in my favour was that I could take her, and didn’t need what he called ‘special transport’. And she didn’t need a wheelchair, so that apparently helped speed things up.

Although I couldn’t contemplate going back to work full-time, I started to imagine a part-time job I could do while Leah was at a day centre. I realised I didn’t care what it was, I would happily stack shelves in a supermarket, if it got me out of the house, and talking to other adults. When the letter came from the Council, I had to sit down. It was going to be at least a year before a place became available. That took the wind right out of my sails.

Zoe came to the rescue to some degree, by organising day trips for us to go on with our kids. That could be anything from a visit to a child-friendly farm, to a trip to the local swimming pool, with a reserved time slot. They had to be paid for, to cover the costs of the minibus and driver, but I signed up for every one of them, anything to get out of the house, and to be somewhere different. Leah took no notice of the farm animals, or the rabbits and guinea pigs provided for the kids to stroke. She stood in the shallow end of the swimming pool refusing to move, and on a day trip to the coast, she kept walking into the sea. I couldn’t relax for a second.

But I did it all. I took photos. I made memories.

My next purchase was a set of child reins, specially made for her size. Zoe got me the name of the company, advising me that I would need bigger and stronger versions as Leah grew. But I had to have them, or else be constantly standing in front of her and turning her around. I spoke to Olly about getting the bathroom converted to a wet room. He didn’t mention his child with Lauren, and neither did I. But he agreed to organise things, and sent a company in to do the work by the end of the following month. At least I no longer had to try and get her in and out of a bath.

Then I got approval for the day centre. One morning a week, from nine until one-thirty in the afternoon as a ‘trial’. I told them not to bother, though I later regretted that. Four and a half hours on my own would have been better than nothing.

One good thing about her having to wear nappies still was that when her periods started, I didn’t have to worry about those. I cried that night though, thinking she should have been in her second year of secondary school by now. Admiring pop stars, looking at boys, listening to music, and talking to other girls about periods, and embarrassing parents.

Instead she was munching Jaffa Cakes like an automaton as I fed them to her. Her only interaction with me was to let out a “Gah” because she wanted more.

And when I looked in the mirror, I saw an old woman looking back.

My Bundle Of Joy: Part Thirty-Five

This is the thirty-fifth part of a fiction serial, in 757 words.

As time went on, I had less and less contact with Olly. He didn’t seem too interested in either me or Leah, and I had no interest in his new wife, or the baby she had presumably had by then. The money kept appearing in the bank every month, so I could pay all my bills and get any shopping I needed. Dad was a huge help, and came around to do anything I needed doing, and even some things I didn’t. Even mum started to ring me on a regular basis, and never forgot to ask how Leah was.

Rosa acted as if nothing unusual had happened, which was a relief for me not to have to discuss it with her. I asked her once about her pay, to make sure Olly was still paying by standing order, and she assured me he was.

The most recent hospital visit had seen me introduced to a new specialist, an older woman named Maria. She had a vague European accent, but I really liked her direct manner. She had run through the usual tests on Leah, and when it came to summarising what to expect from my daughter, she laid it out without any sugar coating.

Leah would walk, but did not appear to have developed a grip strong enough to keep hold of anything. She was unlikely to recognise me as her mother, to say any proper words, or to respond to hugs and affection. Physically, she would develop, but inside her brain she was unlikley to progress much further than she was now. Toilet training was going to be impossible, and she would be unable to ever wash or dress herself. Although her vision and hearing appeared to be unaffected, she did not focus on objects, colours, or textures, and her main instinct, in fact her only instinct, was to eat and drink.

According to Maria, the truth was that I had a future of caring for a child who would become a teenager and then an adult woman who would need nappies for life, would never recognise a friend or relative, never learn to read, play with a toy, or want to watch a cartoon or TV programme. She could never be trusted to be left alone, and would need close constant care for as long as she lived.

Part of me wished she hadn’t survived at birth.

But I forgot that, and resolved to get on with it. At Zoe’s Unicorns group, there were plenty of women much older than me still coping, and I would use the inspiration of knowing them to get me through.

When I rang my parents to tell them Maria’s gloomy prognosis, mum wanted to talk about Ronnie. She had expected him to go back to living with them, but he hadn’t. Instead, he had a new girlfriend he had met at tenpin bowling. She was only nineteen, but they were already organising a flat to rent, so he could move out of the shared house and live with her. I tried to sound positive about that, based on the fact that she was younger, and had made Ronnie forget about Lauren.

Mum only wanted to talk about how much she was disappointed in my brother.

Sitting at home one night watching Leah sat on her play mat staring into space, I reflected on the fact that I had no real friends. After leaving school to go to university, I had lost a couple of close schoolfriends who started to move in very different social circles to me. And although I made two very dear friends at university, the problem was that people came from all over to go there. Pauline Lam was from Hong Kong, and we were very close. But when she graduated, she got a job in California, and went off to live in America. Janet Deakin was my other close friend, but she returned to the north of Scotland, and I never saw her again.

There were work colleagues I thought of as friends, but they weren’t really. We went out for a pizza or a Mexican meal on their birthdays, and everyone dressed up and got drunk at the Christmas party. But they all had family and friends outside of work, and busy social lives that were never going to include me. That’s probably why I latched on to Olly so fast. He was all I had, at least I thought he was. I thought he was steady, loving, and reliable too.

Well I got that wrong.

My Bundle Of Joy: Part Thirty-Four

This is the thirty-fourth part of a fiction serial, in 812 words.

No doubt Olly thought the news of Lauren being pregnant would shock me, but I felt strangely calm. If he expected rage or argument, he didn’t get any. And if he expected congratulations of some sort, he didn’t get those either. It wasn’t until I was closing the door that he turned and hit me with some news that did shock me, though I was proud of myself for not showing it.

“And we are going to get married. Nothing fancy, just the local Registry Office with a couple of witnesses. I wanted to let you know that this won’t affect any of the financial agreements I have signed”.

I just nodded, and closed the door as he walked away. The man who saw no point in marrying me was now happy to get married to someone he hardly knew. What did that say about me? He hadn’t even thought it worth us getting married when I was pregnant, though the minute Lauren missed a period and tested positive for a baby, he was marrying her. I wasn’t upset or tearful, just bloody furious.

Different ways of dealing with the situation crossed my mind, and I settled on choosing to ignore it, and to live life for myself and Leah. Olly could just piss off and make his mistakes, as far as I was concerned.

A phone call to my dad was first. Asking him to source some cupboard door locks, and something for the oven door, washing machine, and fridge. Leah’s mobility was going to be an issue soon, and I didn’t want her to be able to get into anything that might cause her harm. He liked having a project, and said he would be round the next day to fix them on. He also suggested socket covers in case she poked a finger in one, and mentioned a gadget that would stop her lifting the toilet seat.

He had been doing his granddad homework, apparently.

The next morning before he arrived, I used the laptop to check out some of the groups that were available for parents of children with learning difficulties, or severe lifetime disabilities. The nearest one was over twenty miles north, but I liked their web page so rang and made an appointment to go to the next meeting. When dad showed up loaded with stuff, I told him about Olly and Lauren as I made him a cup of tea. He blew on his tea, then looked up at me over the steaming cup.

“Sod him. And her. Let him keep paying, and forget he ever existed. I bet he didn’t even ask for any arranged access to Leah, did he?” I had to admit he hadn’t done that, and I was rather surprised that my dad had already worked that out. Declining a chocolate biscuit I was offering, he gave me a huge smile. “If he doesn’t care about Leah, so what? We do, love”.

The self-help group was called ‘Unicorns’. A bit of a so-so name, but it looked good on the colourful sign above the premises they were using. The car park looked busy, and there were some women chatting outside when I got Leah out the car and into her buggy. The lady who ran the group was called Zoe. A big, plus-size lady with a mane of frizzy grey hair, wearing a dress like a tent, and a pair of thick cable-knit tights on her legs. She welcomed me in, and asked if I wanted to pay. Payment was voluntary, and only ten pounds if you could afford it. It was to pay for renting the large room, and using the other facilities in the building.

After handing over my ten pounds quite happily, I followed Zoe into the bright room full of soft seating, toys, and pictures on the wall. It was very noisy in there, and my first thought was that all the other kids were so much older. Some looked to be in their late teens. In the absence of a formal structure, the idea was to mingle, and chat to other parents. Though there was only one man there, and everyone else seemed to be a mum with her child. Exchanging experiences, offering advice, and telling you how to claim the necessary benefits, or who to contact for essential changes to the house or bathroom.

The two hours of the session seemed to fly by. Leah spent most of it on a play mat in front of my chair, and didn’t interact with any of the others, though many came up to investigate her, and some tried to play too. As I was leaving, I thanked Zoe, and told her I was sure to come back in two weeks for the next meeting.

Driving home, I felt elated. It wasn’t just me any longer.

My Bundle Of Joy: Part Thirty-Three

This is the thirty-third part of a fiction serial, in 810 words.

Although Leah still never acknowledged me other than for feeding, and she still couldn’t seem to grip a toy, or something edible, she did do something quite amazing a couple of weeks after the visit to my parents.

She stood up, and took a few steps before falling over.

Despite the split with Olly, I was excited enough to text him, and he was polite enough to reply that he was very pleased to hear that news. Later that afternoon, I rang his sister in Canada. I wanted to tell her about Leah’s steps, and also thought it was time we had a conversation about what had happened.

As I expected, she was very fair. She hated what Olly had done, was delighted about Leah, but at the end of it all, he was her kid brother, and she would always support him.

Leaving it that she wanted to be updated on Leah’s progress, and mentioning nothing about Lauren, we hung up as good friends. But in my heart, I had already written her off. She would become the auntie in Canada that Leah would probably never meet. That was the truth of it, and I was okay with that.

It was time for a serious reevaluation of my life. I had a daughter who was unlikely to flourish in the accepted sense, and I might well end up looking after her until I died. I was on my own, though mum and dad were now supporting me more than I could have hoped for. I had to investigate what help was available in my situation, and swallow a lot of pride I didn’t even know I had before all this happened.

Meanwhile, I had to think about Olly’s counter-offer to the buy out deal. He was sort-of alright with it, but he wanted some kind of codicil that gave him a share of the profits in the future, if I ever sold the house. I couldn’t imagine him working that out, and suspected Lauren’s involvement. After a chat with my dad, and a phone call to his legal pal, we decided to accept his changes, as long as Leah wasn’t affected down the line.

I looked around the house after that, realising I would probably have to live here until I died. That was okay with me.

The paperwork went through, with Olly signing away the house, but not any future profits. He also agreed to support Leah until the time she left full-time education. I laughed at the idea of her going to university, and completing any education by the age of twenty-one. If she even got to go to a regular school, I would probably throw a party to celebrate. The stuff about giving me any money was vague. It contained the line, ‘Necessary personal expenses’, which I guessed was something I would have to prove.

After we had both signed, I started to keep receipts for everything.

On the plus side, I now owned a house with no mortgage. Not that this meant no bills of course, but Olly had agreed to cover those, at least on paper. And I owed my parents, big time. I had to sign more papers agreeing that when they were dead, any split of money between me and Ronnie would already include what they had paid to settle Olly, so I would get less than my brother. I signed of course. To not have done so would have seemed like a slap in the face to my dad.

So far, Olly was true to his word. There was money in the bank just like before, and although I didn’t buy luxuries or waste it, I took what we both needed. It didn’t make me feel good, but I could hardly go to work, so it was what it was.

Now Leah was on the move, the gates my dad had fitted proved their worth. I soon worked out that her walking was related to food, and the kitchen was her usual target destination. Just as well she couldn’t get to what she was after, or she would have been seriously overweight. Part of me was so happy to see her moving, I didn’t really care. I actually got a lot of joy from watching her trying to get more to eat.

When everything had been signed and sealed, Olly sent me a text, and asked to come and ‘have a chat’. I had a sneaky feeling he might be trying to water down some of the financials, and that was on my mind when he decided to try to play with Leah, and gave her a lot of uncharacteristic attention. But it wasn’t that at all, as I found out as he was leaving.

“Ang, before you find out from anyone else, you should know that Lauren is pregnant. And it is mine, not Ronnie’s”.

My Bundle Of Joy: Part Thirty-Two

This is the thirty-second part of a fiction serial, in 733 words.

My mum was surprisingly sympathetic, though she didn’t try to hide her pleasure at being right about Olly. “I always knew he would turn out like this. One of those too good to be true types”. She even held Leah on her lap for a while, as dad outlined a plan that they had been discussing before I got there.

“The thing is, love. Let me put it like this. Olly might be saying all that now about paying for everything, and letting you stay on in the house. But what about later on? Who’s to say he won’t change his mind, or that Lauren won’t interfere? So, we had a thought. Your mortgage is small, so you said. I have good savings, and we have never touched your mum’s redundancy money. Why not buy Olly out? Offer him the amount left on the mortgage to give up his share. That will save him money every month, and make him more likely to pay for Leah. If you sold the house, you would have to rent, as you’re not working. And he could only morally claim one-third, as the rest should go to you and Leah”.

To be honest, I was staggered. Not by my dad, as I knew he was generous. But by the fact that my mum was going along with it, and nodding enthusiastically. Dad continued.

“Get the house in your sole name, and then Leah will eventually inherit it. Of course you will get something when we are both dead and this place is sold, but that could be in thirty years or so, and if we have to go into a home there would be nothing left. Either way, you would have to split it with Ronnie. I can get a pal of mine from The Round Table to do the legal paperwork. All Olly would have to do is sign it, then we’ll get the deeds and title amended. What do you think, love?”

There was nothing in my head to say in reply, so I stood up and cuddled and kissed my dad, then walked over and did the same with mum. I didn’t even say ‘Thank You’, just nodded and let the tears of relief roll down my face.

Mum was trying to interest Leah in some face-pulling and silly noises she was making. I never remembered her ever doing that with me, or with Ronnie. I wanted to allow myself the luxury of believing that she had finally come round to accepting her granddaughter, but I couldn’t let my guard down completely. Not yet. Then she turned around and spoke directly to me. “Angela, just because I don’t say it all the time, or make a silly fuss of you, it doesn’t mean that I don’t love you and Leah with all my heart”.

That was it. The dam broke, and I sobbed uncontrollably. My dad was holding me awkwardly, probably wondering if I was going to have a breakdown.

Dad told me not to say anything to Olly. “Let him get the legal papers first. He’s bound to contact you, then you can tell him you think it’s the right thing to do. If he says no, we can tie him up in all kinds of legal shit that will haunt him forever. Believe me love, I am not about to let him get away with so much as a penny, if I have to make it my life’s work. Well, the rest of my life’s work, to be accurate”.

That afternoon, I learned a lot about what it means to be a parent. And I never forgot it.

Back at the house after dark, it felt strange to see Olly’s keys on the doormat, and to know that he wouldn’t be coming home later. Or ever again. The big TV was gone, and though I presumed Lauren had a telly, and he probably didn’t need it, I couldn’t have cared less. The third bedroom looked strangely empty. The desk, computer, and printer had all gone, and the two bookcases were almost empty. Save for the few books I owned that he had left behind. I started to think about using it as a dressing room. Get some hanging rails in there, free up space in the bedroom.

That felt good inside. I was moving on, and quicker than I had thought possible.

My Bundle Of Joy: Part Thirty-One

This is the thirty-first episode of a fiction serial, in 828 words.

To give Olly credit, when he turned up after work that evening, he rang the doorbell. Leah was sleeping upstairs in her cot, and I asked him to speak quietly. He didn’t try to offer me any lame excuses, or contrived reasons for his infidelity. And he didn’t blame me for any of it, or Leah. He took the responsibility, and stood up like a man. Shame he hadn’t done that about the problems with Leah, but it made life easier that evening.

Allowing him to speak without interruption, I let him outline what he had been thinking about since finding that note stuck to a suitcase.

“Apologies are not enough, I know. I won’t go into detail, but this thing between me and Lauren is more than just an opportunistic affair. We both felt a connection that night when she came round with Ronnie, and when she acted on that, I went along willingly. Naturally, I will continue to pay for everything, and there will always be money in the account for anything you need. As for me seeing Leah, that’s up to you, but I will help anytime you need me. You have the car, and I will also keep paying Rosa so you don’t have to worry about housework when you are dealing with Leah. Long term, things will have to change, I know you realise that, but for now, I don’t want you to worry about anything”.

For some reason, I had small things on my mind. Like who mows the lawn when the grass grows. But I put them aside and instead talked about lawyers. That stunned him, but not being married carried some complications. Both our names were on the house, and the small mortgage, though the car was registered in his name, something easily solved. After the betrayal, I had lost all trust in him, so I wanted something formalised, an amount he had to pay every month for Leah. He was on the birth certificate as her father, so could not escape that responsibility. And what if anything happened to me? How could I trust him to care for her properly?

He thought it over, and his reply made me think twice about what I had said.

“We can do that if you want, Ang. But as I understand it, you would be a lot worse off. They would only make me pay each month for Leah, and that wouldn’t include you at all. You would be left to claim some kind of carer’s allowance, or consider going back to work and paying a child-minder. Getting one of those who can cope with Leah’s issues might not even be possible. With my suggestion, your life can carry on more or less as normal. The house doesn’t have to be sold at this stage, and there will be money for you for clothes and things for yourself, as well as for Leah. But if you go down the legal route, you will open up a can of worms, believe me. I am certain to get the next promotion at work, so finances are not going to be an issue for the foreseeable future”.

Olly had done his research, in a remarkably short time. Typical of him.

It made sense to accept his arrangement for now. I certainly couldn’t consider going back to work, and I needed to find out a lot more about allowances and legal issues before jumping the gun. So I mellowed, and offered him the TV, as I now hardly ever watched it. I also said he should take the Apple computer, as I was happy with the Dell laptop. Then there was the matter of the rest of his clothes and shoes. Not to mention the huge number of books he had around the house, and his football memorabilia stored in the loft. He had thought about that too.

“I have rented a storage unit in that new place near the supermarket, Big Yellow Storage. When it suits you, I will hire a van and come and collect everything. I thought it might be nice if you were out, maybe visiting your parents. So any weekend soon would suit me, if that works for you. I will lock up and put my keys through the lettebox when I have finished. I don’t think it’s fair for me to keep them”.

Neither of us were upset, and that seemed strange. I said I would go and see my mum and dad on Saturday, and he could get in after nine, and do what he needed. That seemed to be the end of the conversation, and he stood up ready to leave, making no attempt to hug or kiss me, which was a relief.

With no sound of a taxi, I suspected that Lauren had brought him by car, and parked out of sight.

Then at least an hour went by until I realised he hadn’t asked to see Leah.

My Bundle Of Joy: Part Thirty

This is the thirtieth part of a fiction serial, in 767 words.

When one suitcase was full, I ran out of steam, and just stuffed a load of underwear and socks into a holdall. Lugging them downstairs, I placed them strategically in the hallway, and left the inside light on. Then I wrote a note on some printer paper and sellotaped it to the front of the case.
‘Ronnie told me about you and Lauren. You had better go. I’m too tired now, but we can sort things out tomorrow’.

Back upstairs I was feeling drained, but unsure if I would sleep. Too many things to consider after the shock had worn off. Mainly the financial side, like how much Olly would have to pay for keeping us both, and whether he could afford that as well as contributing to living with Lauren, or renting another place to stay. Then telling my parents, if Ronnie hadn’t already done that. Then I also had to think about the truth that I wasn’t even that upset. And I sat in bed wondering if I had ever even loved Olly.

The sound of the key in the door tensed me up. I really didn’t want a huge argument that late, and when I was feeling very fragile. The door closed, and I heard Olly’s voice on his phone, speaking softly. Ten minutes later, the sound of a diesel engine stopping outside, presumably a taxi. Then the door closed again.

Leah might sleep for a good few hours without needing a feed. I decided to get some rest myself, and drifted off surpisingly easily.

There was no early phone call from Olly the next morning. I was feeling surprisingly fresh and positive, considering that the man I thought would be my life-partner had betrayed me. I resolved to do some things, and wrote them down in the back of an old diary.

1) Olly would pay through the nose, whatever it took.
2) Unless Leah improved, I would not be able to go back to work. I had to investgate what I could live on.
3) I was going to have to manage without Rosa, unless Olly carried on paying her.
4) I needed some support to deal with the mental impact of Leah’s development issues.
5) I would have to locate and join some kind of group that offered that help.
6) I would get my hair done and a few beauty treatments, while I still had access to the money to pay for them.
7) Olly wasn’t going to get the car. I needed that.
8) I would not blame Ronnie for telling me, and would try to make up with him.
9) I would not expect any help from my mum, whatever happened.
10) I would ask my dad to come over with his tools to fit the stair gates and door guards.

I started with number ten, ringing my dad. He seemed friendly, and appeared not to be aware of anything. My guess was that Ronnie hadn’t blabbed. I decided I would tell dad when he came over later that afternoon to do those jobs for me. Then I sorted Leah out, put her in a play pen, and had a shower. Before dad arrived, I got Leah ready and went to the supermarket to stock up on all sorts of stuff. Then I drew out two hundred from the cashpoint in case there was any stop on the account. That was probably an unfounded fear, but you never know. With that in mind, I also filled the car to the brim with petrol.

My dad arrived on time, and tried to play with Leah as I made him a cup of tea. When he was sat quietly with the tea in his hand, I told him what had happened. He was very calm about it, sitting shaking his head. “Lauren? He’s gone off with her? I never thought she would do something like that. You know, break up a family. Mind you, your mum never liked her, not one bit. To tell the truth, she never cared much for Olly either, love.”

It was clear to me that mum didn’t really like anyone that much, even her own husband and children. I said that to dad, and he nodded and laughed. Then he got up and started to fix the gates across the stairs, top and bottom, then fixed another one across the kitchen door from the hallway. He had been and bought that one on the way, knowing I only had the ones for the stairs. As I watched him working, he looked up and winked at me.

“You’ll be alright, love. I will make sure of that”.

My Bundle Of Joy: Part Twenty-Nine

This is the twenty-ninth part of a fiction serial, in 770 words.

Ronnie had a new phone, one of those bigger ones people had started to get. I still had a tiny phone, from the days when the whole idea of having a mobile phone was to have the smallest one possible. Then it didn’t get in the way, and you could carry it around on you in any pocket, or in a compartment in your bag. He was grinning like a weirdo, and nodding as if he was agreeing with a conversation in his head.

“Olly working late more often recently? Coming home long after you’re in bed, not home for dinner, that kind of thing?” My relationship had nothing to do with my younger brother, and I wasn’t prepared to get into a debate about Olly. I told him to keep his voice down, because of Leah. He sat down, his left knee jerking up and down like a rock drummer playing at a concert. I hadn’t offered him anything, and I had no intention of doing so.

Holding the phone, he pressed some buttons, and handed it over to me. “Just press the right-hand arrow button for the next picture”. So it had a camera on it, I had heard about those. The screen was small, but the image very clear. It was a house on a new estate somewhere. Not at night, but probably early evening, as some of the houses nearby had outside lights on already. The photo was obviously taken through the windscreen of a car. I shrugged, and Ronnie leaned forward, his voice lowered as I had asked.

“See the next one”. It was a taxi, stopped outside the house. Ronnie hurried me up.
“And the next”. A man standing next to the taxi window, handing over money for the fare. Well not ‘a man’. Olly.
“Keep going, it gets better”. He was almost laughing now.
A woman on the path, smiling. The door left open behind her. Not just ‘a woman’, Lauren.
I carried on with no further prompting.
A kiss on the path.
His arm around her as they walked in.
The door closing.
All the while, Ronnie supplied a commentary. “He got there before six, so much for working late, I reckon he left early. He stayed there until after half-ten, when another taxi turned up outside and he came out and got in it. I haven’t got photos of that, it was too dark. But I know you will realise I’m telling the truth, because I can see it in your face”.

I hadn’t said anything. I just felt numb. Ronnie was clearly disappointed that I hadn’t collapsed in floods of tears, or jumped up and started screaming with rage. He no longer looked triumphant. If anything, he seemed deflated.

“She must have contacted him through his company. She asked where he worked when you were upstairs with the baby. After him slagging me off to her, she must have thought he was a better prospect. Maybe she rang him to ask more advice, anything to get an opening to suggest a meet. This wasn’t the first time either. I know, I’ve been watching her. He’s there now, if you must know. I even use a hire car so she doesn’t recognise my one”.

Looking across at my brother, I could see that the split with lauren had changed him. He looked older, unkempt, and like a different person. I had a mental picture of him spending some of his savings on rental cars so he could mount some kind of surveillance operation on Lauren’s house until he discovered what she was up to. Then I could imagine his sheer delight to discover that it was Olly she was seeing. How he would relish his revenge, rehearse this visit to me once his suspicions were confirmed.

Would he be thinking of violence perhaps? Beating Olly up as he exited Lauren’s small house? That seemed unlikely. He was completely thrown by my lack of reaction. “Did you already know, or are you just not bothered? You’re left here trying to cope with Leah, and he’s pretending to work late and having it off with my girlfriend”. I was pleased he had called her Leah for once, and not ‘the baby’. But I felt the need to mention that Lauren was no longer his girlfriend, and hadn’t been since the night they left here after drinks.

Shaking his head in frustration, he got up. “Well now you know at least. He can’t fool you any longer”. Then he left.

I went up and opened the wardrobe, wondering which of Olly’s clothes I should pack first.

My Bundle Of Joy: Part Twenty-Eight

This is the twenty-eighth part of a fiction serial, in 825 words.

There was too much else to worry about for me to bother over Olly working late. After all, there was only his salary coming in now, so it was more important than ever for him to keep his job, and do well. We still had a substantial savings buffer with the profit from the flat sale, but that wouldn’t last long if we were both not working.

Polly was there at the next appointment, and did a few of the usual tests. She didn’t seem to be excited as I had wanted her to be about Leah crawling, and of course when we put her down that morning, she didn’t crawl an inch. I was left wondering whether or not anyone believed me. Nobody else had seen her crawl, and I hadn’t had the presence of mind to use Olly’s video camera to record the moment. When I had finished babbling on about standing and crawling, she told me what to expect next.

“Not walking isn’t an issue, Angela. many babies don’t do that for a while after they turn one. But Leah should be standing all the time now. Holding onto things for support, and at least trying to walk. She should also be able to grip small objects, and throw them or drop them deliberately. There should be at least three recognisable words by now, hopefully more. I know you are talking to her and involving her, but her only reaction to anything is that Gah sound she makes. Leah’s height and weight are both good, in fact she is a little heavy, but we won’t wory about that. I think we should see her again at eighteen months. Meanwhile, you should schedule her vaccinations”.

That was it? No brain scan? No specialist treatment or intervention? Had they already given up on my little girl?

All questions I should have been asking Polly. For some reason, all I did was nod.

In the car outside, I was furious with myself for not asking her fifty things. Why did I just tolerate this? Why didn’t I stand up to them? I seemed able to ask myself so many questions about what might be my own failures as a mother, then allow myself to be intimidated by the hospital environment, and the qualifications of someone I hardly knew. So I rang Polly on my mobile, without starting the car. I asked her the three big questions I had thought of, and she gave me a completely pat answer. “All in good time. We will get to that, I promise you”. I said thank you, and hung up.

Then as I was driving home, I slammed my fists against the steering wheel, angry at myself. I actually said thank you. How pathetic was that?

At just after five, Olly rang to say he was meeting an author later, and I shouldn’t cook anything for him. Just as well I hadn’t started dinner, though I couldn’t be bothered to argue. It was at least twice a week that he came home very late now, and he always had excuses about publishing deadlines, meetings with book printers, or agents. I guessed it must be hectic, because he had even stopped watching his beloved football, and didn’t even bother to record the matches so he could watch them later when I had gone to bed.

When he didn’t ask how it had gone at the hospital, I tore him off a strip for not remembering, or remembering but not caring. He stayed quiet as I ranted for a few minutes, then quietly said. “Ang, you are on speaker”. Then he hung up. I felt like shit for doing that. Blaming myself again, and not him.

Microwaving a lasagna was an easy option for dinner. And after trying to get Leah interested in a picture book story for ten minutes, I gave up and took her for her bath. I had not long settled her, when the doorbell rang just before nine. I should have been more wary of late callers, but I had so few visitors, I opened the door without hesitation. It was my brother, Ronnie.

He hadn’t spoken to me since that night we had drinks, and that had been a few weeks now. I had been leaving it, expecting him to come around eventually, and also not being that bothered whether he did or not. Since having Leah, she had come first in everything, and that included my brother.

He walked past me, and sat down. Though he was shabbily dressed, and looked like he could do with a bath and a shave, his eyes were bright and alert, and his face had a strange look on it. My brain searched for the word to descibe it, and came up with ‘Triumph’. Pointing at the sofa, he gestured that I should sit down, then confirmed that verbally.

“You should have a seat, Angie, I have something to show you”.

My Bundle Of Joy: Part Twenty-Seven

This is the twenty-seventh part of a fiction serial, in 752 words.

Rosa came and did the housework the next day, leaving me feeling increasingly guilty about watching someone do that when I was fit and well. I had been going to mention to Olly that it might be time to tell her we didn’t need her, but to be honest I enjoyed having her around. And I also knew she needed the money.

The next few weeks seemed to fly by, making me realise that I now had a routine in place, and that Leah not being active made my life a lot easier than it was for most young mums. Her one year appointment was looming, as well as her first birthday before that. I phoned mum and suggested a small party might be in order. She told me that dad hadn’t been feeling well, and he should probably rest and not get excited. That was the first I had heard of it.

It was settled that I would buy her a birthday cake and mum would give me the money, as well as a shop voucher for anything I wanted to buy her granddaughter. Ronnie had moved out as he had threatened to do, and was sharing a house with two strangers after answering a newspaper advert. He still wasn’t speaking to me, and rarely to mum either. She blamed me of course, saying we had pushed it too far.

On the day, poor Leah only got three cards in the post, and one of those was from Polly at the hospital. The other two were from my mum and dad, and Olly’s sister in Canada. Olly and I hadn’t even bought her many presents, as there seemed to be no point buying toys for a child who didn’t play with them or even interact with us if we tried to play. I had bought her a supermarket cake, and was waiting until Olly got home to light the single candle. Then he rang to say he had to work late. Publishing deadlines, and blah blah blah. I had already tuned out, and just hung up without saying goodbye.

Leaving Leah on her play mat, I nipped into the kitchen to get the cake and light the candle. When I came back into the room singing ‘Happy Birthday to you’, she wasn’t there.

I almost dropped the cake in shock, just managing to get it onto the coffee table before it slid off the plate. That same moment I got a clue, hearing a “Gah” from behind one of the sofas. I looked over the back of it, and was amazed to see her crawling. A crawl of sorts, anyway. Supported more on her elbows than her hands, she was making her way towards the window like a soldier crawling to avoid detection from the enemy. I watched her a little longer, entralled by the activity. She was dragging her legs behind her, and making slow progress. But she was definitely moving.

Deciding not to get too excited, I picked her up and faced her the other way. Off she went again, heading back to the play mat. I broke off a piece of cake, not even bothering to cut it, and blew out the candle as I turned to offer it to her. I was willing her to reach out and take it. Whether she actually noticed it was food, or was attracted by the smell of it, she stopped crawling. I put a tiny piece into her mouth, and she ate it immediately, saying another “Gah”. But when I moved the rest of it in the direction of her hand, she made no attempt to hold it.

So I sat on the floor and fed it to her. No need to be disappointed. She had made huge progress. I wanted to tell the world. But Polly was on ‘leave a message’, and my mum sounded completely uninterested. The best she could manage was a negative. “Well if she’s crawling around now, you are going to have to fit those stair gates and get one across the kitchen door too”. So even though it was still early for her over there, I rang Olly’s sister in Canada. At least she squealed with delight, so I had someone to squeal with.

I always thought that squealing alone was rather too strange a thing to do.

By ten that night, Olly still wasn’t home. I left his dinner stone cold on a plate on the dining table and went to bed.