Now this is something you don’t see every day: someone blogging about their own funeral. It’s not everyone’s favourite topic of conversation. But I’ve spent the last few days giving it serious consideration. Yes, I know it sounds rather morbid and perhaps a bit self-indulgent, but I’m just being realistic.
After all, at my age of seventy-one, I’m (statistically, anyway) probably in my final decade, so intimations of mortality, increasingly, are never far away. And no, I’m not being depressive either. I probably wouldn’t have thought so a decade ago, when I had the psychological comfort of being no older than getting-on-for-late-middle age, but now there’s no avoiding it: I’m old.
And old people die, at some point. But I find myself contemplating the situation with equanimity, really.
Which isn’t to say that I’m easy with the notion of perhaps not being around for many more years. I don’t want to cease to exist (and I don’t believe in an afterlife) and life at the moment is reasonably fulfilling, enjoyable, contented and, importantly, not yet seriously plagued by ill health. The way I feel at the moment, I’d love to live for at least another decade, if not more.
But when the other day I had a letter from my car insurers suggesting that I might like to consider – belatedly – taking out life insurance, and that the insured sum might alternatively be used to pay for a funeral, I thought, ‘Yes, why not?’ Up to now I’ve made no practical provision for that, telling myself that, as a house-owner, there’d be plenty of money in my ‘estate’ to look after it. That’s true, except for the inconvenient detail that my Welsh cottage would first have to be sold in order to release the capital and, obviously, a funeral firm wouldn’t be prepared to wait around too long for that to happen. So my next of kin would have to find the money upfront until then.
And that’s not something I expect them to do. No, the onus is on me to pay for my own funeral, and put in place financial arrangements now.
I hadn’t realised (because hitherto I’d always avoided the unwelcome subject) that there are funeral plans you can buy well in advance (hopefully) of the need for one arising. It seems that these largely, if not entirely, cover the cost, whenever it happens, even allowing for future inflation. You can either put down a single large lump sum – which is best but which I can’t afford – or pay in instalments, or as previously mentioned, buy an insurance policy, paying premiums for it until either your demise or the grand old age of ninety, whichever comes the sooner.
So I’m going to buy one of these schemes, simply so that son Simon and daughter Sarah don’t have the difficulty of trying to find a fairly considerable amount of cash themselves before the money in my estate becomes available, when the time comes – preferably still many years down the road.
And thinking thus led me on to contemplating the funeral itself. My offspring know that I’m an atheist and would not like the pretence of a meaningless, superficial, nominally religious-just-for-the-sake-of-convention-or appearances Christian rite. I would want something Humanist, which had particular meaning and related specifically to me. Which is fine, except that, like all non-religious funerals, it would have to be an entirely DIY job because, obviously, there are no established rites or conventions to follow.
But that would mean putting another heavy onus onto Simon and Sarah. They might struggle to cobble together a fitting sort of ceremony. So I’ve done it for them. I’ve spent most of this week researching the sort of form a Humanist funeral might take (although there are no fixed precedents to follow at all; you can do whatever you want, which is another thing I like about them). It’s a matter of choosing appropriate music and readings that were particularly dear to the deceased, with possibly one or two nice things/remembrances contributed by family or friends.
And now it’s all done; I’ve devised my own funeral.
I didn’t find it melancholy or depressing at all – indeed I quite enjoyed it, in a curious sort of way. This is what I’ve come up with:
For introductory music as people file into the chapel at the crematorium (yes, I want cremation) I’ve chosen a favourite piece of classical music: the first movement, the adagio, of Edward Elgar’s achingly elegiac cello concerto. The cello, with its sonorous, melancholic, mahogany sound is just about my favourite musical instrument.
Then a few words of welcome from the Humanist (or non-religious, anyway) officiant.
Then the reading of a rather nice prose poem entitled A Life That Matters. I found it suggested for a non-religious funeral service online. It’s about living a good and worthwhile life with more important considerations than becoming rich or in any way conventionally successful and expresses my feelings on the matter to a tee.
Then a reading from my all-time favourite writer, Dylan Thomas, of my all-time favourite piece of prose: Under Milk Wood. Just part of the first wonderfully evocative introductory bit. Well, there has to be some Welsh content in my little ceremony, as I’ve lived here for nearly twenty-five years so far.
Then any tributes, eulogies or whatever that people might be inspired to offer.
Then, being a little narcissistic, a short extract, just the last couple of pages, from my novel The One of Us, which is a bit poignant and talks about death not being absolute or final (although not involving a supernatural afterlife), in a way.
Then a period of reflection with a hauntingly beautiful song by my all-time favourite rock band (well, a folksy sort of rock really), Runrig, from Scotland. Some of their songs are sung in Gaelic, including this one, entitled I See Winter in English, which, like the Elgar, sounds exquisitely elegiac. It’s actually a song of love and loss and regret, and is absolutely gorgeous. I love it. It would be ideal reflective-mood music. And, being sung in Gaelic, it would serve as ‘background’ to meditation without impinging on it.
Listen to it and see a nice video here.
Then the committal, where my cheap coffin (I don’t want anything fancy as it’ll only get burned) is sent on its final journey and the curtains are closed. This to be done either in silence or possibly with a brief reprise of the Elgar.
Then a few closing words from the officiant followed by a final piece of music: Imagine, sung not by John Lennon but, in her lovely spine-tingling voice, by another life-long favourite going back to 1960s student days, the beautiful Joan Baez. Because it would seem better to finish on an anthemic, uplifting, idealistic (because I was) high than a tone of sorrow.
And that would be it; job done.
Well, not quite. Rather than my ashes be left, forgotten, never visited at the wonderfully-situated crematorium in the wild magnificent country north of Aberystwyth, I’d like Simon, as he’s an enthusiastic outdoors person who loves hills and mountains (he got it from me, to some extent, from holidays together years ago) to do me a favour.
I’d like him to take my residual atoms, after most of me has been converted into smoke and carbon dioxide in the furnace, to the top of Pumlumon Fawr mountain, the highest point in my beautiful adoptive county of Ceredigion, and scatter my ashes there; cast them to the soughing wind, let them finally dance on sunbeams, if there are any that day. (But it’ll probably rain.) It’s a lovely place to spend eternity.
Right; that’s it. All sorted. Now I can get on and enjoy my remaining years.
On a happier subject now, here is chapter six of my novel Secret Shame. Previous chapters can be found appended to previous posts. (So please go back five posts from this if you’d like to begin at the beginning).
Secret Shame 6
Derek was on Saturday duty until eight, so Julie and the children were having just a lunch-type midday meal. They’d have a proper dinner meal later, when he came home. He could have had dinner at midday in the canteen at the station, but he always said that he preferred her home cooking (after all, that was what wives were for, he always joked, sending her a mischievous grin). And although she said it herself, she agreed with him; she was pretty good at it. At least, Julie thought he was joking about the woman’s role. But even if he wasn’t, she didn’t really mind. It seemed a perfectly reasonable deal to her: Derek was the major money earner by a long mile, especially since making sergeant. She did a small mornings-only job, typing at the solicitors’, which was mainly to give her some contact with the outside world now that all the kids were at school, and a little money to spend on women’s frivolities, as Derek called them. Well, it meant he didn’t now have to give her an ‘allowance’, like some sort of daughter; she had a degree of independence. But he had the main responsibility for putting bread on the table.
And the overall money earning and house maintaining labour load was pretty evenly divided, she reckoned. She wasn’t one of those feminist types who thought that the wife should have the dignity and equality of a full time job (let alone a career) too and that therefore all home-running jobs should also be democratically shared. For one thing, that wasn’t Derek’s world view at all, quite apart from the fact that he worked pretty long hours, often with compulsory (and, because of the nature of the work, usually unexpected) overtime. There was a lot of villainy in Liverpool to keep him and his colleagues busy. And besides, she preferred it like this, having a strong, reliable, protective man in her life. It was considerably preferable to any of the alternatives. It might be a bit of an old-fashioned way of arranging things, but to hell with dignity.
She sat at the kitchen table now, considering her lot, as she’d done so many times over the last ten years, since that day in Debenhams when Stacey had gone briefly but worryingly awol and Derek had ridden into her life like some type of dashing, rescuing prince. She sighed contentedly. Yes, things were really pretty good now, thank the Holy Mother. It was a damn sight better a family situation than hers had been as a kid, Stacey’s age, with poor abandoned Mammy (although she – well, all of them, to be honest – had been better off after Da, the swine, had left, apart from the lack of money, of course), Mammy struggling to support the nine of them and keep a sane head on her tired overburdened shoulders.
Julie looked at Stacey, who was lingering at the table, gazing at nothing in particular, apparently off with the fairies. Normally she’d be up in her room by now, tarting herself up to go out and see her friends. It had become a regular Saturday afternoon thing and Stacey, give her her due, hadn’t abused her freedom and always arrived home no later than seven. But there were no signs of that happening today.
‘Not going out with Grace then, Stace?’
‘No.’ Stacey could only manage a reluctant, mumbled monosyllable.
‘Why not? It’s a lovely day outside.’
‘Because I just don’t want to, okay?’ Stacey snapped. She got up abruptly, scraping her chair across Derek’s newly-laid oatmeal ceramic floor tiles, and flounced out of the kitchen.
Julie sighed. There were twin skid marks in the polished surface of the floor, which she’d done only yesterday, now. Why couldn’t the kids lift their chairs back? Now she’d have to do it again. What was the matter with the girl though? She’d been like this for a few days now. You couldn’t speak to her.
Thankfully, Derek hadn’t noticed, otherwise there might have been a confrontation before now. And Derek really didn’t need domestic grief just at the moment, with that murder enquiry going on. He looked decidedly tired and stressed enough as it was. It wasn’t surprising though. From what he’d said – and he could never really discuss his cases fully, she appreciated that – it sounded pretty horrific. That poor woman; going missing like that and the extensive search involving hundreds of police (many drafted in from other forces, so Derek said).
And then, terribly for the dog-walker involved, the discovery of her body, out near Widnes near the ship canal, six days later. It seemed that something pretty horrible had happened to her, and Derek would know exactly what of course, but he wouldn’t tell her and certainly wouldn’t discuss it in front of the kids. That was five weeks ago now, and it seemed, as far as she could gather, that the police were nowhere near catching the perpetrator. Hence all Derek’s recent overtime. No wonder he was looking so frazzled at the moment, poor love. And no, he certainly didn’t need Stacey being a little prima donna at the moment.
But what was it with the girl? Perhaps it was something going on at school; perhaps a silly teenagers’ falling-out with Grace or one of her other friends. It happened when you were at that awkward age. It would explain Stacey’s not going out today. Or it might be bullying. Girls could be every bit as cruel as boys, sometimes. She remembered that only too well, when she was at school. The teasing and nasty jibes about her da, both before and after he went. The horrible, cruel things that went on in the lavatories sometimes. To think that the school was run by nuns, too. Whatever would a secular school, like the ones they had over here in England, be like?
Or perhaps it wasn’t bullying at all. She really hoped not. Maybe it was just one of the usual teenage girl things, like they got around puberty? All those hormones fizzing around and everything. It certainly looked as though they’d be busy lately, poor kid, judging by the way her figure was changing. She’d definitely need some new, more capacious bras soon. But whatever it was, she wished that Stacey would be a bit more confiding of her troubles. Holy Mother; surely they could be sorted out if she’d open up? She’d help her, sure she would. This was the twenty-first century now, for goodness’ sake. It wasn’t like it was in her youth, when she had no-one to turn to, not really, apart from Maeve, a little bit, before she flew the nest, the first of the brood to escape across the Irish Sea to the allure of England.
Certainly, she could never have relied on Mammy for a sympathetic ear or any sort of wise council. Mammy was always too full of her own miseries for that. She had no sympathy or wisdom or help left over for her or any of the others either. But she, Julie, was determined not to be so neglectful of her own children. She had no excuses for that at all, with a good, supportive husband (albeit one who was a bit on the strict side sometimes) to back her up.
No, she wanted to be there for her kids, as mentor, guide and friend. She needed to do that. She had to be a proper mother; break the chain of neglect and abuse of generations.
When Derek got home finally at twenty-five to nine (Julie, wise from past experience, had waited until he actually arrived before putting the prepared dinner on to cook) he looked worn out again. After they’d eaten and the oldest kids (Stacey still looking miserable) had deserted the table for their bedrooms, and she’d packed Darren off to bed because it was way past his bedtime, and she’d loaded the wonderful new toy, the dishwasher, and made their coffee, they relaxed on the sofa. Derek had showered and changed while waiting for dinner, and smelled deliciously clean. It was too late to get involved in anything on the box now, so they sat in silence. Derek put his head back and closed his eyes.
‘Tired, Love?’ Julie took his free hand.
‘Mm. It’s been a long day.’
It certainly had. He’d left the house at twenty past six that morning.
‘How have you got on today then?’ It was alright to ask generalised questions, Julie knew.
He opened his eyes. ‘Oh, not good, really. It’s a difficult one, this. Very few clues, so not a lot to work with. We’ve pretty much exhausted all the leads we have.’
‘So will you be – what do you call it – downgrading the investigation now then?’
‘Well, soon, probably, although not just yet. We’ve got to give it our best shot for as long as possible, but there comes a point where they can’t keep justifying our overtime. The bill for it must be racking up.’
‘Mm, I suppose so. That young poor woman though. It’s a dreadful thing, isn’t it? To move here like that, seeking asylum, thinking she was safe, and then that happen. Terrible.’ Julie shuddered.
‘Yeah; horrible situation.’
Derek continued, missing Julie’s point, ‘If anything like that happened to a daughter of mine and I knew who’d done it, I’d want to kill the bastard myself, so help me!’
Julie smiled a wry smile. ‘Yes, well thank God it isn’t going to then, in that case, Love. I wouldn’t want you banged up for the rest of your life.’
Derek grinned too, also mirthlessly. ‘Mm, it does make you feel that way sometimes though, when you see really bad cases. Especially ones involving sexual violence. You have to try really hard to back off and stay professional. You don’t always want to be calm and detached, but we just have to be.’
‘It’s certainly a really hard job you do, I mean emotionally, like. Having to deal with the very worst things that people do, every day.’
‘Well it’s not the really horrendous stuff all the time, thank God. It’s not all really violent murder, although the ordinary sort we see is often bad enough. I reckon we’d all go mad if we saw it every day. We’d all be getting PTSD, or something.’
‘Post traumatic stress disorder. Like soldiers get sometimes.’
‘Except that you aren’t usually in danger, thanks be, Holy Father.’ Julie cast her eyes heavenwards.
Derek smiled again. ‘No, it’s not like it is on the telly. We don’t go charging around waving guns – at least, not most of the time. Not that I never wanted to be a firearms officer, mind you.’
He paused, considering that, then resumed his point. ‘Alright; perhaps not PTSD then, but depression, because of some of the things we have to face, certainly. That happens with the emergency services more than the general public realises.’
‘Mm. Well anyway, Derry,’ Julie said, ‘you seem to cope alright as far as that’s concerned.’
‘Yeah,’ Derek agreed. ‘I suppose so.’
Derek was working again the following day. Julie sometimes wondered how he found the mental or emotional energy for it, day after day. Particularly as, so he was always saying, much of the work was slow, plodding, meticulously careful routine (she thought it would have bored her rigid, quite honestly). But he was nothing if not dedicated and enthusiastic. And still ambitious. The next career step, as he saw it, was inspector.
Julie wished that Stacey was as positive about things. Here she was again, this morning, having finally put in an appearance at half-eleven, wearing yesterday’s clothes and with her hair uncombed. And she was pale in the face; definitely pale. And her eyes looked red and puffy. Julie suddenly realised. She’d been crying!
She was in the kitchen now, absent-mindedly making herself a mug of tea. The other two were elsewhere: Darren in front of the telly in the lounge, taking advantage of disapproving Derek’s absence; Emma outside, playing noisily with Katy from next door, screeching about some fine thing. Julie stopped her cake making and closed the kitchen door. Stacey, mug in hand, moved towards it. Julie barred her way. ‘Sit down a minute, Lovie.’
‘No, I’ve got . . .’
‘Yes,’ Julie insisted. ‘Sit!’
Stacey slumped onto a chair.
‘Right, now then,’ Julie began. ‘Are you going to tell me what’s the matter?’
‘Nuthin’,’ Stacey muttered, eyes fixed on her lap.
Julie was having none of it. ‘I’m not blind, Stace! Why have you been crying then?’
‘Oh yes you have! I can see from your eyes. What is it now? Fallen out with Grace or something, have you?’
Stacey hesitated; nodded. ‘Yeah,’ she said, in a tiny voice.
Julie smiled. ‘Oh, you girls! And it was so serious, you’ve been in tears about it, have you?’
‘So what was it about?’
Stacey had ground to a halt, as if she’d run out of denial. Her bottom lip was beginning to quiver.
Julie softened her voice. ‘Come on Lovie; you can tell your mum. It sounds like something major. Or you think it is, anyway. Tell me about it! I’m sure it’s something that can be sorted out.’
But Stacey still clung to her silence.
Julie tried again. ‘Has she been saying something nasty to you, or anything?’
‘Erm . . .’ Stacey’s voice was barely a whisper. There was a long silence. And then she burst into wracking sobs.
‘Oh, Lovie!’ said Julie. ‘Come on, let’s go up to your room; talk about it in private.’
She pulled the distraught child to her feet, opened the door, propelled her along the hall and up the stairs. In Stacey’s room she closed the door, shutting them in; sat beside her on the unmade bed, arm going around her shoulders.
‘Now then. Come on. Let it all out!’
She waited for Stacey to calm down. Eventually the tears subsided. Julie reached for a tissue from the box on the chest of drawers, give it to her daughter. Stacey wiped her eyes; blew her nose. Julie waited more long minutes.
Eventually Stacey spoke, her voice still barely audible.
‘I’m so scared.’
‘Scared? Scared of what?’
‘Of what you’ll think. Of what Dad’ll think.’
Something clicked in Julie’s brain. A dawning suspicion. She felt a twinge of alarm. ‘Think? Think about what? What is it, Stacey? Tell me!’
Stacey took a deep breath. She avoided Julie’s stare, eyes on her knees, screwing up the tissue. ‘Well . . . I’m late.’
‘Late? What do you mean, late?’
‘You know! Late thingy. Monthly.’
Icy fingers gripped Julie’s chest. ‘What?
‘And you don’t think you might be . . . ?’
‘Well they’ve told us at school what a missed period usually means.’
The blatant phrase cut like a blasphemy, making Julie flinch. Missed period. Oh please, sweet Jesus, no!
The unthinkable was, well, unthinkable though. ‘But . . . how can you be?’
Stacey sighed, a very long sigh. ‘Well, you know how.’
Now Julie was really frightened. ‘But you’ve just been seeing Grace and your other friends haven’t you? Not some boy?’
‘Well, there was this lad, Grace’s boyfriend’s brother. . . ‘
Julie took her hand from Stacey’s shoulder.
‘Oh, for crying out loud, Stacey! So you’ve been lying to us these last number of weeks then, have you? Bloody hell! Not seeing your girlfriends but getting up to god-knows-what with a boy? And you promised me you wouldn’t do anything like that. You promised! You deceitful little liar!’
‘I’m sorry,’ Stacey whimpered.
‘Sorry? I should feckin’ hope you are sorry! You stupid, stupid little girl! How could you?’
‘Yes, I know I shouldn’t have!’ Stacey was crying again now. ‘But he was so nice, such a pure fine lad and it was really hard to say no . . .’
‘Don’t give me that!’ Julie fumed. ‘They’ll all bloody nice, ‘specially when they want to get inside your pants! It’s easy! You just say the simple word! N followed by O! No! What have I always told you, Stacey? You’re only fourteen!
‘Anyway, how the hell did you find the opportunity to – you know? Where could you find in the middle of Liverpool, in broad daylight, to . . . ?’
The question petered out. The possible images were just too distasteful for Julie to contemplate.
‘Well?’ Julie felt a horrible fascination, a need to know, all the same.
‘We used to go out to the country in Luke’s car.’ Stacey mumbled the words between sobs.
‘What? In his car? How old is this – Luke, for Christ’s sake?’
‘Nineteen? Jesus Christ, Stacey! And did you tell him how old you were?’
‘No.’ Stacey’s voice was barely audible.
‘Jesus!’ Julie’s anger was dissolving rapidly, being replaced by nausea. She thought she might throw up. ‘I suppose he took he took you for sixteen or seventeen. You certainly look it when you’re all tarted up.’
‘Yes, I suppose so.’
‘And you weren’t about to tell him otherwise then, you little trollop!’
Silence again, apart from Stacey’s snuffles and sobs.
‘You do know, don’t you, that’s it’s actually illegal, apart from anything else, as you’re underage? That boy could be in serious trouble. What do they call it? Grooming, or something. Your dad would know.’
Stacey looked up finally, horror-stricken, pleading, her eyes perfect orbs. ‘And will I be in trouble?’
Julie sighed resignedly. ‘No, Stace. No more than you probably already are. You’re just a silly little girl who’s been taken advantage of. Vulnerable, I think they call it.’
She paused. ‘So how long has this been going on then?’
‘Dunno. Four or five weeks. Something like that.’
‘And have you been using protection, dare I ask?’
‘You know! Those things you seem to have known all about for years. Rubbers!’
‘Yes! Really!’ Stacey stared, eyes pleading.
‘Yes! Well, apart from the first two times. I made him use johnnies after that.’
‘And is it over now?’
‘Yes, it is!’ Stacey leaped eagerly to assure. ‘Definitely. I said I didn’t want to see him again. That’s why I didn’t go out yesterday.’
Julie laughed bitterly. ‘I don’t know why I asked you that; of course it’s over. Whatever state you’re now in, it’s finished, whether you like it or not. You’re most definitely grounded now, young lady, so you are.’
‘Yes, I know,’ Stacey conceded quietly, ‘I realise that.’
‘Anyway,’ Julie said, ‘How long overdue are you?’
Stacey pondered. ‘Erm, about eleven days, I think. I should have started about Wednesday of the week before last. That’s eleven, isn’t it?’
Julie totted it up mentally. ‘Yes, that’s right.’
Stacey hung her head again. ‘I’m sorry Mum. I really am.’
‘And so you bloody should be! Is there anything else different?’
‘I mean, like: do your breasts feel different? Do you feel sick at all?’
Stacey shook her head. ‘No, nothing special. My tits get a bit sore sometimes anyway. And no; I don’t feel sick.’
‘Don’t use that word!’ Julie snapped, ‘It’s common!’ She gave her daughter a long, hard look.
‘Sorry,’ Stacey repeated, a picture of contrition. She looked as though she were about to burst into tears again. ‘Oh, Mum; I’ve been so stupid, haven’t I? And I’m so scared! I don’t want to have a baby!’
‘Yes, you have, my girl,’ Julie agreed, grim-faced.
She paused; softened her expression, reached to take Stacey’s hand. ‘Don’t worry,’ she told the anxious child. ‘You may be perfectly okay. Being late doesn’t have to mean ‘pregnant’. Perhaps your body just hasn’t settled into a steady routine yet, or something. Let’s just wait and see.’
‘Okay,’ Stacey whispered.
Julie gathered herself, all fierce, protective determination. ‘Right then; here’s what we’re going to do. Tomorrow I’ll get a pregnancy testing kit and we’ll find out for sure one way or the other.’
Derek came home that evening still looking worn out. After the children had gone to bed they had the lounge to themselves. Julie, who was watching the box rather distractedly, said, ‘Any progress with the case today?’
Derek sighed. ‘Well, not particularly. A thin lead came up today. When we did the house-to-house, someone reported having seen a man visiting the woman’s flat quite a lot although he hasn’t been seen since she went missing.’
‘Well that’s something, isn’t it?’ Julie said. ‘It’s a bit of a coincidence, surely, and gives you a possible suspect? She shuddered, as she always did. Thinking about it, even though she didn’t know all the ghastly details because Derek wouldn’t divulge them, always made her do that. ‘It’s awful to think someone who could do such a terrible thing is on the loose. Really scary. Makes your flesh creep.’
‘Derek smiled mirthlessly. ‘Well, maybe there’s a lead. Just maybe. But it’s a bit of a needle in a haystack at the moment. The poor woman lived alone and none of the neighbours knew anything about her, apart from her being a bit foreign-looking. No one even knew she was from Albania.’
‘Right. So you really don’t know who you’re looking for then?’
‘No, haven’t a clue. We’ve got a bit of a description, but nothing very specific. Half the blokes in Liverpool would fit it, to be honest.’
‘Mm,’ Julie murmured, still not giving Derek all her attention.
Julie grabbed Stacey as soon as she walked in, back from school. She waved the pack at her. ‘I’ve got it! Now we’ve just got to wait until tomorrow morning to test your wee.’
Stacey blanched. ‘Can’t we do it now; get it over with?’
‘No, Stacey!’ Julie was adamant. ‘We wait until the morning because that’s the best time to do it. We’ll do it properly; make sure the thing works right.’
‘But I don’t want to wait!’ Stacey wailed. ‘This is doing my head in!’
‘Well what do you think it’s doing to mine?’ Julie snapped. ‘Bloody hell, Stace!’
‘But what if we do the test tomorrow and it says I am . . . you know? I can’t go to school then, as if nothin’s wrong, can I?’
‘Oh, don’t worry about that,’ Julie said. ‘I’ll ring to say you’re sick or something.’
Julie rose early the following morning, when Derek did, slightly to his surprise. He usually left her snoozing for a while until the children got up. The moment his car had driven away from the house, she took the test kit from its hiding place at the back of one of the kitchen cupboards, ran back upstairs and rapped on Stacey’s door. ‘Stacey? Come on; go and use the bathroom. But don’t flush the toilet after.’
‘Oh, Mum,’ the child’s voice answered, shrill with anxiety, ‘I can do the test thing myself if you tell me what to do!’
‘No,’ Julie answered firmly. ‘No way. I’m going to supervise this. Just do as you’re told.’
Stacey emerged, tousle-haired, pyjama-clad and frightened-looking and went into the bathroom. Julie waited outside until Stacey unlocked and opened the door, her eyes wide with trepidation, standing aside to let her in. Her heart pounding, breath bated, Julie dipped the stick into the toilet bowl.
She made herself wait.
Looked at the stick.
Gasped, even though she knew; had known all along with a claw of dread squeezing her heart, what the result would be.
It was positive.