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Like We Could Fly

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If pressed, Clara would not be able to tell you precisely when the seismic shift in her perceptions occurred, or what triggered it. She would not be able to tell you why her brain suddenly shifted from happily petering along with a sincere appreciation for being childless to determinedly and loudly insisting that her body wanted a child and it wanted it now, but she would be able to tell you that, if you uttered the words “biological clock,” then she would most probably slap you. The two words were, as far as she and John were concerned, entirely banned in their household; not least because they made her uterus sound far too like a ticking time bomb, and she didn’t want to turn into one of those women, whose biological imperatives meant established sex schedules and ovulation charts that took all the fun out of the physical sides of marriage.

All she knew was that, late one rainy September evening while browsing Mothercare with a heavily pregnant Bonnie on the hunt for last-minute baby necessities, somehow Clara found herself stood in front of a display of cuddly toys, trailing her fingers over the soft, brightly coloured materials and sighing with a hint of longing. It’s silly really, she thought to herself. Getting sappy about silly old stuffed toys. But they’re meant to be family-type things, aren’t they? You give them as gifts, and then the child keeps them, and passes them on, and so on, until someone down the line ends up on Antiques Roadshow to see how much the threadbare things are worth. I’ve got someone to give toys to — soon to be two someones. So why do I suddenly want that someone to have my name? Why do I suddenly want to see John having tea parties with a cuddly cat and a doll and a small child?  

“Oi,” Bonnie sidled over, laden down with three shopping bags and yet still managing to juggle a basket, a handbag, and a set of reins that anchored Eli to her in the bustle of the shopping centre. “You look… weird.” 

“I feel weird,” Clara replied. 

“Like, your womb aches in a way that indicates it wants to be filled with an infant who can kick your spine at 3 a.m. kind of weird? Or, like, you’re over the moon that you don’t have to deal with baby shopping and a toddler and the looming threat of two children under three-type weird? Because, really, the latter sounds excellent.” 

“Dunno,” Clara shrugged, unable to put the feeling into words. Bonnie had been right with her former assertion, only Clara wasn’t entirely sure about the mention of her womb aching. The feeling was far more localised to her chest, which somehow made her feel even more cloyingly sentimental about the matter. “Just… weird. Like… it’s something I should do, I guess?” 

“That’s the patriarchy talking, babe.” 

“What the pay… payt… what mummy said?” Eli piped up, looking between the two adults curiously. “Auntie Clara, you look funny.” 

Clara resisted the urge to laugh, instead stooping down and picking the little boy up. She wondered for a minute how to explain the matter to him, shifting him onto her hip and kissing his cheek before going with: “The patriarchy is a big system that’s run by men. It’s bad.” 

“Why?” 

“Because it’s bad for ladies,” Clara watched Eli’s eyes widen in horror as he looked from her to his mum and back again. “But Mummy and I are fighting back.” 

“Like ninjas?” 

“Just like ninjas. We’re the best ninjas.” 

He giggled before his expression became more serious. “But why your face all funny?” he asked, chewing his lip. “All red. Ninjas not red.” 

“Just thinking about serious ninja things,” Clara lied, turning his attention to the stuffed animals with a wave of her arm. “And when I think about ninja things, I go red. Now, young man, I have an important question for you: if you were going to give someone one of these as a present, which one would it be?” 

“Can I have one?” 

“No, you have to pretend to give one. As a gift, like when you went to your friend Sammy’s birthday party.” 

The toddler thought for a moment, then pointed at a pink unicorn with a sparkly silver horn. “That one. It’s pretty like you.”

Clara grinned, reaching for it and putting it in Bonnie’s basket. “Thank you, little man.” 

“Who it for? Want it!” 

“Now, baby,” Bonnie said, reaching over and stroking his hair. “What have Daddy and I taught you?” 

Eli looked abruptly guilty, dropping his gaze to the floor as he mumbled: “‘I want’ never gets.” 

“Good boy. Auntie Clara is probably going to give it to a friend, right?” 

“Right,” Clara fibbed awkwardly, then to distract the little boy from asking any more questions, suggested: “What about getting cake after this?”

“Yeah!” he enthused, squirming excitedly in her arms. “Cake, cake, cake! Wa- would like chocolate. Please.”

“Well then,” Clara smiled over at her cousin, who looked less than thrilled about the prospect of feeding sugar to the toddler. “We’d best join the line at the tills.”

 


 

“I’m not stupid,” Bonnie said quietly on the drive home, Eli sound asleep in his car seat in the back and surrounded by a multitude of shopping bags. “I know that toy isn’t for anyone else. Is it aspirational?”

“No,” Clara said quickly, looking out of the window in an attempt to hide her burning cheeks. “I mean. Yes. Maybe. I don’t know. I just feel like… I don’t know, like the time is right? Is that corny?” 

“Not overly, no. What does John think?”

“Given that I only acquired this feeling about two hours ago, I have no idea.” 

“Isn’t he a bit…” Bonnie’s tone was wary. “Look, don’t thump the pregnant lady or anything, but isn’t he a bit old to be dealing with a baby?” 

“He’s sixty-one,” Clara said defensively, looking back at her cousin, who splayed her fingers above the steering wheel in an OK, OK gesture. “That’s not that old.” 

“Fine, but… babe, are you up for dealing with a baby? I mean, you’re always saying that Eli’s lovely, but it’s nice to give him back at the end of the day-slash-weekend.” 

“I guess,” Clara shrugged, looking down at her lap and picking at a hangnail. “I’m just not sure about being pregnant. That’s the big stumbling block. I don’t really like the idea at all… the thought of my body doing stuff and me not being able to stop it and everyone having an opinion on it and just…” 

She broke off, hyperventilating slightly as Bonnie reached over and squeezed her hand. “It can’t be worse than that time I peed myself in Marks and Spencer,” her cousin said solemnly. “Or threw up in my handbag at the zoo.” 

Clara forced a smile, remembering both incidents with painful clarity: she’d felt amused, sure, and embarrassed on her cousin’s behalf, but also relieved that it wasn’t her, and happy that her body wouldn’t do such things, or betray her in such a way. “Those were both superbly awful. And precisely the kind of thing I’d like to avoid if possible.” 

“Well,” Bonnie turned into John and Clara’s street, slowing down as she drummed her hands on the steering wheel pensively. “There’s always adoption, I guess? God knows, there’s loads of kids that need a loving home, and I can’t think of one more loving than yours and John’s. The amount of love contained in there actually kinda nauseates me.”

“That’d be the hCG,” Clara shot back, but she had to admit that the idea made a certain kind of sense. She knew almost nothing about it, of course, but it could certainly be a viable option. 

“Nope, that’d be you being more loved-up than Saint Valentine.” 

“Bonnie,” Clara raised an eyebrow at her cousin as she pulled up outside their house. “Saint Valentine was beheaded for proselytising.” 

“Don’t be such a nerd. My point stands.” 

“Come on, you and Will…”

“…Are nowhere near as sickening as you two. Now go on, take your fluffy unicorn and go and discuss your future with your husband. I’ve gotta get this little chap home for tea. Assuming he wakes up in time, of course.” 

“And you’ve gotta get this little bub back, too.” Clara leaned over and gave her cousin an awkward hug over the gearstick, before pulling away a little and placing one hand on Bonnie’s bump. “She behaving herself?” 

“More or less. I think we’ve tuckered them both out with all the shopping.”

Clara smiled, looking into the back at the sleeping Eli and feeling a rush of love for the little boy. She kissed her palm and then pressed it to the toe of his trainer, the only part of him she could easily reach. He murmured sleepily, but didn’t wake. 

“Love you all. You three get home safe, OK?” 

“Will do.”

Clara smiled, grabbing her newly acquired cuddly toy and assorted other shopping bags before scrambling out of the car and closing the door as quietly as possible, raising a hand in farewell as the vehicle pulled away from the kerb. Turning back towards the house, she found John leaning in the doorway in his plaid trousers and black hoodie, sipping a cup of something hot, one eyebrow cocked in incredulity at the fluffy pink toy Clara realised she was holding with somewhat unnecessary reverence. 

“That’s… sweet,” he said with some reticence. “Is it for Bon’s little one?” 

“No, ah…” Clara hesitated, trudging up the drive and pecking John on the lips before stepping inside with her bags and kicking off her shoes. “It’s for us.” 

“You’re getting soft in your middle age.” 

Clara set her shopping down on the sofa, then poked her tongue out at her husband. “Thirty-three-” 

“‘Is not middle-aged,’” he rolled his eyes fondly as he finished the oft-repeated maxim. “I know, but you are so wonderfully easy to tease about it.” 

Clara tossed the cuddly toy at him, and he caught it deftly in one hand. “What do you think?” 

“Of?” 

“The toy.” 

John examined it thoughtfully. “Well, it indicates to children that unicorns a) exist and b) are pink, which would be a massive evolutionary disadvantage, but-” 

“John,” Clara interjected, shooting him a look. “I mean… you know, of having someone to give it to.” 

“You mean…” 

“Like a small human being who would live in our home and have our surname and be generally adored, spoiled, and treated like royalty, yes.” 

“Are you pregnant?” he asked, furrowing his brow and looking her up and down. “Because-” 

“If you’re about to say that I look wider, then no, I do not, and no, I am not. Cease talking if you value your life and your balls.” 

“So, this is…” 

“A hypothetical idea. Of the, ‘Would having a small human in the house be considered generally acceptable?’ variety.” 

“Would you be…” he paused. “Growing the small human?” 

“Urm, about that,” Clara wrinkled her nose at his choice of vocabulary. “I’m not keen on the idea. By which I mean: no.” 

“Oh thank god,” John caught Clara’s confused look, and took a swig of his drink before saying very quickly: “You can be… touchy anyway — oh Jesus, don’t hurt me for saying that — and you, all pregnant and huge and sleep-deprived… let’s just say I enjoy being alive. And I would definitely not be if you became that hormonal.” 

“Fair point,” Clara grinned. “So, would a small human be acceptable if it was… I don’t know, not biologically ours? Or, as you put it, I didn’t grow it?” 

“I don’t see why not,” John said after a moment’s consideration. “I mean, I don’t really want to deal with a baby, if I’m honest. Eli is lovely, and I’m sure Bonnie’s new baby will be, too, but it’s nice to be able to give them back and go to sleep.” 

“I thought that, too,” Clara agreed, sinking down on the sofa next to her shopping bags. “An older kid… well, an older kid might be easier.” 

“How old?” John asked, stroking the cuddly toy with a fingertip. “Cos I feel like a teenager might not be keen on… well, fluffy unicorns.” 

“God, not a teenager,” Clara looked aghast. “I deal with enough of their crap at work, I don’t want to have to deal with a moody teenager at home as well. At least, not straight away. I don’t mind working towards a teenager, you know, like raising a kid towards that, but I’m not going straight in with one.” 

“That’s fair enough,” John acquiesced, frowning a little as he thought. “So… small child? Sort of… Eli-size?”

“That could work,” Clara pondered the idea, running over the relative merits and disadvantages. “They’re fairly self-reliant by then, and they can walk and talk and do things. Which is marginally more interesting than a baby.” 

“I feel like we’re comparing the various merits of a new car,” John quipped, and Clara looked up at him with a bemused expression. “What?! You’re just being very… pragmatic.” 

“Well, I don’t want to just go all gaga and heart-eyed at all children and then we end up with one that’s out of our ability or means to deal with, because that’s a bad idea for at least ten reasons. And I don’t want to start looking into adoption without having a rough idea of what we’d like, because god knows, it’s enough of a minefield as it is, and going in blind would not be conducive or helpful to anyone, least of all us.” 

“That’s… fair enough, love.” 

“I mean, adoption takes a long time, that much I know, and I just… is that something you’re OK with? The thought of having a kid around when you’re a bit… older?” 

“Do you want this?” John asked, looking down at his wife with a tender expression that melted her heart. “Is a child what you want?” 

“Yes,” Clara confessed in a very small voice. “Yes, it is.” 

“Well then,” John sat beside her and took her hand in his. “This is something we can absolutely do.”