Excerpt from Hide and Seek by Amy Bird (Carina - October 2014)
Concerto: A composition for a solo instrument or instruments accompanied by an orchestra. Often constructed in three parts: exposition; development; and recapitulation. Sometimes drives people to murder.
You know those days when everything is so right, so perfect, that you think something must go wrong? That something must smash through your happiness like a hammer, sending it splintering into tiny little pieces that you can never gather together again? Today is one of those days.
Because it’s an archetypal moment, isn’t it, getting the twenty-week scan? You can stop crossing your fingers a little bit as you look at that small creature that you and your wife – or your girlfriend, whatever works for you – have made. You have confirmation that the foetus is healthy, no weird abnormalities. Everything’s on track. Plus you get to find out its gender. And you can share it around, the news of the family line continued, and everyone is so proud and pleased and gives you champagne. If you’re the dad, that is. If you’re the mum you have to make do with apple juice.
And it actually looks like a human being, now, your little creation. Not like at the twelve-week scan, when it was just a shadow creature, inside your wife’s wonderful, magical belly. OK, right, sorry. You expect medical academics to be technical. Inside her perfectly ordinary womb where the foetus will gestate along the lines of the normal processes for homo sapiens. Actually, sod that. As I was saying, in Ellie’s magical belly, it didn’t look like much. But now it does. And doesn’t Ellie know it! At every red traffic light on the drive home from the hospital she is holding the scan image up to my face.
“He totally has your nose,” she shouts over the music we have blaring out of the CD drive. Ellie’s stuck on our latest favourite CD, a rousing piano concerto by some guy called Max Reigate. I guess she hopes that by playing it so loudly the baby will hear and give her a friendly kick, or something.
I twist my head slightly to see the scan photo, eyes off the road for a moment.
“Um, Ellie, I’m not sure that’s a nose.”
“OK, then, he totally has your p—”
“Ellie!” I warn her. “That is so wrong. There are some comparisons you shouldn’t make.”
She shrugs. “OK, fair one. But he looks like you.”
And even though I know she is wrong, and there is no way she can tell yet whether it looks like me, I don’t mind. Because I’m going to be a dad. Finally, after all those months of Ellie dragging me into the bedroom, ovulation stick in hand shouting ‘Now, now, now!’ (a real romantic, Ellie) I’m, touch wood, going to have a son. I would have been happy with a daughter too, of course. But, you know how it is – I’m a boy, I want another boy. Not in that way. In a proud, paternal, ‘this is my share of a football team’-type way.
So there’ll be all sorts of celebrations later, when Mum and Dad come round. I texted them from the hospital to say all was well and to tell them it’s a boy. I can’t wait to show them this latest picture. They’ve been on the whole journey with us, my parents. They knew, of course, that we were trying. There’s only so many times you can offer Ellie champagne and shellfish before she cracks and fesses up to the real reason she’s turning them down. Better that than have people think you are dull, in Ellie’s philosophy. Then when we kept cancelling brunches because Ellie wasn’t feeling too well, they twigged. Mum drew me to one side and asked me, point blank, if we were pregnant. I just gave her holding statements initially – it was mine and Ellie’s secret, at first. But then, after the twelve-week scan, I gave her the news. ‘It’s early days, yet,’ I said, ‘but all being well, you’re going to be a grandmother.’ She looked a bit funny at that, kind of a false smile, but I reckon it’s because she still thinks of herself as being about eighteen, and the G-word scared her.
First, though, we’re doing the crib, me and Ellie. We promised ourselves that. Now that we know there are no anomalies, we can actually start building a life for our new little baby. Our new little boy. For when he arrives. So when we get back, we head up to the room that will over the coming months transform from ‘spare’ to nursery. Ellie settles herself down in the nursing chair, and I lay out the instructions on the floor in front of her.
“I think I know what we have to do now,” I tell her. Capable and efficient, that’s the kind of father I’ll be.
“What’s that, darling?” she asks.
I point at the diagrams in the instructions for the crib.
“Look, it’s simple: quick nail here, quick screw there – ”
“Oh darling,” Ellie says, putting a hand over her brow in a mock faint. “All this DIY porn’s enough to make a girl weak at the knees.”
“Behave!” I tell her. But obviously I’m pleased. Because we went through a phase, for a few months, when she just could not do innuendo or sex or anything else apart from curl up on the sofa feeling tired and nauseous. So I give her a little kiss on the belly and continue with the theme.
“Now, I seem to have lost my hammer – will you dig it out for me?” I growl, in what is maybe a porn star accent, if they all come from the Deep South.
“Sure thing, mister,” Ellie trills. She starts to heave herself up from the nursing chair. I think about the toolbox Mum and Dad gave us – the toolbox to end all toolboxes, as they put it. It’s downstairs, heavy, and as yet unexplored. Bit gittish to make my pregnant wife go fetch.
I gesture to Ellie to sit down.
“It’s all right, I’ll get it,” I say. “You stay here and grow our child.” No objection from Ellie. I troop off downstairs and open the hall cupboard. Toolbox. Toolbox. Ah, there we go – the edge of it peeking out from under a stash of Sainsbury’s bags that I keep meaning to organise. I drag it out of the cupboard and open it up. It really is the toolbox to end all toolboxes – two layers, the first one full to the brim with nails and screws and Allen keys and lots of other things that probably have names but damned if I know what they are. No hammer in the top layer though, so I lift the plastic out and look in the bottom section. Screwdrivers, a wrench, a spirit level… But no hammer. Odd. I would have thought that was a pretty basic ingredient. I look at the outside of the box for a contents list. Yes, there we are: easy-grip claw-hammer. Should be here, but it isn’t.
“That’s really weird!” I call to Ellie as I climb the stairs.
“What?” she shouts back.
“No hammer,” I tell her, as I reach the nursery, slightly out of breath.
She sighs. “Do you need me to come and look?” she asks, preparing again to haul herself out of the nursing chair.
I shake my head. “It’s genuinely not there. I’ve emptied everything out. I checked the contents listing on the side of the box, and there’s supposed to be a hammer, but it’s not in there.”
“Perhaps they borrowed it before they gave it to us, and forgot to put it back?” Ellie suggests.
“Maybe.” Bit annoying though. I wanted to build the crib this afternoon. “Bit odd, though, right?”
“Don’t worry, we can ask for it later,” Ellie says. “Can we not work round it for now?”
I think. How to hammer a crib when you haven’t got a hammer?
Aha! Master plan.
I leave the room for a moment and dart next door. Ellie probably thinks my master plan involves giving up. But no! I return to the nursery with one of my most clod-hoppery shoes, hidden behind my back. I bring it out with a flourish. “Let’s give this a whirl,” I say. Because OK, the shoe doesn’t come with a claw or an easy-grip handle. But I bet it can smash its way through anything.
You can buy the book from Amazon by clicking on the book cover image on the left or you can download part 1 of this book for free here.