“Jasper, Amy, come on!” John looked at his watch and sighed.
“I don’t know why you think shouting’s going to speed them up,” said Alison, entering the kitchen with a pile of freshly laundered clothes in her arms and depositing them on the table.
“Well something has to. We’re running late as it is.” John sighed again. “What are they doing up there?”
“Being children, darling,” Alison said, her voice laden with scorn, “something you’ve obviously forgotten all about.” She started sorting through the pile of washing.
“And what’s that supposed to mean?”
Alison identified two matching socks from the pile and set them to one side. She looked up at John and shrugged. “You tell me.”
“I don’t have time for one of your cryptic one-sided conversations right now Alison.”
“Well there’s no change there then.”
John walked into the hallway. “Kids, come ON!”
He re-entered the kitchen and watched in silence as his wife painstakingly sorted his family’s clothes into neat little piles, one for each of them. Her mouth was set in a thin line, her forehead ruched by frown lines. John wondered when she had become so embittered by life, and whether it was his fault.
Thunderous footsteps announced the imminent arrival of Jasper, their eldest. He tore into the kitchen, closely followed by his sister, Amy.
“We’re ready!” Jasper shouted, zooming around the kitchen with his arms held wide like an aeroplane.
“Ready!” Amy mimicked, holding her own arms aloft.
“Don’t forget your packed lunches,” Alison said, pointing to the work surface. “And remember what I said about sweets and chocolate.”
“They’ll rot our teeth,” said Jasper, rolling his eyes.
“And make us fat,” Amy added, her expression solemn.
John shot a disapproving look at his wife and shepherded the kids out to the car. “See you tonight,” he shouted back over his shoulder, not waiting for a response.
At seven and five Jasper and Amy were proving more than a handful, and whilst he loved them dearly these days John often caught himself remembering fondly how easy life had been before they came along.
Whilst other friends had procreated and adapted to life with kids with what seemed – on the surface at least – to be complete ease, John and Alison’s journey into parenthood had not been so easy. John had known when they first got together at university that children were high on Alison’s agenda, but had he foreseen the fervour with which she would pursue her goal despite the detrimental effect it would have on their relationship he may have reconsidered the whole proposition.
When they found out she had polycystic ovaries Alison had cried for days, despite the doctor’s reassurance that it didn’t mean they wouldn’t be able to have children – it might just take longer. When she did eventually fall pregnant she was overjoyed, but her nerves were so frayed after months of treatment and false alarms that she became paranoid about losing the baby – a paranoia that had continued long after both the children were born. Although he knew it sounded dramatic to describe her as a different person to the one he married, in many respects it was true. And he didn’t have the first clue what to do about it.
John parked up outside the school and walked the children inside. It was a typically manic first day of term, with children and staff alike wandering the halls with confused expressions, timetables in hand. As they passed the staff room John heard a man’s voice say “welcome to the mad house,” and a woman’s reply, “thanks. It’s great to be here.”
John stopped in his tracks and turned around. He dropped the kids’ hands and took a few steps closer to the staff room, craning his neck around the door. Sure enough, in the middle of the room was a familiar slender form. Even from behind he could tell it was her, there was something unmistakeable about the way she held herself; something proud and assured. She turned around and gasped as her eyes met his. “John,” she breathed.