by Elizabeth Ashworth
Sophie would normally have tried to ignore the huge signs all over the shopping centre, reminding everyone that 15th June was Fathers Day, but now she gazed at the selection of cards displayed on the stand in front of her and wondered which one to choose.
She glanced around her, feeling slightly awkward and hoping that she wouldn’t bump into anyone she knew. For the time being she wanted to keep her secret to herself.
But Sophie knew how much Kevin longed for a Fathers Day card. She knew how much the yearly displays of cards and presents hurt him. Of course he never said anything, but she saw the look on his face when he caught sight of a sign that said: ‘Don’t Forget Dad on Fathers Day’. And she pretended not to notice when he glanced away from the piles of socks and aftershave and started to talk about something else in a brash voice.
She turned her attention back to the choice in front of her. There were pictures of fathers mowing the lawn, playing football, fishing, washing cars. But Sophie wanted something really special. She wanted a card that showed what fatherhood was all about.
Eventually she chose one showing a father cradling his newborn baby. She paid at the till and slipped it into her handbag next to the letter. The very act of buying it had already made her feel different. Somehow it made it all seem more real, less like a dream from which she would wake any moment with that familiar feeling of dark disappointment.
All the way home on the bus she sat with her handbag on her knee, with one hand firmly on top of it. It was as if the contents seemed ready to explode out of her bag and give her away. In much the same way, she felt ready to burst if she kept the good news to herself for much longer. But she had decided not to telephone Kevin. She wanted to tell him in person. She wanted to see his face.
When the letter had plopped onto the mat that morning she’d known straight away what it was – after all they had been expecting it. She’d picked it up and turned it over and over in her hands, examining it, checking the stamp, which was first class and the postmark which told her it had been posted yesterday.
It was addressed to Mr and Mrs Davies. Kevin had gone to work over an hour ago and she’d been reluctant to open it alone, but Sophie was desperate to see the news in print. She hesitated, knowing that she ought to wait until Kevin came home. She put the letter on the hall table and went to make a cup of coffee, but as she waited for the kettle to boil the letter drew her back and in the end she couldn’t resist. She gently eased the self seal flap open, thinking that if she was careful enough she could reseal it and try to convince Kevin that she hadn’t already taken a peep at the contents.
Kevin and his brother had been brought up in a children’s home. He didn’t say much about it and never mentioned his parents, except to say that his mother was too sick to care for them and he had no idea who his father was.
One of the first things that Kevin had asked her when it was obvious that their relationship was becoming serious was if she wanted children.
“It wasn’t that my childhood was unhappy,” he said. “But no amount of care can compare with living in a family home and having your own parents to love you.”
“It isn’t always all it’s cracked up to be,” Sophie told him. “All families have blazing rows sometimes – and if they claim they don’t, they’re lying.” But she knew that she was lucky. Her parents loved her and she’d had a happy childhood. She’d always known that one day she would be a mother, and she was convinced that Kevin was the ideal man to father her children.
Kevin was looking forward to giving his children the things he’d never been lucky enough to have. Not games and clothes and expensive holidays to foreign theme parks, but a stable, loving relationship with the other people who were all part of the same family.
When his elder brother Steve got married Kevin couldn’t wait to be an uncle and when Natalie was born he’d almost overwhelmed her with love.
“Just look. She’s perfect. Look at her toes. Look at her fingers,” he would say, kissing the tiny baby all over.
“He’ll make a wonderful father,” everyone told Sophie. “Just you wait and see.”
And they waited and they waited. At first they weren’t too worried, but after a year or so Kevin became anxious.
“Do you think we should see the doctor?” he’d asked.
So it had begun. The years and years of tests and clinics and treatment. Years of waiting and hoping – of being so happy when they thought things were going well and of being so depressed that they could hardly bear to speak to one another when it all went wrong again and again.
Eventually, as Sophie lay in a hospital bed, pale and exhausted after yet another failed pregnancy they had made the decision.
“I can’t keep putting you through this,” Kevin had said as he sat beside her and tenderly held her hand. “I think I’m being selfish.”
“No!” she’d said weakly and they’d both fought the tears that were overwhelming them.
“I want it to stop,” he’d said. “We’ve suffered enough. It’s destroying us. I think it’s time to accept that we’re not going to have a baby.”
Sophie tried to clutch onto his hand but he pulled away and went to stare out of the window whilst he regained his composure. Sophie cried too, but somewhere deep down she felt a slight relief that the struggle was over at last. It was something she knew she could accept, but she knew it was much, much harder for him.
Lost in thought, she almost missed her stop. She jumped off the bus and walked home smiling broadly at everyone she met. Inside the house she wrote a message in the card, then went upstairs and stood in the small bedroom that looked out over the garden.
“This will be the nursery,” Kevin had said when they first came to view the house all those years ago, before it became their home. But they had never decorated it. The walls were still painted with the industrial strength magnolia that had been applied by the builders. Though Sophie still had the vision in her head of what it would look like. She’d already seen the teddy bear curtains and wallpaper that would transform it. And very soon they would have to buy the cot and the pram and all those other items on the long list she had kept at the back of the top drawer of the cabinet on her side of the bed.
She heard his car pull onto the drive, followed by footsteps and his key in the door. She waited in the kitchen, pretending that she was busy cooking. Kevin came through to find her, his jacket swinging from his hand and his tie loose round his neck. His hair was stood up on end at the front and she knew that he would have been running his fingers through it as he waited in traffic on the drive home.
“What’s all this?” he asked after he’d kissed her. “It’s not your birthday is it?” he teased.
Sophie smiled as he looked at the table set with candles and flowers for the special meal she’d prepared. Then he saw the envelope with his name on it.
“Well I know it isn’t my birthday.” He looked at her with hopeful brown eyes.
“It’s a couple of days early,” she said, “but I thought you should have it straight away.” He stared at the envelope in his hand. “Open it!”
He carefully opened the flap and took out the card. For a moment he just stared at the picture. Then he looked at her. He was trying to say something, but the words wouldn’t form.
Sophie handed him the letter. After all the months and months of enquiries and forms and visits and interviews; after the never-ending wait when they had finally been approved as potential parents, it had finally happened.
“Our baby’s been born,” she said. “We have a daughter.”