Undoing her blouse and skirt she hung them behind the door of her room and pulled on a long flannalette nightie. The bed was cold and for a moment she lay shivering, until the sheets were warmed by her body then, turned awkwarldy onto her side pulling the bedclothes up under her chin. The infant protested, pressing unseen limbs up into her chest. Moaning gently she silently prayed it would be born soon. Each day it was more of an effort to move, the growing burden sapping her strength and making limbs weary with distressing rapidity. Ankles swelled until she feared they would burst and the pain in her chest rose and subsided with increasing regularity. She couldn’t carry the child for much longer. Neighbours watched her with worried faces and told her she must rest. But how could she. Emma and William needed her and Charlie expected life to continue as normal. He wouldn’t tolerate being left to fend for himself, no matter what the reason. Closing her eyes Mary drifted into a restive sleep.
Charlie turned into the alley that separated one house from another and allowed access to the back yards. His steps ringing out and echoing off the arched ceiling like distant bells. Despite the cold air, he felt warm and fulfilled, his face twisted into a smug self-satisfied grin. Annie had been difficult to soothe, her temper as fiery and uncontrollable as her long red hair. He had walked her back to her rented rooms listening to the tirade of abuse until it dissolved away as he knew it would. She couldn’t stay angry with him for long. He had learned through experience to let her rant and rave, while he listened in silence letting her words drift in one ear and out the other. When she had finished she was always all the more willing to vent her frustrations in a physical act that satisfied his needs as well as hers. That night she had been more angry than usual and the soothing took all the longer and was all the more satisfying for it.
Turning his key in the lock he knew the house would be silent, the kitchen empty. Sure enough the kitchen was chilled and dark, the glow of the fire barely visible as the clock softly chimed midnight. Reaching up he struck a match and held it to the gas mantle until the gentle hiss exploded into life filling the kitchen with an eerie light. On the table was a half-eaten pie, it’s filling congealed and cold. Charlie scooped out a handful and pushed it greedily into his mouth. His stomach rumbled for more and he grinned to himself realising that he had been far to occupied to consider his supper before. Annie could always quench his carnal needs, but she wasn’t a patch on Mary when it came to cooking. Turning off the gas light he climbed the stairs to bed.
Easing himself between the white sheets he shuffled up against the warmth of his wife’s body, wrapping an arm around her distended midriff as she groaned in her sleep. Below his hand he felt an unborn hand reach out and punch beneath taught skin.
The morning sun streamed through the lace covered windows in the gap where the threadbare curtains failed to meet. Charlie stirred as it’s warmth hit his cheek, sending his sleeping thoughts back to the heat of the foundry. He woke suddenly, eyes stinging with the bright light after the darkness of a nights rest. Beside him Mary was snoring gently, her laboured breaths beating an uneven rhythm in the quiet of the bedroom.
Throwing back the bedclothes Charlie pulled on his trousers and shirt and leant over the bed to prod his wife ungraciously, “Wake up woman, it’s morning”. He didn’t need the prompting of any time-piece, the daily routine of the working day embedded on his subconscious by it’s grinding regularity.
Mary stirred, rolling over onto her back and drifting toward wakefulness. As Charlie deposited himself on the edge of the bed to pull on his boots, she gazed at his back with tired eyes. She didn’t want to wake. She didn’t want to rise and face another day of pain and discomfort. She longed for him to be like his son, to ease the strain of another day loaded with her burden with a kindly word or gesture. For a moment a feeling of anger rose within her, but was soon buried by overwhelming pain as the child stirred. Pausing at the bedroom door Charlie watched her, until he heard her push the air from between pursed lips as the pain subsided, his expression unmoved. As she swung her legs uneasily over the side of the bed, he turned and left.