Evelyn was glad to be back in her room. She could shut her mind down again. She didn’t have to speak to anyone. She sat on her bed and watched the light. The shadows had started to darken the room a little as the sun fell across the opposite side of the garden, shimmering in the trees. Her eyes rested there while she tried to relax.
So many thoughts flew through her mind as she tried hard not to think about the morning. That nurse, Marion, was cruel, she knew that. But Karen was kind. She wondered what her baby would be like now. Someone like Karen, she hoped. She would have been about the same age. Evelyn had never wondered whether she would ever be able to see her daughter again. It had all seemed impossible at the time. She didn’t even know exactly where she’d been taken or whether she’d been adopted. She hoped that the child hadn’t been left in a children’s home for years, unwanted and unloved. Because Evelyn loved her - would always love her - would always live with the pain of that awful day when she’d been taken away.
She’d felt safe when Karen was with her and some of the pain was easing but when she’d been left alone with Marion in Fareham, there was no-one there to stop the teasing. She hadn’t known what to do. Didn’t want to be angry any more.
Then she’d run to her mother’s house without thinking about where she was going or why. The thought of her mother still hurt. Now she was just a little old woman with pain in her eyes. Evelyn tried not to think about how it would have been for her mother, seeing her daughter having a baby and then having to go away.
She shook away the memories and tried to look to her future.
Would she ever leave the hospital? They said she would. Everyone was talking about living in “The Community”. She’d heard about patients who’d moved out for a short while. When they came back, they were worse and their stories of living in damp bedsits and wandering the streets all day just made her shudder. It would be like going to a foreign country. Going to Fareham today had been hard enough, everything was different now.
She pulled back the covers and curled into the middle of her bed, covering herself completely and let the tears come, bringing with them black fears which were buried deep within her.
Black fears surged through Karen as she waited for Peter to come home that evening. She sat in the armchair and watched from the window, unable to take her eyes from the street, her ears straining to hear the familiar sound of his car, glancing at her watch every thirty seconds or so. She was afraid of how Peter would react when she told him about the baby but seeing Evelyn with her mother had made her determined to tell him as soon as possible. She had made a decision at last.
It was early and she’d already prepared their evening meal. She just had to keep busy. Now she had nothing to do but wait. It was driving her mad. When his car finally pulled up outside she jumped. Taking a deep breath she stood up, checked her face in the mirror and was ready with a smile on her face when he opened the front door of the house.
‘What’s this? he asked. ‘Special occasion?’
‘I was on an early shift.’ Her voice was too shrill. ‘Dinner will be about half an hour.’
‘I didn’t think you’d be here tonight.’
‘You’re not going out, are you?’ Karen asked. ‘I... we need to talk.’
‘Here we go.’ Peter threw his keys onto the coffee table. ‘What have you been up to now?’
‘Nothing.’ Karen laughed. ‘We’ll talk after dinner. Let me get started on the cooking.’
‘Fine.’ He shrugged. ‘I’ll get a bath then. Back down in a bit.’ He took the stairs two at a time.
Karen went to the kitchen and turned the heat on under the grill for the lamb chops, checked the oven where two jacket potatoes were baking, and opened a tin of peas, trying to swallow down her nervousness whilst she listened to Peter’s bath running in the room above. She tried not to imagine how he would take the news.
‘Nice meal.’ Peter pushed his chair away from the table and leaned back. ‘Now - are you going to tell me what this is all about?’
Karen swallowed the last mouthful of food, took a sip of water and looked up at him. There was no easy way to do this.
‘I’m pregnant,’ she said.
Peter sat up with a start. ‘You’re joking!’ His words spluttered into the air.
‘No. I really am pregnant,’ she said, watching the grin spread across Peter’s face and wondering how long it would be before it was wiped off again. She had the power of her future in her hands. A few “white lies” would make all the difference to whether life would be easier or unbearable.
‘When?’ he was asking, and Karen could see he was working out the dates. ‘It could be a Christmas baby.’
She swallowed. ‘It’s not due until March. I’m only a few weeks pregnant.’
‘You can’t be,’ Peter insisted. ‘Trust you to get it wrong,’ he laughed.
Karen said nothing. She let him go on about the son he’d always wanted, panicking inside at the thought of telling him the truth. She stood up.
‘I’ll make some coffee,’ she said.
‘I’ll do it,’ Peter said, following her with the plates from the table. ‘You sit down, I’ll wash up.’
‘I don’t really want coffee.’
‘Well tea then. Come on, let me do something for once.’ He steered her out of the kitchen.
Karen sat on the sofa, feeling terrible. She knew she had to tell him the truth before it was too late.
He was soon back with the tea and sat opposite her in the easy chair. ‘Well, this is a turn up for the books,’ he said. ‘A bit of a surprise, eh?’
‘I mean, you were so adamant about not wanting to start a family, and here you are, pregnant. I suppose it was an accident. Did you forget to take the pill?’
‘Yes - I didn’t really want this,’ she said. ‘You know that.’
‘Well, some things are meant to be,’ he said. ‘I always knew that you were meant to be a mum. Now we can start being a proper family.’
‘You’ll have to give up working at the hospital,’ he said. ‘That place is bad enough without you being there with my baby growing inside you.’
Karen gritted her teeth. ‘I’m not giving it up,’ she said.
‘Well you won’t be able to work there for much longer, will you?’
‘Other nurses have children,’ she argued. ‘They seem to manage OK.’
‘You’re not other nurses. Come on Karen, surely you can see that it’s not such a great idea, putting yourself in danger while you’re pregnant.’ He leaned forward on the chair, his hands reached out and gripped her knees.
Karen looked at him. He released the grip and patted her instead. She stood up and walked to the window. She thought about what he was saying. It was true that Camberley Ward was unpredictable, but...
‘I could work on another ward,’ she said. ‘There are other places I could work that are easier. I don’t want to lose my chance.’
‘Nature seems to have overtaken your little whim, hasn’t it?’ He was sneering at her now.
‘It’s not a whim,’ she answered. ‘I will do it, even if I have to put it on hold for a while.’
‘I doubt that,’ Peter said. ‘Don’t you see, now we're starting a family, we might as well have the full set? You know - have another one straight after this.’
‘You’ve got it all worked out, haven’t you? This is my body, Peter, and I’ll decide what I do with it.’ Her mouth was set with determination.
‘Well, you should have thought about that before you missed the pill, shouldn’t you?’ He walked towards her, reaching for her. ‘Come on, you silly thing - you know I’m right. Let’s just get this baby out of the way first and see how you feel then.’
Karen froze inside as he held her.
The way he was trying to take control of her life even before the baby was born brought an overwhelming fear to the surface. She pushed herself away from him and stood by the window, looking out. She could hear his breathing, heavy and angry, while he waited for her to say something.
‘Well?’ It was Peter who broke the silence.
‘It’s not yours.’ Karen’s voice was a whisper, her dry throat swallowed any sound she tried to make.
‘What did you say?’ he asked through his teeth. ‘I thought I heard you say it wasn’t mine.’
Karen turned to face him. She nodded.
‘That’s what I said - the baby isn’t yours.’ She felt a strength which seemed to come from nowhere. ‘I went with someone else, just once. I don’t know how it happened.’ The words sounded ridiculous even to her.
Peter stood there, staring at her with a look of contempt.
‘You bitch!’ he said eventually, and stormed into the kitchen.
Karen heard the clatter of pans and the sound of a bottle clinking on glass. She was still at the window leaning against the wall when he returned a few minutes later, a glass of whisky in one hand and the bottle in the other. He paced the room. Karen flinched as he loomed in close to her.
‘You are a first class bitch!’ he spat. ‘Do you know that?’
The smell of the whisky on his breath made her feel sick, tiny flecks of spittle from his mouth were on her face. She wiped them off with the back of her hand.
‘I’m sorry,’ she said, wondering why she was always apologising. ‘I’m sorry I hurt you,’ she began again, then stopped when she saw the look of disgust on his face.
‘Who was it?’ he asked.
‘No-one you know,’ Karen said. ‘Just a friend. It was something that just happened.’
‘Something just happened. Someone from work, I suppose?’ Peter took another mouthful of whisky from the tumbler. 'You'll have to stop seeing him.'
‘I’m not seeing him. I never was really seeing him,’ Karen answered. ‘I don’t know why I did it now. I didn’t mean it to happen. It just did. Once. And I haven’t seen him since.’
‘You must be seeing him. You work with him,’ he shouted. ‘No wonder you never want to come home - always working extra hours. Is this what you get up to when you’re working overtime?’
‘No, of course not,’ Karen sobbed. ‘He doesn’t even work on the same ward now anyway.’
‘Does he know you’re pregnant?’ He was quieter now.
‘Yes,’ Karen said. ‘I told him, but he’s not going to get involved.’
‘Oh, he’s not going to get involved?’ Peter was shouting again. ‘What do you expect me to do, pretend that it’s mine?’
‘I don’t know,’ Karen said.
‘Well, I do. You’ll have to get rid of it.’
‘I can’t do that.’
He wasn’t listening. ‘Yes, you get rid of it, then we’ll start a proper family of our own. You can stop going to that place you call work, and stay here and be the wife you should be.’ He paused as he paced the room, pouring another slug of whisky into the glass as he went. He slammed the bottle down onto the dining table with a crash and continued.
‘That’s it. You obviously aren’t getting enough sex from me, so as soon as you’ve got rid of that thing inside you, we can get back to how things should be between us.’
‘Please, Peter, don’t talk like that,’ Karen pleaded. ‘I want to keep this baby. I know I didn’t want a child, but now that I’m pregnant, I couldn’t kill my baby. I couldn’t. I know it’s not yours but...’
‘You bloody well will,’ Peter interrupted, his voice as cold as ice. ‘Come here.’
Karen couldn’t move. There was something about him that had changed. She glanced at him as he moved towards her. Suddenly, his arm flew up and she felt the impact of his hand slap her hard across her cheek, lifting her from her feet and slamming her into the corner of the room.
She slumped against the wall, holding her head in her hands, waiting for more of the same, but he just turned on his heel, grabbed his keys from the table, and was gone out of the front door with a slam.