Now what will Karen do?
The moments passed slowly. Karen was afraid to move, wondering whether he was coming back for more. Eventually pulling herself up, she leaned against the wall, waiting for her heart to calm to a steady rate. The blood still pulsed through her ears like a bass drum, her face stung where his hand had made impact. The back of her head hurt. She reached and touched where it had hit the wall and winced as she felt the lump growing there. But it was the pain inside that was worse and the fear of what would happen next.
Not wanting to think about it any more, Karen went to the bathroom, splashed her face with cold water and left the house, snatching up her bag on the way.
It was probably habit that made her go to Margaret. She was the nearest to a mother that Karen had. She kept her head down as she walked, avoiding eye contact with the people she passed on the way. By the time she reached the front door, she was shaking, wondering why she’d come. Margaret opened the door before she could find her key. Karen flew into her arms, sobbing into her shoulder. She felt Margaret’s warm arms wrap around her.
‘Whatever’s the matter?’ She drew the young woman into the house and ushered her into the sitting room. They sat together, Margaret holding Karen close to her. The gentle touch of Margaret stroking her hair opened the door to all the emotions Karen had been holding in for so long. She sobbed until her nose was streaming and her eyes were swollen and sore, an uncontrollable gulping noise coming from her throat. Margaret held her until the sobbing subsided. Finally, Karen found the courage to speak.
‘I’m pregnant,’ she said. ‘Please don’t be angry with me, Margaret.’
‘Why would I be angry?’ Margaret was smiling as she handed Karen a box of tissues. ‘That’s good news, isn’t it? I know you didn’t want a family just yet, but surely it’s not that bad.’
‘You don’t understand.’ Karen blew her nose. ‘It’s not Peter’s baby,’ she blurted before she could stop herself. ‘I’ve done a terrible thing and now I’m pregnant. It’s the last thing I wanted. I’m sorry.’ She braced herself, expecting Margaret to push her away, be shocked or angry. Instead, she just held her closer and stroked her hair again.
‘I’m sorry,’ Karen repeated. ‘I don’t know what to do.’
‘Does Peter know?’ Margaret said at last.
‘I told him today,’ replied Karen. ‘He took it pretty badly. He wants me to get rid of it.’
Margaret said nothing for a moment. Then she sighed. ‘Well, I suppose you can’t blame him. What are you going to do?
‘I can’t kill my baby.’ Karen was crying again, unable to stop the flow. ‘I just can’t.’
Margaret let go of Karen and leaned back. There was a long pause before she spoke again.
‘How far gone are you?’ she asked eventually.
‘About nine weeks - the baby’s due in March.’ Karen watched the sunlight flooding through the window onto the carpet by her feet.
‘Look Karen,’ Margaret said. ‘I know this will be very difficult for you, but it’s hardly a baby yet. If you keep it, think about how life would be for you.’
Karen looked at her. ‘I couldn’t even think about getting rid of it.’ She was horrified at what Margaret was suggesting.
Margaret seemed to struggle to find the words. ‘It would be the end of your marriage if you don’t,’ she said at last. ‘You know that, don’t you? Peter would never be able to cope with someone else’s child.’
‘I know,’ Karen said miserably.
‘And if you decide to keep it - you’d be on your own.’
‘Then I’d have to get on with it - on my own.’
‘How would you manage on your own with a baby?’ Margaret asked.
‘I don’t know,’ Karen wailed. ‘But if it’s the only alternative, I’ll do it - somehow.’ Her eyes were filling again. She wiped them furiously.
Margaret stood up and walked to the door.
‘Well, I can tell you from my own experience, it’s hard.’ She went into the kitchen and Karen could hear her moving about, wiping the dishes she’d recently washed, filling the kettle.
Karen got up and went to stand in the doorway.
‘He hit me today,’ she said.
Margaret stopped what she was doing and froze. She turned to Karen, a mixture of pain and a hint of disbelief in her eyes.
‘Well, I’m sorry Karen,’ she said. ‘Forgive me if I don’t have too much sympathy with you. After all, you have slept with someone else and got pregnant. What did you expect?’
Karen stared at Margaret, shocked at the sudden change of allegiance. ‘I thought you’d understand. And whatever I’ve done, there’s never a reason to hit me like that. No-one has the right to do that.’
‘Are you sure that he did hit you?’ Margaret asked. ‘After all, it’s not the first time you’ve been hurt, is it?’
‘What are you talking about?’ Karen asked.
‘When you had that black eye and said a patient had done it,’ Margaret explained. ‘Peter told me about that.’
‘That was at work.’ Karen was puzzled. ‘What has that got to do with this?’
‘Are you sure you’re not hurting yourself?’ Margaret was leaning against the sink with her back to Karen as she spoke.
Karen didn’t answer. She turned and fled the house.
Margaret heard the door slam while she was still waiting for Karen to speak. She ran to the door, looked out and saw Karen’s back disappearing down the street. Feelings of remorse flooded through her as she turned back into the house. She caught a glimpse of herself in the hall mirror and wondered who this woman looking back at her was and where the young girl she’d once been had gone, the echo of Karen’s footsteps running away, pounding in her memories.