Extracts taken from the recently released novel, ‘Last Piece of Me’. © Marisha Pink 2015.
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May 1986, London
‘Are you sure?’
Catherine dropped down on to the bed beside Arthur and handed him the stick.
‘Oh … I’m sorry,’ he mumbled.
She stared at her husband through the chestnut strands of hair that had fallen across her face. He seemed unaffected by the result, but there was empathy in his steely grey eyes and a pitying look on his face.
‘We can keep trying,’ he ventured, tucking the errant strands behind her ears.
Catherine smiled meekly; she was beginning to think that it would never happen for them, no matter how much they kept trying.
Breaking Arthur’s gaze, she stared glumly out of the open window. It was late spring and though the morning sun streamed into the master bedroom of their Georgian home, this latest failure was casting a cold shadow over her day. Somehow, the hope, the thought and the feeling that she might be pregnant never seemed to correspond to the real thing. Each false alarm proved more disheartening than the last, and Catherine was growing tired of having her hopes quashed after every agonising three-minute wait.
Feeling Arthur’s arm snake around her shoulders, she allowed herself to be moulded into the familiar nook in his neck. Though he was a man of few words, Arthur possessed an incredible power to speak to her through touch alone, and the embrace was enough to help soothe her feelings of frustration. Stretching her pale legs out across the bed, Catherine stared into her lap, her deep blue eyes tracing the intricate lace edging of her negligee. It didn’t seem fair; for years they had worked hard to establish themselves so that they would be able to provide a comfortable life for their children in the future. Yet now that the time had arrived, no amount of hard work seemed to be enough to yield a child.
‘Do you think it’s me?’ she asked, after a time.
‘Of course not.’
‘But what if it is?’
Arthur rested his cheek against the top of her head and gave her a reassuring squeeze.
She clung to his bare chest, the curly grey hairs tickling her forearm, and willed his ignorant confidence to diffuse into her body. It was easy for Arthur to keep believing, day after day, week after week; he didn’t know any better. Catherine, on the other hand, couldn’t ignore the medical training that she had received as a doctor, and she was certain that her age was contributing to their struggles. At thirty-one she might be ten years Arthur’s junior, but he didn’t have to worry about his fertility declining until one day it ceased to exist at all. He didn’t have a ticking biological clock that could expire at any moment of its choosing and he didn’t have to worry about his body’s ability to cope with pregnancy, birth or breastfeeding. And then there was the other thing. The thing that she had been forced to do but had always regretted, the thing that Arthur knew nothing about. Catherine felt guilty just thinking about it.
‘I’d better jump in the bath,’ she declared, untangling herself from the embrace and struggling to her feet.
‘We have plenty of time, Cathy. Just relax.’
‘Actually, Olivia and Ian are expecting us at eleven. I promised that we’d help them set up for the party.’
Arthur rolled his eyes.
‘They’re our friends, Arty.’
‘You mean your friends,’ he moaned, folding his arms across his chest. ‘Are you absolutely sure that I’m needed?’
Catherine smiled sarcastically.
Arthur had never been interested in cultivating friendships of his own, and Catherine was probably his only friend in the true sense of the word. If it were up to Arthur, they would spend all of their time alone, but Catherine had always been a popular and outgoing personality, and with a veritable entourage of friends there was little chance of that ever happening. No-one understood why she was attracted to such an introverted character, but Arthur had immediately stood out amongst the plethora of immature Lotharios vying for her attention. He was older and wiser, more cultured and more secure, and he boasted the kind of quiet confidence that could only come from someone who was comfortable in their own skin. His old soul and traditional values were endearing, but most of all, Arthur loved Catherine in a way that she was certain no-one else ever would. Arthur had dedicated his life to making her happy, and despite loathing the incessant socialising that she forced him to partake in, after ten years of marriage, they both knew that he would go wherever she asked him to.
She stood at the foot of the bed, surveying her husband’s finely wrinkled face and greying mop of hair, before raising a single eyebrow.
‘Oh alright, I’ll help set up,’ cried Arthur, flinging his arms into the air and throwing his full weight back against the headboard. ‘Do I have to stay for the party though?’
It was Catherine’s turn to roll her eyes.
‘Of course you have to stay for the party; everyone will be there.’
‘Precisely. They’re not going to notice if I slip away once it starts.’
Catherine clambered back onto the bed and, cupping Arthur’s face in her hands, gently shook her head at him. He smiled, unable to resist the charm of his wife’s seductive blue eyes.
‘Fine, but promise me that you’ll stay by my side. I hate it when you leave me by myself.’
‘I can’t stay by your side all afternoon, Arty. I’ll be running around helping Olivia, and I want to catch up with my friends too.’
‘The same friends who upset you so much at the last party that you feigned a headache and asked me to take you home?’ retorted Arthur, cocking his head to one side.
Catherine felt her face flush red and she released Arthur’s cheeks, turning away from his accusatory gaze.
‘I don’t know what you’re talking about.’
‘Yes, you do. Don’t think that I didn’t hear the comments that they were making,’ Arthur challenged.
Catherine winced at the memory. They hadn’t meant to offend her, but the judgements and assumptions made by her friends were deeply upsetting. It was hard being the only one without children, not being invited along to play dates or being available for coffee mornings, not being able to contribute to conversations about sleeping through the night and the rising cost of nursery fees. Their once analogous lives were now wildly divergent, and the fact that her friends had collectively determined that she wasn’t the maternal type had only added to Catherine’s feelings of alienation. Dismissing claims that she was actively trying to conceive, they had gone to great lengths to reassure her that her lack of desire for children was acceptable and her dedication to medicine commendable. The comments had left her feeling grossly misunderstood; focusing on her career was intended as a choice, not a sacrifice.
She felt Arthur’s palm stroke her exposed thigh and reluctantly turned to face him, but his eyes were softer now, seeming to sense her anguish.
‘They don’t know anything,’ he insisted. ‘They don’t know how hard you’ve had to work to get to where you are. They don’t see the smile on your face when you get home from work and describe to me the children that you’ve cared for that day, or the way that your eyes light up when we see children playing in the park. They don’t understand how hard we’ve been trying and that children have always been a part of the plan.’
Catherine nodded in acknowledgement.
‘We did the right thing by waiting,’ Arthur continued, still stroking her thigh. ‘It would have been selfish of us to try for children before we were ready to completely devote our lives to them.’
‘And so what if we’ve left it a little late? That’s nobody’s business but ours.’
‘You’re right,’ Catherine said, smiling.
‘And if we don’t have children, well then—’
‘I just mean that—’
‘Please, Arty. Don’t say it.’
Her eyes implored him not to utter the ultimate words of defeat. Catherine may have had her doubts, but she wasn’t ready to give up yet, and verbally exploring the idea of a life without children would only make the possibility more real.
Arthur held her gaze, seeming troubled by the strength of her reaction to his comment, but she could tell that he understood. Reaching forward, she hugged him to her chest and kissed the top of his head; if for nothing else, she was grateful that they were in this together.
‘I’d better get in the bath,’ she said, releasing Arthur and swinging her legs over the side of the bed.
‘It’s going to be okay, you know?’
Sliding off the bed, Catherine turned her head so that her long hair shielded her face from Arthur’s view. She could feel his eyes following her as she crossed the room to the large oak dresser, but she couldn’t find the strength to look up at him. Lifting a soft blue towel from the uppermost drawer, she trudged back across the room to the en-suite bathroom and pressed the door shut.
Alone at last, she turned to hang the towel on the radiator and caught sight of herself in the bathroom mirror. Her face was visibly worn and nothing like the vibrant image that usually greeted her; it seemed that trying to conceive was taking its toll on Catherine in more ways than one, and her face told a story that she didn’t want the world to know. Tearing her eyes away from the pitiful sight, she placed the plug in the bath and twisted the taps until water came gushing out so forcefully that its thunderous sound drowned out her thoughts. The room quickly filled with steam, and Catherine felt soothed as her haggard reflection was steadily erased by the vapours clouding the mirror.
Leaning back against the wall, she sank to the floor, the flimsy silk of her nightdress hitching up as her knees bent towards the ceiling. It was hard not to feel as though life were mocking her. Catherine had never failed at anything before, and now it was proving impossible to accomplish the one thing that mattered to her the most. In her mind, the spectre of her unborn child overshadowed all the other achievements, making the successes that she had once been so proud of instantly seem insignificant. For the first time in her life, Catherine couldn’t control everything and she felt incredibly vulnerable as a result. This was a problem that could not be solved by studying harder, by paying more money, or by using her charms, and it left her powerless to effect any kind of progress in the situation.
Tears began to fill Catherine’s eyes, and she no longer possessed the strength to fight them. In the privacy of the bathroom, away from Arthur and the prying eyes of her so-called friends, Catherine finally allowed herself to cry. She cried for everything that she didn’t have, for everything that she felt, and for everything that she couldn’t find the words to say. Her whole life had been leading up to the moment when she would be ready for motherhood, but her dream of having a child seemed to be slowly slipping away.
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