At the latest count Janice has dropped her baby three times. I shit you not. Although I have to admit that her baby, a lovely little girl called Ruby, still seems fine. Unlike her mother, Ruby is alert and mischievous and funny. Ruby has the clearest eyes and the finest, freshest skin. She has perfect toenails I could study all day. She’s weaning just fine. She smiles on demand. She never makes strange with new people and she even sleeps through. But still. Three times is three times.
‘I feel so awful,’ Janice says. Janice is just back from the hospital with her baby. They’ve both been described as very lucky. Ruby’s been given the all-clear and Janice has been given a stern word. Janice is now firmly – this is the stern word they used, Janice makes a point of telling me – firmly on their radar. She always calls me after a crisis. ‘It’s terrible,’ Janice says. ‘But what can you do?’
I’m standing in my newish kitchen half-following a complicated recipe for honeyed apricot lamb. I want to be the kind of person who, of a Saturday evening as the autumn light fades, puts on Chet Baker, drinks a fine Merlot from a supersize wineglass and follows complicated recipes – even when those complicated recipes involve extremely young animals.
‘How about not drop her?’ I suggest.
Janice hangs up. Janice secretly hates me because I still have plausible plans for a big life.
She phones back a minute later. She always does.
‘Kate, why do you always have to be so hostile to me?’
‘It’s called tough love. Obviously. Listen Janice, I’ve been thinking. Have you ever thought about flash cards?’
She doesn’t understand me. So I explain about lamination and the potential to post little cards around her damp little house. How they could act as visual prompts. Do not drop Ruby, one could say, with a diagram of an unhappy baby falling to the ground and a cross through it. Or: Test the temperature of Ruby’s food, with an exclamation mark next to a representation of a steaming substance. Or: Remember to sterilise Ruby’s bottles. I’m not sure about the diagram for that one.
‘We use them at work for the young mothers with issues,’ I tell her.
‘That’s ridiculous,’ she says. ‘Who needs laminated cards to remind them not to drop their own baby?’
‘That would be you,’ I point out.
Janice hangs up again.
I miss her second call back because I’m taking one from Adrian. He can’t come round tonight after all, he explains. Something’s come up at the last minute. He’s so very sorry. He’ll make it up to me. He sounds so stressed.
‘That’s fine,’ I say, taking a large gulp of cheap red. ‘Don’t you worry. Shit happens. It’s totally and completely fine.’
I study my two coriander and cumin-smattered cutlets, so carefully laid out on my new walnut chopping board. If you squint they look sort of similar to the photograph.
‘No, no, nothing special,’ I tell him. ‘You know me. I’m no cook!’
And he’s gone – off to his very important, last minute but lazily non-specific thing.
Sometimes, on the news, the police will say that someone was murdered for no reason. They’ll say this murder was completely unnecessary and pointless, contrasting it, presumably, with all the necessary and pointful murders they have to deal with.
‘Well, little lamby,’ I say, raising my refilled glass to my row of little victims, ‘turns out you died in vain after all.’
[probably not to be continued…..]