Last week I exposed my carefully calculated plan to free myself from full time work and to pursue my ambitions. However:
Will Lady Fate . . . cooperate?
* * * * *
She said, my period hasn’t come. Maybe I am pregnant. Ha ha.
I thought little of it.
Later that week I saw her again. It still hadn’t come. I asked her, is it usually regular? Yes, she replied. Always right on time! Ha ha. I don’t know why she chuckled as she said it.
That night I awoke with a sensation of intense nausea. What’s wrong? Oh, yeah. All my hopes and plans for the future. All gone. Bye bye. No more dusky Third World beauties for me. No more writing and reading and pondering the sunset from my modest balcony. Never again will I traipse the world like some kind of law-abiding gypsy. My future will be one of losing sleep, changing nappies, working overtime to pay for cram school and university fees and a mortgage. If we have a son he’ll be a sullen, autistic dork who’ll end up going on an incel shooting rampage. If we have a daughter she’ll be fat or a slut or probably both. Somehow I feel that if we have one kid, we’ll have two. They’ll both hate me.
Oh, and I’ll have to marry my girlfriend. Sure, she’s all over me now. But in the future? She’ll resent me for taking her youth when she was meant to be sampling the Cocks of the World. She won’t just divorce me. She’ll try to destroy my life. Nag me, annoy me, ensure that I never have a moment of peace. Finally take my money, my house, leave me in poverty in my old age. I’ll love my kids despite their failings but I’ll never get to see them again. I’ll be a miserable old man like those poor bastards who always bother me down the pub. The ones who always warn me not to knock up a local girl; to never marry.
All I want, dear reader, is peace and quiet. That’s it. Not riches. Not power. Not society’s approval. Not even excitement. I want a bit of time to myself to sit alone in a room and read a book. I called God dead so he rose from his heavenly grave like a celestial zombie. Roar! He ripped from me everything I had. Note to self, Nikolai: don’t fuck with God. He’s so omnipotent he’ll Divine Justice your arse even if he doesn’t exist. This is not an olive branch, God. I won’t forget this. We’ve got unfinished business. When I die I’m going to raise an army of demons and sinners to march from Hell and knock you from your glittering throne. Omnipotent, hey? It might have seemed that way right before you pissed me off. Now we’re going to empirically test that hypothesis. Dear reader, did you notice the screen flicker? That was God trembling. Eww, do you smell that? God just cacked his dacks.
Coming to myself in the darkened room, I returned to rationality. I was overseas for . . . three weeks. Is this even possible? Nope, I must have missed the fertile period. She may well be up the duff but I can’t be the culprit. Someone else’s problem. Phew. Ha, that’s right! She went on a trip with ‘friends’ just after I left. I think we’ve solved this little mystery. It would be the end of the relationship but not the end of my life. Relaxation filled my body and I drifted off to sleep like a planned baby in a two-parent household.
I awoke with a start. My room was hot already, the summer light burning my face. Something was wrong. What? Last night I checked the dates, it was impossible, all sorted. Hang on . . . I don’t know when her last period was due, how long her cycle is . . . I should check that. I sent her a message. She got back to me three long hours later, gave me the date and the usual range of the cycle. I double-checked it by looking at our old messages and yup, it was accurate. I found this site and used it to calculate whether it was possible we had met during her fertile period.
It was possible. Just. If her cycle has been on the shorter end of its usual range. If she’d ovulated early within the fertile week. It was just, only just, conceivable. How I hate that word! My heart sank. I felt like throwing up. There was the answer right in front of me, glaring insolently from the screen. We’d fucked during her fertile period. She was now more than a week late. Don’t have to be gyno-fucking-cologist to put two and two together here.
But then I thought, hang on. That’s bullshit. We used a condom! Isn’t that the most important detail here? She’s not on the pill or anything else – she disregarded my suggestion that she might look into one of the 50 plus contraceptive methods now available to women because there might be ‘side effects’, but we consistently use condoms. I always rinse them after use. What could have gone wrong? Nothing, that’s what. The internet says periods can be late for other reasons. She’s been under a lot of work-related stress lately. That’s all it is. It’s just about impossible that she’s knocked up. I relaxed again. Felt my shoulders lose their tension and my belly unknot. It’s all good.
Or is it? My belly twisted up again. I had a vague recollection – that one time there was an air bubble in the teat at the end, the fluid forced up the sides of the shaft instead . . . There seemed to be some leakage at the top but upon examination I had decided it was from her, not me, and didn’t worry about it. Maybe that was a mistake. When was that? It seemed like a long time ago. Too long. I just couldn’t remember. All I knew was, it was not impossible. It was . . . conceivable.
I messaged her again. Told her there was a slight chance. That she should do a test, just in case. Why not buy it on the way over and do it here? I’ll pay. Why not right now? I thought, best to get this over with as soon as possible.
She said, sure.
I thought, bet her period will have come by then anyway.
It didn’t come.
Have you ever had to wait for bad news, like an HIV test or renewal of a contract? Your mind does weird things to you. Stress hormones fill your body and make you wish you were decomposed. Soon, you think, all this will be over. Soon. But time slows down with relativistic creepiness. It never ends. This is what time must be like in hell.
I thought, I’ve been reading Stoic philosophy. Coping with hardship rationally and with grace should be my strong point. Harden the fuck up and think this through.
What are the chances? Um . . . unknown. Given she’s so late it’s not looking good. No, no, don’t think like that. Stay positive. Probably okay. Of course it might not be but if I’m optimistic I’ll do less damage to my heart over the next 36 hours, which will be good either way. So just keep telling myself she’ll be right, no worries . . .
What’s the worst thing that could happen? Hmmm . . . that all my hopes and dreams might be dashed tomorrow afternoon. But surely it won’t be that bad. Most people have kids and they love them. They seem happy enough. Why would it only be the end of my life? Because I’m different, goddammit! I crave freedom. I crave isolation. I am not a family man. I’m a sadhu. An anchorite. Or maybe I’m just an arsehole. But I DO NOT WANT KIDS. After this, I decide, if it’s negative, I will have no right to ever complain about anything ever again because I will have my whole life ahead of me, and you can’t ask for more than that. After this I will be a true Stoic and keep all future disasters in perspective, no matter what. And I will get a vasectomy.
Next question: what’s the plan? If she’s pregnant, gently suggest we can ‘sort it out’. She will wait for me to take the lead so that she is innocent. I will pay for it. Price is no object. Is it common in this country, and legal? I check. Yes, and yes. Apparently more babies here are aborted than are born. Okay. My heart rate slows.
What if she insists on keeping it? First I will try to convince her. Don’t panic if she says ‘no’ at first. Don’t go to pieces. Play the long game. Suggest she discuss it with her family. There is a stigma against single mothers in this culture which will work in my favour. If that doesn’t work, tell her I won’t stay with her. I’ll disappear. She’ll be alone. This will be a bluff. If she gets rid of it, I’ll tell her, I’ll stay. We’ll try to make it work. Maybe have kids later, when we’re both ready. I will be lying. But it might work.
It occurs to me again that she is not particularly trustworthy and that if she agrees to it, I may well be paying for the termination of another man’s baby. I’m cool with that. It’s hard to get a DNA test before birth and as for after birth – why go through all that? Sort it out now. If she keeps it I’ll get it tested as a final roll of the dice.
Final question: how important is this, in the grand scheme of things? Bloody important. It’s everything. All I ever wanted is gravely threatened and there’s no getting around it.
I tried to distract myself as best I could. I was off work so I watched endless reruns of Futurama, Family Guy, American Dad. Anything to take my mind off it. During each episode I thought, this is kinda stupid. After this one I’ll get up and do something constructive. But as soon as the episode ended the fears and chaos rushed back in and I quickly started the next in the series to quieten the demons in my mind.
But, would it really be so terrible? Kids can be incredibly cute. Imagine the little blighters running around, learning to talk, looking and acting somewhat like me. Imagine cuddling them when they’re sick or afraid. Imagine them looking at me with love. Running to me when they see me appear on the edge of the playground. Imagine telling my teenage son the dark secrets detailed in this gloomiest of blogs. Telling my daughter, only the best is good enough for you.
Our dreams of travel need not be over. I could continue my career, moving with the family from one place to another. Employers in exotic, remote destinations much prefer married applicants because they feel less isolated, focused as they are upon home and hearth. My children’s education would be paid for – they’d have access to excellent schools. It would all be covered.
Imagine attending my children’s weddings. Meeting my grandchildren. All this I deliberately want to miss out on? What am I thinking? Am I insane; stubbornly determined to become a bitter, lonely old man? But my heart is set. I will stick to the plan. I look again at my watch. Fucking thing must have stopped.
I went out for dinner. Someone talked to me because I’m a foreigner. He looked at me with concern, asked: are you homesick? No, I replied. I feel homesick when I’m overseas, he said. I miss my family. In this country, everything we do is for family. If we work very hard, it is for family. If we worry, it is for family. There is nothing except for family.
I finished my beer and fled.
* * * * *
She is to arrive at noon. She gets here at 12:20. I’m focused on my breathing. She says, I’m hungry. She eats some bread that she brought with her. She shows me the test that she bought. One stripe means negative, two means positive. Oh no, she says. What if it’s two stripes? Well, I say, let’s cross that bridge if we come to it. We’ll talk it through. She asks, will you run away, out the door? No, I reply. Not straight away. We’ll be calm and we’ll talk.
She eats slowly. Takes a long, long time to tie up the bread bag, to find a place to put it on the table, to fuss with her water bottle. Come on, I say. We’d better get it over with. She picks up the test and goes to the bathroom. The results will take three minutes.
What the package doesn’t say is, it’s the longest three fucking goddam minutes in the history of any universe. I look at some news sites. Just stare at them. Check the time. One minute down. Stare some more. Check the time. It’s about the same. My heart is racing and I become concerned that I may suffer a serious illness if I don’t calm down. I try to focus on my breathing again but my mind keeps on screaming, THIS IS IT! THE MOMENT YOU FIND OUT WHETHER YOU’VE JUST FUCKED UP YOUR WHOLE LIFE! AS SOON AS SHE LEAVES THAT BATHROOM!
I think, that’s time, I should call out and see if she’s okay. As I open my mouth she emerges, silent, washes her hands.
Er . . . how did you go, I ask. My voice is unsteady, pounding in rhythm with my chest.
Ohhh . . ., she says.
What? What’s wrong? I ask. She walks over holding the test.
Nikki, she says, you’re going to be a daddy!
What? I ask. Are you kidding? Don’t fuck around, are you serious? Are you joking?
Yeah, she says. It was [muffled]. I can’t hear because of the pulse in my ears and the sheer, mortal panic in my heart.
What? What did you say?
She says, it was negative. She hands the test to me and I see one stripe.
Don’t ever joke like that again! I yell. The fucking bitch. Imagine, I tell her, how guilty you’d feel if you’d given me a heart attack or a stroke! Fucking hell! But I can’t stay angry for long.
We chat. I ask, what would you have done if it were positive? She says, see a doctor, I guess. Would you have come with me? Oh course, I tell her, patting her on the head as one does an old cat at the vet when one says goodbye. I’ll look after you. She smiles sweetly, with a look that looks like love.
That evening we go out and I am obsessed with every child we see. The girls, so adorable; the boys, full of cheeky energy. They are hilarious, teasing each other and joking around like dwarf comedians. Will I never have one then, I wonder? Later I see another family leave an elevator with a boy and a girl. The girl, who is the elder child and cute as a button, walks with that prancing, skipping gait that girly girls have. The father is carrying the boy. He is about three years old. His head sags back awkwardly, his mouth agape; he stares blankly at the ceiling. He is profoundly disabled, both intellectually and physically.
I go home and get drunk, and I still am.
Further reading: A heartwarming story to revive your faith in humanity
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