I’ve always had a thing for pregnant women. Don’t know why exactly; this sort of thing isn’t easy to work out, appeals to something deep rooted, to some fidget in the gut.
But I knew how I felt about Yvette before she was pregnant; it was when I saw another man looking at her. I was at the school, waiting for Tom. Didn’t like another man looking at her, and definitely not a man with a beard. He looked at me sometimes, pursed his lips, smiled, nodded — that sort of thing. Most days, we were the only men there. And that was ok — could deal with it — as long as he wasn’t looking at Yvette.
We followed a routine, Yvette and me. Tuesdays and Thursdays at the school. Her kid was always one of the first out and Yvette smiled as she walked by with her daughter. Tom was always last out. I walked out of the school listening to him tell me all about the painting and the gluing and the singing he’d been up to, all the time watching Yvette walk to her car. You could tell she was worth a lot of money — was in the clothes, in the walk, in the car. I imagined her an art dealer, or fashion guru, or consultant of some sort. In summer she wore dresses, or skirt and a flimsy blouse that showed her bra when she leaned over to kiss her daughter.
One Tuesday she wasn’t there; in her place was an old man. I thought he was the grandfather, until I heard the kid call him ‘Daddy.’ That threw me. He was there on the Thursday too: thin, concave chest, hunched shoulders, trousers flapping about his legs. He looked the successful type though, in business, in life. You can tell that sort of thing. His leather jacket, the sort a 1950s film star might wear, looked expensive, too unusual to not be worth a lot of money. I figured maybe he’d once been a film director, or lead guitarist, or race car driver, or all three. Had to be something like that. I saw the bearded man trying to work him out too — now there were three of us — three men. I missed seeing Yvette that week. She was there the following Tuesday, but she was different, or I was different, or something was different.
First saw them together at the school nativity. With one eye on Jen, I stole a look at her now and again. She didn’t look back at me though — too busy taking pictures and filming. Smiled the whole way through it. Not her husband though — he checked his phone, examined the backs of his hands, his fingernails. Yvette had this habit of using her right hand, in the shape of a claw, and dragging it through her hair, shaking it so it fell over her shoulders and down her back. You could see her earrings, her neck and shoulders when she did that.
Tom was a shepherd and her kid was Mary.
When the nativity was over, everyone stood and applauded. That’s when I saw she was pregnant. The old man clapped slowly, like he was being sarcastic. That night, I hated him, and wanted to be him. Watching Yvette clapping, I saw her as a sacrifice. That’s what she was. Inside her was the old man’s seed — his attempt to cheat death. Next to him, she looked obliging, willing. She was a martyr, ready to give herself up, like she was his time machine and nothing else. I imagined them doing it: him a shadow sliding over her, his chest shivering, his breath desperate.
Looking for Jen, I saw she’d left without me and was walking out of the hall.
It’s a tired idea, that a woman blooms when she’s pregnant; some of them really don’t. With some women, you get the idea whatever is inside is killing them, turning them inside out. But not with Yvette, I couldn’t take my eyes off her. And being pregnant was only a part of her too. With some women, being pregnant is all there is to them; they draw attention to how with-child they are, giving off a warped superiority. I’ve never liked that in some women: thinking what they’ve done is remarkable, or new — like being pregnant has nothing to do with the fumbling immodesty of fucking.
Then one Thursday, she spoke to me.
‘So how’s this work?’ she asked me, like we’d always talked that way.
‘Sorry?’ I said.
‘Do we wait until I’ve had it?’ She looked down at her stomach, lay a hand on it. ‘To leave them?’
Two prammed-women arrived at the gates. They took it in turns looking at us. Yvette didn’t care.
‘Or do you want to do it now?’ she asked, moving closer. ‘Might be a little tricky. Do you think it would be wrong to do it now?’
‘Probably,’ I heard myself say.
‘Shame,’ she said, like she really thought it was. ‘Wait until I’ve had it then?’
‘For the best,’ I said. ‘Not sure I can wait though.’
‘You’re ready to leave her?’
‘Been ready for some time.’ It was like I was listening to someone else speak.
‘That’s sad,’ she said, looking up at the sky, squinting through the sunshine.
‘What about you?’
‘I love him. Always have.’
I didn’t say anything, only shifted my weight from one leg to the other, put my hands in my trouser pockets.
‘You’re jealous,’ she said, her smile twisting.
‘It’s just, you said…’
‘You said: how’s this work. That’s what you said.’
She looked down at the ground, her smile shifting to something different. ‘You’re very handsome.’
‘You’re making fun of me.’
‘No,’ she said, her smile gone. ‘Of course not.’
I watched her do the claw thing with her hand through her hair. I’d not been so close to her, to see her brown eyes, her skin, the shape of her lips.
‘You’re beautiful.’ I felt silly saying it and couldn’t look her in the eyes. Instead I looked at her stomach.
She looked down at herself again, stroked the material of her dress. ‘Pregnancy suits me.’ She looked at my shirt and tie.
I thought about telling her I had a thing for pregnant women, but most women don’t like to hear that because it sounds creepy. So I didn’t tell her.
‘Your wife is very pretty,’ she said.
‘You should keep an eye on her,’ she said. ‘Others will if you don’t.’
I thought about telling her I didn’t care.
‘But that’s not enough is it?’ she said. ‘Her being pretty.’
‘And what about him?’ I asked her. ‘He not enough?’
‘I shouldn’t have said anything,’ she said. ‘I’ve upset you.’
‘Wait,’ I said. ‘Don’t go.’ I held her arm at the elbow.
She turned back, looked at my hand holding her arm. ‘I’m older than you,’ she said.
‘Don’t care,’ I said.
The two women with prams were still taking it in turns to look at us. I let go of her arm.
She said, ‘There’s a village around twenty miles from here, called Oaken Vale.’
‘There’s a pub called The White Hart, on the way into the village. I’ll be there Saturday, at noon.’
‘White Hart,’ I said. ‘Saturday.’
More parents arrived, the bell sounded, and there were children running out of the school. The man with the beard watched Yvette bend over to kiss her daughter. I wanted to kill him.
As if we hadn’t spoken a word to one another, Yvette nodded as she walked out of the school.
Yvette didn’t show up at the White Hart, and she wasn’t at the school for the rest of the summer term. The next time I saw her was after the summer holidays. She was stood in the usual place, only now with a pram. Thought I’d be angry, but I wasn’t. Didn’t even feel like talking to her. There was a coldness in the way she stood, now and then looking into the pram, up towards the school entrance. Her daughter was out first, as usual. Yvette walked past me, pushing the pram. She looked at me, but didn’t smile. Tom was the last one out, but I didn’t rush to follow her.
That night I tried to make love to Jen. We hadn’t done it in a long time. I had it in my head we’d try for another baby.
I tried doing it for a while, before she stopped me and asked what was wrong. ‘Is it the woman at the school?’ she asked, pushing me away, sitting up, arranging the sheets to cover her chest.
‘What woman?’ It was hot and the glass on my side table was empty. The inside of my chest burned.
‘It’s ok,’ she said. ‘I’d rather us talk about it. She’s an attractive woman. Can see why you would.’
‘Don’t know who you mean,’ I said.
She sighed. ‘It’s not easy.’
I looked at her, waiting for her to explain.
‘All this.’ She scanned the bedroom, like she was looking at it for the first time, like she wasn’t the one who’d chosen the colours. ‘After a while, you want something else, something different.’
Her thoughts had left the room, and she was thinking without me, thinking alone. She brought her knees up to her chest beneath the sheets, and rested her chin on them. Her arms were outside the sheets, wrapped around her shins.
It was late, it was muggy, and I was tired. Outside a cat made a noise like a baby crying. I figured it was a female cat in heat, looking to mate.
I could see Jen didn’t want to look at me. She said, ‘Some women like to be looked at. Some women feel invisible if they’re not being looked at.’
I didn’t say anything.
‘It’s ok that you look at her.’ After inhaling deeply, she said, ‘There’s a man, at the school, when I pick up Tom.’ She paused and I knew what she was about to say. ‘He looks at me.’
I imagined her at the school, stood next to Yvette, close to the man with the beard.
‘The way he looks at me was the same way you did once.’ She still wouldn’t turn her head. ‘I turn my back to him, so he can look at me, knowing I can’t see him.’
I imagined him watching her, working out what she looks like naked, how she likes to be fucked, what noises she makes.
She turned to me, her face serious, ‘I’d never…’
She looked to the window again. ‘When I dress I imagine what he might like me to wear. I smile at him when I leave. He follows me out of the school. When I get to the car, I reach over to help Tom with his seat belt, even though he can do it himself.’
She was quiet then, and I saw her listening to the cats outside fighting or fucking — I didn’t know which, or whether the difference was important.
In the darkness, in the heat, Jen and I were like the cats outside, circling one another, anticipating, unsure.
She turned to look at me, then at my lap, noticing I was ready. She moved onto me, pushing me inside her.
‘You’ve always had a thing for pregnant women,’ she said. ‘Why?’
In that moment, with the scent of her, in the rocking of her hips, with her eyes closing, I might have tried to explain.
‘I don’t know,’ I said. It wasn’t the truth, but I had no idea where or how to begin explaining.
Adam Lock wakes far too early in the morning, in Black Country, UK, attempting to take the smaller happenings in life and explode them in a way that resonates with importance for the reader. When he struggles to do this he makes another cup of tea. You can find more of his stories through his website here.