tregaskisk01pic1.jpg The giraffes’ fur is faded to a pale lifeless brown. It could do with a bit of henna to perk it up. There are two of them stood together, their long legs stretching above Ruth’s head. Ugly dark stitching weaves in and out of the nearest animal’s dry skin, up one leg, across the delicate creamy underbelly and then down the other: an episiotomy performed by an over enthusiastic seamstress. There we are Madam…a couple of stitches in that and your husband will never notice the difference…

The baby inside Ruth stretches a foot, momentarily distorting the hard basketball silhouette of her belly.

She had read that the majority of episiotomies carried out in hospitals could be avoided if women gave birth in an upright position and stopped pushing when the baby’s head crowns. She had been doing a lot of reading recently. These days Markus seemed to spend most evenings in his studio. He said he was looking forward to fatherhood, he just had some things to finish off before the baby arrived. Markus painted colourful abstracts using shapes that resembled reproductive organs, though when she pointed this out, he’d said that she had a one-track mind. He was working towards an important exhibition, furiously producing vibrant off-spring of his own as if there was some kind of competition between them.

The journey of four inches down the birth canal, is one of the most treacherous of our lives. At the last antenatal class the midwife had demonstrated this by forcing a plastic baby through a plastic pelvis. Whilst our brains have grown disproportionately big, our pelvises have set rigid to enable us to stand upright. The two developments are incompatible; the baby must be coaxed slowly, and at the right angle, through the pelvis, like a ship being guided past dangerous rocks. Forceps, episiotomies (a quick snip here Madam, it’s not going to hurt…) and vacuum delivery are all used to increase the speed and efficiency of a journey that can take – if you include all three stages of labour – fourteen hours or more…that’s an average speed per inch of three and a half hours. Sure enough the doll that the midwife used got stuck and she had to wriggle it quite violently to free it.

-She’s looking a little worse for wear isn’t she?

Stacey has come over to have a look at the giraffe.

Stacey’s hair is newly blonde, plaited into little gold braids each with a coloured bead on the end. Her face glows with reflected colour from the red and orange top that she wears over jeans that show off her slim body. In the museum, surrounded by stuffed monkeys, kangaroos and strange animals that look like they’ve been compiled from the taxidermists left-overs, she still manages to look like the most exotic creature in the room.

-It’s all very Noah’s Ark round here isn’t it: mummy bear, daddy bear and baby bear. All very monogamous…

Ruth turns away. Why did she agree to meet up with Stacey? It’s probably hormones. Definitely something within her that wasn’t ordinarily there had persuaded her that it was a reasonable thing to do. Perhaps it’s a survival mechanism: mothers-to-be losing their aggressive instincts to ensure peaceable relationships with the rest of a tribe she may need to rely on for protection. She had agreed to their meeting thinking that Stacey would be contrite. She, Ruth, in return would be magnanimous; she would forgive her. It would be one more loose end tied, one more little pool of bad karma mopped up in the process of making the world a fitter place for her child.

-Look at this!

Stacey is reading from an information panel next to a large glass case which contains a family group of chimps and a group of gorillas. It also contains life-size pink models of a man, two women and a child clad in furs, crouched by a pile of logs with coloured paper flames emerging from it.

-Early human groups are believed to have been polygamous…of a survey of 849 human societies across the globe including all traditional tribal and hunter-gatherer groups almost 90% were polygamous… clues to this lifestyle being prevalent amongst our ancestors are apparent in modern man. The relative size of the male human compared to the female, as well as the size of testes, and therefore sperm production capacity in the male suggests a need in the past to compete for supremacy… Who said size wasn’t everything?

The pink people are dusty; their nylon hair is thick, long and shiny as if it has been recently washed.

-Shall we eat? Ruth is suddenly hungry and wants to sit down.

-Don’t you think it’s funny though? We’re so hung up on the sanctity of the nuclear family and yet left to our own devices there’d be an alpha male and his harem…we’d all be Mormons…

Does Stacey know what she is saying? Had she always been this insensitive? Ruth is not going to rise to it; she feels the need to keep a careful equilibrium. In the same way that she can no longer move her body at speed, she keeps her emotions calm. Her mum used to have a glass disc thing that you could put in a saucepan to stop the contents from boiling over. It is as if someone had inserted something similar in to her brain.

* * *

-I’m going to have the tea-time special… What about you?

The laminated menu is sticky with whatever previous diners have chosen. Ruth’s body wants large quantities of iron, protein and calcium – not cucumber sandwiches with the crusts cut off. Nothing on the menu appeals.

Ruth had known Stacey since they’d been students together. Whereas other friendships had fallen away and been replaced, theirs had endured. They saw each other as frequently as they could. But eight months ago all contact had ceased. As far as Ruth was concerned their friendship had ended. That was until Stacey had phoned out of the blue.

-Your bump’s getting really big isn’t it? You’re looking well on it. Pregnancy, I mean.


They’ll eat their food and then leave. She will point Stacey in the direction of the train station, and she herself will get the bus home, back to Markus.

-I often wonder what it would be like if I hadn’t had the abortion… Stacey tugs at one of the braids in her hair as she speaks. – He or she would have just turned one.

A pregnant woman on her own enters the roped off café area and waits, as the sign instructs, to be seated. Since Ruth’s been pregnant herself she has begun to notice other women, previously invisible, sandbagged by the bulk of a new life. They emerge during the day to shop, like insects nearing the end of their lifecycle, a last flight of freedom, before they give birth and are devoured by their young. They buy one more pack of nappies, one more pack of jumbo sanitary towels, knowing that it will exacerbate global environmental problems – ultimately making the world a worse place -but not knowing otherwise how to keep back the tide of bodily excretions which are about to be unleashed. She did want this child but no one could blame her for feeling a little trepidation.

-Is it moving much?

-Yeah, now it’s bigger. Before it was like a heartbeat or wind.

The sandwiches arrive. They have a plate stand each, three plates one on top of the other. The sandwiches are flanked by crisps and a sliced tomato that has seen better days.

-Things change so fast don’t they? Just over a year ago I was pregnant and you weren’t, and then neither of us were and we went on that holiday…do you remember? We should do it again, take the baby…Stacey starts work on the top plate on her stand. A slice of cucumber tries to escape from her sandwich but she intercepts it with her tongue.

-I thought you hated that holiday.

-Did I?

-You were plagued by mosquitoes and you couldn’t stand the heat.

-I don’t remember that… I just remember the sea, how clear it was. And that place we used to go to in the evenings…

Stacey had bought the tickets a few days after she’d had the operation. Flights included; seven days in a self-catering apartment on Crete; a real bargain. Ruth had felt sorry for her friend, had agreed on the spur of the moment to go, had broken the news to Markus as gently as she could: Stacey needed her, they were best friends, she’d had a hard time what with breaking up with Ben and then the abortion. They could go camping some other time. Anyway, hadn’t he been saying that he could do with more time to work on his exhibition? He’d reluctantly let her go.

-We stayed in that place in the middle of nowhere… except for that bar where you could sit outside… There were all those sun-baked kids who came in off the beach each night…

-It was bizarre wasn’t it. Like they’d been washed up, hundreds of them like turtles coming in-land to lay eggs…

Ruth remembered being slightly nervous of them; all that volatile energy at a loose end, nothing to do but swim, get drunk and have sex. Also what she remembered was the way Stacey had cried most nights, the wine she had consumed in the evening leaking out later as tears. And then she’d been monosyllabic the next morning. Stacey had used the holiday as an enclosed space in which to conduct a post-mortem on her recently ended relationship with Ben and her feelings about the abortion.

-You don’t sound like you enjoyed the holiday, Stacey says through teeth that close on a piece of chocolate cake. Her face is neat and precise, her jaw line and cheekbones clear and sharp, not like Ruth’s own which has begun to loose its definition.

After the holiday she’d agreed, in a last desperate attempt to stem her friend’s grief, that when they got back Stacey could move in with her and Markus. Just temporarily until she found her feet. She couldn’t very well carry on living with Ben, could she?

It had taken Stacey just a week. Ruth had come home early from work. She had been feeling irritable and nauseous for a while, had been snapping at Markus in the short periods they were alone together. She’d done a test in her lunch hour. She came back to find Stacey and Markus in a state of undress on the paint spattered settee in his studio. They had both grinned sheepishly at her. His bare foot – she remembered distinctly looking at the dark hairs on his toes – had kicked over the vodka bottle as if she’d applied a hammer to his reflexes. She had come home to tell him she was pregnant.

-I should get back.

-Here, I had some cards made up…my new address and mobile number. We should do this again.

Ruth puts the card in her pocket and lets Stacey pay the bill.

They wander back into the Museum foyer. The huge atrium space, like an enormous greenhouse, criss-crossed by a translucent web of metal and glass, stretches above them. The trickle of water from the fountains in the fishponds is soothing. Before they built the new wing of the museum there had been something up with the fish: many had kinks in their bodies, were permanently bent at odd angles or else they had growths on their heads. Now the fish are normal, gusting up and down the blue tiled ponds over the pattern of loose change people had thrown in to make a wish.

-Oh, I nearly forgot…

Stacey hands Ruth a present wrapped in tissue paper. Ruth stops and opens it. It’s a baby’s sleep suit decorated with little brown monkeys.


Out on the pavement, Ruth kisses Stacey lightly on each cheek and then watches her friend’s retreating figure. She walks towards the bus stop. She stuffs Stacey’s card and the sleep suit into a nearby bin on the way.

Copyright Kate Tregaskis 2005


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>