Minnie greeted Driver with those words as he rolled his bike through the front door. She was still in bed and her announcement, as apparently ripe with meaning as Minnie’s belly, bounced off the walls of their apartment and flew through the empty, Driverless spaces to reach him the instant he stole back inside.
It was 7:30am and he had been gone only two hours. Minnie and he had discussed the possibility of him going for a ride the night before. It had been her idea. Then they had confirmed it that morning before he got out of bed, since she had been awake and comfortable when the alarm went off at ten past five. The sense she’d had two days earlier that the baby was about to come had abated and not come back. The contractions had been irregular and unpredictable and a warm bath followed by a massage from Driver had seen them ease then disappear.
‘You should go,’ she’d said. ‘It might be the last ride you’ll have for a while, so you should definitely go.’
‘Are you sure?’ Driver had pressed her, concerned about not being home if Minnie were suddenly to need him, as well as the guilt he’d feel about it.
‘Absolutely certain. You need it for your mental health.’
Driver wasn’t going to argue about that. The bike and where it could take him, geographically and spiritually, had become even more of a haven than usual over the last few weeks. The simple and familiar rhythm of the pedal stroke, the continual passage of the air in and out of his lungs and the strong beat of his heart were like a mantra, repeated again and again, giving him the time and calm he needed to think and reflect and resolve. Yet none of that stopped the words Minnie called into the empty apartment the moment he opened the front door from sparking the deep feelings of guilt in Driver that he had feared. While I’ve been out having a fine old time on my bike, he silently chastised himself, my wife has gone into labour. What kind of selfish tool am I?
But if he’d been less sensitive he’d have heard that there was no blame in Minnie’s voice. It was as if his return was a pleasant surprise, rather than an anxiously and begrudgingly awaited overdue appearance. It was Driver’s interpretation that caused him discomfort. It was entirely self-inflicted.
‘Has it started?’ he asked, as he leaned his bike against the hallway cupboard and unclipped his helmet and shoes. ‘For real?’
‘Yep,’ Minnie said, her voice still light and free of worry. ‘For real.’ And hearing those three words was enough to cure Driver of his self-reproach. She sounded prepared and ready, Driver thought, with great relief. She sounded excited, but also composed.
Driver scampered down the hallway floorboards on his socked feet before finishing in a slide, just like Tom Cruise in Risky Business. Bob Seger’s Old Time Rock and Roll was playing in his head. He had no particular affection for the actor, the film or the song, and he considered himself a much more stylish dancer than little Tommy, but he did enjoy the sock slide into the frame of the bedroom door and the cheeky look over the shoulder of his turned back he gave Minnie. The laugh it induced in his wife was even better.
‘Can I give you a hug?’ he asked Minnie, smelling his armpits. ‘I’m not sweaty and I don’t stink too much.’
‘You better,’ she replied. ‘Besides, I’ll be asking for plenty of them later in the day no matter how sweaty and stinky I am.’
Driver sat on the side of the bed, pulled her in tight, and cradled her in his arms.
‘And when I ask, you will obey,’ Minnie said, matter-of-factly into Driver’s ear. ‘No questions asked.’
‘I will obey,’ Driver confirmed.
‘I called the hospital and spoke to the gynae. She said to stay home as long as possible.’
‘Are you having contractions? How far apart?’
‘Little ones. Well, not little, but they’ll get a lot more intense than they are now. They’re more regular than the ones I had the other day and I can feel that the baby has dropped in my pelvis.’
‘Anything else? Waters broken?’
‘Don’t you believe me?’
‘Oh baby, of course I believe you. But it’s not happening to me and I just want to manage my expectations.’
Minnie smiled at him in a way Driver had not seen for too long. It had probably only been a few days, a week at most, but he was used to seeing that smile a lot more often.
‘So what do we do now? Are you packed? Where’s the suitcase?’
‘They want me to stay here for as long as possible, I told you that already.’
‘Okay,’ Driver replied. ‘Good.’ He nodded his head attentively. ‘That’s good. Can I get you anything?’
‘No,’ Minnie answered. ‘Actually, a cup of tea. No, hot chocolate. That’d be nice. And make yourself a coffee and then bring them both back in here and we can stay in bed and read.’
‘Can I have a quick shower first? I am a bit sweaty and stinky. I lied earlier.’
‘Quick, though,’ she said. ‘Not because I’m worried that anything’s about to happen, but because I want you here with me in bed.’
Driver stood up but couldn’t bring himself to move away from the bed. ‘Oh, wow,’ he said. ‘Does déjà vu work in reverse? Because standing here I’m getting a premonition of something that can’t have happened yet.’
‘What do you mean?’ Minnie asked.
‘Well, I can see myself right here in this very spot and you’re lying in bed, exactly like that. Propped up on your pillows as you are now. And its morning, at least I think its morning. I’m nude, though, like I’ve just had a shower and walked out here. And you’ve just fed our baby and you’re handing her to me.’
‘Her. She’s definitely a she.’ In all their discussions about whether they’d prefer a boy or girl, they’d both said they really didn’t care. Healthy and happy were the main criteria, sex didn’t matter. But Driver could see that Minnie was excited that it was a girl in his imaginings.
‘And you’re holding her out to me so I can take her after a feed. She looks kinda drunk. Like she’s become intoxicated by your milk, or high on it. Just like you look sometimes.’ Driver paused to see whether Minnie was still smiling. Whether she was taking this the right way.
‘Have you seen this in a movie?’ she asked.
‘No, definitely not, because what happens next is, I’ve just taken her from you and I have my hands either side of her chest. I’m holding her under her arms. Her face is right in front of mine and I’m smiling at how drunk or stoned she looks. And she’s smiling back at me. I’m just about to put her across my shoulder and give her back a pat. Is that what you do?’
Minnie nodded. ‘You shouldn’t need to ask,’ she teased. ‘I knew I should have made you go to more antenatal classes.’
‘Right,’ Driver replies, intent on finishing his story. ‘Anyway, she doesn’t burp. She vomits. And this is like a movie. Like Poltergeist. It all comes out in a warm, forceful stream of breast milk straight into my face! And I just stand there as she vomits into my face because I’m thinking any sudden movement will only make it worse and spread the damage. So this flood of your breast milk rushes from her mouth and into my nose and my eyes. I turn my head and it goes in my ear. It keeps pouring out in impossible amounts from a stomach that can’t possibly be big enough until it all starts to run down my chest and my stomach and mixes in with my pubes.’
Minnie laughed. ‘That’s just a beautiful family moment, isn’t it?’ she said, with equal parts humour and seriousness.
‘And you should see her face when she’s finished! Innocence and surprise, her eyes wide and her mouth in a little ‘O’. It makes me laugh.’
‘You’re setting our sights awfully high,’ Minnie added.
Driver knew there was relief behind Minnie’s words for the simple reason that in his vision of the future they were together. They’d tried and failed and tried again and again to have this baby until, now, she was finally coming. She would finally be part of them. So what’s a little vomit if it lands on one of them, or anywhere else?
‘Oh, and by the way,’ he added, ‘your breasts were magnificent. Absolutely magnificent.’
She smiled again. ‘Go have a shower.’
This is episode 29 of Fare Game. After this, there’s only two more. Two! (I know I said that last time, but I was wrong then and I’m right now – there are still two more.) Earlier posts can be found by clicking on the Archives or Categories links to the right of the page.