Surprisingly Mother emerged from the car.
She didn’t like to drive, so this was unexpected.
There was no sign of Father. I breathed a sigh
of relief. When Mother caught sight of Elizabeth,
she immediately understood. Her son was
embroiled in a romantic attachment. This
explained everything. Yet it was only a small
sliver of the story. Mother hugged me warmly
and shook Elizabeth’s delicate outstretched hand.
Margaret ushered us all inside. There were
explanations to be made. There was tea to
Margaret said we were completely bananas. This
was typically mild. Father wouldn’t be so tolerant.
He’d never give permission for me to stay back in
Devon. The whole notion was blatantly ludicrous.
Elizabeth’s Father, a traditional farming man, would
be totally rabid. To think that we could raise a child
amid such wrath was absurd. Elizabeth, however,
seemed content with her decision. There was a
defiant glow in her eyes. She burbled away to me,
flush with the idea of motherhood. Elizabeth even
spoke of us getting a flat together. Where was the
money for these spectacular plans? I didn’t want
to burst her bubble, so I let her ramble. My hand
was a crushed thing by now. The car lurched into
the village. My heart sank. My Father’s automobile
was parked on the grass kerb. This meant major
In the crowded waiting room, Elizabeth dropped
her bombshell. She wanted to have her baby.
She wanted me to take on the role of Father.
My head swirled and lurched, it was a surreal
moment. I looked across at Elizabeth. She was
serious, this wasn’t some ill-conceived fantasy.
Beside me, I felt Margaret bristle. This was too
much, even for her liberal sensibilities. Elizabeth,
Margaret spoke sternly, you need to think this
through. My girl shivered and began to weep
softly. Suddenly we were leaving. Elizabeth was
clutching my hand until it hurt. Against all sense,
I felt elated. Margaret was frowning. I almost
laughed. This was madness. I didn’t care.
Jack wrote the cheque. He didn’t blanch. It was
peanuts to him. This time Margaret offered to
drive Elizabeth and I to the clinic. Elizabeth had
powdered her face heavily. She looked ashen.
We sat together in the backseat. Elizabeth
clasped my hand until it hurt. The doctor had
insisted the procedure was a simple thing.
I didn’t think that this was so. It was certainly
taking a powerful emotional toll. Elizabeth was
a wreck. Margaret was graver than I’d ever seen
her. It felt like my own heart had been decimated
by a twister. When Elizabeth stepped from the car,
all her limbs trembled. A gravelly gust of wind
grasped at our drawn faces. We proceeded inside.
Late into the night, my mobile buzzed. Elizabeth
had snuck downstairs to make a furtive call.
I could hear the emotional snag in her voice.
She was exhausted with grief. I quickly explained
how Margaret had offered to foot the clinic bill.
Down the line I could feel palpable waves of relief.
This was one monumental hurdle jumped.
I realized there wasn’t much else to say.
Elizabeth was fatigued and uncommunicative.
I said I’d call back tomorrow. I felt a huge wave
of pity for my girl. When the line went dead,
I killed a sob in my throat. Elizabeth needed me
to be strong. I wasn’t going to waver now.
Elizabeth had locked herself in her room. Her
Father said she was in a terrible sulk. He couldn’t
understand what was troubling his daughter.
I tried to show surprise. I couldn’t help thinking
how mortified Dan would be, if he knew. Bryant
would certainly get murdered. This detail
I considered with relish. I myself would like
to meet the boy and dish out a piece of my
mind. I could even imagine ditching my pacifist
ways, and thumping the bastard’s nose. I needed
to get a message up to Elizabeth. I asked Dan
for a scrap of paper, and scribbled an urgent note.
I cantered up the stairs, and slid it under
Elizabeth’s door. Call me, it said. I have positive
news to share.
It was the first time I’d seen Margaret’s feathers
ruffled. At first she thought I was the Father of
Elizabeth’s baby. I clarified this quickly. Bryant’s
name snagged in my throat, but I divulged nothing.
Margaret said she was sorry I’d been dragged into
this mess. Elizabeth was a lovely young lady, but
she could act up like a little vixen. I was surprised
at Margaret’s rough assessment. Normally she
never judged. I explained about the abortion clinic
and its astronomical fees. Money, Margaret said,
was not a problem. Jack would simply write a
cheque. What mattered was Elizabeth. Her life
should not be ruined by this sad slip-up. I must
shield her from ugly village gossip. There was no
talk of me returning home to London. Margaret
would smooth things over with my folks, with my
school. I marvelled at her suave composure.
Father would never have been so measured or
mature. Margaret was a formidable ally. I would
canter across the road, comfort Elizabeth with
We took the taxi back in a brutal silence.
Elizabeth was inconsolable. My head bubbled
with concerns. I couldn’t possibly ask Jack to
stump up another six hundred pounds. There
would surely be questions this time around.
It was a phenomenal sum. I was certain that
Elizabeth wouldn’t dare to ask her Father Dan.
I entertained absurd fantasies of us raising the
baby together. I glanced over at Elizabeth’s sunken
head and saw it was nonsense. I decided I must
share this dreadful dilemma with cousin Margaret.
She had a sensible head on her shoulders. She’d
know what must be done.
Elizabeth and I were scurrying for the door
when a commanding voice summoned us.
It was the receptionist. There was the matter
of our bill. She presented me with a printed chart
itemizing charges of eight hundred and twenty
pounds. It was extortionate. I fumbled in my
pockets, and pulled out the now crumpled notes.
I explained sheepishly that I only had two hundred
pounds. An unpleasant scowl curdled on the
woman’s face. She took my money. She keyed
some figures into her computer. Her fingers were
full of hate. When will you be settling the balance,
she barked at me. I muttered next time. We were
dismissed. The whole thing had turned
unspeakably ugly. I held Elizabeth’s hand gently
and escorted her away from this place.
The doctor was old, sallow and brutal. She
seemed to have no humanity. She didn’t even
bother to look Elizabeth in the eye. I thought of
high street butchers. In the most curt manner,
the doctor ordered Elizabeth to go behind the
curtain and disrobe. She ignored my existence
utterly. I could tell the doctor was rough, because
I heard Elizabeth wince. After a time the curtain
was drawn back and I saw Elizabeth fumbling
with her jeans. Her tear-stained face looked like
it had been defiled. I felt immensely sorry for my
girl. The doctor spoke dispassionately. Elizabeth
was six weeks along. The procedure was simple.
She would feel some mild discomfort and maybe
light bleeding. The doctor fixed the appointment.
We were dismissed, no comfort, no sympathetic
goodbyes. This place was a murdering factory.