Yes, I’m bitter. I am a lemon heaving with caustic juices. I am corrosive. I am an electric eel poised to shoot ten thousand volts into the next thing that moves. What is more, it’s raining and there’s a veritable hurricane blowing away, leaves and litter swirling round me. Bloody weather.
I stab at the doorbell.
Immediately, the door flies open and there’s my mother.
“Hi sweetheart,’ she says, beaming at me, and then, frowning, “Oh Evie, look at you.”
One good thing, all that rain on my face means she can’t tell I’ve been crying.
“Come in, quickly. It’s horrible out there.”
And, she’s thinking, it’s just so typical of you, Evangeline Marie, to rush out mindlessly into the rain without an umbrella or anything. Stupid. Once I’m inside, she scans my face closely, like she always does, then puts her arms round me and presses me tightly to her.
“I can’t stay long,” I say, pulling away. I didn’t want to come at all.
“I’ve got a surprise for you,” she says, beaming again. My mother is a natural born beamer.
Well, I’ve got a surprise for her, too. A nasty surprise. Suddenly I’m convulsed by a shiver, either from the cold or the aftershock of what’s happened. Or both, most likely.
“Come and see,” she says, ushering me to the living room.
She has converted the room into a birthday grotto. A Happy Birthday banner strung above the fireplace. Multicoloured streamers spanning the ceiling. A pile of presents wrapped in hearts and white kittens. Even balloons, for God’s sake. I roll my eyes.
“I’m twenty five, mother.”
“Twenty six,’ she corrects me, beaming yet again. “You just sit down and relax.”
The sofa is like my mother. A hugger. Waits till you sink down into the cushions then wraps itself round you. She’s on her knees now, holding a lit match under the logs in the fireplace.
“Right,” she says, leaping up, “Before anything else I’ll make you nice hot cup of tea. It’ll pick you up.” And throw me down.
She bustles off to the kitchen.
I am twenty six. Nearly thirty, my God. And my life is a complete mess. Because I’m stupid. I sigh heavily. I feel like crying again.
She’s back, triumphantly bearing a chocolate cake bristling with candles. I’ll tell her now.
“Oh dear, the fire’s out.”
“It doesn’t matter.”
She places the cake on the coffee table in front of me, and she’s on her knees again, coaxing the fire, lighting match after match and blowing on the logs.
“Leave it, mum.”
“There, that’s better. It’s a bit halfhearted but hopefully it’ll perk up. Now,” she says, getting up, “do you want to open your presents first or blow out the candles and make a wish?”
She considers me, resigned.
Yes, I know, she’s gone to all this trouble and I don’t deserve it. I’m an ungrateful wretch. Bad as well as stupid. Anyway, here goes.
“Sit down, mum. I’ve got something to tell you.”
She sits, visibly steeling herself.
“You’ll be glad to know I’ve broken up with Will.”
She doesn’t look glad. That wasn’t the surprise.
“And I’m pregnant.”
She doesn’t say anything. Just stares at me.
“I was taking the pill but it didn’t work. The small print said it might not. I didn’t bother to read it beforehand.”
Still she says nothing.
“So yet again, I rushed mindlessly into things without considering the consequences. I’ve ruined my life. I’m just stupid.”
“You’re not stupid,” she says finally. “Everything and everyone comes with small print. The things that may and will go wrong. If we stopped to read it we’d never do anything. Nobody would have children if they first read their small print. The human race would become extinct. You just have to go with the flow and hope it turns out well. Try your best. And often, it does turn out well, more or less.”
She looks tired. Worn down. Aged. It’s me that has has caused some of the fretlines on her face. Most of them, probably. All of them?
“So that’s why my hamster ate her babies,” I say ruefully, “She read their small print.”
“Most likely,” she says and bursts out laughing, laughter lines mingling with the fretlines.
“Have you ever regretted having me?”
“Never,” she says immediately, smiling, “I’ve loved you since the second you were born. Before, even.”
“Despite the small print?”
“Despite the small print.”
Then, she gently places her hand on my face and says, “Of course you haven’t ruined your life. Things happen and people just muddle through and make the most of it. Don’t worry, my love. It won’t be as bad as you think. And you’ve got me. We’ll cope. It’ll be fine, you’ll see. And we’ll love this baby to bits.”
I put my hand on top of hers. I feel like crying again, but it’s different this time. As if on cue, the fire suddenly bursts into life, roaring up the chimney.
“Right,” she says, leaping up, “that tea’s brewed by now.”
When I sip the tea, it blazes a warm path all the way down to my toes, making them wiggle, and I’m positively glowing with the heat from the fire. I kick a balloon to mum and she hits it back and for a few minutes we behave like little kids, hitting the ballon back and forth. Then she lights the candles and it’s time to make my wish.
There is only one wish I can make. That everything will turn out well. And I blow as hard as I can, blowing out the candles, blowing away all the baby’s small print. What the hell.
“Hi sweetheart,” I say softly under my breath, beaming.
Krystyna Smallman lives in sunny Spain and her stories have been published in magazines and online and have even won the odd prize.