him? Another blunder?

“It is a shock, I didn’t expect it, either! But I didn’t do it on my own. Please don’t act as if I should say sorry or something!” I said, trying to sound light. “It must happen all the time. Other people manage it.”

“I said I didn’t want kids. I said so. I said so right from the start, when we were getting to know each other.”

But we didn’t get to know each other, I wanted to say. That wasn’t knowing each other. This is.

“We said lots of things then. We hadn’t really met, that was just online chatting. It was the Internet, it wasn’t real.”

“It was real!” he said. “It was real as far as I was concerned. I meant what I said. I don’t want kids. They ruin your lifestyle.”

Lifestyle? Have we got a lifestyle?”

He glowered at me. “I don’t want kids.”

“But why not?”

“Why not? Because I don’t. For a start we can’t afford it. Anyway, it’s not why I don’t, it’s why all of a sudden I’ve got to want a kid just because you’ve changed your tune. Why should I change my mind just because you have?”

“Why? Because I’m having one! And because… well, because most people have them. They aren’t all miserable about it, are they? They manage!”

He shook his head from side to side and glanced out of the window.

“Okay, so, money. Have you got money?” He placed his fingertips on the edge of the table as if he were changing the subject.

“Money? For today? Oh, yes. I’ll be fine, I don’t need much, just enough for lunch and the museum. I’m not planning on buying anything. And there’s plenty of petrol.”

“That’s not what I mean. I mean for this. I haven’t got the money and neither have you.”

“But it’ll be fine, we’ll manage! Because people do. You’ll see!”

“Even suppose you live off me for the next nine months, what about after? You haven’t got any money.”

“Babies don’t need all that much to begin with,” I said, arranging my ideas about it on the spot, allowing pictures from the back of my head to press forward. “People might give us things. I bet we can get good stuff secondhand. On eBay.” There was a silence. “I’ll knit!” I said, happily.

“The bit you got when your dad died. That’s gone, isn’t it?”

“More or less. But look, Col, please.”

I had less even than he thought I had. Back when I never dreamed it could matter, I’d told him I would inherit my father’s house when he died; it was the only thing I could say to the Internet Col, lest he think me a gold digger and vanish. I didn’t tell him until later that I’d remortgaged and remortgaged the house so my father and I could go on living in it. When it was sold, it had paid off the debt and left a little that I’d spent on getting married and small expenses since then. If I’d had even a little put by, I could surely have persuaded him it would be enough to see us through until the baby was born.

“Well, then. Even if you went back to work after, we’d be shelling out for the rest of our lives. Kids don’t live on air. I’m nearly fifty, I don’t want to work my backside off for the next twenty years. I can’t afford it.”

Why do we assume that ponderous, plain, clumsy people are more loving than everyone else, that what slows them down is a hidden burden of tenderness that does not encumber those who are quick and thin? I stared at him, this man who was now my husband, with his sullen voice and broad, shiny face and the bulky body I knew so well now. But I knew nothing, I realized, of these reserves of hostility, that they existed in him at all, never mind that they were so easily tapped, so available to be sent spilling into his dealings with me.

“Look, Col, it’s a shock, of course it is. But when you said you didn’t want kids, that must’ve been the idea of kids. Of course you didn’t want them when you were single, on your own. Now it’s different. Okay, we didn’t plan it, but it’s real, it’s actually happening. A real baby.” I couldn’t stop my face breaking out in a smile. “I thought you might have noticed something.”

He looked at me blankly.

“It’s for real,” I said, encouragingly. “This isn’t the Internet now.”

“Don’t I know it,” he said.

“I’ve been feeling pretty sick. But that’s normal.”

“Look. Are you really sure? It’s not like it shows,” he said.

Just then his phone burbled again. He read the new message and then stretched back and stabbed in a reply.

“They’re waiting for me,” he said, standing up and pocketing the phone. “So, how far gone are you?”

“Oh, there’s bags of time to get used to it,” I said. “It’s not due till the beginning of October.”

“No, I mean, how far gone?”

“Only about five weeks. Did you really not notice anything? I probably haven’t been all that much fun to be with!”

He shrugged.

“Don’t worry, it doesn’t last long, the sick stage. I’ll be right as rain in a few weeks,” I said.

He hesitated, his hands on the back of his chair, then he jammed it in under the table. “Listen. How many ways do I have to say it? I don’t want a kid. You can’t spring this on me. I’m not prepared to have a kid. So you’ll just have to do what you have to do. Deal with it.”

“Deal with it? What are you saying?”

“I’m saying if you want to make a go of it with me, fine, I’ll make a go of it with you. But not with a kid. A kid was never in the plan, there’s no way we can afford it. If you get rid of it, fine. If you keep it, also fine, but you’re on your own.”

“You’re telling me to get rid of a healthy baby? To have an abortion?”

“I’m telling you I don’t want a kid. I’m not telling you what to do, it’s up to you. I’m not forcing you.”

He left before I could say any more. A few moments after he had gone, the waitress padded forward to remove our breakfast dishes. “Take your time,” she said to me. “No rush.” I did take my time. For several minutes I stared out the window. The waitress returned and began wiping the sideboard. I closed my eyes, and when I opened them again it was like arriving back in the room after an absence to find it bigger, or at least empty of something it had contained before. The yellow electric globe lights on the walls shone with an old, dusty warmth. The sun was rising higher, burning slightly above the horizon and casting streaks of silver light across the garden and in over the windowsill. The waitress set to work with a vacuum cleaner. I fancied she started at the farthest corner of the room from me so as to disturb me least; that was sweet of her. She smiled as she finished up and left, trailing the vacuum behind her on squeaky castors. Then a different waitress came with trays of glasses and cutlery wrapped in paper napkins and began to set tables for lunch.

I had no idea what I was going to do. When the sun was shining small and high and pale through a veil of rain above the river, I got up and walked away.

He missed the passengers, not for their company but for giving his journeys purpose. Alone, his traveling was just driving. That was why, summoning all his courage, he stopped outside Doncaster one rainy day in early September for two hitchhikers, Canadian students heading for Scotland. They were trying to get to Edinburgh in time for some festival whose name they couldn’t pronounce but which, they assured him, was an ancient Celtic celebration of the end of summer.

“The end of summer, in like an agrarian society, it’s pivotal, right? But it’s her that really wants to go. She’s like really into folklore, aren’t you, sweetheart?” the boy said adoringly, and wrote down the name of their festival-Samhraidhreadh-on the back of his bespectacled girlfriend’s hand while she laughed because the pen was tickly. He pulled her wrist forward to show Ron, and Ron had never heard of it and couldn’t pronounce it, either. But something about their journey touched him-its pilgrim zeal, its pointlessness-and in a demonstration of goodwill that he did not really feel he took them all the way to Edinburgh, thinking that to perform, however disinterestedly, an act of kindness might bring flooding back a former true impulse to be kind, the way he might swing a numbed limb to and fro hoping that movement would restore sensation.

So began a habit of stopping for hitchhikers and offering to take them wherever they were heading, since the direction or distance didn’t affect him much. That winter, drifting farther north on the main tourist routes, he came

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