In the Balance by Sue Johnson

I looked anxiously at the clock. It was six thirty on a foggy November Friday. In a few minutes, David would be home and I knew I’d have to tell him tonight. I’d put off telling him my news because I knew exactly what his reaction would be. I knew he’d act as if it was my fault for disrupting his five-year plan. 

Up till now I hadn’t wanted a baby either, but as soon as I saw the cobalt blue line on the home tester kit it seemed as if it was the only thing I’d ever wanted - as if I’d got all my birthday and Christmas presents in one go. 

I knew David wouldn’t feel the same way. He was totally focused on his plans to move up the property ladder. You’ve seen that programme on telly where those people bought a house, decorated it and then moved on to the next, selling at a profit each time until they reached the magic million pound property – well that’s exactly what he’s like. Where most men will watch football, you’ll find David poring over a glossy property magazine. 

“Three more moves, Sally and we’ll have done it,” David said yesterday, not noticing my unenthusiastic response. 

I’d been feeling tired lately – probably because of the pregnancy. I was fed up with packing and unpacking boxes and of living with the constant smell of gloss paint. 

I liked the house we were in now – a Victorian semi with bay windows and stripped pine floors. There was a big garden too with apple trees and old fashioned flowers and a lawn that I could now see was just right for a toddler to ride a tricycle on. Even before I’d discovered my news, I’d fallen in love with the house and didn’t really want to move. 

The house reminded me of the one my Gran used to own – and I kept thinking of all the fun things we’d done together – pretend dinners on sycamore leaf plates in the garden in summer and painting pictures or making cakes and biscuits in the firelit kitchen in winter. 

I still hadn’t plucked up the courage to tell David on Saturday morning when I spotted the kitchen scales in the window of Charlie’s Junk Shop. They were just like the ones I remembered from Gran’s kitchen all those years ago. 

I dragged David into Charlie’s shop to have a better look at them. They were covered in cobwebs, chipped and tarnished but I knew I had to buy them. 

David had been so busy talking about his decorating plans for the kitchen that he hadn’t noticed how preoccupied I was. He was still going on about cream paintwork and brass fittings while I turned the liquorice black weights over in my hands remembering those happy childhood days.

I used to love the soft feel of the flour and the smell of the chocolate powder and spices, watching as Gran tipped the next ingredient into the brass pan. I’d put the weight on the other side, watching to make sure the needle hovered in the middle. 

In the autumn we weighed ingredients for jam and marmalade. Then the kitchen would be full of warmth and the smell of boiling fruit and we’d open the windows to get rid of the fragrant steam. Then wasps hovered drowsily around the bubbling saucepans. 

“What d’you want those for? They won’t match in our kitchen,” said David. He shuffled impatiently while I paid for the scales and Charlie packed them in a tatty old box. “What’s the matter?” he asked. “You’ve not been yourself for the last few days.” 

“It’s just – “The words I wanted to say wouldn’t come. “I don’t fancy magnolia walls. I’d like rose pink – just like my Gran used to have.” 

“It doesn’t fit with the image I’m trying to create,” said David. “Don’t you understand that?” “I’m going to have a baby.” 

He looked stunned. “I thought we agreed we didn’t want children, yet, Sally. It doesn’t fit in with our five year plan.” 

I clutched the box with the scales in. “There’d never be a right time – and I want this baby.” 

We walked home in silence. I put the scales away in a cupboard. It was obvious they didn’t fit into that kitchen any more than I did. I didn’t want an immaculate show-house any more. I wanted a place where people could drop in for a cup of tea, sit at the kitchen table and chat or join in with what was going on. I imagined children sitting at the table drawing pictures or rolling pastry for jam tarts. 

The next morning David left early to go on a training course. He didn’t say goodbye. I lay with my eyes closed pretending to be asleep, replaying last night’s argument inside my head when he’d insisted that I arrange for a termination. I felt relieved when I heard the door slam and he’d gone. 

I knew there was no way I could get rid of this baby. It was strange that something like kitchen scales could trigger so many memories. Up until this week I was sure that David was the man for me. Now I saw him with different eyes as I imagined what Gran would say. 

“You want a proper man, Sally –one that’ll stay with you whatever happens.” I moved back to my old room at Mum’s, knowing that she understood how I felt.

“He’ll come round to the idea, Sally, “she said, it’s probably been a bit of a shock for him that’s all.” 

I wasn’t so sure. 

While I was unpacking my things I realised I’d left the scales behind. I hurried back to the house to get them, knowing it would be empty because David was away on his training course. 

The house seemed cold and strange as if it was upset that we were both leaving it. One day, I promised myself, I’d have a house just like this – and there wouldn’t be a trace of magnolia paint anywhere. 

I was just leaving with the scales when I heard David’s key in the lock. 

He looked pale with shock when he saw me standing there clutching the box. “I’m not changing my mind, David,” I said. I want this baby more than anything.” He had his hands full too – carrier bags full of wallpaper and paint. 

“That’s typical of you,” I said. “Working on your five year plan as if nothing’s happened. It shows how much you really think of me.” 

“It’s not like that, Sally,” he said quietly. 

“It looks very much like that from where I’m standing,” I said. “Anyway, what happened to your training course?” 

“I had more important things to do. Like re-decorate the kitchen for a start.” “Was the magnolia paint not to your liking?” I knew I was being sarcastic but I couldn’t help it. “Look in this bag, Sally.” 

“I’ve seen enough rolls of wallpaper and tins of paint to last a lifetime.” 

“No – this bag. From Charlie’s.” 

I looked, opening up a dusty cardboard box tied with string. “What’ve you bought a train set for?” 

“You’re not the only one re-living their childhood. I thought he might like it.”

“It might be a girl,” I said, stepping into the circle of his arms. “I hadn’t thought of that,” he said as our lips met softly.

Published in Issue #22

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