Wednesday, 30 December 2009 - 9:32 pm

A baby called Hope

As giddy as I feel lately, we’re still struggling. We’re still barely foraging enough to survive, growing leaner by the day. We’re not fading or failing yet, but none of us have much fat any more. Once upon a time, I would have been glad of that.

Kostoya is scurrying around with a strained expression. He has been keeping Conroy out in the barn at all hours, desperately recreating the tests ruined by the intruders. We barely see them except for meals. They haven’t told us what they’re working on; when we ask, they always say they’re not sure what it means yet.

I think Jersey is getting Sick. She’s pale and sweaty, and I’ve seen her trying to cover up a cough. She won’t look me in the eye, just shoulders past me whenever I try to talk to her. I wish I could help her, but like she said, I don’t have the equipment.

Jonah seems to be starting to recover. He insisted on getting out of bed today – someone had found him a pair of crutches and he was determinedly hop-thud-hopping around the house. Masterson told him it was too soon, but he’s not listening. He doesn’t want to be stuck in that bed, having us do everything for him. I can’t blame him. At least he’s not white around the mouth with pain any more.

It makes me wonder if he has been given something to ease it. Masterson will never admit it if I ask him, and I’ll only open a can of worms if I speak to Jonah about it, so I can’t find out. I don’t need to know – perhaps I’ll just hope that the doctor did something good there and be glad that Jonah’s feeling better.

Everyone’s working a little harder to take up the space left by our missing friends. Bree is helping Sally out with the baby more. She offered to help with Jonah as well, but Jersey growled at her until she went away. The kids are calling on Sally more and more, and she’s often seen around the house now.

I’m trying to figure out the greenhouses – that was Janice’s speciality, as she knew a thing or two about gardening. I didn’t know where to start, but it turns out that Dale knows enough to unravel what Janice had started. I think he used to work on a farm. It was a relief to be able to defer to him. Growing food is why we’re here and that much responsibility is daunting. I’d much rather worry about everything else.

Matt made me a ring out of a twist of wire this morning. He said he’d get me a proper one just as soon as he finds one good enough. I laughed and said I didn’t mind – but I do. It would be nice to have a real ring. Something solid to hold onto in those moments when I’m not sure about anything. A symbol to show everyone.

We weren’t going to tell everyone. We didn’t want to wave our good news in the faces of everyone else. People are grieving and we’re all hungry. It doesn’t seem like the time to crow about this; it seems disrespectful. Sax would have told me off about it. So would Iris, and Janice, and Dad. None of them are here, so it was left to Dale to have a gentle word with me, in between our talks about the greenhouses.

“It’s not just about you two, you know.” He looked into my face, searching for a spark of comprehension. “We could all use some good news right now. And a reason to celebrate.”

Matt and I had agreed to a marriage but we hadn’t talked about a wedding. I struggled to see the value in it, out here in the After; it was a tradition from a dead world. Then Dale spoke to me and I had to readjust my thinking. This was something for the whole group. I went to talk to Matt and he agreed.

“Most of them know anyway,” he said, lifting his hand. The ring gleamed; it’s not as if we sought to hide it. “And it’s not the only good news we have to give them.”

He meant the baby. I felt awkward and ashamed; there’s still a big part of me that is afraid to tell everyone about it. At the same time, I know the group would be grateful for a reason to look forward. Have I been selfish in keeping it to myself? I’ve been too wound up by the whole subject to consider that before.

I feel like someone poured iron in my shoes and I’m struggling to keep up with the crowd, too concerned with my own feet to see where we’re headed.

There wasn’t any rain today, but everyone was back and looking for dinner an hour or so before it got dark. I took the opportunity to make the announcement, standing before my friends with my heart in my throat and stumbling over every word. It was worse than proposing to Matt – at least I could do half of that in glances.

The group was kind. There were whoops and jeers and plenty of ‘about time’s. Dale came over to hug us both and Thorpe patted me on the shoulderblade. Conroy and Sally both looked delighted. Lily clapped happily, even more euphoric than usual, while Jonah called his congratulations from the couch he was resting on. Estebar was confused but Nugget came over to give me a solemn squeeze around my waist. She stopped there and looked up at me, patting my belly meaningfully.

I laughed and peeled her off. “Yeah, that’s the other thing we have to tell you,” I said. The others shushed to listen; it’s almost like I have them trained. I told them I was pregnant and watched the reactions ripple around the room again.

There was more surprise to that; no-one had noticed, not even with Matt’s habit of resting his hand on my abdomen lately. More of the others got on their feet to come over – I don’t think I’ve been hugged by so many people in months. Thorpe gaped at me as if he couldn’t decide whether he approved or not and I could have sworn I saw Kostoya dabbing at his eyes. Estebar wrinkled his nose and I thought Sally seemed relieved. Bobby made a crack about me not getting married in white and everyone laughed.

Then Jersey stood up. She was scowling more forcefully than usual and I wondered for a second if it was because she was trying not to look Sick. Quiet swept around the room, infecting everyone and turning our eyes towards her.

“Faith’s not the only one who’s pregnant,” she said.

The silence that followed was full of stunned fish. I caught a glimpse of Jonah, who had lost his smile and looked like she had just impaled him; clearly, she hadn’t bothered to warn him. He also seemed sure that it belonged to him – I’ve never seen someone be that struck by a mere maybe. Jersey was glaring around, daring someone to ask how it happened, ready to launch a fist at the least excuse.

Before anyone could laugh and set her off, I stepped over and hugged her. It wasn’t what she was expecting, which is the only reason I got away with it. I kept it quick, and said into her ear, “Congratulations.” When I stepped back again, everyone applauded.

I think I’m the only one who knows what it means to her. I don’t think she told Jonah the reason – she just jumped him, knowing he wouldn’t say no to sex. It’s survival for her, it’s her only hope against the Sickness that’s prickling her skin with sweat and curling a cough up in her chest. I don’t know if the baby has started in time to save her, but now she has hope. Now we all have some hope.

She looked like she wanted to stomp out of the room, so I linked hands with her. She didn’t fight me. She stood with me as we answered the questions that were tossed at us – how far along are we, have we thought of any names yet, what sex do we want, isn’t Estebar a nice name? I answered more than she did, but I didn’t mind. I didn’t have much to say – I hadn’t thought about most of that stuff anyway.

Conroy brought out some alcohol to start the celebrations, and there has been drinking and singing ever since. Jersey was mortified when she was given only water in her cup.

“No drinking for you,” Dale told her with a grin. I thought he was going to get himself smacked, but he had the good sense to retreat while she considered her enraged response. It’s worse that he’s right. I think that was the first time Jersey realised a tiny part of what being pregnant means, beyond being able to survive the Sickness.

The revelries are still going. I had to come and write this, hold up this little, bright flag. She might be all right now. We all might be all right.

Wait. I hear someone shouting. Have to go – I swear they just said the word ‘bodies’.