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Authors: Andy Jones

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BOOK: The Two of Us
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‘I’m fine,’ he says.

‘You’re obviously not. I’ve just spent three hours with the bugger and I’m wrecked.’

‘I’m seeing the doctor next week.’

‘For . . .?’

Phil shrugs, cries afresh.

‘Would you like me to look after him for a day? A whole day?’

Phil sniffs, pulls himself together. ‘I’ll be fine,’ he says.

And I wish I believed him.

Chapter 9

I’m having what the French call
jamais vu
. The opposite of the
déjà
variety.

It’s a sense of unfamiliarity around a situation you know you have experienced before. And it’s weird.

Ivy is asleep with her head in my lap. The chicken caesar dishes are in the sink. There’s a romantic comedy on the TV. The difference, I suppose, is that this is now my home.
Our
home.

I found tenants for my Brixton flat two days after I advertised for them. They moved in the following weekend. And just like that you are no longer a bachelor living in a bachelor flat in
Brixton. You are a father-to-be, living in a slightly feminine flat in Wimbledon Village.

I run on a common now, instead of in a park; I buy my groceries in a Waitrose rather than a Sainsbury’s; the sweet 63-year-old lady downstairs has been replaced with a surly 14-year-old
git. Instead of a James Bond poster in my bedroom, there is a Frida Kahlo print in the bathroom.

Everything has changed, but nothing really has.

Esther and Nino helped with the move. Well, Nino helped with the move; Esther sat on the sofa drinking tea with Ivy. And when we’d finished, Nino cooked pizza and we ate dinner together.
Ivy, very obviously, wasn’t drinking. Esther made a comment about Wimbledon being a lovely area to raise children, but instead of acknowledging the comment I asked about her own children.
Esther told the story of giving birth to her first son in her own bed (‘destroyed the mattress’) in the flat she still lives in forty years later. She cried and told Ivy to look after
me for her, Ivy cried, I came close. And thank God for Nino’s silent stoicism. Esther continued to get good and drunk, thanked Nino endlessly for living in a foreign country so she
didn’t have to. ‘Your turn now,’ he told her, and then Esther cried again at the thought of leaving London and all its memories behind.

In tonight’s movie the love-struck couple embark on a two-minute montage of perfect dates: lobster, Ferris wheel, opera, cinema, jet skis. All the things Ivy and I haven’t done.
Instead of cartwheeling across a beach at sunset, we’ve leapfrogged the romance and gone straight to starting a family and passing out in front of the telly.

It’s our twelve-week scan first thing tomorrow morning, and in the evening we are driving to Bristol to visit Ivy’s parents. But everything is backasswards now, so instead of
announcing the news that Ivy is pregnant, I will be introduced as the ‘new’ boyfriend. Ivy will be wearing baggy jumpers all weekend, giving her folks the chance to get used to the idea
that she has a man before she drops the news that she’s having a baby. We’re going to claim we’ve been seeing each other since February, and I’ve just been too busy to
visit. According to our cover story we have been an item for eight months; it sounds a little suspect to me, but Ivy assures me we’ll work out all the details in the fullness of time. Which
is fine in theory, but in practice we only have another twenty-eight weeks before one very major detail makes his or her grand entrance.

Tonight’s movie was never going to make my top-one-hundred list, but it’s made all the more difficult to enjoy because Ivy’s TV is rubbish. She’s a reader and her flat is
a testament to the fact. There are floor-to-ceiling bookshelves on either side of the fireplace, and another set in our bedroom – all of them heaving with literature. There are piles of books
in the kitchen, the bathroom and the hallway cupboard. (Twenty-three of these books – I counted – hold a bookmark in their approximate centre. Further to Ivy’s assertion that
quitting a book is a bad habit, these are the novels –
Catch-22, Crime and Punishment, Lord of the Rings
, etc. – that she has absolutely not abandoned halfway through:
‘If I mark the place I left off, I haven’t quit, I just haven’t finished yet.’) Point being, Ivy would rather read a book than watch TV, and she takes it as a point of pride
that her set is practically a museum piece. My TV, on the other hand, is a 42-inch thing of beauty. And it’s balanced on top of a chest of drawers in the spare bedroom – no space for it
in the living room, apparently. Also in the spare bedroom are my Xbox, leather armchair, Le Creuset pans, bedding, and a shoebox full of photos. How we’re going to fit a baby in there is
anyone’s guess.

I experience a hot flush that might be trepidation; although it’s more likely a result of my overheated feet. Ivy gave me a moving-in present of Womble slippers: ‘Now that you live
in Wimbledon.’ I’ve never been a slipper wearer, and I don’t remember watching
The Wombles
on TV – although I suppose I must have done; I’ve had the damn
theme tune rattling round my head all evening. Nevertheless, I am now the proud (and very warm) owner of a pair of size 10 blue-tartan Uncle Bulgarias.

On Ivy’s crappy TV the rom-com couple are making love on a beach, going through all the favourite positions, biting their lips, entwining their fingers, gazing into each other’s
eyes. They come together and fall back onto the golden sand, thoroughly satisfied and with their hair still perfect.

I slide my hand down Ivy’s body and onto her growing bump. She shifts position in my lap and begins to snore.

Everything the same; everything different.

Jamais vu.

Chapter 10

The sonographer introduces herself as Valerie.

‘This might come as a bit of a shock,’ she says, holding up a tube of gel. ‘It’s cold.’

We’re in St George’s Hospital in Tooting, where Ivy plans to have our baby. She’s lying on her back, the top buttons of her jeans unfastened so that the white scalloping of her
pants is visible. Her shirt is rolled up to her breastbone, revealing the smooth, curving dome of her formerly flat belly. The sonographer applies the clear gel to Ivy’s stomach and
Ivy’s grip tightens around my hand. She is wearing a pair of antique-looking cufflinks in the shape of four-leaf clovers. Whether they were a conscious choice or not, I don’t know.

The room is bright and friendly; colourful prints on the walls offset the cold clinical greys and whites of the bulky technical equipment. Ivy’s palm is hot and clammy in my hand. This
morning she puked longer and harder than she has for weeks. I asked if she was excited about seeing her baby for the first time, and Ivy said she was frightened. I sat in the hallway outside the
bathroom, and as she brushed her teeth, I asked did she know that the baby was the size of a lime now? Yes, she said. Did she know the baby has fingers, kidneys, muscles, bones? Ivy closed the
bathroom door. When she came out she climbed back into bed and opened a book – code, I assume, for leave me alone.

Valerie slides the white probe around Ivy’s stomach. ‘Here we are,’ she says. ‘There’s the head,’ and on a wall-mounted monitor, a round but otherwise
indistinct shape comes into view.

Ivy starts to cry. ‘My baby?’ she says. Asking, rather than declaring, as if she is still reluctant to count this chicken.

‘Your baby,’ says the sonographer, smiling like she has the best job in the world. She moves the probe to the side of Ivy’s belly. And then she frowns – not an expression
you want to see in a room like this. Ivy doesn’t notice because her eyes have not left the monitor. Valerie turns from the screen and looks at me with an expression that is impossible to
read. ‘Er . . .’ she says.

‘What is it?’ I ask.

Valerie might be smiling but it’s hard to be sure because she’s biting her bottom lip. ‘Well . . .’

Ivy’s head snaps around to the sonographer. ‘What? Is something wr—’

‘Everything is perfect,’ Valerie says, finally. ‘More than,’ she adds. ‘See this area here . . .?’ and an onscreen cursor traces a circular area just beneath
my baby’s head.

Ivy nods, I nod.

‘That,’ says the sonographer, ‘is the other head.’

‘The other . . .?’ I manage, after what feels like forever.

‘Baby,’ says Valerie. ‘The other baby.’

I raise my coffee to my mouth, realize my mouth is already hanging open, decide I don’t want coffee and return the mug to the table. I feel like my hand should be
trembling, but I think I’m too numb, too disengaged from my physical self to do anything as organized as tremble.

Ivy is staring at a small black-and-white photograph, a print-out of our scan, of our
children
.

‘Twins,’ I say.

Ivy nods.

My coffee is untouched. I pick it up, get it all the way to my mouth this time and take a sip. It’s cold – not just lukewarm, but as cold as tap water – and leaves a clag of
congealed milk skin on my teeth. I might be hungry, but it’s hard to tell. I genuinely can’t recall whether or not I ate breakfast this morning. I glance at my watch and see that
it’s still two hours until anything like lunchtime. This doesn’t resolve whether or not I’m hungry, but I do need to get on a train in the next five minutes. The agency has asked
me to shoot their toilet roll commercial, and in an hour’s time I have to begin casting for a man in a giant rabbit costume.

My sister, Maria, had twins. She is fond of telling anyone who will listen that it was the hardest bloody thing she has ever done. This from a woman who had her first child when she was sixteen
and raised the baby without any help from the shit-bag absent father. Since then Maria passed her A levels whilst raising one baby, and gained a degree while raising three. She’s run three
marathons, all of them in under four hours. She broke her leg skiing and had to crawl out from a copse of trees through four-foot-deep snow dragging a snapped tibia behind her.
Twins?
She’ll tell you,
Hardest bloody thing I have ever done.

‘Twins,’ Ivy says, not looking up from the grainy evidence in her hands. In the picture, the babies –
plural!
– are facing in the same direction, as if one is
sitting on the other’s lap. It looks crowded in there.

I sip my coffee again, having already forgotten that it’s cold and tasteless. I take another sip anyway for something to do – something approaching normal.

‘Twins,’ I say.

‘Twins,’ says Ivy.

The casting takes place in an upstairs room above a shoe shop on Carnaby Street. Present are: Joe; Suzi, the agency art director; Henry (female), the agency producer; and
myself – although to say I’m present is a stretch.

‘Fisher?’ says Joe.

‘Sorry?’

‘Would you like to take us through the script?’

The room is white and featureless, maybe eighteen feet wide and long. Also present, standing on an ‘X’ marked on the floor with black electrical tape, is a middle-aged male
actor.

‘The script?’ I ask.

‘That’s why we’re here,’ Joe says, forcing a laugh.

‘I can do it, if you like,’ says the art director, a pretty girl who looks like she’s only a few years out of art college.

‘Might be for the best,’ says Joe, again with the practised laugh. ‘I have to be somewhere in November.’

‘So you know loo roll ads, right?’ begins Suzi. ‘How they all have cute cats or puppies or bears? Well, we’re taking the piss out of that.’

‘Gotcha,’ says the actor. He’s potbellied, unshaven, sounds like he smokes filterless cigarettes and has done since childhood.

‘You’re going to be a bunny,’ says Suzi. ‘Mr Hoppity.’

‘What, like a rabbit?’

‘It’s as if we’re shooting one of those cliché loo roll adverts,’ says Suzi. ‘Then the director – in the commercial, another actor – he yells
“cut”, and you take the head off your costume, revealing yourself to be an actor – not a real bunny.’ Suzi laughs at the ridiculousness of what she’s saying.
‘Sorry, it sounds all a bit . . . God, I dunno . . .’

‘Meta?’ suggests Joe.

‘Post-ironic?’ Henry tries.

‘Wanky!’ says Suzi, and she laughs.

‘Wanky,’ says the actor. ‘Gotcha.’

It’s nice to meet advertising people that don’t take themselves too seriously. People who have no illusions about what it is they’re doing – in this case, selling bog
roll. That said, Suzi can’t be older than twenty-four; in a couple of years she’ll undoubtedly be as arrogant, deluded and precocious as the job requires.

‘Point is,’ says Henry, ‘you’re not playing a bunny; you’re playing an actor playing a bunny.’

‘Gotcha,’ says the actor.

‘And you hate it,’ she says. ‘Underneath the suit you’re a tough guy.’

‘Like a gangster?’ he asks hopefully.

‘In a bunny suit,’ says Joe. ‘Exactly.’

‘Right-o.’

‘Like the loo roll, you see,’ says Suzi. ‘Soft, but tough.’

‘Okey-doke. Tough bunny.’

I’ll need two of everything from now on: two cots, two car seats, two great big fluffy bunnies.

‘William?’ asks Joe, his voice one notch up from normal conversational volume.

Joe only calls me William when he’s patronizing, antagonizing or chastising me, so it’s a good bet that I’ve just missed something.

‘Excuse me?’ I say.

‘Anything to add?’ says Joe.

‘No.’ I shake my head. ‘No, thank you.’

And so we put the actor through his paces. We give him lines to deliver, ask him to do them in a variety of accents – London, New York, Eastern Bloc. We make him hop like a bunny. And then
we do it again with another actor and another and another and I don’t know how many more. Throughout the session, people talk to me, ask my opinion, ask if I want things. For the most part, I
have no idea what they are saying, so I limit my responses to a series of ambiguous grunts, monosyllables and variations on the classic deferment
I’m not sure, what do you think?
Although I abandoned the latter approach after it became apparent someone had just asked whether I wanted tea or coffee.

‘Great day, everybody,’ says Joe, and it seems we’re finished. ‘Got some good bunnies, I think.’

BOOK: The Two of Us
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