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Barbara Mercer

The Stork


It’s just on two when George backs his Austin Morris into a space outside the Victorian maternity hospital and turns the engine off. For a moment they sit quietly together as a stream of damp visitors hurry past on their way to the doors. They watch through raindrops as a short woman with dark hair stops outside the door and looks round; she’s wearing a plastic rain hat and juggling her handbag, a large shopper and a small bunch of flowers. They can’t see what the flowers are from here.


I guess that’s her Mother, she’s the same build’.


‘You could be right,’ George responds, ‘I can never see these things, you going to find out?’


‘I’d better, hadn’t I? I don’t know how long I’ll be.’


‘That’s alright love, I’ve got the paper, don’t suppose these things can be hurried really, even though it’s probably best, I mean …’


Margaret opens the car door and gets out, lifting the carry cot out of the back, and then leaning in for her handbag.


‘If it’s going to be very long, I’ll nip out and let you know.’


She closes the car door, pulls her shoulders back and walks over to the woman. George sits back and sighs, she’s forgotten her umbrella. He sits listening to the drill of rain on the car roof, then picks up the paper; the Kray trial continues, the jury have been sent for flu vaccinations, but the paper’s more excited about North Sea Gas.


He’s done the crossword and the car is isolated by its own fogged windows before, as he winds down the window to clear the fug, he catches sight of Margaret at the door again. She is now also carrying the small bunch of flowers and a bulging net shopping bag, just behind her there’s a young nurse holding the carry cot in both hands. George swiftly shoves the Mirror under his seat, grabs the umbrella, and gets out of the car, hurrying over to the two women. Margaret immediately fills his hands with flowers and bags, and grabs the umbrella. She turns to take the carrycot from the nurse.


‘Thank you, we can manage from here.’


They walk back to the car where the carry cot and its contents are carefully placed on the backseat. Margaret gets in next to the cot. George dumps the flowers, which turn out to be freesias, on the front passenger seat, together with the bags; the umbrella is left dripping in the footwell.


‘Right, let’s go. You said Chingford?’


‘Yes, I’ve got the directions for once we get there, shouldn’t take much more than half an hour or so.’


In less time than that they are pulling up outside a well-kept semi-detached house. Through the tick of the windscreen wipers George sees the curtains twitch and, before either of them are out of the car, the front door is open. The woman at the door is tall with curly fair hair, she’s both smiling and trying not to cry, and looks like she has anchored herself to the door frame; behind her is another face, pale and bobbing in the dim hallway.


Margaret inhales deeply,


‘Come on then.’


They manoeuvre themselves and their various burdens out of the vehicle and up the garden path where they are welcomed into the house.


After about half an hour the door opens again, Margaret and George come out, empty handed, at the end of the path they turn briefly, as if to wave goodbye, but the door is already shut. They get back into the car and sit quietly for a moment, the scent of freesias still hanging in the air. George starts the car and they move off into the gathering gloom of late afternoon.


In the house a light goes on in an upstairs room.