Don woke at three thirty-five, thirsty. Groping for his bedside glass he knocked it over, spilling whatever water was left onto the carpet. Julie slept undisturbed.
Thinking not to wake her, he stole from his bed with the empty glass, tip-toeing to the door,opening it a crack and ducking out onto the landing. Yellow streetlight seeped through the curtain, dappling the floor, enough for him to see his way to the bathroom. Cars still threaded their way past the house even at this hour. He wondered why so many folk travelled at this time. He had never got used to the noise. The cars made the house buzz, but Julie never seemed to
notice it; not that she was home much during the day. His throat was tickling and he felt he would cough. He didn’t bother turning on the bathroom light. The glass clanked the side of the basin as he placed it under the tap. He mentally hushed it. But when he turned on the tap no
water came out, just a gasping sound.
They’d shut off the water. The third time this month. He thought to storm into Julie and
complain, then remembered she needed her sleep. But he would blame her for this indirectly; she had brought him here with her blessed all-important job, made such a fuss about the commute. Never mind him – not that he needed to commute anyway; he could work freelance anywhere, but he missed the quiet of the village where they had lived. Now Julie was pregnant. Who was lined up to look after Junior? – him. His work didn’t matter; Julie thought he could manage both, once the child was weaned. Don banged the glass down on the windowsill and lifted the toilet seat for a pee. He flushed it in a moment of spite for Julie, then realised that the cistern wouldn’t fill again. His throat was actively hurting him now. He felt he might cry. A lorry banged past,
rattling the bathroom blind.
He went quietly downstairs to find something in the fridge. Milk, orange juice, beer. Those healthy bacteria yogurt things that Julie tried to get him to take; leftover tomato soup, but not a drop of mineral water. He drank some of the orange juice, but that made his throat worse. He tried the kitchen tap in desperation, but it gasped like someone beyond the grave.
In less than a fortnight, there would be a baby in the house. Another mouth to feed – a stranger under their roof. He hadn’t even had a brother or sister, let alone a son or a daughter. What an odd idea – ‘My son did this… My daughter is that…’ This child he was expected to care for. The terrifying and shocking idea of it; a prison of nappies and a 24 hour day. How was he expected to work? Things were tight enough as it was. They needed Julie’s income to pay the mortgage. His wasn’t reliable, or sufficient.
Behind him, the sound of shuffling footsteps, the door creaking gently. Julie stood there,
bewildered, awkward. ‘It’s started, Don. My waters broke.’ She swayed, and he thought she might fall.
He rushed over to her, held her close. Water was running down her legs making a puddle under his bare feet. Through his knotted throat, he said, ‘Don’t worry, I’m not going anywhere.’
Elizabeth Stott has published stories and poems; most recently – The Warwick Review, Tears in the Fence and a Nightjar Press chapbook. She has a collection of short stories: ‘Familiar Possessions’ and a Kindle book: ‘This Heat’.
‘Water’ features on her blog: elizabethstott.wordpress.com