The letter had dropped on the mat as she was gathering Jess up to take to the nursery. Jess was still enthralled by the plastic princess that came with the Happy Meal, and held it out for mummy to look at, which was not what Amy needed at that moment as she struggled to get Jess’ arms into the sleeves of the anorak. Jess wriggled and fought back, and Amy was on the point of loosing her temper when the post came.
At the time she didn’t notice the letter. Simply thrust the bundle into her bag, and pulled Jess out of the door and into the car. Only when she got to work, and found that she had an extra ten minutes more than she thought, did she open it. It was clearly official, and when she saw the headed paper bearing the name of Noble and Plunkett solicitors she was more puzzled than alarmed. Only when she unfolded it did she realise the enormity of what was contained within.
All morning she had tried to block the thoughts from her mind, to remain professional and focussed on the training, but all the while she could feel the guilt nibbling at the back of her mind. Of course the whole situation was entirely of her own making. But, no sooner had she started thinking this than she began hating herself for being so weak. Not that the current situation was made to enervate anyone.
She had two options.
And in an effort to avoid either, she found herself in a card shop looking at novelty mugs. The plan had been to by Jess something as a treat, but nothing in the tacky row of stuffed toys appealed, and she couldn’t find a card that suited the mood. And the reality was that this was just another piece of pointless displacement activity: a practice that she was becoming expert in.
She had plenty of opportunities to deal with this. There was the incident in Ibiza when Cliff had got drunk and argumentative and she had locked him out the apartment. That was supposed to be the end of things, but then he had talked his way into the next-door apartment and clambered over the balcony. And then they had a row, and as per usual he had used a mixture of blackmail and physical presence to make her back down. Which had always been the way things had happened between them. And he was especially effective at this when she fell pregnant.
It was his changeable nature that she disliked the most. Some days he was the most loving man that a woman could ever wish for, and then the next he was distant and moody. But, then this was as much to do with the nature of the job. The public are not the easiest people to deal with, especially when you have a bullying nature: like Cliff.
Her eye was draw by the stare of the assistant. Amy turned away from the novelty mugs, and flicked through a stand of ‘Happy Birthday Grandma’ cards. Before slipping out of the shop and back into the flow of office workers rushing on errands in the dinner hour.
The queue for Gregs was back out of the door. Amy joined it, and stood behind a couple of teenagers discussing the forthcoming weekend. The line shuffled forward, past the sandwiches and drinks. But Amy was in need of a sugar rush, the kind of thrill that can only be provided by a four pack of raspberry donuts.
What annoyed her was not that she had been deceitful: which of course she had. But it was more of a sin of omission.
They had been together for six years: living together for four. In all that time Cliff had never had a clue or even asked about contraception. To him it was a matter that was purely down to the woman. The only time he had shown the slightest interest was in the early days when Amy had told him that she was on the pill and was worried that it might lead to a thrombosis, to which he replied that not having to use a condom would more than make up for that.
And she didn’t blame him entirely. They were both working shifts, and Cliff was working all the overtime that came his way to pay for luxuries.
She wiped a trail of jam from her chin as she turned into the High Street. A number of the women scurrying by looking on enviously as took the third donut from the clear plastic tray.
What struck her most was the fact that she had never had to lie. From the moment she told Cliff that she was pregnant he had assumed it was his. It never occurred to him that he was away with the rugby club in Dublin on a Stag Night on the weekend of her fertile weekend. Not that she would have expected him to even know this fact. Because the truth was that as far as she could recall she was still telling him that she was taking the pill.
The receptionist in the solicitors took some details but understood that Amy didn’t want to give her the details. She didn’t have to wait long. A legal secretary appeared and ushered Amy into a side room.
“I received this letter this morning. It’s from my…. ex-boyfriend’s solicitors. He is applying for custody of our…. my daughter.”
“I see. Could I take a copy of the letter? All the solicitors are busy at the moment, but if I could take the details, we will be able to arrange an appointment.”
“Of course. This is all rather embarrassing.”
The secretary smiled, a warm smile, “this is entirely confidential.”
“It doesn’t make it any less embarrassing. The thing is, Jess, that’s my daughter: isn’t his child.”
“Has there been a paternity test?”
“Are you willing to take one?”
“Yes. Ummmm…. I suppose that is why I am here. You see he, Cliff, has moved in with another woman and my circumstances are not ideal. And the Lord knows the money he has been sending us has come in handy.”
“How long have you be separated?”
“It’s about eight months. I’ve only just moved up here, about a month ago. I had to leave my job: I was a policewoman. And, Jess’ father was someone who worked at the station.”
“Are you sure you who the father is?”
“I didn’t sleep around if that is what you are asking.”
“I didn’t mean that. What I meant was, If you go for the paternity test then you may be opening up a bigger can of worms. For instance the biological father might wish access, or it could affect any benefits that you may be entitled to.”
“I’ve thought of that. I was wondering if it would just be possible to prove that Cliff is not the father. I’m not doing this for the money. I just want to make sure that I keep my daughter.”
“Well, as I say, the solicitor will be able to advise you. Though I should point out that he may wish to know the identity of the biological father.”
“Ok, I’ll arrange an appointment for you. Is there any day that would be best for you?”
As she left Amy felt a huge weight lifted from her mind.