A Year in the Life of a Lounge

Submitted into Contest #84 in response to: Write a story that spans exactly a year and takes place in a single room.... view prompt

1 comment




It will be a shame to take down the Christmas decorations that the girls went to such trouble with, and perhaps I might let Stella have her wish of keeping a few fairy lights around the window. It can do no harm. And I will admit, for all people say he is far too young to be able to focus properly, I swear Harvey is looking at the lights and liking them, with his big, solemn brown eyes. If anyone had told me this time last year that there would be an addition to our family, a December baby, then I would not have taken it remotely seriously. Yes, I knew people older than I was had babies, but I had never intended being a new Mum in my forties. And Nat hadn’t reckoned on being a new Dad at that age either – I mean, my goodness, he’ll turn 50 this year. We had our two beautiful girls, Stella just turned ten and Astrid a new teenager, and we had each other, and we were planning a lovely spring holiday now it’s allowed once more. Yes, we were careless. And yet the minute I realised that I was definitely pregnant, I had a deep sensation that it was meant to be. Not exactly joy, or not of the elated, excited kind, but something calm and curious. He is lying in his Moses basket in the lounge, in our family lounge in the house where we have lived in for nine years now – we moved in not long after Stella was born, because the flat wasn’t really big enough. We’ve had conversations about moving again, but we won’t, at least, not yet. We will enjoy a while as a family of five in the house we love and have put our stamp on, in the house where we have covered threadbare carpets with bright rugs and filled with our books and our ornaments, and all the things that people who do house makeovers and say you should aim for neutral colours and minimalism would go into an apoplexy about. Our Poinsettia has actually survived past Christmas – that’s a first!

The girls are so good with Harvey in their different ways. It’s almost as if Stella has become younger, with a living doll to play with and Astrid has grown older, taking on responsibilities and tasks that I know are really beyond her years, but she genuinely doesn’t seem to mind. Sometimes it seems as if one heart isn’t big enough to hold so much love and pride.



I know I should disapprove, but I genuinely couldn’t mind when Michael at work said, “So you have a lad now, as well, someone to kick a football around with!” All the same, I gently pointed out that I might be getting a bit old for football-kicking, at least with any great skill or alacrity, before Harvey was of the age to so do, and that Stella is a cracking little footballer! She manages to be a girly girl and a tomboy all in one, and I love her all the more for it. Of course I love my serious, studious Astrid every bit as much. Three precious children to adore. And to worry about. Because I do worry. I’m not exactly scared to tell Elvira that, we’ve always been pretty open about each others’ feelings. But she’s normally the worrier of the family, and at the moment I seem to be doing it for both of us. Oh God, yes, I worried about her giving birth, but in fact it was an easier confinement than it had been for either of the girls. My son arrived with minimal fuss, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t going to cause any fuss. I do sometimes fret about the girls. Elvira says they’re being wonderful, and of course she’s right, but – yes, I have to come out and say it. For all they are both devoted to Harvey, it’s not really fair on them. Astrid’s head is bent over a book at the moment, and Stella, who has quite taken to drawing, is drawing a picture on her sketchpad, leaning over the coffee table. I wonder whether to suggest she would be more comfortable at the kitchen table, but think better of it. I don’t think she’s have the feeling she was being banished, but you never know.



I couldn’t believe my ears when Mum told me she was having a baby. I just burst out “Aren’t you too old?” then realised that was rude, but she only laughed and said, “Well, I’m older than a lot, but younger than some.”

I know how babies are made and how they are born, of course, and I’m fine with it, but that doesn’t always mean that I really like to think about it. Granny Louise came to stay with us while Mum was at the hospital and for a few days after she got back. I love Granny Louise, but sometimes she says things I wish she wouldn’t. She said, “You two will have to be very good girls and help your Mum you know.”

“We have every intention of doing, Granny,” said Astrid in that grown-up way of hers that is nearly cheeky but somehow isn’t. Astrid had grown quite a bit this last year and I haven’t, so though we used to be more or less the same height, now we’re not. I don’t exactly mind and of course it isn’t her fault, but sometimes think that though she’s always kind to me – well, nearly always – she’s leaving me behind. I don’t want that to happen. Harvey is gurgling at the moment, and I wonder about showing him the drawing I’ve done of a dog (we were supposed to be getting a new dog, after all, it had been six months since Groucho went to the Rainbow Bridge, as Granny says) but I don’t suppose we well at least not for a while.



I am the sensible one, the big sister, the child who is never any trouble. And most of the time I genuinely don’t mind that. I didn’t make the big deal of becoming a teenager some kids do (I must remember not to say kids when Granny Louise comes to visit as she doesn’t like the word and says we’re not a family of goats!) Okay, there were other things going on in the family, Mum was eight months pregnant – she likes us to say pregnant and not things like “expecting” – and anyway, thirteen is a funny sort of age for a party. My friend Leah says it’s “too old for balloons and too young for booze” – though if she did but know it, and I decided not to tell her, Mum and Dad did let me have a little glass of wine, though Mum wasn’t drinking anything. Well, not alcohol, I mean. I was sensible and grown-up about it. But sometimes I really don’t know if that’s how I am or if it’s just what people expect of me. It’s seriously weird to have the lounge to myself! The Easter holidays from school have begun, but Stella is at her soccer practice, Dad is at work, and Mum and Harvey are at the mother and baby group at the Leisure Centre. I thought about going out to the shops – I have a bit of money saved up, but decided just to relish having the lounge to myself. And yes I DO like it! I’ve still not worked out why but just one very small (though rapidly growing!) addition to a family can make a room seem much smaller, even when he isn’t in it. Leah asked me to tell her honestly how I thought about having a little brother thirteen years younger than I am. She has a way of saying honestly that gets on my nerves at times, as if she thinks I’m a liar, and I’m sure she didn’t used to do it as much, not when we were at junior school! Of course I said it was wonderful and I loved him to bits. And of course I love him to bits!



I feel sorry for those girls. I genuinely do. I know it’s absurd but I almost wish that I hadn’t told them, made a point of telling them, to be good girls when Harvey was born. They are good girls, really good girls, and they’ve had a lot to put up with this year. Much as I adore my daughter and am deeply fond of Nathaniel even though I didn’t like him much at first (and he knows it, and to his credit, doesn’t hold it against me, at least I don’t think so!) I sometimes think they don’t realise just how much the girls’ lives have been disrupted. Oh of course I worship my grandson and would never want the family to be without him, and thank God he’s healthy and bright. But he has turned things upside down. Oh, I’m not for one minute saying they’re neglecting the girls, sometimes they almost seem to over-compensate, at least in material ways, but they wouldn’t be human or normal girls their age if they weren’t deeply disappointed about not having their holiday. Children have gone through some pretty rotten, unnatural times in the recent past, and I know they were excited and delighted about the thought of finally going on holiday again. I think Stella was only half-joking when she said that she’d almost forgotten what a holiday was like. And Astrid, who is the least sulky child I have ever known, actually uttered the words, as good as unknown on her lips, that it wasn’t fair that you had to be at least 14 to go on what they call the School Journey. I can see exactly why she feels like that, and know full well she would probably be more responsible and trustworthy than some of the sixteen year olds on it as they make their trip to the Low Countries. I even, though I don’t normally interfere in such matters, had a quiet word with the head teacher, Alison Myers, whom I know through the choir, and she said, with a sigh, “I’d love to, Louise, and if she turned fourteen while we were away, I might stretch a point but – well, you know, insurance and such things.” I knew. I couldn’t blame her, and Astrid, to the best of my knowledge, hasn’t said it’s not fair again, but I wonder if she’s thought it.



I left work early, making an excuse of not feeling well, and as (perhaps fortunately) I don’t have a reputation for pulling sickies, I only met with sympathy – even though they were also generous on letting me have some paternity leave. And the truth is, I was feeling sick and churned, but I was lying when I said it must be something I had eaten. There is also this horrible contradiction, I needed to get home, wanted to get out of Lisa’s company because I was thinking things I shouldn’t think and wanting things I shouldn’t want. I don’t know why I feel so drawn to her. I mean, she’s a nice woman, pleasant and helpful and not bad looking in a girl next door kind of way, but – and I know this sounds awful, but a lot of things in my mind sound awful at the moment – if you were casting someone for the cliché of the secretary who has an affair with the boss (okay I’m not the boss, though maybe one day I will be) then you wouldn’t cast Lisa. But I found myself desperate to talk to her just to talk about something – anything – that wasn’t to do with the daily life of a six month old baby – a baby whom I adore with every fibre of my being. And I’m being unfair, surely! Elvira does talk about other things, but it all seems to lead back to Harvey. She hasn’t let herself go, but doesn’t make much effort either, and I don’t mind that, of course I don’t, I’m not that superficial, and Lisa is hardly what you’d call a snazzy dresser. But I had to get out of the office. And now I’m in the lounge, with Elvira and Harvey and my thoughts, and impatient for the girls to get home from school, because then I will have to make some effort!



I can’t talk about it to anyone, not even to Mum, though I know she’d be patient and not pooh-pooh things, but perhaps I especially don’t want to tell her because I still remember how she didn’t originally have that high an opinion of Nathaniel; she’d heard he had a “reputation”. I know her well enough to know she would never dream of saying “I told you so”, but she might still think it, and I need them to be quite close now, and to get on, and for there to be no recriminations. And I certainly can’t talk about it to any of my friends, some of them young enough to be my daughter, but very kind, at the Mother and Baby Group. If I’d kept in touch with Adele I might have been able to, but somehow it has dwindled to Christmas and Birthday cards, though she did send me a lovely letter (well, email) when Harvey was born. I just know that Nat is hiding something from me. It might not even be something he’s done, but something he wants to do. Oh, why the wishy-washy words? I have this notion that he may have another woman, or at least that there is another woman he is attracted to. At work? Not Marigold – as Mum puts it (though without any hint of condemnation, even if the phrase does make me wince a bit) she bats for the other team. Lisa? Oh, surely not! We got on well enough when I met her, but she seemed an amenable little mouse, able to make conversation about most things, not what Mum calls (I seem to be quoting Mum a lot at the moment, and wonder why, and know why) feather-headed, but no threat. Even though, as Nat says, she’s a whiz with the computer, there’s almost something of the old fashioned secretary about her!



I am looking in at Nat’s lounge. The curtains are still open, although there are nets and them, and I can see the illuminated shadow play of what anyone would describe as a happy family. I can’t stay long, can’t risk being seen. I need to see it, need to enforce and engrave on my mind that what we came close, so close, to doing today, would have been so utterly wrong, with consequences that could never be called back. I must not resent this family. Must not resent this woman who has never done me any harm, and this innocent little baby, and these good-hearted girls. I must not. But I do.



I saw someone outside our house tonight, not so much saw as sensed, and I said so, and then wished I hadn’t said so. Mum and Dad took me seriously, and Dad went out to have a look. He seemed to be gone a strange amount of time. That’s the only way I can put it. It was too long a time for it to be nothing at all, but not long enough for it to be something he needed to take actions about. I didn’t tell him that I’d had this sensation before. When he did come back, he said, “It’s fine, Astrid, don’t worry.” But he didn’t look as if it was fine. And he didn’t tell me it must have been my imagination.



Mum said we were too old to go trick or treating, and all at once that meant I wanted to, even though to be honest I’d never enjoyed it that much (the so-called treats are nearly always rubbish!). She even put up one of those signs asking people not to call and wishing them a Happy Halloween. She has let us carve pumpkin lanterns, which would be fine, except she doesn’t believe in waste and we’ll have to put up with pumpkin soup after. I think she worries it might unsettle Harvey. She’s fond of that word “unsettle”.



I know that it’s what the girls, and perhaps Elvira too, would call, one of my sayings, but there’s an atmosphere in this room you could cut with a knife. The girls have gone to bed, or at least to their bedrooms (Astrid is bound to read for a couple of hours, and none of us are going to police her!) of their own volition. They will not hear raised voices. Raised voices might unsettle Harvey. But we’re all unsettled, even if we don’t howl at the full pitch of our lungs!



The girls have decorated the lounge, even more elaborately than last year, but I fancy with less heart. They know something went wrong, went very wrong, of course they did, especially Astrid, who seems to have almost segued into womanhood. But they were spared seeing Nat weep in my arms, and spared hearing me weep too, and then there came a kind of calm, and we talked, and we talked about all that was most precious to us, and how we must not lose it. I am sitting in the lounge alone, not even Harvey is with me, he’s upstairs in the little bedroom Nat has furnished for him. Dusk has already fallen, and the first star of Christmas Eve is in the sky.

There is hope.

March 12, 2021 07:19

You must sign up or log in to submit a comment.

1 comment

Susan Vance
19:50 Mar 22, 2021

I liked your use of the journal format in this short. Nicely done!


Show 0 replies

Bring your short stories to life

Fuse character, story, and conflict with tools in the Reedsy Book Editor. 100% free.