‘What about this one?’ my mother says. ‘Don’t you think it looks nice?’
‘If you want me to look like a traffic cone,’ I say.
‘Don’t be silly.’ She pushes the dress to me.
Boxing Day sales have never been my thing. But my mother had insisted, so this morning we drove into town leaving my father, my brother and my husband to their own devices. After a day of constant grazing interrupted only by present opening, a short service at my parents’ church and three sit-down meals, the last thing I feel up to is trying on new clothes.
‘It’s a size six,’ I say.
My mother checks the tag. ‘It’s a big size six though. Why don’t you try it on anyway?’
‘Mum. I’m barely size eight when I’m not pregnant.’
She raises an eyebrow, sorts through the traffic cones and brings out a size twelve.
‘If you like it so much why don’t you wear it,’ I say.
‘Kim,’ she says. ‘Just because you’re pregnant, doesn’t mean you should stop trying.’
‘Stop trying what?’
‘Stop trying to look nice.’
‘You don’t think I look nice?’
‘Of course you do Poppet. It’s just that as you get older it gets a bit harder.’
‘What’s new clothes got to do with it?’
‘New clothes are like a polish. It helps keep the husband interested.’
‘Andrew’s more interested when I’m not wearing clothes.’
I snatch the coathanger and walk towards the change rooms. There’s a line. It gives my mother a chance to catch up.
‘What’s the matter, Kim? Did I say something that upset you?’
I eye her and weigh up which way to go.
‘No, Mum. I’m just tired and my legs are really sore.’
Inside the change room is a mess of strewn cellophane and empty hangers. As I slip out of my skirt I notice a security tag in the corner.
This change room is one of those ones with full-length mirrors on all three sides of the cubicle. Why do they have to build them like this? It makes it impossible to ignore the back of your thighs. And as for my bum—maybe I was kidding myself about Andrew’s interests.
My mother’s rummaging through a bra bin when I rejoin her.
‘It doesn’t suit me.’
‘That’s a pity.’ She takes my arm. ‘OK. Let’s go to Sussan. There’s sure to be something there.’
‘Do we have to?’
‘Come on. We haven’t bought you anything yet.’
She guides me through the aisles clogged with bargain seekers and out through the store’s entrance. Here the shopping centre’s walkway is even worse. It’s so crowded you can’t take more than three steps without brushing someone else’s flesh. My mother’s still got my arm, leading the way. Walking too fast. Almost a drag.
Too many people. The noise. Aren’t the air-conditioners working?
She keeps going. Either not hearing me or choosing not to.
Breathe in. Breathe out.
‘What is it, Kim?’
She looks hurt. Surprised. Concerned. And hurt.
‘My legs are cramping,’ I say.
‘Are you OK?’
Now she just looks concerned.
‘I’m fine,’ I lie. ‘I just need to have a sit down.’
She studies me for a moment longer. ‘You’re probably dehydrated,’ she says. ‘Let’s go to the food court. I’ll get us a nice big Boost Juice.’
The food court is loud. We scan the area. Sparrows are flitting to and fro in the dome of the high glass ceiling.
‘There’s a table,’ my mother says, pointing. ‘Go and save it for us.’
‘What kind of juice do you want?’
As I make my way between the crowded maze of occupied chairs and tables I see a man carrying a food tray heading in the same direction. I speed up. We both reach the table at the same time.
He looks at me. I look at him. He looks at my belly. He turns and walks away.
I’m staring into the fountain when my mother returns.
‘Penny for your thoughts,’ she says, sitting herself down.
‘You could have them for free if I had any.’
I take the jumbo-sized green cup and straw. ‘Thanks.’
‘Apple, pineapple, orange and kiwifruit with crushed ice. Hope you like it,’ she says.
We both draw on our straws. My cup starts to slurp first.
‘How are your legs now?’
‘Much better,’ I say.
‘Good.’ She scrunches her ice with her straw. ‘So have you two decided on a name for my granddaughter yet?’
‘Mum. You don’t know it’s a girl.’
‘Mmm. Maybe. But our family always seems to have girls born first. Aunty Emma was born first. You were born first. And your cousins Shani and Nina are older than their brothers.’
‘What about Brett?’ I say.
‘He’s on your dad’s side.’ She raises her cup. ‘I’m so happy to finally be getting a grandchild,’ she says. ‘Let’s go have a look at the baby shop next if your legs aren’t too tired.’
I take the lid off my cup to get to the last of the ice. I think of what the obstetrician said about my nineteen-week ultrasound. I think of the echogenic bowel. I think of the one in ten chance that our baby has Down syndrome.
She looks at me.
I imagine her reaction.
‘Can we go home?’