If Maddison had not once known someone called Henrietta, she would have thought that there was not a soul in the whole world who was currently called Henrietta. Perhaps in the time of crinolines and night carts, but not social media and lattes. And there was the Henrietta, who Maddison once knew, when they were twelve, and taking dance lessons together, Maddison square and clumpy, Henrietta a bendy sapling, smiling at Maddison, a babe in arms. Not in person, but on Maddison’s phone. Maddison was filling in time, scrolling through Facebook while waiting for her name to be called to be assessed for jury service, along with a room full of slouched shouldered strangers, stale sweat and cheap perfumes mingling, fingers swiping, swiping. Except for the henna-haired bohemian, knitting a vest for her eighth grandchild. Maddison had reassured her grumpy bespectacled boss that she would only be away a week should she get picked, as the case was minor. Unfortunately, this turned out to be untrue as more information came to light, and Maddison was away for five weeks upsetting both her boss and clients. But at the moment Maddison was enjoying the brief lull in her busy schedule to catch up with her social media. She briefly considered checking emails but knew she would get no thanks for “keeping her finger on the pulse,” so brought up Facebook instead. The photo of Henrietta, newly applied make-up looking slightly clownish, on an exhausted pale face, that an hour earlier had been contorted in pain, holding a baby swaddled in pink was not a surprise to Maddison. This wasn’t because they had been in contact personally, Maddison and Henrietta slurping sweet, milky, coffees together, in overflowing cafes, crowing with glee at Henrietta’s impending motherhood, and how happy she and husband Fraser were, but rather that Henrietta had posted many, many pictures of her swelling belly on Facebook and Instagram, and how happy she and Fraser were. As Maddison gazed at the post, Maddison felt vaguely envious of the grinning Henrietta, which was silly, as she had no maternal inclinations at present, and as it eventuated, never, happy to concentrate on her career, supported by her kind, considerate, linguist, professor, husband of many years, who constantly quashed his own yearnings for children.
Henrietta, who had posted many, many photos of her swelling belly with captions such as: we can’t wait to meet you and we are counting down the days, like Maddison, had until her baby was born, no maternal inclinations and never planned on having children. Ever. Fraser was in total agreement. He was not sure how he ever ended up married, being easily led and frequently at that. Perhaps being easily led, was how he ended up being married, swept along in the wave of marriages that was swamping his circle of friends. Being tied down with a family was his worst nightmare and even accused Henrietta of trapping him. She responded by screaming at him, that the pregnancy was an accident, her birth control failing, which was the truth, face red, spittle flying, aware she was making the whole situation ten times worse, but unable to pull back. He responded by lying and cheating. While Henrietta was posting the photo of her and her newborn, whom she named Rose, with the caption we are now three, her lying, cheating bastard of a husband was doing exactly what she knew he was doing and being easily led by a work colleague. Despite this, Henrietta, when she posted the photo of her and Rose, was blissfully happy. This feeling did not pass and Henrietta found motherhood, and as it turned out, single motherhood, as she threw Fraser out when Rose was three months old and never let a man into her life again, bought joy and contentment and balanced out a busy career, power dressing and misogynous bosses, with parent teacher night, giggling sleepovers with cookie crumbs. Rose grew up into a happy grounded adult despite being tossed between two warring parents, and enjoyed a close relationship with both, until Henrietta was killed in a car accident when Rose was twenty-one, whereupon Rose then had to put up with her father’s current partner trying to take over mothering “the poor wee thing.” When Henrietta posed for the photo, taken by her overworked midwife, whose start of shift tight hair bun, was now tumbling out of bobby pins, while her ten-year-old son tried not to mind that his mother had missed yet another of his school athletics days, and posted it with the before mentioned caption, she was unaware of all of this, because of course it had not happened yet. Except for the fact that she knew her lying, cheating husband had missed the birth, due to cheating and would lie about it later.
Maddison, as she waited to be called for jury duty, was also unaware of all this and remained unaware of all this, as she went on to live her life becoming a CEO of a worldwide corporation, far too busy to bother with social media and never connecting in person with Henrietta or Rose, except for the time Rose came into the city for a school trip to the museum and brushed Maddison’s arm on a crowded sidewalk, as Maddison hurried to her favourite café, to meet up with her kind, considerate, linguist, professor, husband, for a late birthday lunch. His, not hers.
Maddison clicked on like and scrolled down to the next post then backtracked, changed the like, to the heart symbol, then hearing her name being called, stood up, turned her phone off and slipped it into her back pocket.