The Way Home
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oon the others come upstairs one by one, their visitors have left. More cigarettes, tea, coffee. These sandwiches are good... I'm so hungry the dinner I got was terrible. It was a mistake asking for the fish... They said we'll get breakfast in bed tomorrow... We'll be lucky if it is Rice Krispies, probably one piece of toast with jam...

In their nightdresses and with the unexpected sandwiches, there is almost a festive atmosphere in the room.

I had a scare two months ago, says Kay, my period came late, five days. It's strange that is. Last year exactly the same thing happened to a couple we know. My boyfriend was all stiff and disapproving. Said it was the wrong thing to do but now when he's in the same situation, it's all right. We came here last night so that he could pay because he couldn't come with me this morning. I nearly changed my mind then, I hated the look of this place.

I have four kids, Maggie says, I have asthma and look at my legs mottled with varicose veins. I couldn't face a fifth, had to come specially from Ireland for this.

And the golden beauty came all the way from Cape Town. The laws in South Africa are so backward. I'll stay in London for a few more days, I've been here before but there are still things I'd like to see.

I've been dancing, jogging and I didn't miss my aerobics class. We even went hill-walking on the weekend, Kay smiles for the first time. I thought something would happen but I was fine, nothing ever happened. My boyfriend kept saying, come on walk faster, save us some money.

Everyone laughs.

Nadia imagines Fat Boyfriend puffing up the hill. Two hundred and fifty pounds could take us to Majorca.

My mum said the same thing, she tried everything to get rid of me, Tracy says, and it was so difficult in those days. She is laughing now enjoying the conversation, the smoke-filled room, the feeling that her body no longer hurts like before.

I walked up the underground steps instead of taking the escalator, adds the golden beauty, though it is not true; but she is eager to join in.

Now they boast of their fertility, brag of the way the lumped clot clung firmly inside them. The primitive urge to celebrate the ability to conceive overtakes them for the first time. Only Maggie does not brag.

Some of my friends were so mean about this, says Kay. Why don't you get yourself sterilized, one of them said. Imagine, what a thing to say.

Though she does not yet admit it to herself, Kay wanted him to propose marriage, commitment. Wanted him last night when they crept stealthily to the nursing home to turn back and say, No, forget it. But the fat man would not be prodded by the unscheduled, would not surrender, give way. And fine lines are now marking the edge of his lady's smile. Miss Thirtysomething's fecund sun is a long way past noon.

I'm taking a week off work, Kay goes on, hate the job anyway. Stupid boring job being a data operator. Is it by half past nine that we have to leave here tomorrow morning? He's coming to pick me up at nine.

Kay is talking more than the others. Pulling at her cigarette in tension, her thin legs crossed tightly together.

Chris told me, 'Make your own way home Tracy', and Tracy laughs a little unevenly, shakes her red hair. Chris is my boyfriend, she adds to explain though there is no need. And he wasn't there when you phoned him, Nadia thinks.

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