Authors: Lisa Jewell
Tags: #General, #Fiction, #Romance, #Last Words, #Fertilization in Vitro; Human
In a hospice in Bury St Edmunds, a man called Daniel is slowly fading away. His friend Maggie sits with him every day; she holds his hand and she listens to the story of his life, to his regrets and to his secrets. And then he tells her about the children he has never met and never will. He talks of them wistfully. His legacy, he calls them.
Lydia, Dean and Robyn don’t know each other. Yet. And they are all facing difficult changes. Lydia is still wearing the scars from her traumatic childhood and although she is wealthy and successful, her life is lonely and disjointed. Dean is a young man, burdened with unexpected responsibility, whose life is going nowhere. And Robyn wants to be a doctor, just like her father – a man she’s never met. But is her whole life built on an illusion?
Three people leading three very different lives. All lost. All looking for something. But when they slowly find their way into each other’s lives, everything starts to change …
Lisa Jewell was born and raised in north London, where she lives with her husband and two daughters. Her first novel,
, was the bestselling debut of 1999. She is also the author of
Thirtynothing, One-Hit Wonder, Vince & Joy, A Friend of the Family, 31 Dream Street, The Truth About Melody Browne
After the Party
, all of which have been
Thank you to Sarah Bailey, Jonny Geller, Kate Elton, Louise Campbell, Georgina Hawtrey-Woore, Claire Round and absolutely everyone at Arrow and Cornerstone, to Google, Wikipedia, my family, my children, my husband and to all the superb people on the Board.
Thank you to Marae for typing skills and to Maggie Smith who let me use her name in return for a donation to the excellent charitable concern, Room to Read. It was a very lovely name to work with.
Thank you as well to all my lovely friends and supporters on facebook and, on occasion, in real life too. In particular, thank you to Yasmin, Janet and Denis for loyalty, enthusiasm, bear hugs, playlists and champagne. To my followers on twitter all I can say is I am sorry. Not a natural born tweeter.
Glenys Pike was thirty-five years old. She had long dark hair and a neck like a swan. Her husband was called Trevor and was five years younger than her. The idea was that he would keep her feeling young. The truth was that the fact that he had not yet reached his thirtieth birthday made her feel about as old as her grandmother. Trevor meanwhile still had all the swagger and sway of a young man, his hair a fat plume of mahogany, his stomach as smooth and hard as set cement. He lived like a young man, too; still went to clubs with his mates until the early hours; last summer he’d even taken a Club 18-30 holiday, just because he could. Trevor was fit and strong and smoked a cigarette like a cowboy. Trevor was a god.
But Trevor was also, Glenys had just learned, shooting blanks.
Well, she didn’t know that for a fact. God, no, Trevor Pike would never wank into a jar, not for anyone, least of all a female doctor. But she had to assume it because there was nothing wrong with her. Nothing whatsoever. Five years they’d been trying to make a baby, five years of phantom symptoms and two-week waits and false hopes and lying with her bloody legs in the bloody air after bloody sex, and nothing. Not even a miscarriage to show for it. And this morning she’d been to see a doctor up at the fertility unit for some results and there it was, plain as your face: Perfect Working Order.
‘What about your husband, Mrs Pike, has he been to see us for tests?’
Glenys had snorted laughter out of her nose. ‘God, no,’ she’d said, ‘I don’t think my husband even knows that there’s such a thing as male infertility.’
‘Macho man?’ asked the doctor.
‘And some,’ agreed Glenys. ‘Party animal. Good Time Guy.
‘Well,’ the doctor had sighed, and leaned back into a chair as though she’d heard it all before a thousand times, ‘in that case I suggest you try and change his lifestyle. If he’s living that kind of life, it’s probably not doing his sperm any good. Does he smoke?’
‘Forty a day.’
‘Forty a day.’ Glenys had grinned. ‘Just kidding. Though some Saturday nights, probably not far off.’
‘Chips? Are they healthy?’ Glenys winked at the doctor who just blinked back at her unsmilingly. ‘No,’ she continued, somewhat unnecessarily, ‘I’m just kidding with you. He does like his chips, but he likes pasta, too. His grandmother was Italian. Says it’s in his blood. And he does like two veg. Peas. Potatoes. Carrots. He always eats his veg.’
‘He is fit, I’d say. He plays football of a Sunday. He walks to work. He’s got amazing stamina, you know, when we’re at it.’
‘Well, anyway …’ The doctor ignored the unwanted insight into her patient’s love life. ‘It sounds like there is plenty of room for improvement. Try a bit for another six months or so, no smoking, no drinking, and if there’s still no change, we’ll have to get your husband in for tests.’
‘Six months?’ Glenys had squeaked. ‘But in six months I’ll be thirty-six. I thought I was going to be a grandmother by the time I was thirty-six! I can’t wait six months! My eggs—’
‘Your eggs are fine,’ the doctor had reassured her. ‘You are fine. If you can just get your husband to change his lifestyle. Oh, yes, and no tight trousers, no tight underwear, you’ll need to get him some cotton boxers.’
Glenys had snorted again at the thought of her Trevor in cotton boxers. Trevor was proud of his packet. He wanted people to be able to admire it, not cover it up in baggy old vicar knickers. And rightly so. ‘You know,’ she said to the doctor, ‘I know my husband. And I know for a fact that he won’t go for any of this stuff. He won’t go for baggy pants and no fags. In fact, it’s the tight pants and the fags that make him feel like a man. Without them he’d feel like, well, he’d feel like a nancy. You know.’
The doctor leaned across the desk towards her. ‘Well, then,’ she said, ‘you might need to start thinking about some other options.’
‘Options. What sort of options?’
The doctor sighed. ‘Well,’ she said, ticking them off on long fingers, ‘fertility tests for your husband, lifestyle changes, those would be the first things to think about. But after that, well, there’s adoption, sperm donation, IVF …’
‘What, like, some fella just gives you their sperm, like?’
‘Well, no, he doesn’t give it to you. Not directly. He donates it to a fertility clinic and the clinic matches the right sperm to the right recipient.’
‘And, golly, how does it … you know?’
The doctor sighed again. Glenys knew she was just a silly girl from the valleys, she hadn’t given much of her life over to thinking about the big, wide world. She didn’t really follow the news or anything like that, just lived in her lovely little bubble of Glenysness. She’d heard about a woman in the next village who’d stolen some sperm from her boyfriend, sucked it out of a used condom with a turkey baster and blasted it up herself. Got pregnant but the baby didn’t catch. Almost like it knew it was the result of some badness. But this, men giving away their sperm to strangers, this was news to her.
‘It’s inserted vaginally, using a syringe. Obviously when a woman is at her most fertile.’
‘Wow, a strange man’s sperm. And my egg. Fancy that. So, how do they decide whose sperm to give me? I mean, how do they choose?’
‘Well, I wouldn’t say they
. But you are given a few salient details about the donor. Height. Hair colour. Eye colour. Nationality. Education.’
Education. Glenys liked the sound of that.
‘What, like, they could be a professor or something?’
The doctor shrugged. ‘In theory. Though more likely to be an out-of-work actor or a student.’
Actors. Students. Professors. The very thought of it. She did love her Trevor. She worshipped her Trevor. He was the sexiest guy in the world. He was cool and handsome and rough and tough and everything a man was supposed to be. Every time he looked at her she got goose skin. But he wasn’t clever, her Trevor, not in that way. He knew a lot about the things he liked, like rugby and cricket and football and fish. He could even speak a few words of Italian. ‘
Ti amo, mi amore
.’ Made her want to stick her hand down the front of his trousers and just grab him when he said that to her. But in some ways, well, it pained her to say it, but in some ways he was really quite stupid.
She hadn’t been able to shake the idea of another man’s sperm from her consciousness after that. Walked around for the rest of the day, imagining herself on a white bed, legs in stirrups, introducing the fruit of a stranger’s loins to the darkness of her waiting body, imagining the eager little things scurrying their way up there towards the golden light of her radiant egg. Then she thought of Trevor’s sperm. Drunk sperm, too busy showing off to each other to find their way through the gloam. She imagined them squaring up to each other: D’you want some? Well, do you? Stupid sperm. Stupid, lazy, macho sperm.
By the time she got home from the clinic she was really quite angry with Trevor and his sperm and had all but made up her mind that she was going to do it, she was going to go to a sperm clinic and ask for some sperm from a nice, clever teetotal man. But there he was, as she walked in the door of their cosy little flat just outside Tonypandy. He was filleting a fish on the kitchen counter, wearing his silly apron, the one with the picture of the naked woman on it that his brother had bought him for Christmas the year before, and his face lit up at the sight of her and he was so gorgeous and so silly and so damn perfect, she couldn’t help it, she just wanted to cuddle him and kiss him and not talk about sperm or babies or cotton boxer shorts.