Nathaniel had only been asleep for two hours when he was awakened again. It took his fuddled brain a few seconds to orientate itself into wakefulness. A sliver of pale light was peeping through a narrow gap in the long, heavy curtains. Next to him, a single nude leg hung over the edge of the bed, the rest of the body cloaked in the lightweight duvet, gently rising and falling. Realising that the noise that had awoken him hadn’t yet roused Jessica, he swept back the cover off his naked body, swung his legs over the side of the bed and swiftly and stealthily left the bedroom through the already open door. Hopefully he could quell the sound and allow her a little more much-needed rest.
In the next room, he leaned over the wooden railing, dipped under the dangling fabric clown fish, and gently lifted the squalling bundle from the cot. Gently rocking his arms, he cooed and shushed, strolling a small circuit around the room, passing by the elephants, giraffes, rhinos and zebras which circled the nursery on the wall frieze. But a scrunched, angry red face continued to peak out from amidst the swaddling blanket and the howls of displeasure rolled on. It was no use. He couldn’t give Lily what she wanted.
He carried his fragile parcel back to his bedroom where Jessica was now awake, looking tired but beautiful, sitting up, propped against the pillows.
“It’s no use,” he said. “She won’t go back to sleep.”
“That’s ok. She’s just hungry, that’s all.”
Jessica reached out to take the precious package from him, dropped the duvet to uncover her naked breasts and allowed the baby to feed. Instantly the penetrating screech was replaced by the soothing sounds of supping and swallowing. Nathaniel sat down on the edge of the bed and watched, still marvelling at the wonder of it all. He was in awe of Jessica who always seemed to know just what was needed and how to do it, while he felt he was an impotent, quivering mess of uselessness. He’d always had a particular distaste for those over-protective parents; the don’t-climb-trees, hourly-anti-bacterial-hand-sanitiser, fences-round-paddling-pools, glow-sticks-at candlelit-procession types. He still truly believed that kids needed to catch colds, break a leg and learn for themselves a little bit about what hurt. But parenthood was still terrifying. There were so many aspects of life that he never wanted Lily to experience; and so little he could do to prevent it. But then hadn’t that been what he’d spent the past ten or more years of his life trying to do? Make the world a better, safer place for future generations? Only now that future generation had tiny curling fingers, deep blue pools of eyes, a straggly tuft of blond hair and a name. It was a lot of responsibility to take on.
“I’ll get our breakfast on the go,” he said, finding some way to make himself useful.
He slipped on a pair of trunk underpants and crossed the hall to the kitchen. When they’d bought the tenement apartment nine years ago, they’d been romanced by the high ceilings, the big airy living-dining room, the detailed plaster cornices and dado rails, the ornate fireplace, the 130 years of history. They seemed to have been blinded to the draughty doors and windows, the tiny shared garden and the exceedingly small kitchen and bathroom. Jessica still loved it though but he would rather be living somewhere with a bit of land, where they could grow more vegetables, keep some chickens and goats, and just be a bit more self-sufficient. They both wanted that really, especially now with Lily. They wanted her to grow up where she could run around outside, see the stars and experience the rhythms of nature. He hoped that in the near future they could move away. But for the time being, the city was where the jobs were and, if you had to live in the city, there weren’t many better places than this.
In the cramped kitchen, he filled a kettle and scooped some tealeaves into a brightly-coloured teapot. He cut a couple of thick slices from a wholegrain loaf and popped them into the toaster. Next he heated a little oil in a large, iron frying pan and expertly cracked in two free-range eggs from the fridge, popping the shells into a plastic tub that he’d empty into the composting bin downstairs later. Jessica came in, wrapped loosely in a short, silky dressing-gown, Lily quietly slumbering on her arm.
“Thanks,” she said, giving him a long, slow kiss, full on the mouth.
“I think I got the easy job. Breakfast is served.”
Jessica picked up a couple of mugs with her free hand, while he carried the teapot and both of their plates, like an experienced waiter, through to the bright, expansive living room. In the large bay window at the far end, overlooking the park, stood a solid wooden table surrounded by six chairs. The table was cluttered with his laptop, a printer and several large rolls of paper. Using the side of his arm, he swept some of them across the table to clear some space.
“Are those the posters for today?” she asked.
“How did they turn out?”
“Yeah, I’m pleased with them. Not that anyone’ll take any notice of them.”
“Nat, you don’t really think that. You wouldn’t keep doing it if you did.”
“I know. I just doubt sometimes if we’re actually making a difference, if anything ever changes.”
“You do make a difference,” she said, leaning across the corner of the table to give him another kiss.