This story is by Sabina Muller and was part of our 2019 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Wiping her muddy boots on the mat by the entrance and closing the door behind her, Eve took one look around the room and knew that coming here had been a mistake. They had found this place in a booklet called The Strangest Pubs in Britain. It was a gift from one of their friends. They had put it on top of a pile of magazines in their living room and not looked at it again until two weeks ago, when they came home drunk from a birthday party and flicked through it together. It had made both of them laugh, and they had agreed to a trip to The Confidence Inn. Thinking back to that night gave Eve a pang in the heart. They were happy then. Now, she was unsure if Mary would even show up.
Reluctantly, she hung her wet coat on the rack next to the entrance and made her way towards the bar. She felt watched as she crossed the room. There seemed to be only men in this place. Their greedy eyes clung to her neck. She ordered a beer and nervously scanned the room. She counted two other women. One was the barmaid. The other one was surrounded by a group of men, who all sat on short stools around a table in the corner. Drunken snorts and laughter erupted from that table. Steering away from them, Eve dropped into a chair on the opposite side of the room. She suddenly felt dizzy from the noise and from the stench of the unwashed carpets and the sticky patina that covered every surface: tables, chairs, even the walls. Every inch of wall space was taken up by placards, blackened paintings, distorted taxidermy animals, old books and knick-knacks. She couldn’t breathe. She longed for Mary to arrive and to save her, but then she remembered why she was there. She had to explain why she suddenly left their flat ten days ago and hadn’t been back since. At that thought, Eve jumped up. She craved fresh air, but as she turned towards the door, she saw Mary step inside.
Mary briskly opened and closed her umbrella several times, to shake off the worst of the raindrops. She leaned it against the wall underneath the coat rack, closed the door behind her and looked up. Her glasses were completely covered by fog. She smiled and took them off. Squinting, she used a corner of her shirt to wipe the condensation off the glass. She’d clean them properly once she’s sat down. Stepping inside a homey country pub from the grim weather outside always gave her an immediate feeling of comfort and warmth. She was pleased to see that this one had a real fire place, with logs crackling in it. The air smelled sweetly of smoke and hops. She wondered whether Eve had remembered their plans to meet here but something told her that she was already here.
“Hi,” Eve said gently.
“Hello you,” Mary gleamed. “Did you find a table?”
“I’m just over there by the fire.”
It was as though nothing had happened between them. Mary wasn’t angry at Eve for taking off. Over the past year, their relationship had somehow become saturated. She had enjoyed these days on her own. She spread out across the whole bed every night and slept until ten every morning. She only missed Eve in the evenings, at dinner time. She hated eating by herself. Nonetheless, these few days apart had done them some good. Now, Mary was ready for Eve to come home.
They sat down at the table by the fire. Mary secretly studied Eve as she fondled with her bag and seemed to be searching for something. She looked strained. A beer stood on the table, untouched. Finally, Eve let go of her bag and looked Mary in the eyes.
“I’m pregnant,” she blurted out, before Mary could say anything. Mary was stunned.
“What? What are you talking about?”
“The day I left, I had my first doctor’s appointment and it’s confirmed. There’s something growing inside of me, but I want it gone.”
“Who? How is that even possible?” Mary was struggling to comprehend.
“Simon. About two months ago.” Eve couldn’t say any more, but she didn’t have to.
A stinging pain suddenly shot through Mary’s head. She felt the tiredness of the past months rush over her and crush her. She was nauseous and deaf. She wanted to stand up, but her knees were too weak. There were questions she needed to ask, but she no longer cared about the answers. She felt distant from Mary, from this situation, from this pub. She wanted to respond, to shout at Eve, but instead she fell silent.
After minutes of apathy, Mary took off her glasses and rubbed her face. She was able to reconnect her thoughts with her body, and she spoke slowly but firmly.
“I want you to keep it – I mean, keep him or her. Don’t have the abortion.”
Eve, who had willed Mary to say something, anything, while she was sitting there blankly staring into the fire, was now in disbelief of what she had just heard. She let Mary continue.
“I want us to have this baby. I guess, I thought we would look into adoption one day, but this could be our chance to have a family. I’m sorry I freaked. I didn’t expect this, obviously.”
“Absolutely not!” Eve struggled to contain her anger. “I don’t really want children and certainly not like this, not now. I don’t have time to be pregnant with my solo show coming up, even if you were prepared to do most of the looking-after later on.”
Eve felt suspicious. How was Mary suddenly so certain of this? It was as though she had planned it all along. Usually, she admired Mary’s assertiveness but now it seemed completely misplaced. It was her body at stake, after all. Simon aside, the past year had been the worst so far in their relationship and Eve didn’t think that a baby would improve their dynamics in any way. She didn’t want them to be one of those couples who try to blow new wind into their faltering relationship by getting pregnant or getting married. Either they would work on their relationship together, the two of them, or – Eve wanted them to work it out, but not with a baby between them.
Mary on the other hand, was speechless for the second time that night. She thought Eve had only suggested the abortion out of nervousness. Their occasional arguments and disagreements over the past year seemed trivial in the face of this blessing. Besides, they still had six or seven months before the baby would arrive. They could use that time to iron out any kinks in their relationship, even go to therapy, if that’s what it took. She knew they were ready for this; she was ready for this.
Tired of arguing, they both sat quietly for a while. Mary looked old, as if she had aged several years since she had stepped through the door. Across from her, Eve was sitting up straight now, and she seemed invigorated by their disagreement. She felt that way too: as though she had been yanked out of a swamp and landed back on steady ground. This was actually happening. She suddenly knew what she had to do. She had been unhappy for too long.
Mary, as though feeling the change taking place in Eve, leaned forward and reached for Eve’s hand but she was too late.
Eve stood up, gave Mary a last look in the eyes and turned away towards the door.
Mary watched her grab her coat from the rack, pull open the door with force and leave.