3 min

Condoms don’t always work, Lucy learns

Swarmed by toddlers

Lucy was ten minutes late. “Only ugly people are on time,” she said. “You know that.”

“Ah, but ugly people get hot coffee,” said Will. He handed her a lukewarm latte, non-fat, with a whisper of vanilla.

“Is it really just a whisper?” asked Lucy, looking into the milk. “Because all my happiness now depends on this drink.”

“Serious stuff, huh?” They made for the seawall under swooping gulls and the paranoid caws of springtime crows.

This was in the lusty month of May, after the cherry trees had embarrassed themselves and were hedging into a sober green. Will had torn himself from the breakfast Tim Hughes had prepared-the coffee hardly sipped as he slouched into runners.

Tim had looked up with surprise and something pained. “Oh? Leaving?” Lucy had said it was important.

“I’d better just tell you, because there’s no easy way. I’m pregnant.”


“And I don’t want any fucking lectures, because there’s really no point now, is there?”

“I wasn’t-”

“It isn’t as if I wasn’t being safe!” Lucy sped up, bits of gravel spinning from under her. Rounding a corner, she nearly collided with a BMX. “I’m fucking preggos, asshole!” was Lucy’s considered response, which she post-scripted by flipping the biker the bird.

“Condoms don’t always work,” she continued. “Did you know condoms don’t always work? Because I didn’t know that condoms don’t always work. And it seems a key thing, you know? Like, if I was a condom, I would fucking work. Like really, really work.”

The colour of things went grayscale as they continued their promenade at a more languorous pace. Lucy was forced to cool her steps, encumbered as she was by alien refugees, buckets of folk from outside the West End, who came for the seawall, toting children like handbags, clogging the narrow path.

Toddlers, toddlers, everywhere! They swarmed across the seawall (parents benignly neglectful) like a swaddled militia, crying out and hitting each other, disturbing the afternoon with a vicious indifference to Lucy’s trauma.

“Well, out with it then,” Will aimed a smile at her. “Who’s Daddy?”

“Oh, you don’t know him.”

“Come on.”

“Well, what I mean is, I don’t know him.”

“How glamorous.” Will hung his arms around Lucy, forcing her to stop. “You’re not husband hunting now, are you? Because I’m afraid I’m taken.”

Stony silence. Will lifted her up and laughed. “Stop with the doomsday stuff. You’ll be a fantastic mom. God, that sounds weird, huh?”

“Stop it, Will!” She was red all of a sudden and her voice fused whispering and gulping into one horrible sound.

“I would not be a fantastic mom. I can’t take care of myself, there’s no way I’m fucking taking care of some baby.”

And then, quietly, “Who said I was going to have it, anyway?” The midday sun was too hot, and Lucy tore at her jacket. “God, I just want to…”

Then she came to a halt. Some drooling git of a girl had collapsed in front of her, as though delivered by the stork and, one chubby hand extended, seemed to cry out with Old Testament severity at Lucy, who was struck with a long shudder and crept around the red-faced toddler.

Will took the jacket and folded it in his arms. Though he registered a need to comfort, his throat had gone cotton. The clumsiness he offered only came across as mild judgment: “You don’t need to decide about that yet.”

“What would you know about it?” Lucy wasn’t yelling; she was telling. “You and Ryan just skip along in your fag world and don’t have to take responsibility for anyone, do you?”

“That’s not fair.”

“It’s true, Will. Where have you been the past two months? I’ve been dying to talk about this. But you haven’t returned any calls until this morning.”

There was no answer.

Will saw birds ducking in kamikaze swoops through the air. He studied them as they touched down in the sand and danced about, mining for bits of useful grass. Blind activity.

Lucy collapsed on a log and glowered over the waves. Her face told all: she blamed the world for her condition. She blamed the water, and Will, and the prattling birds. All were guilty.

Will thought how Tim would be walking the dog around now. How long had he been gone? He longed to see Tim, in that worn grey hoodie, the dusty morning smile still rubbed all over his face. Then he looked at Lucy’s profile and felt awful.

He was surprised how strong she seemed, despite the blood-shot eyes and sullen, curled mouth. She turned 20 the month before. Will missed that, too.

And when she spoke at last, it was with tremendous guilt. “Will, what have I done?”

Will watched the ocean a beat, then tilted his head toward her. “What can I say?”