Persuading AnnieBy: Melissa Nathan
To Mum and Dad
(except perhaps the hips. I could have done without them.)
‘It was a perpetual estrangement.’
Persuasion, Jane Austen
‘It was a prolonged strain, immobility and helplessness that did the damage.’
Regeneration, Pat Barker
‘Cass. I’m pregnant.’
‘Pregnant? Jesus Christ. How come?’
‘How come? Are you insulting my looks or something?’
‘I mean how could you let this happen?’
‘I WAS LOOKING THE OTHER WAY.’
* * * * *
‘I said I’m—’
‘Annie, will you …’
‘…tell me who the father is?’
* * * * *
‘Susannah. I’m pregnant.’
‘You look shocked, Susannah.’
‘Shocked? I’m stunned, my dear. I had no idea your periods had started.’
* * * * *
Annie opened her eyes in the dark. Nope. She knew with the certainty of death that it wouldn’t – couldn’t – possibly go that well.
CASSANDRA BROOKE STARED across the union bar at the rugby players, her Cruel Crimson lips pursed into a thin line. Most of them didn’t notice her, thanks to a rather preoccupying game involving beer and various orifices. But one winked at her so lasciviously that she felt utterly violated. She dragged her eyes away.
‘I see what you mean about getting an education at college,’ she quipped. ‘I’m learning so much about men. And I’ve only been here an hour.’
The union bar wasn’t really the ideal location for this, thought Annie, but then, there hadn’t been much of a choice. Her room in halls was so small she needed an oxygen mask just to sit in it, and the canteen reminded her of boarding school, which filled her with a bizarre combination of mild nausea and painful nostalgia.
Being a campus university, situated in the middle of hills and woods, there weren’t any decent cafés for miles around. At least in the union bar, with its retro 50s diner look and extensive burger menu, they felt adult.
A rugby player belched loudly to thunderous applause.
Cass turned to face Annie so slowly that, like a gliding second hand on a good watch, the movement of her head was practically imperceptible to the human eye.
They sat motionless, Cass wishing she could feel more relaxed in such surroundings, Annie marvelling that Cass could indeed do that with her head.
Annie decided this time was as good as any to speak. In other words, there was going to be no good time. She ignored the parched sourness in her mouth and forced the words out.
‘I … I think I’m pregnant,’ she said.
The two old friends stared at each other across the formica table, which Annie felt gradually widen between them.
And then slowly Cass’s face underwent as big a transformation as it could after choice cosmetic surgery. Gone were all signs of disdain, and in their place confusion, shock and concern. Not bad, thought Annie, impressed. She must tell her how marvellous her plastic surgeon was.
Another time perhaps.
Meanwhile Cass’s mind was whirring. What to say, what to say … I’ll hold your hand during the op; I’ll hold your hand during labour; who’s the father? How does it feel? Why didn’t you wait for me? Haven’t you heard of contraception, for Christ’s sake? You couldn’t have told me this over the phone?
Eenie, meenie, minie, mo. She plumped instead, for a simple one.