From Griffith REVIEW Edition 26: Stories for Today
© Copyright Griffith University & the author.
Written by Danielle Wood
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Danielle Wood's biography and other articles by this writer
It is usual for The Disappointed to come in pairs, but Bonnie always comes alone. In the small, overheated waiting room, she sits not with a partner but with her carefully chosen tools of disappearance, one of which is a novel. In the early days, with a certain amount of levity, she selected a book called Ripeness Is All, thinking that by the time she had finished it she would no longer need to attend these meetings of The Disappointed. But that was half a bookshelf ago, and today Bonnie is likely to finish The Hours before it is her turn to proceed into the room with the stirrups.
If she does finish her book, though, it won't matter. Because she also has her iPod, loaded with eight albums of ambient European melancholia. She likes to press the earphones deep into her ears and turn up the volume until music fills her skull, precisely, leaving no room for thought. It is her habit, behind closed eyelids, to allow her eyeballs to roll skywards with soaring saxophones or dart about with funky, minor-key arpeggios, and on a few occasions the summoning nurses have had to shout. It's high-grade disappearance, this. But it has come at a cost: she can no longer listen to the original CDs in any other context, each track now an aural short cut to the humiliation and sadness of this tiny, crowded room.
Bonnie admires how completely The Disappointed avoid eye contact with each other, even when sitting three metres apart, knees crushed up against the same coffee table. Because, although their glimpses never latch, she knows that they are all looking at each other, wondering. Among The Disappointed, today, is a woman in her forties (too late! too late!) wearing a windcheater in the same sterile blue as the polyester overshoes she is required to wear into the implantation room. The woman's buttocks are perched on the edge of her chair and her partner is rocking her, his hand between her shoulder blades. Backwards and forwards, backwards and forwards – her right foot treadling an invisible sewing machine's pedal. There is also a young couple of surpassing physical awkwardness, each with a too-small head wobbling above a cetaceous body, each with an undershot jaw and a neckful of acne. They sit, hand in hand, staring obediently up at the tiny television suspended in the corner of the waiting-room ceiling, where a breakfast-show hostess laughs on mute. On the coffee table is a stack of magazines. The one on top has a bold orange headline that reads PREGNANCY! IT'S THE TIME OF YOUR LIFE!
THE DOCTOR TO The Disappointed is not, but should be, called Dr Allcock. In a moment, or perhaps ten minutes, or maybe in an hour if he's really busy, which he often is, Bonnie will undress for him and lie down under a sheet. He'll fling back a curtain, lift the sheet, deftly separate her labia and penetrate her with a probe. The picture beamed from probe to screen will be black and white, grainy. It could be a radar picture, tuned to outer space or the ocean floor, but instead it is her interior. Gradually, she will discern the capsule shape of her womb, and the pale jellybean within. And while Bonnie searches the grey for a flicker of life, Dr Allcock will mutter about what a manic morning he's having. As if he ever has any other kind; as if she ever appears to him as anything other than the next specimen on his conveyor belt of desperate, gaping holes.
It is not getting pregnant that is the problem for Bonnie, but staying that way. Within her, little lives are lit. But, as if held under a bundle of wet leaves and twigs, they do nothing more than smoulder for a while, then extinguish. Sometimes her pregnancies jettison themselves, dark red and clotty. Other times, Dr Allcock has to surgically prise her little ones from their shells. Sometimes, Bonnie fancies that it is the same child she is losing over and over again, the same stubborn little soul trying and failing to take root. Other times, she imagines an alternate reality where her numerous lost children have gone to play, a parentless Neverland that she could scarcely blame them for choosing over her tame and orderly home.
Once, Bonnie would have written 9.00 am: Doctor's appointment in her diary, but at the top of today's page she has put 9.00 am: Doctor's disappointment.
IT IS 9.45 when a sunshiney ‘Bonnie!' is sung through the door by a nurse who is almost, but not quite, young enough to wear the spiky, inch-long pigtails that stick out beneath her ears.
‘Well, where's Daddy then?' the nurse chirps, trotting ahead of Bonnie into the surgery and rattling closed a set of curtains around Bonnie and a paper-covered chair. ‘I suppose you're going to get him to change all the nappies as punishment for not being here!'
Bonnie would like to reply that Tom would come with her, if she asked him to, but that there seemed little point in wasting his time as well as her own. She is afraid, however – and not without cause – that the nurse might come back with some irritatingly English word like ‘tosh' or ‘poppycock'. Bonnie might quite truthfully reply that her husband is really very busy at work and there's just no need for him to come in. His presence would alter nothing. If Bonnie were to reply with scrupulous truthfulness, though, she would admit that she doesn't actually want him here with her. Tom is older than Bonnie, with two daughters from a previous marriage, so this is not his fight, or his failure. Out on the boundaries of Bonnie's honest recognition is the knowledge that Tom's absence is useful – an added justification, however small, for her occasional lapses into self-pity. But since the nurse is only talking, not actually conversing, there is no need for Bonnie to reply, truthfully, scrupulously truthfully or otherwise.
Naked from the waist, green sheet over splayed knees, Bonnie receives Dr Allcock and his manic morning apologies, her muscles clenching against the hard plastic intrusion of the probe. He fiddles expertly with the controls on his ultrasound's console.
‘Let's see how this little beggar's coming along,' he says.
‘This is going to be the one, I just know it. I have a special lucky feeling today,' says the nurse.
And Bonnie wonders why it is that she just smiles and nods in reply, when there are so many other responses available. What would be wrong with a bit of plain, old-fashioned rudeness? Something along the lines of Fuck off, you patronising bitch. Or a little sarcasm: Do you write your own material? I mean, do you come up with these sparkling platitudes all by yourself, or do you buy them from the Hallmark slush pile? But no, it's just the usual. Smile and nod – the kind of tiresome good-private-school-girl behaviour that still fits her like a pair of pilled fawn gloves.
BONNIE HAS COME to Dr Allcock this day prepared to be disappointed. In the same diligent way as she used to take folate and other vitamin supplements, this time she began preparing for disappointment even before she conceived. Long before sperm met egg, she had determined that this would be her final pregnancy and that she would embark on it without any hope at all. She laid the groundwork by upending various jars of capsules into the bin, replacing health-giving potions and juices with gin. One day, when she caught herself lingering with a cup of herbal tea in the doorway of the room that would be the nursery, she tipped her drink – still scalding – into the earth of a pot plant, and then punished herself with a furiously strong espresso.