Two stories, two main characters, but each of them is married to the same man. And each of them is in the last few weeks of pregnancy. The "sibling" of this story can be found here: http://www.protagonize.com/story/the-wives-of-james-merridew-nicky-a-tandem-story
I sat up higher against my pile of pillows, and smoothed the bedcovers over my bump, then balanced the plate with my usual four chocolate digestive biscuits in front of me; on my ready-made human bedtable. This was breakfast; my habitual third-trimester routine. Wait for Jim to leave, after giving me, and then Bumpy, a goodbye kiss. Then, as soon as he had left, hop out of bed, down the stairs, put the kettle on, biscuits on the plate, pop to the toilet, and then back up to bed with tea and biscuits, ready to sit and watch breakfast television for half an hour. My little secret.
The female presenter was talking to a money-saving expert about ways to cut costs on grocery shopping during the credit crunch, but today, I could not concentrate on anything they were saying. I could just stay in bed, I supposed. It was probably better not to know, but I knew I had to find out. It was driving me nuts. I hadn't had a good night's sleep since I'd found the thing. I resisted the urge to fish about under the mattress and look at it for the one hundred and twenty-fifth time. I nibbled on my chocolate biscuit instead. Not the recommended high-nutrition pregnancy diet, I knew. Just last week, the midwife who ran my ante-natal classes had warned us against eating sugary, high fat snacks. “Ignore the folks who tell you you're eating for two, girls,” she had said, “It'll be twice as hard to lose when Baby's here.”
Right on cue, Bumpy started doing his or her usual in-tummy gymnastic display when I was halfway through the biscuit, making the plate wobble. Bumpy seemed to respond to sugary foods. Perhaps he or she would have a sweet tooth, like her mum. Jim was the opposite; his snacking preference was for the savoury – crisps, peanuts, cheese. He never seemed to put on any weight, though. I envied that. He didn't have even the beginnings of the middle age spread many men in their mid to late thirties seemed to develop. Not even the suggestion of a beer-belly disrupted the line of his slim waist, despite his fondness for Real Ale, unlike most of his colleagues at the brewery. The job kept him busy, though, and unfortunately, away from home – travelling up and down the country and spending many nights in hotels and lodges, as a top representative for the brewery. I had learned to make the most of the nights I had him to myself.
And for now, he was home. But my enjoyment of having my gorgeous, funny, loving husband here was marred by the thing I found two days ago. I eyed the next biscuit on the pile. I didn't have the appetite to eat it. I put my mug on the bedside table and balanced the plate on top, then sneaked my fingers down and under the mattress. And pulled out the envelope.
It had been in the waste-paper basket in Jim's study. It was only by chance that I happened to notice anything strange about it – just a typewritten manila business envelope. I had decided it was time to help Save the Planet and was sorting out paper to recycle, so I was working through the stuff in this bin, making a pile. The stack of smoothed out discarded letters, reports and envelopes was growing, when this one caught my eye. It had been screwed up in a ball, but was looking decidedly more tatty now, than when I found it, after all my repeated viewings. I looked at the address again. It had not changed.
21 Salford Gardens...
Not our address. It wasn't even our town. This place was at least twenty miles away. Okay, maybe there was another James Merridew living at that address... but that did not explain how it came into my Jim's possession. I could have... should have... asked him about it, but I didn't want to spoil this all-too-short interlude with him, and part of me was scared, too. There was probably a perfectly innocent, rational explanation for this. So I had decided, yesterday, to find out for myself.
You have reached your destination, said the disembodied neutral female voice of the SatNav on my dashboard, as I drew up outside number twenty-one. An ordinary, three-bedroom semi-detached house, just like ours, in a street just like ours, in an area just like ours. I sat in the car for five, ten minutes, just looking at the house. Blue-painted front door. That was like my house too, but the curtains at the downstairs window were not to my taste. Too pretty-pretty and pastel floral-feminine. I touched the key in the ignition, tempted for a moment to turn it to the right and drive away, back to my own house with its bold, bright primary coloured curtains, but I turned it the other way instead, and took it out of the slot. After unclipping the seatbelt, I rubbed my bump, where it had been cutting in. I tended to avoid longer drives these days, for this very reason. I took a deep breath, then opened the door and heaved my lumpen body out of the seat, and walked slowly up the path to the front door of the house.
The woman who answered the doorbell was wearing a soft, pink fleecy dressing gown and matching slippers. She looked at my face, then down at my bump, then up to study my face again, while I looked down at her belly, a match with mine in size and shape.
“Hello,” she said, her face puzzled.
I pulled out the tattered envelope from my jacket pocket, without speaking, and held it out to her. She took it, the puzzlement on her face morphing into confusion as she looked at the address. She turned it over, then slipped her fingers under the opened flap, as if to check that it was empty. She looked up at me.
“Where did you get this? Who are you?” she asked, her brow wrinkling.
“Victoria,” I said, “Victoria Merridew.”