Baby Comets

Our marriage was on the rocks, the edge of a precipice so-to-speak, as soon as Deanna, 46, came out about her secret love tryst with Mel. Deanna’s revelation to the family that she had been beguiled in a forest pond was a heavy cross for us to bear. But she didn’t stop there. Oh, no! Deanna spoilt the tenuous air of pretence that bound us man and wife by insisting on bringing Mel into our home to live with us.

Out in the forest. Deanna explained that she found him while bathing in an oily woodland dew pond during one of her solitary evening walks – while I was working late at the local sanitation plant, sterilizing. As the moon rose in the velvet, starry sky and will o’ the wisps snaked and curled off the murky water, she found him.

Twisting and turning like a tiddly tadpole afore her in the half-light. She waded into the water in her best grey summer dress. And rolled with him. Soaked her flame-red hair. Rinsed her pale, freckled skin. Saturated her flowy dress. Until it clung to her pulsing, flickering legs like a freely-flapping fishes’ tail.

‘He made me his mermaid last night, Derek,’ she bayed.

Her eyes lit up with a passionate flame I hadn’t witnessed in her since we conceived our little Moose, bless her. I felt my belly sag and flop over my belt as my spirits finally gave out,

‘Your mermaid, darling?’
‘Mm! He promised to give me baby comets!’
‘Baby comets?’

Deanna waved her knife and fork, eying my plate,
‘Mm! You haven’t touched your meatballs.’

I felt the bile rise up through my pyloric sphincter valve, burning in my throat. I wasn’t hungry, ‘Baby comets, you say?’

Well, as you can imagine, I was livid at first. Most reluctant to move into the spare room and lie awake at night listening to Mel slithering around the master en suite bedroom with my babe all night through the paper-thin walls of our 3-bed starter home in Braintree New Village.

Then there were the kids: Petal, 18, Jason, 16, and Moose, 7, to consider. Call me small-minded, but I really didn’t think they should be sleeping together in the same bedroom at those ages. Try telling Deanna that. She was always the dominant in our relationship: single-minded, determined, strong, and boar-headed. Deanna got her way: the kids all slept as one.

I agreed to move into the spare room, Mel was fished out of the pond to live with my babe, and Deanna had the kids fitted-out with designer ear muffs so that they could sleep with his strange noises.

We agreed to break the news about their baby comets to the kids at a hastily convened family reunion in the lounge diner one night before supper. I sat on the lime leather sofa with my arm wrapped snugly around Moose’s little shoulders, as she rested her arm on my thigh, and squeezed my knee affectionately. Petal leaned into Moose, resting her arm on my baby’s thigh. Then Jason leaned into Petal, propping his elbow on her thigh. We were a close, intimate, loving family. The kids really loved me,

‘And duck!’ I cried.

We sloped to the right, tumbling into a howling heap. How we laughed!

‘More! More!’ begged Moose, ‘Please, Daddy!’
‘Pretty please, Daddo!’ Petal pleaded, rudely.
‘Go on, Dados,’ barked Jason, ‘Be a sport!’
‘Just let Daddy get his breath back,’ I panted.

As soon as I’d got my breath back, we resumed our original positions,

‘Duck!’

We all sloped to the right, and tumbled in a heap. How we laughed!
At that moment, Deanna waltzed into the room, looking shag-haggard, as if she’d been dragged through a hedge backwards, holding fins with her beloved Mel. The kids stood up, to attention, saluting their biological mother. I paid no heed to the renegade adulterer and her slimy pond eel. I looked away, sunk, despondently, in the lime-chocolate bowels of the sofa’s leather seam.

Mel writhed, wriggled and slathered about on the sheet of broth-soaked polythene that Moose, our playful tomboy, recovered from its natural habitat after an hour’s snorkelling and groping through the silted-up pond. Petal and Jason dragged her in, kicking and screaming to the water’s edge, tethered to the end of my trusty steel hawser.

‘Ah, playing duck with the kids?’ Deanna observed, with a weary glint in her bloodshot eyes.

An awkward, guilty silence fell upon our family. I hauled myself up out of the sofa, wanting to be with my offspring in their hour of need. Moose clung tightly to my waist, then my flower Petal did, then Jason, who wasn’t much given towards affection for men being an impudent adolescent. I felt their trembling hands hugging me. Smelled the odour of putrefying flesh as Mel dehydrated on his sludge mat. Heard Petal’s quivery voice, her hush, frightened whisper,

‘What, what, what’s that lying on the floor beside you, Mom?’

Deanna beamed with pride, ‘Why, this is Mel, darling. He made me his mermaid last night.’

I felt Petal sag against my beer gut, flop over my belly, as her spirit gave out, ‘Your mermaid?’

‘Mm! Mel’s going to be living with me, children, in my bath. He’s given me baby comets!’

‘Baby comets, Mom?’ Moose cried, excitedly, ‘Can I have one for Christmas? Please, say yes?’

Deanna smiled at her baby affectionately, ‘But you’re too young to have a baby comet, pimple.’

‘I’m not too young!’ Moose protested, ‘Don’t talk at me as if I’m a kid! And don’t call me pimple. You know I hate spots! I want a baby comet!’

Moose had her auburn hair cut short, page-boy, giving her an impish appearance. She had elfin ears, a freckled nose, a black-bad-tooth smile with gummy-gaps where we fed our girl too much candy. We were a poor family. What did you expect when I worked in sanitation? Sterilization. Moose had just the one set of clothes: winter, spring, summer and fall; her sky-blue tee-shirt, crinkle-cut white jeans, some braided flip-flops. No wonder she shivered with cold and anger that freezing cold November evening.

‘I’ll see what I can do when I have babies, Moose,’ Deanna replied, sounding non-committal.

Jason jeered at her, pulling faces,
‘So, what are baby comets, Mumbo? Are they like tadpoles?’

Jason’s oak wood hair had grown over his ears. We couldn’t afford to have it cut. He suffered terrible acne. His cheeks and chin were inflamed by a permanent scarlet rash. His thin lips were puffy, split and sore. Jason’s affliction made him an irritable, temperamental, and unpleasant youth to have lounging around the house all day. He sulked on the sofa, with his Daddo, without a hope in hell of ever getting a job or qualification. Our wasted, workshy, wilting, wearied son wore the same dirty white cheesecloth shirt, grey shorts, and reject bowling shoes, every day. I noticed that he had grown bum-fluff on his face. Thick, black hairs sprouted from his slender calves. He would soon be a man, but would never leave our house, could never afford to marry. Sad really.

Deanna smiled weakly at our dense boy, waved at us, took Mel’s fin in her soft hand and said,

‘Maybe, Jace. You’ll find our soon enough. Now, I have to put Mel back into his bath, cook us all some supper, do the ironing, wash up…’

Petal interrupted her flow, ‘Baby comets, you say, Mom?’

Petal had greasy hair, parted on the right, which fell in a thick drape over her shoulders and chest, as far as her petite bosom. We couldn’t afford to buy her shampoo or fashionable clothes. Instead, red-faced Petal moped about the house in her grubby white smock, slashed denims, and open-toes sandals. Helping Deanna with household chores. Dressing Moose in her dirt-stiff clothes. Playing Old Maid with Jace. Singing old Beatles’ hits to keep me happy. Petal would never leave the house, find work, find love, or get married: she couldn’t afford to, now:

‘I think there’s something you should know, Mom, Daddo, Jace, Moose,’ she said.

Out of the forest. Petal found him bathing in an oily woodland dew pond. During one of her solitary evening walks. While I was working late in the local sanitation plant. As the moon rose in the velvet, starry sky and will o’ the wisps snaked and curled off the murky water. She found him, twisting and turning like her tiddly tadpole before her in the half-light.

Petal waded into the water in her short summer frock and rolled with him. Soaked her greasy brown hair. Rinsed her sore-red skin. Saturated her cheap charity shop frock and laddered tights. Until they clung to her pulsing, flickering legs like freely-flapping fishes’ tails. She even kicked off her dumpy old clodhoppers…

‘He made me his mermaid last night!’ she cried, her eyes alight with a passionate flame.

I felt my belly sag and flop over my belt. Deanna’s high spirits gave out,
‘Your mermaid, darling?’

‘Mm! Promised to give me baby comets!’
‘Baby comets, you say?’

Deanna wiped a hand over her brow and fainted. Mel wriggled and slithered towards Petal,
‘Mel and I are getting married next Spring, aren’t we Mel?’ she announced happily.

I wrapped my arm round Moose’s shoulders. She rested her arm on my thigh, squeezing my knee affectionately. Petal leaned into Moose, resting her arm on baby’s thigh. And Jason leaned into Petal, propping his elbow on her thigh. We are a close, intimate, loving family. The kids really love me, I cried,

‘And… duck!’

We sloped to the right, tumbling into a howling heap. How we laughed!

Deanna - Baby Comets