The Family Pool (2)

(Find the first chapter here:)


Mary Adams peered over her glass of orange juice at the gathered clan. Which was the best word she could think of to describe them. There were a lot of Adams’; she had been introduced until her head spun and now she couldn’t remember a single name.

A Christmas buffet was spread out on the white wrought-iron garden tables that graced the spacious verandah. Finest gammon-and-cranberry-sauce, thinly sliced turkey and tongue was presented in Wedgwood bone china, which Mary’s mother-in-law, Eleanor, was quick to give her a guided tour on. She had also jumped ahead with guiding Mary through the mansion – at least the parts that were open to guests – so that the poor girl wouldn’t get lost!

The house was nothing short of mindboggling. Rooms with a purpose dwelt without disputes next to rooms that were merely there to provide more space and beauty. Mary, who had an eye for art, had spotted some of the magnificent paintings that were displayed; whereupon she received an interesting history on each, and its artist. Though many were contemporary and quite a few from within the family, there were ancient masters amongst them – a Vermegeren here, a Spitzweg there.

The bad conscience about leaving her father to his own devices on Christmas Day had been dissipated by himself. She had at first tried to introduce the idea of bringing her father along; to which John’s reaction had been utmost horror. John got on well with her father; but he made it clear that the family would not take well to the less-than-well-off old gentleman. Mary had then tried to arrange that they’d spend the morning at her father’s, and only arrive at Adams’ in the afternoon. But this too, John had dismissed. They were invited for the whole day, and what Uncle Daniel decreed, was what was done.

Mary, extremely unhappy about this, had told her father all. And he had sat her down and told her that she needed to go; she had married into high society and needed to take her obligations very seriously, especially in the light of what had been given to them.

“You can tell me all about it when you come back,” he had encouraged with a smile. “Come here afterwards, no matter what time, and we’ll have some port and Christmas music.”

She had once again understood how privileged she was to have him for a father.

Now she was gazing at the many sleek, tanned bodies in swimsuits having a great time in the pool, and trying to remember at least some of the names that went with the faces.

Someone knocked a teaspoon against a glass; it chimed brightly, bringing the whole family to attention.

“Uncle wants to make his speech,” announced one of the many cousins of John, a handsome-looking young fellow with mid-brown hair and mischievous eyes. Mary tried to remember whether his name was Peter.

“Does everyone have champagne?” asked Uncle Daniel, sweeping a look around the gathered clan and noting with a frown the orange juice in Mary’s hand. “Eleanor, do top her up, won’t you?”

Eleanor approached with the Moe”t and Chandon and a clean glass for Mary.

“I’ll stick with orange juice, thanks,” said Mary in a hushed voice.

“Nonsense, dear, you’ll have some champagne with us!”

“I’d really rather not,” insisted Mary.

“You must, my dear! The whole clan always toasts with champagne, it would be unthinkable for someone to toast with juice!”

“But – I mustn’t,” protested Mary. “I can’t. Doctor’s orders!”

Eleanor eyed her with suspicion. “You’re not a recovering alcoholic, are you, my dear?”

“No,” said Mary, aware of the whole clan’s attention on her.

“Then why on Earth should you not have champagne with us?”

“Because I’m pregnant,” blurted Mary.

She hated having to disclose it before the whole gathered clan; more so because she had only confirmed it yesterday and had been saving up telling John, for a quiet moment. Now he wasn’t the first to hear about it.

She hated the effect of her words even more.

It was as though a chill rippled through the whole gathered Adams clan; as though she’d announced that she had bubonic plague or were an escaped psychopath. Everyone stared at her. “Oh my G-d,” said Eleanor, shocked, all colour draining from her face. “Already?”

Mary scowled. What on Earth was wrong with being pregnant? She was a married woman; she had a stable job, and they had just been given a roof over their heads that was, while not strictly a survival necessity as she had rented an apartment before without anyone’s help, still a huge boost in living circumstances.

Uncle Daniel was the first to recover his posture. He raised his glass and announced jovially: “Well, congratulations, Mary, John! Let’s hope it’s a son! If it is, call him Daniel! I’d like to propose a toast to our new addition!”

The congregated Adams’ toasted, laughed and drank; but Mary detected horrified whispers and shocked expressions wherever she turned.

“We’ll have to do something!” – “This is disastrous!” – “Just shows you, marry down and that’s what you get!” – “It’s not yet time!”

She was suddenly extremely nauseous. She excused herself and headed for the door inside, to find the bathrooms. Just as she passed the great glass sliding door to the inside, a brown, skinny claw shot out and grabbed her by the arm. She stared down into an ancient, sun-browned face. Shrewd green eyes were narrowed at her. Everything about this old woman reminded Mary of a crow.

“Get out of here,” hissed the old lady. “As fast as you can go! Get away!” And the claw-like hand released her.

Mary ran.

John caught up with her in the car park. He grabbed her roughly by her shoulders.

“What the hell were you doing? Announcing that to everyone and then running away?” One glance at her face softened him and he hugged her tightly. “Don’t be scared! They can be stuck-up at times, but they are basically a good family. Uncle Daniel is going to look for a larger place for us.”

“But – but – that apartment is huge! It has three bedrooms!”

John shook his head. “That’s not how it works. Don’t worry. All will be taken care of.”

Mary finally found her balance. “John, it’s not right. I don’t need your family’s help! I do appreciate it, that is a beautiful apartment, but I can pay my own way, after all I earn a Salary. I can pay our way easily after the baby is born! It doesn’t matter that your business isn’t yielding income yet.”

“Profit,” corrected John. “There is income, only no profit yet. And in fact you’ll stop working. No Adams wife has ever had to work while raising her children.”

“That’s ridiculous,” said Mary. “We need the income.”

“We’ll cope. We’re not sinking into the gutter,” decreed John. And that was that.

As though working for one’s living were the gutter! Mary gnashed her teeth as she allowed him to lead her back to that uncomfortable party.

© Lyz Russo