Tag Archives: twins

Stretched

I wrote this when our girls were a bit younger, and the first part more or less describes one of my nights – though there were many similar ones.  The commute after always made it a little more painful.

 

Stretched

“Wha.. what time is it?”

“Don’t worry, I’ll get them, I need to get up soon anyway.”

“Thanks,” she mumbled as she drifted back to sleep. She could ignore the babies crying now that I was awake.

I looked at the alarm clock again, and then did a double take, it wasn’t five o’clock, it was three.   This felt like one of those days.

If I was lucky it would only be one of them. I was lucky, so far. Mercey was screeching like a banshee but Clemmy was still snoring gently. It amazed me that they could sleep through a racket which actually hurt my head, but they’d never woken each other up.

Mercey had woken because of her nappy. Somehow she’d taken the healthy white milk we’d fed her, and turned it into a yellowy brown toxic sludge, which it was my unenviable duty to dispose of. I thought of waking Helen, but I knew I wouldn’t get back to sleep with all the screeching anyway. When they were first born they’d been passive during nappy changes, now it was wriggle central. Normally I could control it, but in the blurry morning I failed. First she got hold of the nappy, and managed to drag it back over her, spilling its contents everywhere. Then, to cap it off, she peed all over the mat.

“Mercey my love, that wasn’t at all helpful now was it.”

She just stared at me. I wondered if she was laughing on the inside.

It took me twenty minutes to clean her, put a new nappy and baby grow on and get her settled with a bottle of milk. The milk was cheating, but I was really hoping she’d nod off again and I could grab another hour of sleep. Mercey, full name Mercedes Suzanne Harvey, was such a delight most of the time, none more so than immediately after a night time feed. She smiled and put her arms out for a cuddle. I held her in my arms, and wallowed in the joy of being a father, and with such a lovely little girl. She was tired, and didn’t fuss when I put her pack down. I looked over at Clemmy, still snoozing away, and I gently closed the door and walked back to bed.

My head had literally just touched the pillow when there was another banshee scream. I could have sworn Mercey was sleepy. Perhaps I’d rushed her? I needed to get to her before she went ballistic. Helen didn’t even grunt as I assured her all was under control and headed back to the baby. Except it wasn’t Mercey, it was Clemmy. Mercey was already sleeping quite happily. Clemmy’s nappy was if anything worse than Mercey’s. She didn’t pull the nappy away, which was good, but she did pee at just the wrong time, drenching the new nappy, her clothes and my arm as I tried, vainly, to control the flow. She too was happy when she had finished her milk.

“Clementine Julia Harvey, you are a pretty little girl, but it’s now sleepy time,” I whispered to her as I held her. Unfortunately, she disagreed. Whenever I put her down in her cot she started to cry, and cranked up the volume if I didn’t respond immediately. I knew I should let her cry for a bit, but it was so hard. The cries rasping across my nerves. I tried to explain to her why she needed to go to sleep.

“Clemmy darling, Daddy has to go to work today. It’s a big day as he’s meeting the boss to present next year’s budget, and he could really do with another hour’s sleep.”

Talking about myself in the third person was one of the many things I’d sworn never to do.

“Please Clemmy?”

Perhaps the desperation in my voice got through, because she calmed down and even let me put her in the cot. She looked up at me again and then rolled over, and was asleep before I put the light out. I checked on Mercey, she was still asleep, and I crept back to bed.

As I was about to slip into bed, the thought of resting my heading beguiling me, a loud screech filled the room. I stared about in bewilderment until I realised it was my alarm. Clemmy had taken all my remaining sleep time. I have to admit, part of me wanted to go downstairs and wake her up and keep her awake so she could see. I didn’t, not just because I’m not that cruel, and it would be self defeating as a tired Clemmy is not something I’d wish on anyone. It was also because I really did have a big meeting and I needed to get going.

I washed and showered in a zombie like state. Kissed Helen goodbye, not that she noticed as she was still enjoying her precious sleep before the morning feed and the beginning of the daily circus. Somehow, despite having woken up so early I was running late. Early morning traffic, something I’d always felt was an oxymoron, conspired to slow me down, and then the carpark was nearly full and I was forced to park miles from the station. I ran to the ticket machine. They’d recently put ticket barriers in so there was no longer the option to just jump on the train and buy a ticket, and I’d been caught out by that a couple of times.

As I neared the ticket machine a woman who was heading in that direction saw me and cut across my path. She then ambled to the machine. I wondered if I should push past her, after all I had my card and knew the dance so would be very quick. She got to the machine before the devil on my shoulder had won the argument. Our machines are not as slow as they used to be. Which is to say that they’ve replaced the clockwork with steam; but if you do the right things they take slightly less than a minute. I know, I’ve timed it. The woman did not know the dance, and managed to push the wrong buttons, put her card in at the wrong time which cause the whole transaction to cancel, and generally did her best to wind me up. She eventually got her tickets and ambled off, and it was my turn. Fifty-five seconds later I was heading for the barriers. As I got through my train pulled away.

Some days.

The guard nodded sympathetically at me, “Some days,” he said. I managed a weak smile before heading to the coffee place. I might as well grab one while I waited the half hour for the next train. The problem with living out in the sticks was that, well, I was out in the sticks. Transport was infrequent, people were slow, and there was an almost continuous smell of manure in the air. I mean it was a lovely laid back lifestyle.

They of course did not have decaf coffee, apparently they’d just run out. The man smiled an apology, “Some days.” Yes. I just wondered why every day was turning into one of them. So I had the hot chocolate, which would at least warm me.

We were the end of the line, which meant the train usually sat waiting for the next departure, which at this time of year meant a warm place to stay. Unfortunately it was delayed so I had to hang out on the platform, trying my best to get cover from the wind by leaning against the wall. The autumn breeze was tricky and vicious though, and kept finding me. In my rush to get out of the house I’d forgotten my coat, and the house was just far enough away that I couldn’t definitely get there and back before the next train.

“What ho!”

Oh dear lord, I thought to myself. It was Doug, in one of his Bertie Wooster moods.

“Hi Doug, how are you.”

“Damned tired if you must know. Had to get up before the sparrows today, got a big meeting up in the Big Smoke you see.”

Doug was some kind of City person. Lawyer possibly. He had told me, but I’d managed to forget.

“It is rather early I agree. You in for the whole day?”

“Oh no old chap, got lunch at the club, then back out for a quick round of golf with the father-in-law, got to keep the old man happy.”

If he’d been any more of a stereotype I’d have had to kill him. I shook my head at him.

“Please Doug, not today.”

“Sorry mate, what’s up, you look like death.”

“Got a meeting with Higgins today.”

“Oh right. Well if it makes you feel any better I really have meetings all day, not even a break for lunch, and there is a very faint hope I might get out before midnight. We’re allegedly signing today.”

“Thanks Doug, that does make me feel a little better.” It didn’t really, but at least he was trying. We’d gone to school together, but then he’d gone to a different, ok I’ll admit, better, university, and ended up a high flyer. I’d somehow ended up in the middle. Of everything, and it would appear an ever widening lake of poo.

“Cheer up, the weekend is only five working days away!”

Before I could think of a suitable reply the train had pulled in.

“See you sometime soon,” said Doug as he headed to the first class carriage. Just as he got to the door, he turned and said, “Toodle pip!” before laughing and getting in. Really, I could kill him sometimes.

I got on to the train, and headed for my favourite seat. It had extra leg room and a table for my laptop. Somehow, despite the fact that there’d been almost no one else on the platform, someone had taken my seat, and my second favourite too. I stared for a moment before sighing and heading towards one of the other seats. I’d arrive in London with back ache at the very least, but it was, just, better than standing.

My hour long train journey consisted of the usual joys. A large, and yet bony, man sat next to me and felt that he should have three quarters of my seat as well. He read a broadsheet newspaper and managed to cover half my laptop screen, and it was only after a few coughs and a couple of bumps that he moved across enough to allow me to continue to breathe. Then we had the loud and chirpy couple who had to share how great their lives were with the whole carriage. By the time I got to London I was desperate to get out of the terrible little box. Even if meant that I had to get the tube.

The tube ride was normal. By which I mean, crowded, smelly and unpleasant, but in a comforting London way. I arrived at work, fifteen minutes late, and with just five minutes to prepare for my meeting.

There was a note on my desk from my boss, “Come as soon as you get in!” Oh dear. As I got to his office his secretary looked at me sympathetically and said, “He wanted to move you forward half an hour to fit in a call with Asia. He’s on the call now, but based on his expression it isn’t going well.”

“Thanks.”

I sat, like a naughty school boy, on the chair outside his office. I never understood how they could make these chairs so uncomfortable. It was as if there was a special factory, somewhere in China probably, where they forced their designers to make torture chairs, and if there was the hint of comfort in them the designer would be taken outside and probably forced to sit in someone else’s bad chair so he’d get the idea.

“Come in.”

Damn he was grumpy. His secretary gave me another sympathetic smile as I followed him in. He pointed at the table.

“Don’t want to hear excuses. Tell me about next year.”

Excuses? Oh for being late. Right. I took a breath and started to give him my spiel on the departments future. We’d had a tough year, but we knew what we had to do, we were concentrating on quality, and we were going to invest in some new senior designers.

I was getting in to my pitch when I noticed his glower, and then he shook his head.

“No, no, no. You just don’t get it. Hopkins warned me, but I didn’t believe him.”

What? Hopkins, he was my number two. A bit young for the position, and wet behind the ears, but I had hopes of moulding him in a year or two. Why would he be talking to Higgins?

“I’m sorry sir, I don’t understand.”

“No Harvey, you don’t understand. The world has changed. Haven’t you noticed the recession? We’ve been in it for three years!”

“Yes sir, I have, which is why I think we should concentrate on the clients who want quality, they’ll stick with us.”

“We make a loss on every one of those clients! Sure, we used to make a profit, but with the time your team puts in, and the discounts we’ve had to give.”

“I did say the discounts…”

“Don’t interrupt me!” His voice was vicious. “If we’d not given discounts we’d have lost more clients. They’re the ones who pay us you know.”

I realised that there wasn’t anything I could say.

“Well, what are you going to do Harvey?”

“I don’t know sir, I guess I could look at the numbers again, maybe cut some of the hiring…”

He put his head in his hands.

“Look, Harvey, this world,” he indicated the office, I think, “is no longer the same. You don’t fit in to the new world.”

“What?”

“In the olden days I’d tell you I expected your resignation, but we aren’t allowed to do it that way anymore. I’ll speak to HR, and they’ll get on to you later today. Hopkins will help you pack up.”

I just stood there gaping. He shook my hand, wished my luck and more or less pushed me out of his office.

I went back to my own office, much smaller than my boss’s, but still an office, a space of my own, and closing the door, I sat down. I stared at the screen, unable to comprehend what had just happened. I stayed in that number state for weeks. The HR interview, redundancy package and everything else just flowed over me. I nodded, smiled even and signed whatever I was given, and started my gardening leave. Helen and I spoke, I’m sure of it, but I don’t really know what about. I even failed to enjoy my time with the twins, though fortunately they were too young to notice my distraction and seemed to view it as a further excuse to climb all over me.

Despite my fug I was counting the days till our money ran out. With my redundancy I could pay off our cards, which I thought would give us some space, but with what Helen earned as a primary school assistant, we couldn’t afford the bills, let alone the mortgage. I had to get a job.

I told myself it would be easy to get a new job. I told myself I’d never get a new job. The excuses came and went, and I just sat, staring at the TV until the twins cried, or Helen really pushed me. Eventually, with just weeks of money left I went to a recruitment consultant.

“Look mate, with your experience getting you a new gig is going to be easy.”

“Really?”

The shiny suited specimen in front of me had assured me that he was the best, that he cared about his clients, and that he had connections in all the right places. All I could think was that he looked about twelve, and that if he was my best hope, then perhaps I was in real trouble.

“Course mate, you can trust me. We’ll have to tweak your CV a bit.”

He paused, and said, “I also need to be honest with you. You’re not going to be getting a pay increase. If you were still in a job, then sure easy, but as you’ve been out of one for a few months I just won’t be able to swing it.”

I hadn’t even considered an increase. Suddenly I perked up a bit, if I could get a job at my old salary then we’d actually be ahead of the game, because all our card debts were now gone.

“Great, well I’m eager to get going.” And I was.

The first place I interviewed seemed to think I wanted a junior position. I soon disabused them of that notion, and they politely said they had nothing at my level. This was repeated a few times, until I realised that my shiny suited friend was just sending me to anything remotely covered by my CV and wasn’t even checking the level. We had some words. He apologised, said he was just finding the level and he’d sort me out. He was so thick skinned it was almost impressive.

Several more pointless interviews followed. Some were at my level, but they seemed to think I wouldn’t fit in, or that I lacked commercial experience. I explained about the importance of good service and craftsmanship. I came to recognise the slightly condescending expression which presaged rejection. One of them even tried to tell me that in this new world there wasn’t time for that, people just wanted enough to get by. I argued and told him that it was short termism and would cost more in the longer term. He looked at me, shook his head and said, “Most of them know they won’t be there in the long term, one way or another.”

They were right, I didn’t fit in. My fug returned.

Then I thought that maybe I could go it alone. A small scale company, dedicated to doing it properly. I would need some capital to keep me going for the first year or so while I got started, but I could see it, soon I’d be raking in the cash, stealing customers from my old firm. I went to a bank. They asked for a business plan. I gave them one. They didn’t laugh, but I think they were close. They tore it apart, nicely, and asked me to do it again. I did, but the numbers still didn’t add up for them. They tried to tell me that to make it work I needed to do more marketing, but that would mean less time for making the product, which meant either I had to charge more, or do a poor job. In the end I couldn’t get them to buy into it. The next bank were even less interested. I hit a new low.

“What is this!” I shouted, pointing at the large Amazon package.

Helen looked up, frowning at my volume.

“Shush, the girls are, finally, asleep.”

I didn’t care. I repeated my demand.

“It’s a present for the girls. They are going to be one next week.”

“Helen, I’ve told you, we can’t afford it. We can’t afford anything!”

The argument raged for a while. It ended with Helen almost screaming at me.

“I am doing everything I can, I’m even doing extra shifts, but as you have said to me oh so many times, I’ll never earn enough. Well then, you need to suck it in. You’re not a manager any more. You don’t have an office. You are nothing! If you don’t get a job soon we’ll have to sell the house, and then we’ll have nothing. Get a job. Anything. Otherwise I’m leaving.”

She stalked off, in tears, to try and comfort the girls who had woken up sometime during our fight.

I was beside myself. Who was she to say that to me? I had been supporting the family for years. Earning the money while she indulged herself with part time jobs and suchlike. I seethed. I had to get out.

I walked in to our little town. One street of shops, a couple of supermarkets and a farmers’ market every other Wednesday. The most exciting thing to happen recently had been the arrival of the Costa Coffee shop. By the time I got to the Costa my anger had drained completely and I realised what a fool I had been. I looked in to the window, almost pressing my nose to the glass like a boy at a sweet shop. I couldn’t afford a coffee.

I walked around for most of the afternoon, and a plan formed in my mind. I was going to get us out of our hole. First I had to apologise to Helen.

I got back home to the usual chaos, and inbetween changing nappies, feeding, bathing and bedtime I managed to grovel my way into forgiveness. It always amazed my how the babies could suck up time, but we’d become much better at having syncopated conversations while looking after them.

“So the plan is this. We sell the house. I get a temporary job until that’s done, and then I’ll start my own firm using our money instead of owing the bank. I’ll show them that craftsmanship is still needed.”

She looked at me and then hugged me. “It’s so good to have you back. It’s been dreadful living with a zombie these past months.”

“ A zombie? Like in Thriller.”

“Ha, no, not with your Dad dancing style!”

I laughed. It felt good to have a plan.

Helen rang the estate agency the next day, and I rang the temp agency. The estate agent came right round, a bad sign in retrospect as they clearly hadn’t anything to do. They hummed and harred and eventually gave us a price which would pay off our mortgage and give us a little profit. Enough to pay for rent for a year, and give me the capital to start a firm. I was disappointed that it wasn’t more, but it was still going to set us free.

The temp agency found me some work, and while it wasn’t enough on its own to pay the mortgage it would give us a bit more time. I even applied to work shifts at Costa.

The weeks passed. My temp work was mind-numbingly dull, and serving coffee wasn’t much more interesting. The girls were teething so sleep was a rare luxury, and Helen was back at school which meant that we were juggling the child care. Worse, we’d had one person to view the house and their only feedback had been that the rooms were the wrong shape. Really.

I was exhausted, and the money was still dripping away. We got the estate agent back to ask why the house wasn’t selling. It took them an hour to say it, but it came down to price. They wanted us to drop it, by twenty percent. They were certain they could sell at that. My heart sank. At that price we’d barely cover the mortgage, let alone have any left to live on or invest in my company. I almost screamed at them to get out, but managed to hold on long enough to see them to the door.

“Oh darling. It’s going to be alright.”

Helen’s words were the final straw. It wasn’t going to be alright. We were drowning and there was nothing going to save us. The anger began to bubble in me and I knew I had to get away. I just ran out of the door.

I walked and walked. The whole mess bearing down on me. It was all my fault. If I’d been more flexible at work. If we hadn’t built up so much debt. If. If. If. I found myself in a park, walking round, crying and repeating if again and again. I had been stretched too far, and had now finally snapped. I didn’t know if I’d ever get better again.

Someone bumped into me. I mumbled and staggered away.

“Watch out you imbecile!”

My anger flared and I turned, ready to launch myself at whoever it was. I’d had enough of the world pushing me about. As I stalked towards the man, he said, “Oh it’s you Harvey. Haven’t seen you for a while.”

It was Doug. I didn’t have anything to say to him. I was about to turn away when he peered at me.

“I say old chap, are you ok?”

Clearly I wasn’t, but I wasn’t sure if I could cope with him, especially if he was about to Bertie Wooster me again.

Realising that I wasn’t going to answer he grabbed my arm and started marching me along the path. “I know just what you need old man.”

Apathy had followed the burst of anger, and I let him guide me. All the way to the pub. He dumped me in a corner and bought me a pint.

“Now, old boy. Spill.”

I think he was hoping to get a smile out of me, but I had no smiles left. Instead I took a large gulp of stout and started to talk. Two pints and an hour of rant later I came to a shuddering halt. It felt so good to talk to someone.

He frowned at me and said, “So let me get this straight. You care too much about doing your job properly to get a proper job. You have a wonderful wife, and two little girls who need you. You’ve more or less run out of cash, and you’re trying to sell your house into the worst property market in a generation.”

I tried to argue with him, but the drain of telling my story, and the affect of the alcohol meant I all I managed as, “Not really.”

“Yes, really.” He frowned. “Look, I’m not promising anything, but, I think I might be able to help you. Or at least help you help yourself. If you’re willing to try.”

Pandora’s final curse fluttered in my heart again, could Doug save me?

“First we need another drink, and then we’ll get you back home to your wife and delightful little urchins. I’m sure she’ll be worrying about you.”

Helen accepted the shambling wreck I’d become from Doug, who promised to call in a day or two.

He was as good as his word. He called me in and laid out his proposal. At first I didn’t quite understand, and then I was unsure it would work, but he promised me it would. He offered to invest for a fifty-fifty share of the profits, and said he’d find our first customers. He talked wistfully about maybe giving up the commute and working locally, or even retiring, if we could pull it off.

That’s how we started our business. We had a rocky first year, but Doug was true to his word and covered the costs, and now we’re making enough for me to cover the mortgage and even buy the girls, including Helen, the occasional treat. We’re still not making enough that Doug can afford to retire, but we’re about to hire another member of staff which is a great sign. I’ve been very clear with Doug that I will not have anyone onboard who doesn’t have the right work ethic. He just nodded and said, “Same old Harvey.” But he agreed.

What exactly do we do? We train fathers. Not something that anyone thought would be required, but it’s amazing how many people come to us.

The problem is, you don’t get a manual when a baby is born, and there’s so much aimed at training mothers that fathers get left out. Doug had a whole group of mates who were absolutely petrified about their impending, or in some cases recent, fatherhood. When they found out that they could talk to someone, a man, who would give them help and advice, they jumped at the chance. More importantly, they were willing to pay for it.

They had found that their wives were too distracted to be of any help, and none of the other women involved in the child care industry seemed to care that much about the father. The man is barely acknowledged, perhaps getting some advice, but often just being told to remember what the woman has been told, to be repeated later if required.

I have two lovely daughters, and have learned many of the lessons the hard way. Having twins meant that we always both had to be involved and it’s given me an insight that I am happy to share. I’ve distilled it into a set of tips and tricks, and I’ve trained my assistants, who are fathers themselves, so that I’m confident they understand the job, and can teach our clients.

We take the new fathers through it all step by step, and show them how the little things make all the difference. My clients appreciate the attention to detail, and they want to learn. Our marketing is all word of mouth, often the wives of our customers tell their friends, and we even get the occasional repeat customer. The majority of my time is spent actually helping people. It is deeply fulfilling in a way my old job never quite managed.

I even have my own office, even if it’s really just the spare room.

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Welcome Home

Another on the joys of twins, and converting to civvie life.

 

Welcome Home

Staff Sergeant George Bentley arrived home at 14:07 on 14th November carrying his combat satchel. The satchel weighed approximately two kilos and contained one change of clothing, five medals, three for service and two for bravery, and his tablet. He greeted his wife of two years, Patricia Bentley, with a kiss, and a hug. After forty-three seconds he had to gently disengage his wife, and explain to her that yes, he was back, and no, he would not be leaving again. He’d done three tours and they had decided he needed to retire. Should he wish to return in a year’s time he would be entitled to do so.

At 14:09 he met his twin daughters for the first time. They were seven months old, having been born while he was on tour. Phyllis Grace honoured him with a smile, while Enid Ruth merely frowned thoughtfully. He looked around at the house, and his eyes could see only chaos. His wife, a wonderful woman who had coped so well without him, clearly did not understand the value of order. He recalled that his demob advisor had recommended a soft approach with civvies, including family, and decided that he would give her the benefit of the doubt for two days. But then there would be order. Though he couldn’t help but propose a few enhancements which might make things a little easier.

Over the course of the rest of the day he learned about his daughters, about their apparent daily schedule, which seemed far more varied than any schedule should be, and what his wife spent her days doing. His neighbour had been helping to feed their animals: a flock of eleven ewes and a single ram, a flock of three Angoran nanny goats, a herd of three sows, two currently in pig, and a peep of six chickens, all allegedly hens, though laying rarely at this time of year. His wife spent her days caring for the babies. When they slept she ate, did the washing and rested. It all seemed dreadfully inefficient. She explained that they had been sleeping through the night consistently for the last few weeks. He expressed sympathy for the months before that, but couldn’t remember the last time he’d had more than four hours sleep in one go. The enemy didn’t allow rest.

The next morning he woke at 0537. He was disoriented. His plan had been to wake up at 0600 to commence his day and start preparations for organising the household. He at first thought it must be an enemy attack; the noise of screaming was fearsome. He remembered that he was no longer at war. His time in a war zone was done, he was at home. He must get used to being demobbed. What was that noise? He requested an explanation from his wife. She avowed that it must be the babies, and suggested that as he seemed so keen to organise things he should deal with them. Perhaps he had been a little too forward with his ideas the night before.

He went into the nursery. A chaotic and garish place. Bright colours, toys everywhere, and clothes stacked in random piles. The two cots were next to each other. Each contained a blue eyed screaming monster. At first he could not decide which to take first. He could perhaps carry both, but that might not be comfortable for them, and he might drop them, which would be non-optimal. He picked up Phyllis Grace and carried her into the dining room where her chair was ready. His wife had told him that the first thing to do in the morning was to feed them milk. Or change their nappies if they were dirty.

Having strapped Phyllis Grace into her chair, he explained to her that he was going to get her sister, and then he would return, strap her in and then give them both milk. This had no effect on the noise emanating from her, other than perhaps to cause it to increase. He returned to pick up Enid Ruth, who was also producing a tremendous racket. Even in his worst fire-fights he could recall nothing of this piercing nature. It cut through him, right to his soul. He might suggest to his Captain that they use this as a weapon. Except he no longer had a Captain.

It occurred to him as he carried Enid Ruth to the dining room that she was surrounded by a miasma of such foulness that it might be classed as a munition. This was he believed likely to require a nappy change. He had watched his wife perform a few nappy changes the night before, and realising the simplicity of the process had declined the opportunity to practice, assuming she was just trying to avoid an unpleasant chore.

He carefully laid Enid Ruth down on the changing mat. Keeping one hand on her to make sure she didn’t fall off, while securing a nappy with the other hand. The volume of screaming had, somehow, increased. When he undid the nappy the assault on his nostrils was epic. He then started to wipe his daughter’s bottom. She started to squirm. First one way, then the other, then she reached for the nappy, and showing surprising strength and agility managed to pull it away from him, and over her head. Its contents disgorged everywhere. Phyllis Grace was still making her complaints about the delay well known.

His wife arrived at this point and took over the procedure. He was dispatched to prepare the milk, in bottles ready for the girls. His wife was unable to breastfeed both babies, and so they were reliant on bottle milk. He gave Phyllis Grace her bottle, and the silence was like a shock of iced water. In the background Enid Ruth was still wailing, but his wife was dealing with it.

Having now had first contact with the enemy he began to plan. Clearly he needed to be more organised when changing the babies. Milk first. Then nappy changing. The silence would allow his wife to sleep, and all would be well.

That day he met with his neighbour, thanked him for his help and said he would be feeding his animals again. His neighbour kindly offered to continue while he got settled, but Staff Sergeant George Bentley, well, George Bentley now, knew his mind.

Throughout the day he endeavoured to take the lead in the baby related activities, to demonstrate to his wife that really, it was all about organisation. Time and again the babies did unexpected things which his wife had never mentioned. Enid Ruth climbed out of her chair, even though he’d secured her. His wife claimed this had never happened before. He’d just changed Phyllis Grace into a new outfit, one which he felt her mother would describe as darling, when she threw up all over it. He had to change her again. And then again.

That evening he went out to feed the animals, knowing that proper organisation would solve all the issues. He told his wife that he would be no more than thirty minutes. The pigs came happily to feed, and the sheep rushed over too. He didn’t need to feed them, but wanted to get used to them and count them. The goats however, they were nowhere to be found. After searching all over his land he found a hole in the fence. A while later he recovered the recalcitrant goats, persuading them to follow a bucket, and covered the hole up with a sheep hurdle. He added fixing the fence to his mental work list. He arrived back in the house some ninety three minutes after having left. In this time his wife had bathed the twins and put them to bed. He was disappointed to have missed it, but his wife refused to let him say goodnight to the girls. She said it would only disturb them.

A while later, while they were having dinner one of the girls started to cry. In preparation for his return home George Bentley had read up on how to look after babies. The literature, some of which was contradictory, had much advice on crying. The authority he’d felt made the most sense had advocated a very strict timetable, which appealed to him. Her advice had stated that they should allow a baby to cry for exactly five minutes and thirty seconds before attempting to comfort them. He started a stopwatch on his tablet. At three minutes and twenty seconds the crying stopped. He looked satisfied. Some thirty seconds later it started again. The online guide hadn’t mentioned this possibility, he looked at his wife enquiringly, she smiled. He restarted the stopwatch. The crying stopped again, then restarted. He then realised that it could be either twin, or both. He stopped the clock and looked at his wife bemused. She told him that it was just settling crying and they’d soon stop. They did.

The next morning he woke up at 0552, courtesy of the girls. He was able to get them both drinking milk with the minimum of fuss, and was congratulating himself when Enid Ruth threw her nearly full bottle to one side and started crying again. The foul stench coming from her general direction gave him some indication of what the cause might be. Phyllis Grace copied her sister, and the assault on his senses ramped up. Shortly thereafter his wife appeared and between them they soon had the girls feeding again. She smiled at him.

He thought to himself that what was required was organisation, and delegation. He then recalled a discussion about delegation which he’d had with his wife when they were first married. The outcome had been clear, and as he remembered it, he was the junior. They’d never discussed it again, and he felt that it might be sensible not to bring it up.

The girls ate at regular times during the day, this apparently had been crucial in flipping them from a night schedule to a day schedule. He approved of this. Nothing else went much to plan. They might sleep when they were supposed to, they might not.   Often one would sleep, and the other would not. Perhaps choosing to get some one-on-one Mummy, and now Daddy, time.

That evening as George fed the animals, he thought, perhaps organisation was not was required. Perhaps, some flexibility would be best. But not too much. He made sure to get inside in time to say goodnight to his girls.

The next morning he was woken at 0541. He checked both babies and determined that at that point Phyllis was poo free. He got her settled with a bottle, and then changed Enid’s nappy. Within moments they were both contentedly sucking on the teats. After breakfast he let them play. Today they decided they wanted to climb all over him. He loved it.

He was lying on the floor, laughing with his daughters when his wife walked in, having enjoyed her first lie-in since he’d gone away for his third tour. Her smile was like the sunrise, and she said,

“Welcome home George my darling love.”

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Rebalancing

Having young twins can be a lot of fun, but it is also exhausting…

Rebalancing

Isabel rolled over and looked at the clock. It showed the time as 0307, the dull red glow of the digits taunting her. That made, what, eighteen minutes of sleep, or was it fourteen, nearly an hour over the night. Could be worse…?

She wondered which baby it was. Had she put Ruth down last? After giving her some milk. Yes. Probably. So it was likely to be Grace then. The cries continued, and she dragged herself out of bed. Sometimes they stopped before she had to get up, not this time though.

Stepping quietly into the room she could tell it was Grace. Though given the volume emanating from her daughter’s lungs she sometimes wondered why she tiptoed.

“OK Grace, I’m here, just one second.”

The whispering seemed foolish too, but she really didn’t want to wake Ruth up again. She picked Grace up and carried her out of her room and into the kitchen. Having initially stopped crying Grace decided to start up again. Each scream ripped through her, leaving her nerves tender and, worse, anticipating the next wave of sonic pain.

“Oh darling, what’s wrong? Is it your toothy-pegs?”

Screams.

Isabel grabbed some gel and rubbed it on her daughter’s gums. Grace stopped for a few seconds, and then carried on. Then she heard an answering cry from the nursery. Ruth was awake too. Putting Grace down only increased the volume of the already intolerable screeching.

“I’m just getting your sister, and then I’ll sing to you.”

Screams.

She shuffled back quickly to the nursery, running being beyond her at this point of tiredness. Ruth was standing up and howling at the world. Isabel picked her up.

“Don’t worry Ruth, we’ll go to the kitchen, and then we’ll have a sing song.”

She knew she’d have to give them milk, but she was trying to get them out of the habit of thinking it was always going to happen. Even if she could delay it for ten minutes that would help.

Two minutes later, having tried and failed to pacify them with her rendition of the greatest hits of Boney M, she capitulated and gave them milk. They were onto bottles now, she just wasn’t able to provide enough milk herself for the two of them, and as much as that hurt, she was happy that she could sit and watch while they drank. The day they’d been able to hold their own bottles had been one of the few good ones recently.

“Girls, I’m not sure how much of this I can take. Please, please start sleeping. If only your father was here…”

She started to sob. She missed him, how could he do this to her? How dare he die. How dare he leave her, alone, with no one to help her in this strange town. The insurance company were still deciding whether they could pay out, and in the meantime she was eking out her meagre savings. Another worry she couldn’t cope with any more.

The two girls started crying in unison, joining her in misery. They hadn’t finished their milk though, which was unusual. What was the problem? Isabel spotted one of the signs just as the stench hit her. Liquid brown was escaping from Ruth’s nappy. From the way Grace was wriggling she was in much the same position. She really hoped it was just the teething and not another bug.

“Now darling, let me change you and you can get back to your milk. In the meantime Grace, perhaps you could try your milk again? Or at least tone the volume down. Please…”

Ruth’s nappy was a mess, and it had crept up her back, Isabel would need to change the baby-grow as well. Ruth also hated it when Isabel laid her on her back, and was making her upset very clear. In fact she was so loud Isabel could barely hear her sister, who was doing her best to join the chorus. Eventually she managed to get Ruth out of her stinking clothes and wiped up. As she was about to put the nappy on Ruth started to pee, and it went everywhere. All over the mat, all over Isabel. Ruth didn’t stop screaming.

It was the final straw. She could take no more, they’d broken her, she sank to the floor, holding her naked squealing daughter and just started to cry.

It didn’t help. The girls didn’t understand, all they knew was that they were uncomfortable, and hungry, and had sore teeth and…

She couldn’t help it, her anger at the loss of her husband, the lack of money, the lack of sleep and the constant crying boiled over. She knew what she had to do.

“Enough is enough, I didn’t want to do this, but I have no choice. I’m sorry girls.”

Putting Ruth down firmly, she stalked from the room. Darkness seemed to gather, and even the twin girls realised something was happening and quietened. The silence was only momentary though, and they began again with full force.

Isabel returned to the room, filling it with her presence. In her hand she held a short stick, about eighteen inches long, and a thumb’s breadth.

“I hate to do this; it’s your own faults.” Her voice was filled with energy, and pain.

She waved the wand left, and right, and then made complex sigils in the air. She could see the shapes as the wand had started to leave a glowing path. The girls stopped screaming long enough to stare bemusedly at the pretty lights. They’d never seen their mother do this before.

Both babies started to rise into the air, the clothes came off, they were wiped clean and new nappies put on. All by invisible hands. They were placed back in their chairs and the milk handed back to them. They drank happily, but their eyes were on the scary woman who’d replaced their mother.

“Good. Drink well my little ones. After this you are going to sleep. And sleep well. Do you understand me?”

The two little girls shouldn’t have understood, but they did. They realised that they didn’t want to find out what would happen if they didn’t sleep.

Once they finished their milk they were burped and carried into the nursery, where they were gently rocked to sleep.

Meanwhile Isabel, barely standing with fatigue, stumbled to her bedroom and fell into bed. She was asleep before her head hit the pillow. She was finally getting some proper rest and she slept the sleep of the truly exhausted.

The babies woke up again at 0715, and were changed and fed again. Some soothing gel was applied to their gums. They made almost no sound, apart from the occasional happy gurgle. They were then placed carefully in their pen – the cage as their mother called it – where they played happily, watched over by an invisible force.

At just after noon Isabel woke up, feeling so much better. She would have been happier with another twenty hours of sleep, but even so she felt almost human again. Stretching she got out of bed and went to her bathroom, where she enjoyed a long hot shower. The first time in a long time that she truly relaxed.

She knew she didn’t have to worry about the girls. They were just fine. Then the horror hit her. She’d performed magic.

“What have I done?”

She had to find out what had happened, still naked from her shower she ran to the back window and looked out. The neighbourhood looked fine, nothing untoward. She looked left and right and could see nothing. She started to relax. Perhaps she’d avoided anything major happening. Quickly getting dressed she hurried to the nursery.

She approached the cage warily, but the little girls were playing nicely, even sharing toys for a change. It would be so nice if she could live like this all the time, but she feared the consequences.

Isabel waved her hands to dispel the magic nanny, and sighed.

“No my girls, we can’t have that again. As you will learn when you are old enough, and can control it, there is always a danger with magic. It is capricious, and insists on a form of balance. This time I think we’ve been lucky…”

That’s when she heard the fire engine.

“No no no…”

She ran to the front door, and flung it open. Across the road her neighbour’s house was in flames. She stopped, should she go out? Should she instead duck back inside? She didn’t want anyone to connect her with the fire. No, she realised she had to know. Rushing across the road she saw her neighbours were still alive. She was relieved, but, she still had to confirm what had caused the fire. The husband, Tom, seemed to be talking to a policeman, while Pauline was sitting on the grass, just staring at their once lovely home.

As she approached she heard Tom trying his best to explain what had happened to the obviously sceptical policeman.

“…was like lightning or something. Suddenly there was a crack, and then flames. Flames everywhere. We don’t have gas, or anything. And I haven’t smoked in, what, twenty years now. I don’t know what it could have been.”

“Wiring sir?”

“Oh I don’t see how, this house is very new. We have it inspected regularly. Maybe it was…”

He looked up, as if he was hoping to see a storm cloud.

Isabel knew there would be no storm cloud; she knew what had caused the crack. It was the magic discharging to balance what she’d done the night before. Guilt hit her, and unable to face her neighbours, she slunk back home.

Re-entering the nursery she thought she’d caught a whiff of dirty nappy, but leaning over it was gone. She tried explaining to the little girls what had happened, though they were oblivious.

“For every act of goodness you do, there must be an act of badness, or chaos. As you learn about your powers you will find ways to channel them and control the chaos so it causes minimal harm to people. You should always do your best to control it, as the effects can be fatal. I failed last night…”

Despite the sleep she was still exhausted, and the emotional stress was too much. She started sobbing again knowing what might have happened, and yet guiltily grateful for the small rest she’d had. Even at the cost of her neighbours’ house.

She stood there bent over, crying freely now, when she felt a hand inexpertly stroking her head. Surprised she looked up, there was no one there. No one except the twins, and little Grace was staring at her with concern. Isabel smiled tentatively and Grace responded, then lost interest and looked around her pen.

Perhaps she’d just imagined it? They’d only been exposed to magic for half a day. It shouldn’t have awakened within them yet. Isabel watched her little ones carefully, but they seemed to be behaving quite normally. She was about to go and prepare their lunch when Ruth started to fuss. She was looking around her pen grumpily. Then she saw what she wanted, her favourite toy, the tiger teddy bear, was on the other side of the pen. She reached out her hand to it, and it lifted up and headed unsteadily towards her.

“Oh no…” wailed Isabel.

Her worst fear was realised. It appeared that last night’s incident had been too much and the girls, having been exposed to all that active magic, were now starting to manifest some of their powers. They wouldn’t know they needed to be careful, or what might happen, and the consequences could be horrendous.

She’d have to train them, but in a place where she could limit the damage which might happen while she did so.

If they stayed where they were she could see a future in which theirs was the only house standing in the neighbourhood.   Her neighbours, lovely people, would find their houses burned. Their pets dead. Some houses might fall into suddenly appearing sinkholes or collapse with rot. People might die.

In the past that would be the cue for the locals to rise up and burn her. Some witches had thought that if they did good that would protect them, but it had only made the whole situation worse as the magic forced balance. Ironically they’d only started to realise the truth during the Enlightenment.

These days, well, she could imagine the news frenzy it might become. She’d be hounded and wouldn’t be able to get away, and the girls, how would they cope? There’d be police, and social workers and psychiatrists. Scientists would be asked to ponder what was happening. They’d become freaks at the centre of their own circus. Other witches wouldn’t thank her; in fact they might decide that the best way to deal with her would be for an accident to occur. That had certainly happened a few times over the centuries.

No, they couldn’t stay here. Even though it contained the last connections to their father, she had to take the girls away. They needed to go somewhere remote, miles from anywhere. In the modern world it was ever harder to secure such places, but she’d find somewhere. She waved the magic over the girls again, after all she was already in such trouble she might as well get the benefit. She also concentrated to ensure she was controlling the build up of negative energy. It would get hard to hold after a while, but she’d be ready to go before it was a real struggle.

As she thought of options, she realised she only had one left. It was the one she’d been hoping to avoid. She called her mother.

“Hello?”

“Hello Mother.”

“Darling, such a surprise to hear your voice!”

“I doubt that.”

“OK, I could feel the magic. Do you admit now you need my help?”

“Yes. Please.”

“See, it wasn’t that bad.”

“You have no idea.”

“Anyway, you’ll have to appear to leave normally. How soon can you be here?”

“In a few hours.”

“Oh, that is excellent. It’ll be so good to see you, and there are a few awkward characters we’ll need you to deal with.”

“Mother…”

“You can’t come back unless you’re willing to work. You know that.”

“I know. I was just hoping…”

“For a break? What do you think you’ve been enjoying. Now get back here, and bring my lovely granddaughters with you. I am so looking forward to meeting them.”

There was little point arguing with her mother. She said, “I’ll see you soon mother.”

“Looking forward to it darling.”

Her heart was lighter, at least she’d be getting help, and rest, and it would be nice to be among other witches again. It was also weighed down; as she knew the kind of work she’d have to do. She shuddered.

One of her skills was controlling the negative energy produced by good work. She could harness and direct it. Perform targeted acts of evil. As much as she understood the necessity, she’d never enjoyed it, and the images had started to plague her. That’s why she’d run away.

Sighing she started to collect her things. The girls, still behaving impeccably, were quickly loaded up in their carry seats, and the basics for the trip were ready. She was tempted to use magic to load the seats into the car, but if anyone saw them it would cause real issues. She lugged them over, strapped them in and made sure they were safe.

As she was about to get into the car she took one last look at her home, and said a final goodbye to her husband.   She got in and drove off.

She was half way along the block when she let the magic go. It blew the walls of her house down, and the roof collapsed. She didn’t look back.

 

The neighbourhood was surprised by three unusual happenings that day. There was the lightning strike, the collapsed house and the strange disappearance of the nice young widow and her twins. People gossiped, as they do, but they couldn’t see a connection, which was perhaps fortunate for everyone.

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