Home > Surprise Me(4)

Surprise Me(4)
Author: Sophie Kinsella

I hold them to me, feeling the familiar squirm of their arms and legs, wincing as their school shoes trample on my feet. They’ve only been on a two-hour play date. It was nothing. But as I clasp them to me, I feel like they’ve been away for ages. Surely Anna’s grown? Surely Tessa’s hair smells different? And where did that little scratch on Anna’s chin come from?

Now they’re talking in that almost-secret twins’ language they have, their voices overlapping, strands of their blonde hair meshed as they gaze reverentially down at a sparkly seahorse sticker on Tessa’s hand. From what I can hear, I think they’re cooking up plans to ‘share it forever, till we’re grown-up’. Since it will almost certainly disintegrate as soon as I take it off, we’ll need a diversion, or there’ll be howls. Living with five-year-old twins is like living in a Communist state. I don’t quite count out the Shreddies into the bowls every morning to make sure things are equal, but …

Actually, I did once count out the Shreddies into the bowls. It was quicker.

‘Right!’ says Dan. ‘Bath time? Bath time!’ he corrects hastily. Bath time is very much not a question. It’s an absolute. It’s the lodestone. Basically, the entire edifice of our household routine is based on bath time happening.

(This isn’t just us, by the way, it’s every other family I know with young children. The general perception is that if bath time goes, everything goes. Chaos descends. Civilization disintegrates. Children are found wandering the streets in tatters, gnawing on animal bones while their parents rock and whimper in alleyways. Kind of thing.)

Anyway, so it’s bath time. And as our nightly routine gets under way, it’s as though the weirdness of earlier on never happened. Dan and I are operating as a team again. Anticipating each other’s every thought. Keeping communication brief in our almost-psychic parent-code.

‘Shall we do Anna’s—’ Dan begins, as he passes me the hair detangler.

‘Did it this morning.’

‘What about—’

‘Yup.’

‘So, that message from Miss Blake.’ He raises his eyebrows.

‘I know.’ By now I’m combing detangler through Anna’s hair with my fingers, and I mouth over her head: Hilarious.

Miss Blake is our headmistress and her message was in Anna’s home message book. It was a typed memo to all parents, asking them please NOT to discuss or ‘gossip at the school gate’ about a certain incident, which had absolutely ‘NO FOUNDATION’.

I had no idea what she was talking about, so I immediately emailed round the other parents, and apparently Miss Christy who teaches the top year was seen googling one of the dads on the classroom computer, not realizing it was linked to the whiteboard.

‘Can I have the—’

Dan hands me the shower attachment and I blast Anna’s head with warm water, while she giggles and yells, ‘It’s raining!’

Were we always so psychic? So in tune with each other? I’m not sure we were. I think we changed after we had the girls. When you have baby twins, you’re in the trenches together. You’re feeding, changing, soothing, passing babies back and forth in rotation, round the clock. You hone your routines. You don’t waste words. When I was breastfeeding Anna and Tessa and too tired to talk even, Dan could pretty much tell just from my expression which of the following I meant:

Could I have some more water, please? Six pints should do.

And a couple of Galaxy bars? Just shove them into my open mouth; I’ll suck them in.

Could you please change the TV channel? My hands are full of baby and I’ve watched thirteen straight hours of Jeremy Kyle.

God, I’m exhausted. Have I said that more than five hundred times today?

I mean, do you realize the levels of exhaustion I’m talking? My bones have collapsed inside my body, that’s how tired I am. My kidneys are slumped against my liver, weeping gently.

Ow, my nipple. Ow. Ouch.

Owwwwww.

I know. It’s natural. Beautiful. Whatever.

Let’s not have any more after this, OK?

Did you get that? Are you paying attention, Dan? NO MORE BABIES, EVER.

‘Argh!’ My reminiscing comes to an end as Tessa swooshes the water so hard out of the bath, I’m drenched.

‘Right!’ snaps Dan. ‘That’s it. Get out of the bath, both of you.’

At once, both girls start wailing. Wailing happens a lot in our house. Tessa is wailing because she didn’t mean to splash me so hard. Anna is wailing because she always wails when Tessa does. They’re both wailing at Dan’s raised voice. And of course, they’re both wailing because they’re exhausted, though they’d never admit it.

‘My sti-icker,’ says Tessa in choked tones, because she always brings every calamity she can think of into the frame. ‘My sti-i-i-i-cker bro-oke. And I hurt my thu-u-umb.’

‘We’ll take it to the sticker hospital, remember?’ I say soothingly as I wrap her in a towel. ‘And I’ll kiss your thumb better.’

‘Can I h-h-h-have an ice lolly?’ Her eyes slide up to me, spotting an opportunity.

You have to admire her chutzpah. I turn away to hide a giggle and say over my shoulder, ‘Not right now. Maybe tomorrow.’

While Dan takes over story duty, I go to change out of my wet clothes. I dry myself off, then find myself moving over to our mirror and staring at my naked body.

Sixty-eight years. What will I look like in sixty-eight years’ time?

Cautiously I press the skin together on my thigh until it’s all wrinkled up. Oh God. Those wrinkles are my future. Except they’ll be all over my body. I’ll have wrinkly thighs and wrinkly boobs and … I don’t know … a wrinkly scalp. I release my wrinkles and survey myself again. Should I start more of a beauty regimen? Like exfoliation, maybe. But then, how’s my skin going to last me till the age of 102? Shouldn’t I be building up layers, not scrubbing them away?

How do you keep your looks for a hundred years, anyway? Why aren’t they telling us this in the magazines?

‘OK, they’re settled. I’m going for a run.’ As Dan comes in, he’s already peeling off his shirt, but he stops when he sees me standing naked in front of the mirror.

‘Mmm,’ he says, his eyes gleaming. He throws his shirt on the bed, comes over and puts his hands around my waist.

There he is in the mirror. My handsome, youthful husband. But what’s he going to look like in sixty-eight years’ time? I have a sudden, dismaying image of Dan all elderly and wizened, batting at me with a stick and yelling, ‘Humbug, woman, humbug!’

Which is ridiculous. He’ll be old. Not Ebenezer Scrooge.

I shake my head sharply, to dispel the image. God, why did that doctor ever have to mention the future in the first place?

‘I was just thinking …’ I trail off.

‘How many more times we’re going to have sex?’ Dan nods. ‘I already worked it out.’

‘What?’ I swivel to face him. ‘I wasn’t thinking that! I was thinking—’ I stop, intrigued. ‘How many times is it?’

‘Eleven thousand. Give or take.’

‘Eleven thousand?’

I feel my legs sag in shock. How is that even physically possible? I mean, if I thought exfoliation was going to wear out my skin, then surely …

‘I know.’ He takes off his suit trousers and hangs them up. ‘I thought it’d be more.’

‘More?’

How could he think it would be more? Just the thought of it makes me feel a bit dizzy. Eleven thousand more shags, all with Dan. Not that – I mean, obviously I want them to be with Dan, but … eleven thousand times?

How will we even have the time? I mean, we have to eat. We have to hold down jobs. And won’t we get bored? Should I be googling new positions? Should I install a TV on the ceiling?

That figure can’t be right. He must have misplaced a zero.

‘How did you work that out?’ I demand suspiciously, but Dan ignores me. He runs his hands down my back and cups my bottom, his eyes full of that intent, single-purpose look he gets. The thing about Dan is, you can only talk about sex with him for about thirty seconds before he wants to be doing it, not talking about it. In fact, he views talking about sex, generally, as a total waste of time. (I rather love talking about it, but I’ve learned to do that afterwards. I lie in his arms and tell him everything I think about … well, everything, and he says, ‘Mmm, mmm,’ until I realize he’s fallen asleep.)

‘Maybe I’ll put off my run,’ he says, kissing my neck firmly. ‘It is our anniversary …’

And it is. And the sex is great – we’re pretty psychic at that too, by now – and we lie in bed afterwards and say things like ‘That was amazing’, and ‘I love you’, and everything that happy couples say.

And it was amazing.

And I do love him.

But – totally, absolutely honestly – there’s also another tiny voice in my head. Saying: One down. Only another 10,999 times to go.

THREE

I wake up early to find that Dan is ahead of me. He’s already got out of bed and is sitting in the little wicker chair in our bay window, staring morosely out of the window.

‘Morning.’ He turns a smidgen towards me.

‘Morning!’ I sit up, already alert, thoughts buzzing around my head. I reckon I have this whole living-forever thing worked out. I was thinking hard about it while I was drifting off to sleep, and I have the answer!

I’m about to tell it to Dan – but he gets in first.

‘So basically, I need to work till I’m about ninety-five,’ he says in utmost gloom. ‘I’ve been doing sums.’

‘What?’ I say uncomprehendingly.

‘If we’re living forever, that means we’ve got to work forever.’ He gives me a baleful look. ‘To fund our ancient, elderly lifespans. I mean, forget retiring at sixty-five. Forget retiring altogether. Forget taking it easy.’

   
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