WE sit opposite Noel. I can see his skinny, bruised legs dangling, swinging beneath the table. He looks about, avoiding our eyes. The restaurant is empty. It’s barely midday. I realise Noel is anxious. He knows that something is afoot. I take a deep breath. We’ve done our reading, discussed our strategy and sketched out a script. I’m scheduled to kick off. My mouth is suddenly dry.
“So…” I say, smiling at Noel. I turn to Emma, looking for reassurance. “Yes” she offers, returning my fulsome smile. I cough. “Noel, I…” And then I keep coughing.
“Noel. Darling.” Emma looks anxiously from Noel to me. “Daddy and I have something to tell you.” Surely that wasn’t in the script. Now he’s certain to think we’re separating.
As I reach for Emma’s hand, in an attempt to underline our matrimonial commitment to one another, I knock over a full glass of water. At the same moment, a waitress bursts through the saloon swing doors, three burgers held aloft. After the initial cascade, the water runs in several directions, dividing the table into islands. Using his forefinger, Noel dams his river. Emma allows hers to flow into a mighty waterfall, whilst my trousers are getting wet.
Eventually we sort out the burgers and the waitress wipes the table. She leaves us. I turn to Emma once more. “Now, where were we?” Emma is looking at Noel. Noel is looking at me, a tear rolling down each of his smooth cheeks.
“Oh. What’s wrong, dad?”
“Wrong? Why? No, nothing. Nothing’s wrong. Well, not wrong exactly.”
“I knew it,” says Noel. “Those hospital appointments.” He dissolves into tears.
Emma slips onto the red leather banquette, next to Noel. She holds him. “Noel, it’s nothing like that. Daddy’s fine. I’m, well, all three of us, we’re going to have twins. Babies. Mummy’s going to have twins.”
Noel has stopped crying. He stares at Emma. “What are their names going to be?” he asks. Emma and I look at one another. “Names? Well,” I begin. “They’re going to be boys, aren’t they?” Noel asks, interrupting. “I don’t want girls.”
At that moment, I realise that they will almost certainly be girls. My as-yet unexpressed fantasy of naming twin boys after my grandfathers seems doomed. And I think that Emma will not countenance my Welsh and Irish grandmothers’ names, unpronounceable in the Home Counties – Gwenllian and Siobhan.
Girls. Daughters. Twin daughters. Gosh. I smile. The water continues to drip, drip, drip onto my trouser leg.
To be continued next Tuesday. See past City Dad columns on www.cityam.com.