He had known, in theory at least, that the day was not going to be easy. However, he could not have imagined just how difficult it would prove to be.
Sitting on the fringe of the company, he watched in unspoken agony as a procession of dutiful family and friends tickled the baby’s cheek and made the requisite ‘ooh’ and ‘ahh’ sounds. Occasionally, above the happy hubbub, he could hear compliments being paid, the same sort of compliments being paid at Christenings and naming ceremonies the world over, he thought.
– Ah, sure he’s gorgeous
– Big strapping lad, he is.
– Jaysus, there’s plenty of him. He’ll be a boxer that one – heavyweight champion of the world!
– Aw Nuala, he’s beautiful. And the absolute image of you. You must be so proud.
Conspicuous by their absence were those comments which referred to the other half of the baby’s parentage.
– Look at that scowl – he got that from his Da!
– Oh, the poor thing has his father’s ears, God love him.
– You’ll have to get that bottle surgically removed from his mouth, Nuala – if it’s in the dog it’s in the pup, wha’?!
Nuala’s decision not to reveal who the father was had caused him little concern when she first told him. She was fourteen weeks pregnant and their relationship, such as it was, had already run its short and troubled course. She would ask him for nothing and expect nothing from him, she informed him coldly, and she would be grateful if he would extend her the same courtesy. He was not to be named as the father on the birth certificate.
At that time, her self-reliance came as a relief to him and he readily agreed to her terms. By then he was already seeing another girl from work and that relationship was showing great promise. The prospect of being tied for life to a woman he had only just managed to tolerate for three weeks did not appeal to him. Nuala could do whatever the hell she wanted.
And so the decision was made: he would not be involved.
Except….except, this was his son. He was the boy’s father. That was fact, constant and immutable. Nuala couldn’t change that with a few words. He thought of his own father, God rest his soul. How would he have felt growing up without his own father? And if Ma had kept his father’s identity a secret from him?
He thought of his boy. His son. His big, beautiful strong son. Flesh of his flesh. He thought of the baby shoes he’d brought as a gift, even though he knew they would never be worn. Nuala would make sure of that. He drained his glass, stood up and crossed the room to where Nuala sat, alone for probably the first time that day. As he neared her, she looked at him fearfully and as he made to speak her eyes filled.
“Martin, don’t. Please.”
“Nuala, we have to talk.”