Asha

The bells of All Saints chimed nine o'clock as Fred cleaned up from his evening gardening. He'd heard that Mrs. B had made a lemon meringue pie in honor of Nurse Noakes' weekend visit. Perhaps he could pinch a slice, before a nice stroll home in the cool twilight. He set off for the convent kitchen.

There was a familiar figure stood before the refrigerator. Well- the great height was familiar. It had been a few years since he'd seen her so top-heavy.

"Evenin', Nurse Noakes."

"What-ho, Fred! Actually, could I trouble you to fetch me a bottle of milk from the low shelf?" Chummy beamed as she cradled her rotund middle. "Baby's getting in the way, I'm afraid."

"'Course. You sit down. I'll fetch the milk, and anything else you'd like, eh? What's your pleasure: sweet or savory?"

"Sweet," she answered readily. "Preferably something involving raspberries, but I wouldn't thumb my nose at another slice of that lemon meringue pie."

"I wouldn', neither."

Fred pulled a Tupperware pie carrier from the refrigerator's top shelf. It was suspiciously light. Sure enough: he opened it to find only a few crumbs, and a solitary smear of yellow goo.

"Seems we've been beaten to the punch, though," he sighed.

Chummy's face fell. Fred felt as if he'd been transported back in time. It was the Great Depression again; he saw the look on Dolly and Marlene's little faces when he couldn't spare a penny for loose candy…

Next thing he knew, he was scouring the cabinets for all things sweet- or anything raspberry. He'd call out his finds. She'd reply "yes please" or "no thank you." In between, they made small talk. She asked after Violet, and Dolly and Marlene and their families. He asked after Peter and Freddie. They discussed this season's tomato-growing prospects. Those sorts of things.

Before they knew it, Chummy was seated before an impromptu feast of raspberry scones, sugar-frosted corn flakes, half a box of Maltesers, and some slightly stale marshmallows. (And the glass of milk, of course.) Fred sat down next to her and had a scone. Chummy sampled everything but finished nothing.

"Gosh," she said. "You've all made a tremendous fuss over me today. I feel rather like a May Queen, being the center of so much celebratory attention."

Fred could only imagine. For weeks now, the younger nurses and nuns would squeal and giggle at the mere mention of Chummy and her impending visit. Any talk of the Noakes' next nipper inspired happy sighs and coos.

Fred reckoned all this "celebratory attention," as Chummy called it, was women's business. He wasn't getting too involved. Though he'd spent nearly two decades bantering with midwives, Fred was still shy around pregnant women. (This even included his own daughters, when they were in that condition.) After all, back when Fred had been an expectant father, the men had been shut out of things entirely. Leave everything to the neighbor women, the grandmothers, and of course the midwife. Just run down the pub, and let the other men clap you on the shoulder while they place bets on whether it's a boy or girl.

But he was glad to see Chummy contented. He figured she'd more than earned a bit of rest and relaxation. She'd kept on working through both her pregnancies. Towards the end with her little Freddie, she'd fretted about her and Peter's lack of money or "a proper home." And then she and Freddie had some rough sailing indeed…

"Trixie gave me quite the spa treatment today. I'm told that my painted toenails look rather spiffing," she quipped, raising her eyebrows. "And Sister Monica Joan presented me with the most precious rag doll. A little girl."

The setting sun angled through the kitchen's high, small windows. Dust danced in the pink glowing air. Chummy was pensive as she gently rubbed her belly. Fred didn't dare break the silence, though he couldn't have explained why.

"I think I'll call her Asha. The doll, that is. It means 'Hope' in Hindi," she said softly.

Fred was starting to think Chummy had forgotten he was there. Then she gave him a worried look, her eyes round behind her owlish specs. Once again, Fred was struck with almost paternal affection.

"Fred, I'm quite sure you're familiar with all sorts of betting superstitions. Do you know… Is it said to backfire, if one wishes too much for either a boy or a girl?"