Chapter 18

Louisa seems to sense what I'm thinking. She, too, slumps back into her seat, both of us sitting leaned back, looking at each other.

"Uhm…about earlier….I thought about what you said." She starts a bit insecure.

"Yeah?"

"It's not that I want a career. I want my job."

"What's the difference?"

"I don't have the ambition to be more than I am now. I just don't want to lose my standing."

"Oh?" I can't hide my disappointment.

Louisa seems to realise that and turns towards me, resting on her side.

"I'm really impressed with how willing you are to give up your career. The sacrifices you're willing to make for James' sake. I'm really sorry, but I can't bear to think of giving up my job."

"I see." I try to say as calmly as possible, but I am a bit disappointed. More than a bit.

"Maybe I'm too interested in what people will think about me, maybe I'm not sure enough of our relationship," I look towards her alarmed. I don't like the sound of that. Louisa must have seen the sheer horror on my face, as she gently rubs my sleeve and continues with an apologetic expression, "sorry…not yet, anyhow."

I gulp and I nod. In a way I can understand her. Our road towards this point has been rocky at best, and I could never believe that a woman like her would want to be stuck with an old goat like me indefinitely. Maybe it's really just the thrill of conquest. Either way, I simply have to take what she is willing to give me, for as long as it lasts.

"But I do think we can make it work, honest I do!" She continues, but I learned one thing over the years – if someone points out his sincerity you're mostly already on the road to disaster.

"Don't look at me like that." Louisa keeps on talking and is now cupping my face gently. Maybe she's honest and maybe she's right and maybe we really have to work on getting our relationship on solid ground just for a bit longer.

"Maybe I'm just too selfish, or maybe I just love my job too much."

"But what about James?" I mean, this is not about us, it's about our son.

"You know, you've really surprised me. I never thought you wanted to be a father. I've got to confess, I had my doubts you'd be good at it. Sorry about that."

"Completely understandable, I'm hardly good father material. But what about James?"

"You're an excellent father. I want you to know that. And about James. I thought about what you said."

"And decided on whom as a possible child minder?" I can't help but have an acid tone in my voice.

"Don't be like that." She rubs my face. She certainly wants to soften the blow.

"So who do you think should look after James?"

"I could understand that under these circumstances, you don't want to cut back your working hours…"

"Your decision has nothing to do with it!" I interrupt her brusquely. "Just because one parent prefers her job, that doesn't mean that the other would desert the child, too!"

"It's not like that, you know."

"So what would you call it?"

"Don't let us start that way, right? Listen first to what I've thought. I just wanted to know if your offer's still on."

"In the mornings I will look after James." I confirm. I am responsible for the fact that he has been born, so I have the duty of giving him my attention to ensure the best possible start in life.

"Great. I hoped you would. I wasn't sure, though."

"I can't cover the afternoons. I will not give up my job completely. If you stop practising for a couple of years, you're basically out of the job. You miss too many developments and after just a few years, you have to start completely new."

"No, Martin. I don't want you to. You're our GP, and you're a fine GP, and even though Ruth thinks otherwise, I think your job is very important and you do it with brilliance. I'm proud of you being our GP."

"So what about James?" I still have the feeling she wants to sugar-coat me into something.

"There was a lot of truth in what you said earlier…"

"But…?" I probe her. If there was so much truth in it, why isn't she following my advice then?

Louisa sighs.

"But I'm not ready to give up my job. I want to try something first."

"Like what?"

"The problem is not primarily that I'm working, it's being out of the house that's difficult."

"The one requires the other."

"Maybe – maybe not. Look, officially I do have a deputy. However, I've never given her much to do. Maybe I was a bit afraid I could be replaceable. I do have my issues, too, you know. Having to take things in my own hands from early on, after Mum left and father wasn't able to cope, I do have difficulties in trusting other people doing their job properly. I'd rather do everything myself. Maybe it is time to work on that. Maybe I should work together with my deputy more closely."

"How?"

"See, most of the administrative stuff and ensuring that all regulations are followed I do in my office. There is no reason why my office can't be at home. I could teach in the mornings and work at my home-office in the afternoon, having an eye on James at the same time."

I groan.

"No, wait until I've finished. If something comes up, my deputy can handle that. If my presence is required, I can be reached by one phone call and I can be at the school in a few minutes, taking James with me."

"I have realised that I do have to have a backup system at school now, anyhow. I mean, what did I do yesterday, when I had to leave school because of the emergency? I left the school in charge of the Larges, of all people! Actually, I don't really want to know the mess they made of things, but there was no one else I could have thought of. It wouldn't be fair to my deputy if she just had to save the day in case of emergency. It's a different thing, though, if we are sharing the work companionably. Parent's evenings are after hours, anyhow, and then you've finished surgery. What do you think?"

"Oh, Louisa!" I sigh.

"What? What's wrong with that?"

"Don't you think you're spreading yourself too thin? Looking after a child is a full-time job, so is being a head teacher. You're trying to do two full-time jobs at the same time. Now it might even work, but soon James will start to crawl. You can't put him somewhere and hope he stays put, then. You'll have to watch him closely so that he does himself no harm. How are you going to do that if you're engrossed in your administrative work? How do you want to manage? You'll tire yourself out."

"Actually, I think I could do it."

"Sure you do." I sigh again. She really has to have all the strings in her hand and controlling everything. Maybe that's the kind of woman I always fall for. As different as Edith and Louisa are, they have this one thing in common – they are in control.

"I think you're not taking me seriously." Louisa complains. "I am actually quite capable. Maybe I'm not as brilliant as you are, but I was always very good at my job."

"I know you were – but then you were only head teacher. Think of what happened when that boy wanted to stay at your place."

Louisa thinks and seems to remember. "The boy had a name – why can't you ever remember names?"

"The ruptured spleen."

"Peter Cronk – and he didn't want to stay with me. He wanted to stay with you."

"Uhm, yes, but he stayed with you."

"Because you dumped him on my doorstep."

"And you had to do home work and didn't even notice he had disappeared."

"He didn't disappear, he went to you. He admired you. Maybe you were sort of a father figure to him, after his Dad left."

"That's not the point!"

"What is the point?"

"Point is, if you are working, you have to concentrate. If you have to concentrate on your work, you can't concentrate on minding a child."

"I think I could. I just wasn't prepared then. Oh Martin, at least let's try. I mean, it's only during terms that I will have to be at school at all. I can take it a bit more slowly between terms. Then I'll have a couple of weeks to catch up with everything. Just try it for a while and see how it goes."

I sigh again. "Do I have a choice?"

"Can't you just support me a bit? You've got what you wanted. James will be looked after by both his parents. That is really important to you, isn't it?"

"What if you have to be at school in the afternoons and can't take him with you?"

"We'll have to have a child minder at hand anyhow. If some of us is ill. Or maybe we want to be alone for a while, especially when James is a bit older and more perceptive to his surroundings. I might feel more comfortable if we could have some days just for ourselves. Our relationship needs some maintenance work."

"Who do you have in mind?"

"Would it be alright for you if I asked Roger and Maureen? They seem to be doing a good job with their twins. They are quite well-behaved for their age."

I think for a moment. Maureen is a bit on the hysterical side, as far as I remember. But then, she was pregnant at the time she came to my surgery and so hormonally imbalanced. Roger was a decent enough chap.

"Is Roger still smoking?" I remember his unhealthy habit and don't want James to be exposed to that.

"I haven't seen him smoking since…you know."

"No, I do not know." Why do people have to stop mid-sentence and expect you to guess what they're meaning.

"Since he had his diagnosis."

"Oh, the cancer you mean."

Louisa nods embarrassed. Why can't people call things by its proper names?

"I guess he stopped smoking then, but I can ask."

"Right."

"So I can ask them? If Roger is not smoking when James would be around, that is?"

"Seems to be the most reasonable choice. At least they are not completely barmy."

"I'll talk to them. I'm sure they'll be glad to help, and for any additional penny they can make. So, are you happy with this arrangement?"

To be continued…