Maude is now in the habit of mentioning my physical attributes in the context of our forthcoming child.
‘I hope the baby doesn’t get your big nose,’ for instance.
I know that this is well-meant and I try to not let it trouble me.
‘Yes dear, I hope not too.’
Lately though I do tend to leave the living room and busy myself in the kitchen during the TV commercial breaks. If I forget myself and linger, Maude’s gaze wanders and I can feel her looking me up and down. It makes me feel like an old nag at a horse fair, at the very end of the day’s business.
‘I do hope that the baby isn’t preternaturally tall either….like you. Somewhere in between my normal height and your excessive height would be ideal. I do hope that my genes win out.’
Another trait of my family which has often fascinated Maude is our weary-looking eyes. She dropped many hints when we first dated that perhaps I needed to have my eyes tested - that perhaps I ought to wear glasses. She then met the family, realised we all had ‘Deputy Dog’ eyes and quizzed me about this particularly unfortunate part of my genetic heritage. I suggested that this was just a throwback to The Famine. I also joked that - however indirectly – it was attributable to her community ('your lot', I think was the term I used).
‘Oh yes, we took all your potatoes didn’t we. Don’t remember all the details – I was very young.’
Lately, the ‘Famine Eyes’ have become less an object of banter and more a focus of genuine concern.
‘Seriously though. Freakishly tall, with a big nose and famine eyes. You can explain all that to the child when it is ostracised to its own corner of the playground and pelted with bits of packed lunch. ‘
I suggested that our genetic makeup could well fuse perfectly. We could create an ‘individual’. This individual could indeed inherit some of my burdens, this is true. They could also be blessed, nonetheless, with Maude’s forthright approach. This individual would deal frankly with all challenges in its way – even ‘famine eyes.’ Maude extracted the flattery from this theory and began to smile proudly. I was in my pyjamas and barefoot at the time. Her smiled faded as she looked down and began to scrutinise the imperfections of my feet....