Acorns and Conkers - Fiction by Kay Sexton

“I tell you, the tumble-dryer was unusable. It was full of bits of conker and acorn and the smell was indescribable! They said they thought it would be a good place to hide their treasures, like squirrels do. Kids, they drive you crazy. Mind you, if I hadn't been half-asleep I'd have seen them in the drum before I put the washing in.”

I'm not listening to Liz, I'm watching Anya. Four years we've been coming to this yoga class - Liz, the homemaker, Anya the shift-working call-centre manager and me, the freelancer. Liz hasn't noticed the change, but I have. Since Liz's third child arrived, Anya and Phil have been trying to have a baby. Trying and failing.

“Carol, I'm begging you, take my three brats for the weekend and I'll shower you with gold!” She's joking with me; she never lets her darlings out of her sight. 

Instead I allow the image of Anya showered in gold to ripen in my mind. Anya with her narrow hands turned up to catch the molten, glowing rain, her small, high breasts dripping with gold, droplets slipping from her neat pubic triangle to meet the widening pool of liquid shining between her long thighs. I catch Anya's eye and hold it. What can she see in my gaze? Whatever it is, she blushes faintly and looks away. I smile. I can be patient.

Liz is oblivious to the effect of her words and my glance. 

“Conkers and acorns,” I say. “Isn't it strange - kids love things that have no value to adults - do you think they're smarter than us?”

Liz shrugs. Anya looks quizzical, although she won't quite catch my eye. I continue. “We reach a point in life where we think things have to have purposes; the purpose of a chestnut is to make a good pudding, the purpose of a yoga class is to keep fit, the purpose of sex is to make babies.”

Anya is hanging on my words, but I stop. Let her do the work now.

“So ...?” she asks.

Not good enough, sweet Anya. Work harder. I simply smile at her.

“Why are children smarter, Carol?” She has to ask - I've given her no choice, the line about sex and babies is a hook into her heart.

“Because they prefer conkers to chestnuts, games to food, running around to yoga.”

I let my eyes drop to her neat breasts and watch her nipples tighten under her t-shirt. There is a pause, just long enough for her to breathe and breathe out, before I finish.

“Just as we should prefer love-making to baby-making.”

Liz sniffs. As a mother, she believes children are the most important thing. 

I lift my eyes and watch Anya. She is breathing faster now. Even after four years, she doesn't know how to deal with a woman like me, a dangerous woman. But something in her mind is tilting, she's seeing a different future, one in which being a mother might not define her. In the space of this new future, I am waiting.

We let Liz pull ahead; she has to pick up the baby from the crèche. Anya is colluding with me, slowing down as we get ready to leave the gym.

“Come and have lunch,” I suggest, thinking of my cool, narrow bed on which I can imagine her displayed like a harvest festival. I am no longer able to be patient.

“Okay,” she says, without looking at me. I smile, pulling on my winter coat, feeling the smooth curves of the conkers in my pocket.



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