It can’t be – can it?
Another Christmas season came around, and the kitchen was fully utilized and started to show a real profit for the first time. George was out walking one day when he slipped and cracked a bone in his leg, so he asked if I would mind going over to the cottage with the books. I was happy to do so and started to visit him once a week. A couple of days before Christmas I drove up as normal and was getting my pile of papers together. My mind was full of how busy we were going to be that evening, and how many bookings we had. I was vaguely aware that someone was walking along the lane towards me, but I would probably have just gone in to see George if she hadn’t spoken. “Well, look who’s here” a familiar voice called, “and wearing a beautiful leather jacket too – I wonder where you found the money to buy that?”
I spun around, nearly dropping my papers in the mud, and there before me was Maggie, smiling from ear to ear. “Maggie!” I stammered. “what are you doing here? I mean, great to see you, you look fantastic, but what are you doing here?”
She laughed “Nice to see you too!”
I smiled as best I could after the shock and kissed her on the cheek. It was only then that I noticed the small child holding on to Maggie’s hand.
“And who is this?” I said. Without being prompted the boy replied, “My name is Tony, and I’m 7 and a quarter.”
“Isn’t that a coincidence?” I said, “My name is Tony too, but I’m a little bit older than 7 and a quarter.” I held out my hand to the young man who shook it gravely.
I was aware that George had been standing by his door watching this little exchange, so I excused myself, and Maggie invited me over for tea when I’d completed my business. Her smile faltered a bit at that point, and maybe she blushed just a little. As for myself, I could not stop from remembering all those times we had “had tea” together.
I hurried in to see George, who was amazed I knew his neighbor, but I told him that it was a small community, and you got to know lots of people. “But I didn’t know she was still here in the cottage next to you,” I said.
“Oh yes,” she replied, “Apparently Maggie got the cottage as part of a divorce settlement. Quite messy as I understand it, her ex. had been having an affair, and when she found out then she, well, I don’t know the details, but there was something about another man being involved. But enough of that, let’s look at the books and you can get back to the pub, you must be run off your feet.”
I tried to look interested, but I was doing a bit of mathematics myself. “Tony” was seven and a quarter. Add nine months to that makes 8 years, and eight years ago Maggie and I were “having tea” several times a day. “Are you OK?” George suddenly asked. “You look a bit white.”
“Yes I’m fine,” I said, “just working hard you know, what were you saying about the monthly returns?”
We finished looking at the books. “I told Maggie I’d go over for a cup of tea,” I said to George, “but it’s time I should be getting back to the Anchor. If you see her, tell her I’m sorry, and maybe we can do it another time.”
He said he would certainly do that, and I got back into the car and tried to be as quiet as possible as I drove away.
Why would she name her child Tony? Her 7 and a quarter-year-old child.
There was only one reason I could think of – Tony was my child. I was sick to the stomach thinking about it, and my mind veered between extremes. At one moment, I thought how hard this must have been on Maggie, bringing up a child alone, not ever knowing his father. But then my mind revolted at the very idea of being a father. I couldn’t do that, I couldn’t take the responsibility. And why had she come back to the cottage, why had she invited me in? Did she want me to pay maintenance? Did she expect me to be involved in the raising of the kid?
I almost crashed the car several times before I got back to the Anchor, and then I sat for a long time just wondering what to do. The noise from the bar eventually roused me from my thoughts, and I reluctantly went off to put on my happy face for the punters.