THE CHANGE OF LIFE.

Six a.m. and the alarm clock rang around the bedroom and shattered the calm of Jack's little house. In a far corner of the room Jack's dog, Muffin lifted his little black nose in anticipation of breakfast. With a groan Vesta groped around blindly before slapping off the bell. She groaned out loud, appalled that it could really be morning already. She'd slept so badly that she didn't feel rested at all. Her back ached with a low, persistent throb and she had to grit her teeth as she swung her legs off the mattress. Her eyes felt dry and full of sand, her head ached and she felt old, old, old. God, she'd have to have a word with Jack when he came home, how did he and Muffy sleep on that awful bed, three days and it had almost crippled her. Taking a couple of deep breaths she tried to orientate herself and focus on the jobs she had to get through today. Sitting there on the edge of the bed she wished she were at home but, even as she thought it, she knew it was no use. So much had happened this last couple of years to her gentle, ordered world that nothing felt right anymore. Everywhere around her things were changing, moving on. Everyone it seemed but her.

When Jack had moved into the area to take over his father's share of the farm it was like a pebble being thrown into a quiet, still pool. The resultant ripples had changed the valley. People began to look around them and re-evaluate their ideas. It wasn't long before the attraction between Jack and the luscious Muffy became apparent to everyone. Then, to everyone's astonishment, especially Rock's, Nami became pregnant and moved in with Gustafa. The pair of them could be seen carrying on their unconventional lifestyle with little Marty strapped in his baby sling. Soon Jack and Muffy married, quickly followed by Celia and Marlin. It wasn't that Vesta wasn't happy for the young couples, she was delighted for them but it just seemed to underline all that had passed her by. When she was young she'd had dreams just like all her friends but as love and marriage came one by one to them she was left alone. She knew she'd always been the plain friend. The best that could be said was she had great hair and a wonderful personality. It wasn't even as though sex had not come her way, she'd had her share and enjoyed it immensely but to the boys she was a mate, a good pal never a romantic prospect. Now here she was at 46, an old maid, always the bridesmaid and never the bride. Her friends had all done their best but it was no good. You could put as many frills and bows on a carthorse as you wished but it would always be a carthorse.

Now Celis was heavily pregnant and settling down at the farm to give birth. Vesta should be happy, she was happy for them but she felt so sidelined. She wasn't part of the happy little family. Marlin and Celia didn't mean to exclude her but that's haw it felt. She felt surplus to her own life. It just emphasised all that missing from her life, all that she would never have.

When Muffy found out she was also pregnant and Jack was over then moon. Muffy had had a few false calls since their marriage nine months ago and their relief and joy was clear. Muffy was a little older that Jack and the difference had begun to pray on her mind. So when he had decided to take Muffy away for a few days Vesta had readily agreed to keep an eye on the farm. She retreated to Jack's farm to mourn in peace and consider her future. She was so conscious of how old she suddenly was and how she'd have to find a new way of coping but it hurt to leave all her dreams behind. It physically hurt that she was so old.

With a heavy sigh she heaved herself off the bed, pressing a hand into the small of her back where the ache made itself known again. It was comforting not to have to wear a dressing gown over her cotton nightie as she had to at home now. Turning, she looked at herself in the mirror and rubbed her sleep filled eyes. What a stupid place to have a mirror! Her honest, plain face looked back at her and she noted the silvery grey strands that threaded their way through her thick dark hair. Where had her youth gone? Where was her life going? Shivering in the spring morning air she hurriedly dressed in her old skirt and sweater, jumping as she felt Muffin's wet nose against her leg.

It seemed such a long time now since Jack and Muffy's wedding day. It had been a wonderful day and they'd all partied into the night. Everyone had been happy for the couple and wished them well but at the same time, she'd been aware of how much Griffin was hurting. She and Cody had stayed with him after the celebrations were over and listened to him. The wine had flowed freely and long after Griffin had drowned his sorrows to sleep, she and Cody had carried on. She felt comfortable with Cody, her accepted her, even flattered her, going on about her beautiful Rubenesque curves. Rubenesque curves my foot. She gave a derisive snort and breathed in struggling to fasten her old, baggy skirt. That wasn't artistic curves, that was plain, old-fashioned fat. She'd always been a large girl, the sort people called sturdy but now middle-aged spread was spreading way too fast.

"Here you are Muffin," she crooned, as she ladled food into the dog's bowl. "Good dog, you love, don't you."

With an absentminded sigh Vesta scratched the dog's head and straightened up as a spasm of cramp hit her stomach.

"Good grief!" she cried out loud. " I don't know what was in that curry I had last night. I knee Muffy isn't much of a cook but whatever the mystery ingredient in that curry was it had better stay a mystery."

She'd eaten a curry that she'd found in the fridge; late last evening and the resulting stomachache had been part of the problem all night. Vesta looked sideways at the fridge and shook her head.

" I think not Muffin," she muttered. "I'll go feed the hens and see what eggs there are."

Slowly, Vesta left he house and shuffled over to the small, wooden hen house. Her legs felt heavy and her head swum. The sooner she got some breakfast down her the better. There, that cramp again! She stopped by the barn and held on to the wall to steady herself. With tears in her eyes she struggled into the hen house scattering small, fussy white hens as she entered. The warm, dry smell of the roost filled her nostrils and steadied her slightly. Vesta stooped to pick up the warm, speckle eggs, bending down to feel around in the straw. Her fingers closed around the body of a tiny, golden duckling, its fluffy little body tickled her hand. She brought it up to her cheek and nestled it against her face. This is what hurt the most. To know that she had no chick or child to call her own and now she never would have.

"Enough,!" she snapped out loud, dashing the tears from her face. " Face it Vesta, you're just a barren old spinster and you'll just have to make the best of it."

Putting the tiny duckling down she gently pushed it away and tried to sit up. It was a real struggle, everything seemed to hurt. Staggering in pain Vesta stumbled out into the farmyard and more by luck than management found her way into the field. By now she knew that this wasn't just the aches and pains of old age, something was really wrong. She tried to call out for help but her voice wouldn't come. The pain gripped her and she frantically tried to make her way to cover. The light rain that had been threatening all morning had turned into a downpour and she was soaked before she made it to the shelter of the barn. Her clothes clung to her, tangling her legs, causing her to stumble. Vesta screamed as she the metal bucket handle cut into her leg. She flailed her arms in a useless attempt to gain her balance but fell forward into the milling animals. The cows picked up on Vesta's panic, milling around her and as she fell she crashed against Rosie, a little brown calf. Rosie kicked out and caught Vesta a terrible kick just below her ribs. The wave of pain of pain that hit her was so terrible that she didn't even put out a hand to save herself. She just wrapped her arms around her body and hit the floor without even feeling it. To her horror she felt a wrenching, tearing pain and felt blood gush down her legs. Screaming and gasping Vesta rolled on the floor, oblivious to the noise the now frantic animals were making. She must be dying! The pain was splitting her in two, she'd never felt anything like it, and she was terrified. Vesta tried to get to her feet, she had to get help but the pain was just too much to bear.

" Help!! Help me, please!! " Vesta screamed out and, to her relief and amazement a voice actually called back.

" Vesta! Are you there Vesta?" It was Gustafa. Of course he and Nami had come for the milk she'd promised them.

" Help me, I'm in the barn." Vesta rallied and called out louder, frantic to make herself heard and then screamed as the pain ripped through her. She didn't look up but she sobbed in relief as she heard the door open and someone enter.

" My God, Vesta, what's happened?" It was Nami and Vesta bit her lip, fighting against the waves of pain as the young woman knelt by her.

"I'm dying," Vesta gasped. " The pain. I can't bear it."

"Gustafa, fetch the doctor," Nami yelled back to her husband who stood horrified in the doorway. "Quickly, Gustafa, Vest's had an accident. Now, Gustafa!"

Glad to be able to do something constructive, Gustafa and Takakura fled leaving the two women together.

" Where are you hurt?" Nami asked as Vesta doubled up once more, crying out in pain.

"It's my back," Vesta gasped, " My back, Viola kicked me. She tore something. I could feel the blood."

"What blood?" Nami asked in bewilderment, there didn't seem to be any anywhere.

"I felt it, " Vesta cried, "pouring down my legs. Oh, god I can't bear it! It hurts so much."

Nami gripped the older woman's hand. She was frightened but she knew she couldn't leave Vesta. Perhaps she could try to make her more comfortable until the doctor came.

" Vesta," she reassured her, "you'll be fine. I'm just going to look and see if I can work out what's happened."

Vesta screamed as Nami tried to turn her onto her back and the younger woman apologised all the way. Nami took a deep breath and, with trembling hands and terrified at what she might find there, she lifted Vesta's skirts. Nami took one look and sat back in utter astonishment. There was blood but that wasn't what had amazed her.

"Vesta !" Nami's voice wasn't terrified, just astonished. "Vesta, you're not dying"

" I'm dying," Vesta, corrected her.

" No, you're not, listen to me, Vesta," Nami grasped the older woman by the shoulders. " You're not dying, you're pregnant! You're in labour!"

" I can't be, it's not true!" Vesta couldn't understand what Nami was talking about. Celia was having a baby. Muffy was having a baby. She, Vesta was dying she wasn't having a baby. She was too old to be having a baby. I t wasn't possible. She hadn't…. well, she had….. But not since the we… god she had…they had..

" Vesta, you have to listen to me, you have to concentrate. " Nami shook her. " You're having a baby. It's a fact. You're having a baby, here, now. In fact I can see the head crowning. You have to push. Stop fighting the pain and push."

Somewhere, through the waves of pain, Vesta heard and the truth swam to the surface. She was having a baby. SHE WAS HAVING A BABY!! Now. Here on the barn floor and suddenly it all made sense. She knew what she had to do.

Twenty minutes later Vesta leant back against a bale of straw and cradled her beautiful son. He was wrapped in Nami's cotton shirt and his rosebud mouth suckled hungrily at her breast. His pale, coffee coloured skin glowed with health and Vesta could only stare in wonderment at his sturdy little limbs and the long sooty lashes that shrouded his chocolate brown eyes. It all made sense now. How could she have been so blind? A son, her son! Her heart swelled with love and warm tears of joy dripped onto his soft brown curls. He was the most perfect thing she had ever seen. Behind her she could hear the others talking with the doctor. He and Nami were going to move her to the house while the other two were going to break the news to Cody. Now that was one conversation she wished she could be present to hear. God, he was in for one hell of a shock!! Crispin, she just knew his name was Crispin, fell to sleep in her arms, a bead of milk trembling on his upper lip and a warm contentment flowed over her such as she had never known before. No matter what happened, she had this moment and her life was changed. This new life, her new life, and nothing else mattered. There was life all around her and once more she was part of it, now and for always.