Sunday 27 July

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Perspective affects everything. What matters most to one person may barely even register with another. Whilst one person's world is being turned upside-down, so the person who lives next-door might sleep through their neighbour's chaos, unaffected and oblivious.

In late July, two events occurred within the space of a few minutes. One would go on to affect billions of lives. The other tore Steven and Samantha Johnson's world apart.

There'd been no alarms, no obvious cause for concern, but then, as a steady stream of gentle-voiced, well-meaning professionals told them afterwards, there rarely ever were.

She'd known something was wrong from the moment she'd woken up. Feeling for the baby's movements had become as instinctive as breathing. Sam did it without thinking, pressing her hands against her tummy, waiting for kicks. And, until then, those unpredictable, fluttering reassurances had always been there. Even on occasion when she'd had to wait, lying still and trying not to think the worst, telling herself there was no need to panic, the baby had always shuffled and shifted eventually. But not this time. She'd waited and waited, convinced she'd soon feel something, not wanting to tell her husband, not wanting to worry him over nothing. She watched him watching TV, oblivious.

There came a point when she had to say something. She reached across and shook his shoulder, gently at first, then with much more force as she fought not to panic. 'Can't feel the baby, Steve,' she said. 'I don't think he's moving.'

They drove through hard, inclement, pissing rain and were at the hospital within fifteen minutes. He'd rehearsed this drive ready for when she went into labour, had it all mapped out in his head, every junction and every turn. Sam was seen immediately, ushered into a frightening, sterile room. Less than an hour after she'd first become concerned, the couple's worst fears had been realised.

When everything that needed to be done had been done and Sam was resting, Steven left her bedside and walked to the car through the summer rain. It was coming down so hard it was like mist, leeching colour from everything. Dirty rivers ran down the sides of the roads, small lakes forming around overwhelmed storm drains. Steven didn't care, didn't even feel it. People stared at him as he leant back against the car and looked up into the grey and black clouds roiling overhead. He felt empty. Hollow. His mind was filled with fragmented thoughts but he couldn't concentrate enough to make sense of any of them. He couldn't focus, couldn't feel . . . Seven and a half months of getting ready to be a dad, seven and a half months of talking baby to friends and family, seven and a half months of getting used to the two of them becoming three, seven and a half months of planning, decorating, hoping, dreaming . . . now nothing. Just a void. All of it gone, and no obvious reason why. No one's fault, they said. It's just the way it is. There's nothing anyone could have done.

Steven sat in the car and made impossible phone calls. He spoke to Norman first, Sam's dad. They argued, but then again, they always did. Norman never gave any ground, not even today. But the second conversation was even harder. His own parents. His mother could be infuriating. How many times did he have to tell her the same damn thing? We lost the baby, Mom. Sam miscarried.

'You leaving, mate?' the man asked when Steven got out to go back inside. 'Only I'm picking up the missus and the kid and I don't want them getting soaked. I had to park miles away.'

Steven just looked at him. 'No. Sorry.'

'The parking here's a bloody joke. They want to do something about it.'

Steven couldn't bring himself to respond. He was glad of the rain which camouflaged his tears. The other man had his coat pulled up over his head. He was about to speak again, but when the intensity of the rain lessened unexpectedly, he looked up. The grey sky lightened, and the temperature seemed to rise as if someone had switched on a fan-heater then almost immediately turned it off again.

'You feel that?' he asked but when he looked around, Steven had gone.

Any other day, any other time, and Steven might well have noticed the few slight atmospheric variations which signified the beginning of a cataclysmic change right at the very heart of the sun. But even if he had, he surely wouldn't have cared today. The enormous star was as insignificant to him now as a dust mote. For Steven and Samantha, more than ninety million miles away, impossibly small by comparison, two fleeting lives among billions, their world had already been torn apart.


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