The New Norman by David Cook

Norman and Claire had argued on the way to the hospital and she’d ostracised him to an uncomfortable chair outside the delivery room.

‘Don’t you know the pain I’m in?!’ Claire had screeched as he tried to negotiate the A26 around Tunbridge Wells. ‘And you pick now to make that bloody stupid suggestion? No, Norman, no – never in a million frigging years!’

All he’d said was: ‘We should call him Norman Junior.’

There was an almighty scream from the other room. Norman crossed his legs and went red in the face and white in the forehead. He was, on the whole, really quite glad to be on this side of the door rather than the other. Then, suddenly, there was silence, followed by the thunderous squalling of a newborn. The door opened and a midwife stuck her head out. ‘All’s well, Dad – you can come in now!’

Norman shuffled inside towards his child. He tried to look fatherly and assured, although this was hindered by his faded Red Dwarf T-shirt. ‘Seems like we’ve got a healthy little one,’ the midwife told him. But something wasn’t right. Claire wouldn’t look him in the eye. She couldn’t still be mad with him now, could she? This ought to be the happiest moment of their lives. He moved closer to take a first look at his progeny, swaddled against her chest. ‘Hi baby, I’m your–’ he began, then stopped.

He stared at the tot, who had beautiful olive skin, rich eyes and a thatch of dark hair. Then he looked at Claire. She, like Norman, was blonde and had skin the colour of undercooked oven chips, the same as everyone in both their families going back generations. Then he thought of Claire’s friend from work, James, who possessed similar skin, eyes and hair and who she’d sworn there was absolutely definitely nothing going on with. He uttered a few words that shouldn’t be among the first a baby ever hears and glared at his wife until she finally returned his gaze. She bit her lip.

‘I’ve thought about it some more and I think you’re right,’ she said. ‘Let’s call him Norman Junior.’

David Cook’s stories have been published in Ellipsis Zine, Cabinet of Heed, Spelk and so on. He’s a Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net nominee. He lives in Bridgend, Wales, with his wife and daughter. Say hi on Twitter @davidcook100.