Sunday 21 December 2014

The Seminar

An Advent Calendar of Stories
December 20/21 2014

The Seminar

Sue Cross

Mulled wine

Maria’s heart was warmed as she entered the conference suite. How things had changed over the last couple of decades. The room was packed and ninety per cent of the delegates were men. When she first started presenting her seminars, her audience consisted of ninety five per cent women but these New Men were to be admired. She noted that all were smartly dressed in suits but was a little surprised at how eager to learn they looked with notepads and pens poised in anticipation.
As usual, Maria came well prepared, laptop in hand and wearing a navy dress, polished shoes and immaculate make-up. Taking her place at the rostrum, she smiled, took a deep relaxing breath and greeted her audience. She relished this moment, as it was to be her last presentation for at least six months. Her third pregnancy was well advanced.
‘Ladies and gentlemen, I must say how pleased I am to see so many gentlemen here today. Welcome. I hope that you will find my presentation both informative and inspiring.’ A ripple of applause caused her to stop for a moment before continuing.
  ‘The most important thing to remember is how to breathe, so before we commence, we’ll practise our breathing techniques. I suggest we move our chairs to the side of the room, maybe take off our jackets and shoes and lie on the floor. We’ll bread in an hour for a mince pie and some mulled wine.’ Maria was in full flow.
As if in a trance, all those gathered did as they were instructed, lying down on the red carpet. Maria thought that they looked tired and seemed to be enjoying the rest.
‘Hands on abdomens and breathe, making sure that we don’t breathe from the chest. I’ll come round and check that you’re all doing this properly. Your partners will be so thrilled that you can help them with this important technique. And breathe in – one, two, three and out one, two three four. As you breathe in note how your abdomen rises and as you breathe out it should go down.’

After ten minutes of this everyone was suitably relaxed, if reluctant get up from the floor to continue with the seminar.
Using her laptop, Maria projected many graphic shots of her subject onto the screen provided and noticed that one or two of the delegates looked uncomfortable and confused. Indeed some appeared decidedly queasy. Poor dears, it’s probably their first she thought.
‘No need to worry. Now, the first sign that…’ She was cut off by the entry of a portly gentleman who ran into the room, red faced and out of breath.
‘I’m so sorry. Got stuck in traffic.’ He stopped in his tracks. ‘I’m not sure that we’ve met.’ He viewed Maria with curiosity.
‘I’m Maria Jackson, taking the natural childbirth and breast feeding seminar.’ She held out a manicured hand in greeting. ‘Is your name down?’
‘My name down? Oh, I see. No, no. I’m Jonathan Fairbrother – booked in to take the seminar on…’ but before he could finish, Maria doubled up in agony and gave a loud screech before falling to the floor. Unfortunately the tastefully decorated Christmas tree fell with her, leaving a scattering of white and silver baubles in its wake.
She viewed the puddle of water at her feet in dismay, dropped on all fours and began to grunt loudly as if in imitation of a distressed pig.
Roused from their stupor, the delegates jumped up and viewed the scene with horror. Some left the room in haste, while others gathered round.
‘What’s wrong with her?’ A fair-haired young man asked, looking terrified.
‘She’s gone into labour, stupid,’ one of the few females present remarked with irony. ‘Phone for an ambulance.’
The fair-haired young man whipped out his mobile. Soon the room was cleared as if by a bomb scare. The only ones remaining were the helpful female and Jonathan Fairbrother.
The female introduced herself. ‘I’m Gabby. Now, Maria – I want you to breathe. Take a deep breath from your abdomen. One, two three. That’s right – breathe and relax. You’re doing fine. The ambulance will be here soon.’
Maria continued to grunt and groan, breathe and pant. She gripped Gabby’s hand like a vice, her face contorted.
Jonathan paced.
Meanwhile several staff members had arrived on the scene looking alarmed.
‘What shall we do?’ asked the receptionist.
‘Blimey this is like a soap opera,’ remarked the cleaner.
‘Keep calm.’ Gabby spoke with authority. ‘The ambulance is on its way, although it may take a little longer than usual, with Christmas and everything. Now please leave us in peace. Oh, get me some hot water and towels.’

Everyone left the scene except for Gabby and Jonathan, who continued to pace.
Twenty minutes later two ambulance men arrived to find Maria cradling a baby boy and looking flushed with pride. The air was filled with the aroma of spices as the mulled wine being served in the hotel lobby was eagerly consumed by the delegates, who directed the ambulance men to the conference suite.
‘Thank you, Gabby. You’re an angel. I don’t know how I’d have managed without you.” Maria spoke with gratitude as she gazed at her latest offspring.
‘That’s all right. Just as well I’d been at your seminar and not his.’ Gabby waved a hand towards Jonathan who was being attended to by one of the ambulance men.
‘This is the Windy Ridge Hotel isn’t it?’ Maria asked, still feeling confused.
            ‘No, it’s the Ridgeway Inn. I suppose there’ll be a group of pregnant women waiting with bated breath at the other hotel. Excuse the pun.’ Gabby suppressed a giggle before continuing. ‘Your seminar has been life changing.’
Maria looked pleased. ‘Yes. I’ve always thought of myself as a career girl. You know, married to the job. And I never thought I’d have kids. No, I thought I’d be perfectly happy to stick to cats. But after today I’ve decided to marry my boyfriend and have a family. I feel as if I’ve just witnesses a miracle. Your seminar was very useful to me. And to think – I’d signed up to learn about stress in the workplace!’

About the Author

Sue Cross is the author of Tea at Sam’s and the sequel, Making Scents. You can visit her on her website

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