"An abattoir!" The idea does sound faintly repulsive. But that's not what's bothering Rosie.
"He's a total creep," she says. "He brings her flowers - you know, those red rosebuds you buy in traffic jams and they never open. Flowers and bras."
"Posh silk ones from Harrods. La Perla. She's got a drawerful, all wrapped in black tissue paper. Even she admits he only comes to see her when he feels like sex."
The clinic is hot - radiators on in June - and reeks of dirty lino and sweat. On a Formica table, amid the greasy, two-year-old Sunday colour supplements, a child is eating Cheesy Wotsits and kicking the metal leg of a chair. No one's saying much and it is suddenly apparent that we have an attentive audience. Pale, after-work faces turned our way; one or two quiet smirks.
"Maybe she likes it," I offer contentiously. "Maybe she quite enjoys the idea that he's after her for her body."
I've known Rosie's mother, Pam, since I was eight and she'd let us stay up till 8.30pm to watch The High Chaparral. She was always exotically liberal.
Even then, she stood out. Her white-blonde hair was long and wispy and tied back with a piece of baler twine. She kept chickens and her feet were calloused from going barefoot in the summer, and she wore what she termed "slacks" (a word we secretly laughed at). She had, however, an innate, laughing energy which I now recognise as sex appeal.
"She's old, for God's sake," Rosie complains.
"And how old's he?"
"Forty-five. And married."
"Married? Bloody hell." I blush at having my knee-jerk morality overheard by the whole clinic.
"How can I tell my kids their Granny's putting out for some adulterous toy-boy sugar daddy?" whispers Rosie, as the woman at the desk calls her name.
She disappears and I sit and think of Pam. She still lives in the house where Rosie and her brothers were born. Rosie's old cot with the faded animal-print mattress is still in the spare room, awaiting grandchildren. The thickly painted macaroni necklaces Rosie made in kindergarten still hang in the downstairs loo. The worn stair-carpet is the exact same one she bumped down on her nappied bottom all those years ago.
Rosie's parents were, unlike mine, happily married ("We're just boringly happy," they'd laugh). There were no public family rows. No one criticised or rejected anyone - there were barely any differences of opinion - and the kids all came home at weekends, voluntarily, well into their twenties.
Boyfriends and girlfriends came and went and were easily tacked on to this happy family. Pam had winning attitudes; she made no fuss over who slept with whom, welcomed everyone, poured them drinks. I once saw a stoned, Mohican boyfriend of Rosie's sit and top and tail gooseberries for her, meek as a lamb.
When Rosie's father died, Pam coped imaginatively with widowhood by doing a series of adult education courses and, finally, an Open University degree - amid, it has to be said, vociferous complaints from her kids.
"But that's great," I told Rosie at the time. "Good for her."
"She's sublimating her grief," Rosie lamented. "I wish she'd go back to normal. She's just not there for us any more."
And now there's the Abattoir Man to timetable in as well.
These thoughts are interrupted by the pale, plump woman next to me who suddenly laughs, then looks away. I smile tentatively and she's got me.
"I've come to beg them to sterilise me," she confides.
"Oh?" What can I say?
She pulls her tartan shopping bags against her legs which are swollen and scabby and purple in places. "Before they make me have another Caesarean."
"How many have you had?"
"Just the two, but that's enough. I'm up to here with it." She touches the bridge of her nose.
A West Indian woman, sitting on the row of chairs across the room, leans over and laughs. "That's nothing. My sister, she had four! And still they wouldn't give her the op."
"Well, that's downright dangerous," frowns the first woman, somewhat trumped. "You can rupture. You can perforate."
Rosie reappears and sits down again. "It's not that I'm against her having sex," she says. "It's just that it's just sex. He's using her."
"They wouldn't give her any pills either," the West Indian woman continues to a gathering audience, "Nothing. Worse than you'd treat a cat. Just a baby machine."
"And another thing," says Rosie. "I can't believe it, but she's putting the house on the market - selling up and moving into town."
"I suppose it's very big for one person," I point out gently. I've loved that house, too.
Rosie turns to me, blue-eyed, certain, aghast. "Julie, it's my family home. She's got no right."
For a few minutes, we don't speak. The West Indian woman itemises the various methods of contraception that were denied her sister. There are vivid descriptions of Caesarean sections. It seems that at any moment someone will hoick up their skirt to reveal a scar.
Outside, men with drills have started to dig up the road.
"I don't know how she can do this to us," says Rosie, with real anger in her voice for the first time. "I've got a right to some stability in my life, haven't I?"
Thankfully, I don't have to say a thing because my name is called.Reuse content