Exactly a week ago, Q., E. and I were in Bath. We ended up there for a couple of reasons: we had two nights to fill once our farm holiday was finished before we flew out of Heathrow; it was a convenient driving distance from the farm’s location; and it seemed like a good idea since we’re both ancient historians. I’d been to Bath once before, when I was studying in the U.K. a decade ago. Q. had only been as a child.
For a whole host of reasons it ended up not being a great day. The drive took longer than expected due to construction and detours; we got lost while walking in Bath upon first arriving because the maps we’d downloaded onto Q’s Kindle made us think the river went in a straight line (it doesn’t); because we got lost, we all became hungry, which meant that Q. was cranky, I was weepy, and E. just shouted “Some yunch! Haf some yunch!” from his vantage point in the Ergo over and over again; and after we’d finally managed to get some lunch, the Roman Baths turned out to be really busy, which meant that Q. didn’t enjoy himself because he had tourists wandering around like cattle, and I sped through it because I’d said I would look after E. so Q. could take his time, since I’d seen it all before. And while E. tried hard, and did find the main bath quite interesting (“Big green baff!”), there is only so much you can expect from a toddler, even (or perhaps especially) one whose mother can translate the tombstones for him.
After deciding to call it a day, and saying farewell to the Great Bath, we entered the passageway that takes you out to the exit (after passing the gift shop, and the tap from which you can try the waters- we all did, even E., and our general consensus was it would have taken some effort to drink more than a sip). This runs along past one area of the ancient spring around which the entire temple complex to the goddess Sulis Minerva grew up.
There was a quiet grotto, with a pool of still water, and a small sign which said that for thousands of years people had made their offerings to the goddess in this spot. It invited us to make our own offering, which would support their research and conservation efforts for a coin horde that had been quite recently discovered.
I dug through my bag and found a twenty pence coin. I gave it to E. “Make a wish,” I told him, “and then throw it in the pool.
E. tossed in his coin. It bounced off the rock and dropped into the pool. There were no ripples.
“Do you have any more change?” asked Q.
I dug through my bag again. “I’ve got a couple of pound coins.”
“I’m not tossing in a pound!” Q., with E. on his back, turned and walked towards where the water ran from a tap and there were little paper cups for tasting.
I waited for a moment, alone in the edge of the darkness, for once no other tourists intruding on my experience.
I tossed the pound coin in with a quick jerk of my wrist. My thoughts came unbidden.
A second child, Sulis, please.
As the coin hit the water, I was surprised to feel the pinpricks of tears in my eyes. I had a vision of other women, waiting here, kneeling here, wishing here. The weight of their longing pressed against my heart. My own coin glittered and fell, came to rest where once votive objects in wood and metal would have been consigned to the waters.
I waited another moment, alone with the goddess and her offerings, before I took a deep breath and stepped back out into the light to find my family.
There is nothing I want more.
Tonight I take my last birth control pill. May the goddess have heard me.