My mother was on the rant again. I suppose I shouldn’t have been baiting her, but any conversation we had ended up this way, so I thought I may as well get some entertainment out of it.
”You can’t put a fun head on old shoulders,” I had said to her, twisting around the old adage she had just slung at me.
Her fingers bent and straightened as she wrapped and re-wrapped the yarn around knitting needles which click-clacked furiously. The scarf was growing at an alarming rate. Already it was so long that it would probably wrap around the house. She knitted when she was mad about something. She was often mad. Almost anything could incite her ire:
The neighbours cat, sitting on the wall, looking at her. ”It’s staring at me again.” she would say.
Conversations between characters in Eastenders. ”What did he have to go and say that for. He’s really hurt her feelings,” she would say, as if it was real, as if she was somebody who cared about the feelings of others.
Puddles in the street. ”They should do something about it,” she would say.
The whir of the cooling fan in the corner shop. ”It’s so loud I can’t think,” she would say.
The sound of my father’s voice. ”That horrible man is on the phone for you,” she would say.
Yes, many things made her angry, but most of all, I made her angry. My presence and my absence, everything I said and everything I didn’t say, everything I did and didn’t do, everything I was and everything I wasn’t.
Which made life a little tricky, as I lived with her.
Now she stopped knitting, and pointed her needle at me.
”Fun?” she spat. ”Fun? You talk about fun? I had fun once. And what do you think the result was? You! Planting yourself inside me, stealing my nourishment, taking my space, growing and making me fat and ugly. Pushing on my spine and my bladder. Scrabbling through my tubes, pushing your way out of my body. Expecting to be fed and clothed! Screaming and shitting all the time. Don’t talk to me about fun.”
I yawned, and looked out of the window at the sky. A dark cloud was forming overhead, signalling an upcoming storm.
The phone rang.
”Well, answer it!” she said.
The voice at the other end asked for her by name. Irritably, she slapped her knitting on the arm of the chair.
I watched impassively while she held the receiver.
”Speaking,” she said, curtly. ”Yes, that was me.” Then ”Is this a joke?”
A long silence as she listened. Finally she said ”This is ridiculous, but yes, I can make it tomorrow.”
She put the phone down. She put her knitting away. She was subdued for the rest of the day.
The following day, she went out. When she came back, she hugged me tearfully. I took in the hitherto unexplored fragrance of her hair, surprised by the smell of flowers and musk, of disinfectant and human being.
She told me about the woman who had given birth on the same day that I was born, and had always claimed that she was given the wrong baby to take home. babyAfter years of being ignored, a doctor had finally carried out DNA tests, and had found that she was right. An enquiry had been opened. My mother had gone in today for a DNA test, but it was considered more a formality than anything else. They were pretty sure that I was the other woman’s child.
”They can’t have you. You’re mine,” she wept. ” I wanted you. I fed and clothed you. I wiped your tears away. I watched your first tentative steps, and I urged you forward. I encouraged you. I taught you right from wrong. I loved you, and I will always love you. You are mine!”
I disentangled myself from the woman. I looked out of the window. Yesterday’s rain had left everything clean and sparkling. The world looked new and fresh.
© Jane Paterson Basil