Sometimes when I look down from my window, onto the street below, I see Poppy unexpectedly, and I don’t immediately recognise her. She’s thirty-five, and even now she seems to glide a centimetre above the pavement, as she did when she was sixteen, her long hair rippling as if a balmy breeze is riffling through it, a faraway look in her eyes.
When she is walking with the two girls the three of them are enclosed in a bubble of love – gliding in a bubble of love – and I find it hard to believe that my matriarchy has resulted in such love, such loveliness.
I’ve suffered with her through all the bad times, and my soul has rejoiced when things have gone well for her, but I never felt that she had the life she deserved. Her school’s refusal to diagnose or even to admit the possiblility of her dyslexia – because they didn’t wish to waste the effort and expense – meant that she didn’t have a good education. When she found she couldn’t keep up she thought she was stupid, and her lowered self-esteem caused her to rebel, and stop making any effort to do what she felt she would humiliatingly fail at.
Poppy had her children while she was still in her teens – conceived by default, she wanted them anyway, and she has been an adoring and attentive mother, always patient, always doing the best she can for both Alexis and Lizzie.
Because she left school with no qualifications, the only work she has ever done has been menial, but she has always excelled within her limited sphere.
I think of my brilliant daughter, who has so much to give, and I wonder if she ever had dreams, and if so, what they were. She has never told me, and I have never asked. Maybe her pathetic education crushed all hope that she would ever do anything – be anything – but although she is not a consultant gyneacologist, or a big shot lawyer, or a star of the silver screen, she is something – something wonderful.
Poppy is coming up the path now. I let her in, and make a pot of tea. We talk about Alexis, who is currently rehearsing for the lead part in a school play, She tells me how pleased Lizzie’s English teacher is with her. I feel the familiar thrill of pride, in my daughter and my two grand-daughters.
There’s a moment’s silence. I take a deep breath, and she looks at me expectantly. She can tell I want to say something.
“What were your dreams? I ask her. “When you were a child, what did you want to do with your life?”
She looks out of the window, and I know she’s not seeing the cars going by, or the paint peeling from the Victorian house opposite. She’s staring straight into her dreams. She glances at my face and then away again.
“I always dreamed of being the mother of two lovely daughters, and my dreams came true” she says.
“Really?” I ask her incredulously. “That’s it?”
This time she looks unwaveringly into my eyes as she replies:
“Yes, really. I have all I ever wanted.”
That’s the thing about Poppy – she will lie rather than cause unnecessary pain to those she loves. My daughter will never speak to me of her broken dreams.
©Jane Paterson Basil