So, some back story, every tale needs some back story and mostly, i don’t think about mine, about all the stupid decisions, the not decisions that led to this place, this life, but just sometimes, when things are quiet, when the kids are focussed elsewhere and the baby’s’ asleep, i allow myself the luxury or torment of taking stock
And of course, it shouldnt be like this, my mum had a game plan for me, actually, my mum had a game plan for everything and anything. Nothing left to chance, she made and probably still makes lists, each item carefully ticked on completion,a shopping list of a life.
I never saw the list she made for me, not sure if it ever existed outside of her head, but if i close my eyes, i can see it written in her oh so neat upright script
Send child to good school
Ditto ballet, swimming and drama classes
Send child to good university
Step back and watch child succeed
It’s not like she was even pushy, it was her certainty that go to me, her complete sense of rightness – she had decided it, so it would happen
Of course i kicked against it, at first in tiny ways, testing the waters.
Not chosen for the ballet solo, being unaccountably timid in water.
My rebellions grew, first one, then another school decided that they could manage fine without me. I made friends that caused her pain, pinched nostrils, forced politeness, a tight smile as I paraded as many no-hopers as i could find into her artfully designed home.
And then of course there was sex, i wonder if she ever guessed how dull i found it, Mia was conceived after a fumble, an encounter so tedious that it seemed impossible that i could actually be pregnant, but i was and to a boy so hopeless, so gormless, almost invisible.
But it wasnt quite enough to de-rail her, so I choose Haydons’ father with more care and that’s where it all began to spiral out of control………………….too much, far too much.
I shake my head, try to dislodge some of the images that this way of thinking brings and am almost grateful when the kids burst in, the lure of breakfast cartoons over, demanding food and entertainment.
Mia starts the usual litany
“what we gonna do today?”
“can we go to the shops?”
“are we doing something exciting?”
She is so used to my responses that she doesnt really bother to listen, so i have to say it twice before she pays attention
“Imelda is coming to make our sitting room pretty, like fairy land”
She looks up at me and smiles, her little pointed kitten face lit up with the idea of something new , something dfferent.
Haydon pauses, with a spoon halfway between his mouth and the bowl, dripping milk and soggy cereal onto the floor
“Dont like Imelda, don’t like Troy, don’t like the baby” he mutters, looking at me quickly between each statement before he dips his face back towards the bowl.
There is a pause and then Mia stares at him and for a second i see my mother, that quick look of disappointment in the childs’ inability to take part in the plan.
I look around the sitting room, trying to see it through Imeldas’ eyes, it ugliness floats past me these days, we have been here for so long now that most of the time i don’t even see that grubby magnolia walls, the woodchip which is rubbed smooth in corners, the cracked window pane, legacy of Haydons’ dad and his last visit.
Sometimes I think about painting the walls, but that would be defeat, admitting that we are here for the long haul, settled, that this is where we belong. So i don’t.
I try to tidy up a bit though, put the kids toys into the recycling boxes i pinched in the last move, pat the cushions on the sagging sofa, prop up the dodgy leg with a book, even take out the rug and give it a bit of a shake and before i can get too carried away, Mia is shouting
“She’s coming, she’s coming now”
So, i go and open the door and let them in, the baby is silent as usual, head resting on her mothers’ shoulder, Troy is hidden behind her, his fingers wrapped round the belt hook of her jeans, not looking up at us and Imelda, Imelda is wearing a bright orange silky shirt, buttons undone so that i can see her flat stomach, the colour should be terrible, but on her it is perfect and i try to stare and not stare.
She is carrying a big cardboard box, i can see bits of fabric sticking out, the plug of a nest of fairy lights. Mia is beside herself with excitement, jumping up and down, trying to see inside the box.
Imelda walks to the table, drops down the box and pauses, turns and looks , really looks at the room and suddenly i see it through her eyes, and i feel ashamed, i want to tell her that I’m better than this, take her to my mothers’ house, show her how I could live, if I choose to, if I could bear the cost.
“yeah” says Imelda, “we can make this nice, easy, just take a few minutes”
And it does, but it’s not like how i imagined it would be, for a start she completely ignores me, just hands me the sleeping baby and co-opts Mia as her tiny assistant. Haydon and I stand, our backs against the wall, watching as they wrap fabric, pin bits of cloth to the tired furniture, hang fairy lights off anything they can. Haydon is watching carefully, the soggy velvet ear of rabbit brushing his lips and Troy squats against the furthest wall, watching us, watching his mother.
Suddenly, its finished, Imelda steps back and considers her handy-work and in perfect impersonation, down the the very tilt of her head, so does Mia.
“yeah” Imelda nods and so does Mia
“better, but you need candles, doesn’t really work in daylight, you need candles for the magic”
Mia nods solemnly,
“yeah, it need candles mum”
Just for a second I an uneasy, this woman, this stranger is in my house, inside my daughters’ head, but then the moment passes and I smile.
Imelda looks at me, over my daughters’ head
“got things to do, but i’ll come back later, bring candles, some wine, make a night of it”
She looks at me again, slowly, deliberately and then scoops the still sleeping baby out of my arms, clicks her fingers, Troy moves immediately to her side and they are gone.
Haydon looks up at me
“Don’t like Imelda” he says and he walks stiff legged towards the kitchen, velvet rabbit clutched tightly in his hand.