The phone rang. It must be her mother. How many people, she wondered, as her hand reluctantly stretched out towards the handset, felt just this mixture of dread and affection for their female parent? How many stiffened against a daily, weekly, monthly, phone call – it actually didn’t seem to matter how frequent they were, from what her friends told her – with an unpleasant tingle creeping round the middle of their spine and a griping in the gut? And yet, she reasoned, as she often did, what was there to complain about, really? Just an old woman, who had no one else to talk to, who needed a few minutes of her time and attention and who, moreover, had been an attentive and fond mother when she was a child and well beyond. Couldn’t she spare a little of her “you must be so busy” time?
Her hand remained outstretched. She did not pick up. It seemed that she actually could not spare that time. Her attention wandered back to the television. Another reality show. So much less taxing than reality.
Meantime, elsewhere in a big city, Louise was frantically trying to feed Patrick before her mother rang back. He was not fond of carrots and kept ducking to avoid the spoon while his pink starfish hands groped in the air in the hopes of his new bit of chewy apple. Louise felt exasperated. First her mother, now Patrick and soon Bob would be back and want his bit of fish before he went out to price a job. How does anyone manage anything? she found herself wondering.
The phone rang.
“Hello, Louise. Now, you know it’s my sixtieth coming up, don’t you? I’m sure you’ve been wondering what to do for your poor old mum.” There was scarcely a pause for an answer, which was just as well as Louise had avoided thinking about her mother’s 60th birthday for most of the last thirty three years. “Well, I’m sure you’ve been racking your brains. I want you to give me a surprise party, just like you did your dad. I know you haven’t consulted Terry, so I’ve spoken to him myself.”
Louise sat down. She felt weak. Patrick threw his carrots on the floor. She stared at him, at them, at the phone in her hand. How she would like to make the phone follow the carrots. She ptu the phone gingerly down. Her mother was still talking. She lifted Patrick out of the high chair. His hot hard little body felt so good in her arms, his neck smelled so milky and smooth, she could have gobbled him up. He wriggled and opened his mouth as if to cry, so she put him down on the floor instead.
“Bad boy,” she said weakly. He grinned and toddled off in the direction of the sitting room and his toys, sliding through the end of the carrot puddle en route.
She picked up the phone again. Her mother was still talking, even though eons had passed.