Just the two of us.

It has been a long break for my blog. It seems the five retrograde planets has had me reeling too. So many losses. So much surrender.

This story caught me by surprise. A forgotten memory of childhood that had a huge affect on me. It was possibly the first time I realised the enormity of Motherhood. I was intensely moved by the infinite dipping into a finite pool.

 

Just the two of us.

 

Candace hopped from one foot to the other. Her stocky frame taking flight briefly before becoming solid once more. Her face shone with a fire that she alone kept stoked. The unrealised dreams I had long kept captive rattled the bars. I silenced them with a tightening of the rope. Dreams had no place out here in the open.

“Pumpkin fritters! Pumpkin fritters!” Candace chanted, the kitchen floor rat-a-tatting in rhythm with the fall of her feet.  She sat hugging the roundness of the stool with her hips and clapped her hands as I placed the bowl in front of her. I scooted the flour across the table and she splashed it into the bowl. A cloud dusted her face in white. We breathed in the smell of cinnamon and sugar and laughed as only those who know they are unseen can laugh. The kitchen was hers today. Tonight I would scrub and curse the day away but the kitchen was hers today.

“No Candace.” I said easing my leathery body between her and the hot oil. “Let me do this part. You can dust them with the sugar all by yourself.” She pouted and opened her mouth to wail. I plopped orange dough into the pot and her mouth closed with the sizzle of oil.

We sat on the damp grass outside. Candace nibbled the crispy edges of the fritter and threw the stodgy centres to the pigeons flapping noisily around us. Her lips glistened in the weak sunlight. My mouth puckered in baking powder protest and I tossed the offending confectionary to the squabbling birds. Baking was never about eating anyway. My daughter lay back on the grass with a sigh, her face offered up to the autumn sun. Flour still dusted her cheeks. I leant over and brushed my fingers lightly over her skin. It was cool like porcelain. I have always loved the feel of her. If I closed my eyes and trusted my touch, she was perfect.

Thirty years it has been just me and Candace. A generous cheque comes once a month tinged with guilt and regret. Motherhood came late for me. At thirty-eight, when I had finally given up the dream and Carlos had conjured a future for us of travel and adventure, I fell pregnant. Tests revealed her secret but I refused to believe it. Carlos became withdrawn and irate as my belly strained against my waistband.

“Why did you have the tests if you didn’t want to know?” He demanded, his eyebrows a black and furious line across his forehead. I’d hold my hands over my expanding stomach as though to shield Candace from his ire. Of course it was fear not anger that he wrestled with but I was so far away on the path of my motherhood dream that I could not hear his silent cries.

When they handed her to me he had already left. I held my child in my arms with such overpowering love that I hardly noticed his absence. Now that I am almost Seventy I feel waves of terror that make me more empathic. Who will protect my child when I am gone?

I lay down next to Candace reaching for her hand and she giggled like water running over pebbles and squeezed my hand reassuringly.

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Dreaming.

 

 

 

Finding a shaded spot under a tree I begin to dream. Leaves tumble like confetti over me. My life dissolves leaving me behind and smells that are lacking usually begin to permeate my dream world. Jasmine and lavender mingle with summer showers on freshly cut grass. I am happy and safe. Uncle Fred is far away and Mom puts aside the brown paper bag that hides the bottle from the world. I conjure up a table laden with fragrant dishes surrounded by people laughing without derision. Cheerful songs blare from the radio and we all sing along. I never sing in the real world.

The school siren signals the end of lunch break. I keep my eyes closed willing time to expand but the spell is broken and I am once more – me, myself, I.

“Hey, freak wake up!” I open my eyes and glower at Matt as he kicks my shoe on his way back to the classroom. Gathering my bag I stand and flick the leaves from my uniform and follow Matt’s retreating figure. If I could I would walk backwards but I am already the last one outside.

Figures and facts swirl like whirlpools inside my head as the day inches forward. I doodle in the margins of my book slouching in my chair as one teacher merges into another. The final siren of the day brings the class to their feet. I stay sitting until everyone has left. The empty classroom smells of pencil shavings and chalk and echoes with fading footsteps. I could stay here forever cocooned in the quiet. I finally heave myself from behind my desk and walk down the echoing corridor and out of the school gates. A woman with thinning grey hair sits on the concrete step clutching her bag to her concave chest and her eyes flicker nervously. I sit on the curb playing Candy Crush on my phone until the bus arrives.

The bus judders to a stop. I step onto the verge and stare at the gaping front door. Mom must be home. She is early. My stomach lurches. Early is bad. Late is bad. The words repeat like a crazy mantra inside my head.

“Mom?” I say walking inside. The house greets me without enthusiasm. Limp furniture litters the lounge. I drop my bag onto the wine stained carpet. “Mom?” I say again.

“Lily! You’re home.” Uncle Fred comes out of the kitchen munching a sandwich.

“Where’s Mom?” I say, backing away.

“Sis has gone away for a few days. Asked me to check in on you. Aren’t you happy to see me? Hey honeybun come give your Uncle a hug.” He strides towards me his arms wide open and I stare as his sandwich bleeds mayonnaise onto the floor. I reverse into the dark wood dresser, which holds me out to him like a gift.

Early is bad, late is bad, my brain screams silently.

 

 

 

 

Stiff upper lip…

 

Then let me bravely leap into the shadows alone I thought looking out of the window. An oak tree was tapping on the glass, its bough heavy with acorns. Dr Ashbury was still staring sympathetically at me, his pen half-mast between the desk and his ear as if he was unsure what to do next. He had delivered a severe blow and I was not reacting as he was expecting.

It is a matter of honour that I process bad news in the sanctity of my own home. Public displays of emotion are vulgar and I hardly know this man sitting across from me. I can still feel his cool fingers palpating my breast. Nobody has touched me there since Dennis and he’s been gone for eleven years, six months and three days already. And now Dr Ashbury with his clipped moustache and lanky limbs has had the honour. I am not about to bestow any further on the man.

“Thank you.” I said standing and held out my hand to shake his. He scrambled up from his chair almost stumbling over his legs to cradle my hand with both of his. I gave him a tight smile although I was desperate to leave this place.

Johnson was leaning against the side of the Bentley and he leapt away when he saw me, his cap wedged under his armpit. His balding head glistened in the midday sun. He opened the car door with a bow. I was too tired to be irritated. Dennis had tried for years to get the staff to stop this antiquated behaviour. Tears pricked at the corners of my eyes and I blinked them away. Johnson drove smoothly, intermittently sneaking a look at me in the rear view mirror. I kept my face neutral sitting upright with my hands in my lap.

Mrs Melville was waiting at the door as I stepped from the car. She took my coat.

“I took the liberty of arranging tea in the drawing room, Ma’am. It’s nice this time of year. The sun does shine so prettily…”

“Thank you but I am not hungry. Please ensure I am not disturbed. I have a headache.” Mrs Melville has a habit of rambling on and whereas I indulge her often today was not one of those days.

“Oh dear can I get you an aspirin Ma’am?” She wrung her hands like a vaudeville actor.

“You may, thank you.” I said walking up the stairs holding the bannisters tightly. My legs felt shaky. I dropped my handbag on the writing desk and waited, feeling light headed. I hoped she would not be long with the aspirin. I did not know whether I could keep standing. She entered with Daisy carrying a tray.

“I’ve taken the liberty of….” Mrs Melville began.

“Yes, Yes!” My voice was sharp and her eyes filled with tears. “I’m sorry I have the most dreadful headache. Thank you Mrs Melville, and Daisy, thank you.” I said. Mrs Melville nodded not quite forgiving me. Daisy smiled, curtsied and they closed the door with a click.

I poured milk into a cup and picked up the teapot. My wrist buckled and scalding tea splashed over my hand. I dropped the teapot onto the tray with a whimper. Tears that I had controlled throughout the day seemed to burst from me and I sobbed like a child.

I cried because I have breast cancer and because Dennis who had sworn to love and protect me forever was not here to fulfil his promise. I mourned the loss of his strong arms and the smell of his pipe and the scratchiness of his chin. We were supposed to grow old together instead he has stayed forever in his prime while I grow older and frailer. Alone.

I cried the tears that for eleven years, six months and three days I had been unable to shed.

Kisses from strangers.

She had forgotten what it felt like to breathe. This man had unleashed something in her. She didn’t even know his name but he had laid bare all her secrets and freed her from them. She turned over to look at his beautiful face as he slept. His dark lashes emphasised his ivory skin and his mouth was parted. She recalled that mouth exploring her body and the unusual stillness of her mind.

They had seen each other across the crowded club and she had gravitated towards him as if being pushed by an invisible force. She had indulged in a couple of tequila shots only moments before with Carla and the girls but it would normally take much more than that to throw herself at someone. But she could not resist the lure of his gaze. Was it his smoky eyes that drew her or the amused incline of his mouth? She flushed when she remembering standing in front of him.

“Hello.” She had said as though it held hidden meaning.

“Hello.” He said and his smile splintered into a grin. His teeth were white and straight and she longed to kiss his generous mouth. “Drink?” He said and she nodded. He laughed and it was strong and masculine and unbelievably captivating. She remembers having to sit down on a barstool. Her knees were wobbling. I am absolutely friggin’ weak at the knees, she thought, wondering whether Carla was watching her make a fool of herself. “What can I get you? Beer?” He said, his eyes like the ashes of fires. She nodded again not trusting herself to speak although she hated beer.

They took the beers with them and stood outside leaning up against a car and he kissed her. The beer dropped from her hands splashing up against their jeans but they barely noticed. His tongue teased and probed her mouth until she felt all of her disappearing.

“My car is around the corner.” She said and he nodded. Her keys were in her pocket but Carla still had her bag. She thrust it from her mind and concentrated on driving. His hand was on her thigh, which felt feverish. All thought was driven away by sensation. She parked the car outside the apartment building and they were quiet for moments. She stared out of the windscreen acutely aware of his gaze on her. His hand was still on her thigh and he flickered his fingers further up her leg. She gasped and flung her arms around his neck and they kissed once more. He broke away and looked intently into her eyes.

“Should we go in?” He said.

“Yes.” She said and it came out strident as though she was trying to convince herself but she needed no convincing. This felt more right that the three year relationship with Drew.

She was gratified that she and Carla had tidied up before they left and the flat looked attractive and inviting. Her sketches were on the pegboard and Carla’s photographs fanned out over the walls.

“Do you want something to drink?” she asked although she couldn’t remember if they had anything. He shook his head and she opened her bedroom door. She had left her nightlight on that she’d had since she was a kid. Complete darkness still made her uneasy. It gave the room a pink hue. He sat on the bed and pulled her down next to him. He was unhurried, his fingers leaving a trail of warmth on her skin as he peeled the clothes from her body…

She slept better than she had in years.

“Morning.” He said smiling up at her. He smelt of dew and sunshine. She leant over and kissed him.