It’s not going to happen, she tells her again. She’s lost count of the number of times recently that she’s had to repeat these assertions, reassurances to this woman, thirty years her senior who has spent her life telling her that she knows best. Don’t ask why: she just does.
This irritable woman’s insistence of knowing better than anyone else is branded on her retina, her ear drums, and her soul. She can still feel the gradual shrivelling of her spirit, growing up in the fractious household where her brother (the canny bugger) had cleverly maintained self-imprisonment in his bedroom until he was old enough to join the army and surround himself with people who shouted and glared as a profession and not as a peculiar brand of nurturing.
She’ll never understand how her father endured this woman for nearly forty five years; it’d been hard enough trying to withstand being her daughter, let alone have to fathom the vacillating intricacies her mother displayed on a daily basis at the close quarters he’d had to.
Now, though, she is almost envious of her father’s deceased status as she sits beside the hospital bed where lies her semi-coherent mother; gown skew-whiff and hair sticking up on one side as if it’s been teased by spiteful overnight fairy hairdressers to make her look as cockeyed as possible. She can’t laugh, daren’t even suggest she tries to flatten it down herself because she knows the instant a hand reaches out to her, her mother will wallop it away as if the devil himself has come to take her. Maybe her mother might actually know something she doesn’t after all.
It’s hard to imagine now, watching her mother trying to take genteel sips of blackcurrant juice from the child’s non-drip beaker, how she could ever have felt anything other than despair over having this woman as her mother. She recalls the adolescent years she spent wondering – hoping – she might actually be adopted and the thumping blow of disappointment when, having passed the ages of eighteen and then nineteen and still not having been told her real parentage, coming to terms all over again with the fact she was truly stuck with this.
No, there are no creatures on the windowsill, she repeats to her mother again. She’s no idea where the notion of winged and horned beasts has come from but she supposes it’s one of the side effects of either the drugs or the tumour which has taken up residence inside her mother’s head. Yesterday she said she’d been chatting to one of the Teletubbies, That one with the TV screen on its tummy, she’d told her (she’d had neither the heart nor the inclination to explain that they all had these). Today, though, the winged creatures are sitting on the sill and staring in at her, waiting for the rain to fall so that they can slip inside the drops and seep through the cracks around the window frames and carry her away. She really had no idea that her mother could be such a fabulist; it is actually endearing in a warped kind of way.
The nurses want to know if she’d like to give her mother a strip-wash? Something, apparently her mother had said she’d be happy to perform but which she couldn’t imagine in the strangest of scenarios ever contemplating. She doesn’t even recall a proper hug, kiss, touch from this woman so what on earth has made her think she’d like to rub a damp flannel around her flaccid seventy year old flesh in what are quite probably the final days of her life, is bewildering. She has to disguise the snort of contempt which flies unbidden from her mouth, as a sudden cough.
Yes, she’ll sleep here overnight (she won’t; hasn’t, and yet the idea that her daughter is in a guest room down the corridor seems to settle her). No, it’s not Tuesday (hasn’t been for a good three days now) and Yes, her father’s on his way – which she sincerely hopes he has better sense than to be. No, she repeats again for the umpteenth time, it will not rain. The creatures will not come.
But when the automatic doors hiss her release from the hospital and she is met with a sudden summer downpour, she is almost delighted that in this much at least her mother has finally been proven right.