Wish You Were Here
“I want Mummy to do it!”
Morag folds her arms and juts out her chin, looking so like her grandmother in the nursing home that I want to cry. It’s an expression which, in the elder of the two women, sends orderlies running for the duty doctor, before Granna can start laying about her with a walking stick. She’s done it, I’ve seen her. Morag, on the other hand, legs swinging in the chair, has no walking stick. She is wrapped in a towel staring devils’ eyes at me as I stand holding a hairbrush and feeling helpless.
I don’t know where this came from. Their Mum, Lana- she’s been dead for years now. Morag was only a baby when her mother died. Her elder sister, Arian, was two, and remembers her a little better.
Doug really loved Lana, he said. But then she started getting sick, he wouldn’t say how, and then one day she was gone, and he was left with two small girls and noone to help him except Granna, before she went into the home. Lana didn’t have any family nearby, and his are mostly gone. He’s done a wonderful job. When I first met the girls they were happy, well adjusted- shy of me, of course, but we took things very slowly and I really thought we were building a good stepmother-child relationship. Morag was starting to ask me to do things for her, and Arian was starting to tell me about school, and friends. I think- thought- they were starting to see me as part of the family.
We- Doug and I- were both excited about this trip. Nervous too- it’s our first holiday together as a family. He could never afford to go away before, and here we are, at the seaside. And it’s actually sunny- nothing like the rain-soaked weeks at a caravan site in Bridlington I remember from my childhood.
The first couple of days were wonderful- the children were happy, Doug and I were relaxed, and we were- are- in love. Then Arian and Morag started talking about their Mum, asking was she going to join us for lunch, and was I going to move and sleep in another bedroom when she came to stay with Daddy? They didn’t ask Doug any of these questions. I talked to Doug about it, hoping to work out a solution- maybe this first holiday was too big of a change for the girls? His expression was strange, he gave me sensible answers about letting them adjust and taking our time, but he couldn’t hide the look on his face, which broke my heart to see. He looked hopeful.
But it’s been a week now and there’s been no change. The girls keep asking about their Mum, even making up stories about playing with her at the beach. Doug has been getting increasingly distant, just sitting on the beach, barely speaking, not even reading the books he swore he’d run out of on this trip. We had a bet going about it, not that he seems to remember that. Last night I was asleep before he came in to bed, and was gone before I woke up. At least, I think he slept, next to me, but I don’t know.
Morag, happy to have won the hair-brushing battle, hops down from the chair and runs off in search of her sister. I turn to watch her go, and it is at this point look out over the deck by the swimming pool.
That’s when I see it. At first I think the thing on the sun-lounger is a very wet towel, and start thinking up some crack about German tourists to make to Doug. But then I look closer. It’s a fur of some kind and good Lord, it smells disgusting. It’s not even properly cured. Who would want a thing like this?
I go up to the small shed at the edge of the property to fetch a bin-bag to throw away the fur pelt before it stinks up the whole house and we lose our bond, and I see a woman with a cloud of hair like Morag’s, the colour of Arian’s, playing with the girls on the beach. Doug is watching and laughing. I think back to the book, and it’s at that point that my own Gran comes into my thoughts, sitting in her battered armchair with me on her knee begging her for another story. I loved fairy stories most of all- still do, really. Except I think maybe I won’t like them so very much in future. But Gran always told me that if I listened carefully to her stories, I would always know what to do. I laugh to myself as I realise how very right she was.
I pull open the barbecue, and take out the bag of charcoal we bought to cook fish tonight. I light the coals, hoping that nobody on the beach will notice the smoke just yet. Once I have a good fire going, I empty the pelt out of the binbag and onto the coals, where it catches surprisingly fast. I close the cover, as I would if I was roasting something, go to our room- while it still is our room, grabbing a pair of kitchen scissors on the way upstairs. Just because I’m calm doesn’t mean I’m not angry. He lied to me. All this time. I pack up my things, and then set about working on everything of his, cutting and shredding. It’s petty, I know. But it makes me feel better, and I need to get rid of the anger before I do one last thing.
Downstairs, I grab one of the picture-postcards we bought to send home, and write on it.
My things will be out of the house by the time you come back. I can leave, you see. And now she can’t. Given a choice between two ways to lose you, I chose this way. This way the girls get to keep their Dad. I have an iron knife, and my parents keep a horseshoe over the door. If she wants to try anything, she’s welcome to.
I leave the card propped up on the dining table, walk towards the waiting taxi, and wonder what new life to build for myself.