This time 44 years ago, my mum was very pregnant and probably annoyed with all of that kind of stuff. She would still look immaculate, mind – she would have shot herself rather than give in to the spread of me across her hips and round her middle – I imagine her in a belted, sunchair-patterned jumpsuit, spraying her hair up and slicking it on, whatever it is. What were they told to eat and not eat back then? Were they told anything? Did she ignore? Or follow strictly? And herein lies a big cavity in our relationship – she never said, perhaps out of guilt. I think she drank a bit, smoked a bit, and none of these things would have bothered her until the day that I, aged 5, came into her room and told her that my breathing was funny and all the subsequent days spent in hospitals with a plastic mask on my face, staring at the kind of psychotic bunny-rabbit murals that were a speciality of Children’s Wards in the 80s. I think she always blamed herself a little bit after that.
The nearest my mum would get to admitting to a fault would be a kind of sarcastic, righteous indignation, a sort of ‘how could you even think of that?’ attitude upgraded with an imperious eyebrow and sucked in cheeks, loaded with so many layers of connotations that I was never sure what I actually felt, what she actually felt, what actually happened or how I was supposed to actually respond.
I’m surprised that more women didn’t explode in the 70s. The combination of nylon and polyester fabrics to be worn, sat upon, walked upon and laid under, combined with flammable cosmetics and electric heaters, must have made them as hot as the sun . Especially pregnant women, carrying little heatsacks within them, generating the kind of heat only rivalled by an oven baked cherry tomato.
But still, despite the smoking, drinking and combustible elements that she surrounded herself with, she’d made it this far. To Sunday, the 1st January 1978.
I hope she was putting her feet up. I doubt it. My dad was not the most attentive soul – though I hope that he had at least noticed that she was pregnant by then. I’ll never know – my mum died in September and with her went a wealth of details and memories that even the most talkative and generous relationship (which is what we had) doesn’t always yield up. This is something that I’m realising now, almost every day as my mind pelts me with trivia questions that I have no way of answering. What was her nursery teacher called? Her favourite skirt? How did my mum feel that first morning in 1978?
These are not the worst things of living without my mum.
But I suppose, the best I can do, as a writer, is to change the tone at the start of this New Year for both her and me, 44 years apart.
I’m going to write her in a moment of peace. Sunday, 1st January 1978. She’s up, she’s dressed, my sister is playing with a doll, or eating a sugar sandwich in another room. And my mum is sitting on our flower-patterned settee with a cup of tea in her hand. Her other hand strays onto her bump and rests there. It’s the first time that she’s thought about the reality of me and not the laundry or the Tan-Sad or the Sunday Dinner. It’s one of those insignificant moments, a flashpoint – the settee, the tea, the bump and her – and it stays with her for years afterwards, forever in fact. It’s a moment of contentedness, of stillness, of not trying and she thinks about the me in her womb and what I’ll become. I flicker then, a tail across the ocean.
And she smiles.