Im going to
do it. My mind is made up, and my daughter is doing her best to change it.
The slam of a car
door startles the sparrows from my rowan tree, and they lift into a swirling
mosaic of umber and sepia. Looking out of the kitchen window I see it is Alison
swathed in righteous red, a colour associated with danger and revolt for a very
good reason. I switch on the kettle; I find it easier to do battle on a full
When Lionel retired
from the bank, took over the organisation of my life, every hour, every day and
every week of it. He didnt seem to realise that I had managed perfectly
well without his guidance for the previous forty-five years. Together we had
visited stately homes, ate cream teas, and rummaged through antique
shops. We took magical holidays abroad, the itineraries decided, at
length, by Lionel. I grew used to being guided on what I was expected to say
and do. We got to know each other all over again and he really was good fun. I
was rather annoyed that his work colleagues had shared more of his company
throughout our marriage than I had.
I have never been
good at sports and I was too embarrassingly bad to be witnessed in his company
when he was playing golf. He would pat my shoulder and say,
probably do with a smidgeon of time to yourself, old thing.
He had a way of
convincing you that his decisions were made with your best interests at heart.
Reliable and predictable are happy bedfellows.
Then one bright
sunny morning my darling man died. On the eighteenth tee he swung his driver,
made perfect contact with the ball, and followed through into the next life.
tread pauses outside the back door, then, like an actress making her entrance,
she thrusts it open as wide as it will go. Fingers lingering on the handle she
lifts her chin and steps forward, used to being noticed, used to being taken
notice of. Used to my more leisurely speed the hinges squeal.
Mum. Her blue eyes narrow, fix on me for a heartbeat then sweep around
the room as if she expects to find me engaged in some nefarious goings-on.
disappointment, caught off balance. These days tension rolls from her in
palpable waves. The loftier she climbs up her corporate ladder, the more
noticeable it has become. For a second my resolution wavers. Just for a
She smiles and the
ticking pulse in her jaw is reduced to a flutter.
Thanks. Her neat gym-toned bottom slides onto a chair and she leans back.
The pine creaks, a swirl of her citrus perfume tickles my nose and I taste it
on my tongue. I turn away and reach for mugs.
It was a strange
feeling being alone again after learning to share the minutiae of life. It felt
like being adrift in a rowing boat in a busy shipping lane, my small craft
buffeted and rocked by the wake of those speeding past. There were times I
thought their bow-waves would sink me. Nobody had the time to throttle back to
check I had not capsized.
Gradually my grief
morphed into a celebration of Lionels company. I remembered all the
places we had been together, palm shaded beaches beside warm sighing seas,
spice fragranced rickshaw rides through hot, bustling streets, alfresco suppers
beneath endless starred skies. I revisit them through my memories, through the
photos and videos. I learn to pluck out the positive and nurture it until it
blossoms and overwhelms my loss. That was when I started my list.
One day Alison mistook it for my shopping list and read it.
She had treated me
to the wide-eyed stare that worked so well on her until she was about twelve.
When that proved ineffective, she tried incredulity.
list, Mother? Really? Then she resorted to ridicule. Act your age,
for goodness sake, Mum. You do know how old you are, dont you?
eighty-one-year-old body affirms my age every morning when I struggle out of
bed, but it catches up with my mind as we progress through the day.
Now I drop teabags
into the mugs that are decorated with scenes from Japan, and bubble boiling
water onto them.
My mother would
have referred to Alison as a high-flier. She had voiced her opinion
with a mixture of awe and condemnation and by the end of her life had stopped
asking me when Alison was going to settle down and have a family.
Alison places her
mug of tea, with precision, on the table in front of her.
Biscuit? I pull the tin with the picture
of a kitten on the lid across the worksurface. My daughter is shaking her head
before my fingers make contact with the smooth metal, so I flip the lid and
take a couple of chocolate cookies for myself. She manages not to tut but looks
disapproving. She inflates her lungs with a woosh of breath and lifts her chin.
Thats tell-tale. Its how I know she has been scheming, that she has
a plan. Soon she will mention the list. Again.
As a young child,
Alison liked to put people into boxes. I suppose it was her way of making sense
of the world. She has a tidy mind, like her father, and like him isnt
particularly curious about what motivates people. She just has an
over-developed sense of order and is comfortable with predictability.
Theres a lot of Lionel in Alison.
Her eyes study me
over the rim of her mug. My biscuit is crunchy, and the first bite speckles my
shirt with a dusting of fine crumbs like demerara sugar. They slalom down my
T-shirt and disappear below the table. She unconsciously brushes at the front
of her own scarlet top. Then she laces her fingers and places her joined hands
on the table in front of her tea with practised nonchalance. She looks as if
she is praying and I bite into my cookie to disguise the smile tugging at my
lips. She would feel hurt if she thought I was laughing at her.
Mum, you have
considered that you could end up in danger, get injured, or scarred for
life? It is all about presentation for my daughter. Her face is earnest,
screwed with concern at the horrors she has conjured, and her brows pinch
together like hawk wings.
long-term problem for an octogenarian, darling. I smile to soften my
reply and rest my hand on hers for a second. I try to work out when this pivot
occurred, when we reversed our roles, she to adult and me to someone she feels
responsible for. Perhaps it was when I was adrift after Lionel died.
next on your list, isnt it? I was speaking to a friend, she
wriggles her bottom on the chair, a sign that she was uncomfortable with the
lie she had just told me, and she thinks its not safe for you to go
running around Singapore on your own.
I wonder what the
fictitious friend would have to say if she knew what was really next on my
list. Does she know Singapore well? I ask. Alison rocks her hand in
a so-so gesture before plucking at the cuff of her jacket sleeve.
I let a short
silence breathe. Perhaps, when I have drawn up my itinerary,
Alison, your friend would be kind enough to cast an eye over it for me. What do
you think? Its a few years since Dad and I were there, and he made all
the arrangements then. Things could have changed.
perhaps wondering why I am compliant, suspicious that she is not the only one
capable of duplicity. Good idea, Mum. The remaining tension leaches
out of her limbs, and she sips her tea. I just dont want you to do
anything dangerous. Or have to live with repercussions for the rest of your
Her mouth curves
into a genuine smile, the first that has reached her eyes. Laughter lines
crinkle the skin around her eyes into corduroy that disappears into her
remember the eyebrow piercing episode? I ask, to prove my point. I
cant keep the smile out of my voice.
She frowns for a
second, then huffs laughter through her nose. Oh my God. Damien. I
remember. Her spontaneous laugh fills my chest with warmth. One of the
greatest privileges in the world is to hear your child laugh.
Thank you for
forbidding me, Mum. And for living with that black lipstick. Dad hated
it. She touches a finger to her mouth, remembering.
Pleasure, I said, and I promise
that I will show you my itinerary for Singapore and we will discuss it before I
book anything. I uncross my fingers. And Bali, and the gullet trip
along the Turquoise Coast. In fact, I will discuss all my overseas trips with
you before I book them. You might even consider joining me on one. I think you
might enjoy it. I wont bother you with the little local things
though. Happy with that?
happy. Alison drains her mug and pushes back her cuff with a carmine
nail. Got to run. I have a meeting with a new client over lunch. Big
account. Lots of opportunities. She pats me on the shoulder as she
passes. Dont get up. Enjoy your tea. Ill let myself
meeting goes well, darling, I say to the back of her head as she closes
the door. Her heels tap tap tap along the path like castanets. The sound
reminds me of a September in Seville with Lionel. The thrumming beat of the
guitars, the crack of percussion, drumming heels beneath the swirling costumes.
Her car door snaps shut, and the urgent roar of her engine diminishes to a
distant hum. It would be a brave flamenco dancer who performed a farruca with
I rinse the cups
and stand them in the sink. Last week I met a young man called Andy. I had done
my research and found him to be deeply knowledgeable, and surprisingly polite
when you looked past his piercings. We had quite a chat. I have great
confidence in him, which is why I am getting him to tick off an item on my
list. He is giving me a tattoo tomorrow. Im not putting it anywhere
too obvious, and it certainly wont be a tramp stamp. Andy and I discussed
the design and decided on something subtle and discreet the antithesis
of my darling girl. Lionel would have approved of it.
I will tell Alison,
of course but after the event. Probably when I mention my forthcoming tandem
sky dive. Dropping out of the sky and plummeting to earth is a little daunting.
But Im going to do it. Ive made up my mind.