© Jon Horne
The operation is tomorrow. Thank goodness they had a space for me. I was scared that Id have to go private. I cant afford it - at least not if I want to do anything else all year.
What a time though, spring. December, January, it would have been nothing - get it done, recover, get back to work. Robert would be here for me and no one else needve known. Now Robert has gone, Im in the middle of moving house, Ive got four essays to finish (in three weeks!) and Ive had to cancel a holiday for all this.
Not just a holiday either. It was a week alone with my mother. I phoned last night.
Susan, she said, why are you playing games with me?
Thats how she talks. Shes been to counselling. I told her I wasnt playing games, that I wasnt well, and that no, I didnt need her to be here.
Ill have Robert here, I lied. Rachel and Ben too, I hurriedly added, in case she remembered that Robert was going away. That was a lie too. What sort of a mother is it whose own daughter cant tell her the truth?
Im making up a packed lunch. I dont trust the NHS. Food, laundry, all those things they put out to tender; you never know whos in charge. Ill put salad sandwiches in, some with tuna - no, salmon. Much better. Chocolate too, obviously.
Sweetie! she says.
Hi Rachel. Listen, Im glad you called. Could we have a chat? Its important.
Susan darling, cant stop to talk. Just need to know if youre going to be there at the weekend. Could do with a bit of a chinny-wag myself.
Yeah, Ill be around.
OK Susie, toodle-oo.
Byesie-bye Rachelly-wachelly, I say, but by then Ive put the phone down. It was a daft idea telling her anyway. I should tell someone though - someone whod understand; someone I can trust. Gran.
Does that surprise you? Ill explain anyway. For a start, shes not old enough to be a standard-issue Gran. We went to her fiftieth birthday party... hang on, when was it? Id just done my GCSEs. I was going out with Ben at the time. Its funny how things turn out. So anyway shes fifty-four, not that old. Also I lived with her until I was ten.
Gran understands things. She lets me skin up in her living room. In fact shes been known to have a puff herself if shes been on the Chardonnay. I popped Bens cherry on her sofa... sort of - he hadnt really got the hang of it then and it was a bit of a mess. We turned the cushion over to hide the stain. Gran noticed, and since then Ive been able to tell her anything.
Hello dear. How are you?
Gran, Im pregnant.
Oh, not bad. Actually Gran, Ive been a bit rough lately.
Thats a shame. Whats wrong?
This and that. Always getting colds and flu, you know how it is. Im going to the hospital tomorrow, to...
To have an abortion.
...to have a few tests - make sure its nothing serious.
Well, you look after yourself, dear. I know what youre like for burning the candle at both ends.
Theres a delicious smile which breaks through into her voice, even on the telephone. I cant believe Im not telling her.
I know, Gran.
I dont mean to be boring, just be careful.
Gran, theres one thing...
You dont want me to tell your Mum.
Not the bit about the hospital. Do you mind?
Thats alright dear, we all know what shes like.
Bye then, and all the best for tomorrow.
I go back and make the rest of the sandwiches, then read the paper: Ireland again; Yugoslavia again; two war-crimes trials; riots in Manchester; some poor sod in Leicester stabbed for his pension money, dead. What a world. Im doing the foetus a favour.
Robert phones. He wants to pick up some stuff; says hes found somewhere to live. Hes cold with me. Its obvious that hes still got a thing for me and I wish he wouldnt put so much effort into not showing it. Its not attractive, just sad. Other boys havent been like this when Ive broken up with them - OK, Ill admit that I thought they were a bit sad too, being friendly after Id given them the push, but the point is that we always stayed friends. And as for Ben - well, Robert should take some lessons from Ben. One minute he was out of the door with my size-five Doc Marten up his arse, and the next, he was on the settee with Rachels hand down his trousers and me upstairs in floods.
Its got dark outside while I was on the phone. I must have been talking quite a while. I should be hitting the sack soon; Ive got to be up and out of the house by seven tomorrow. I get back to reading the paper. Its a strain reading with this little lamp but I cant be bothered to get up and change the lightbulb. It would involve standing on a chair anyway. Robert did have his uses.
You cant get beyond the front page these days without having some well-meaning expert preaching to you about Ecstasy. The way they talk, youd think that casualty departments were bursting at the seams after every all-nighter. The fact is, folks, we know what were doing. A pill, some banging tunes, plenty of water, a little speed for the comedown and youre sorted (well done Jarvis, youve taught them a new word).
As far as Im concerned, The Peril Of Ecstasy - as the headline calls it - is in getting so loved-up that I pulled my ex-boyfriend, forwent the banging tunes and instead had six hours of spine-bendingly good sex in Rachels bed.
Bens learned a lot since that morning on Grans sofa. Thanks Rachel.
In the future, Ill be sticking to speed. The buzz is better and it stops the urge to pull.
Theres a hammering on the front door. Im not going to answer it. Ever since someone chalked slag pit on the wall of the house, underneath my bedroom window, weve had these blokes calling on the off-chance. Fucking weirdoes. I was going to wash it off but Robert and Ben wouldnt let me because they thought it was funny. Well ha bloody ha. How would they like it?
The lights are off upstairs, so I go into Ben and Rachels room and peer out of the window.
Fuck, its my mother. Where are the perverts when you need them?
Susan! Open the door! Its only me! Shes shouting through the letterbox. It snaps shut - on her finger probably, because I can hear her swearing.
Hang on Mum, Im in the loo! I shout back.
Quickly I undress and get into my dressing gown. If Mums going to park herself here, then I want to be able to claim tiredness. As long as she doesnt want to stop the night...
Just coming, Mum.
Oh Susan! she says when I open the door. I think this is the cue for me to say Oh Mum!, fall into her arms, and start sobbing. I know I ought to, because itll make her feel like a proper Mum - which is why shes here of course.
Mum, youve hurt yourself! A lifeline. With any luck Ill be able to keep the conversation away from whatever she has decided are my troubles. God, she is hurt too; the letter-box has taken a chunk out of her knuckle. I run into the bathroom to fetch her the TCP and a plaster.
She sits down in the living room, in silence. I pace around a little and then sit down opposite her. Its hard to stop fidgeting.
Susan, youve been smoking. The ashtray is full.
Yes Mum. I told her Id given up.
Roll-ups too. Not exactly. Theres not much point in rolling a decent-sized spliff if theres no one to share it with, so one skin does me fine.
Well, you know how it is, I say.
No I dont know how it is! she shouts. First we were going away together and then you tell me you cant because youre ill. One minute Roberts gone away and the next minute hes looking after you. So where is he?
Rachel and Ben?
There is a part of me which wants to let go completely; to be a little girl howling over a grazed knee or a broken doll. But my mother is a broken doll. Thats what she once called herself - though she didnt mean it, because she and Gran were both drunk and she was only trying to hurt Gran. I doubt she succeeded.
Im sorry Mum, its Robert. Hes gone for good. I feel a weight lifted because Ive at least told her something true. She holds me for a while and doesnt speak. Then she says: You know Ive been seeing a counsellor.
Oh Mum, please dont spoil it! She cant know how good this feels, just sitting here, being comforted. If she tells me to open up or express my true feelings or whatever they tell you to do, then Ill only clam up again.
I have some things I have to talk about.
Please Mum, Ill be alright. Its just that...
Not about you. I need to talk about me. There are things I have to tell you. I have to get everything out in the open.
I look up at her through the film in front of my eyes. I expect her pitying, judging stare. She looks straight ahead though.
You know how old I was when you were born, she says. Its not a question. She was fifteen. Now I know what she wants to talk about. Im her shame and her ball and chain. Im why she had to go to night school, to catch up on the education that I stole from her; Im why she lived with her mother all those years, and why shes still stuck in a council flat; Im why a succession of Uncles never turned into Daddies, why everyone still calls her by her christian name.
Shes not broken at all. Shes put herself back together, found herself or something, found some sort of life, and Im not in it. I know what the holiday was about. She couldnt let me go without a last act of love, and now Ive spoiled even that.
I sink a little further into her, trying to note every sensation; cotton on my cheek, the heartbeat, the smell; something to take with me.
You werent my first child. Not really.
My eyes open very suddenly. I dont move though.
I was pregnant before. Your Gran made me termi... Susan, I had an abortion.
I can feel her looking at me. These are just words, hitting the back of my head and not penetrating.
I wanted to have the baby, just like I wanted you. From the minute I found out. Did you know that - that you were wanted?
I was a mistake. Gran said I was. No one wants to have a baby at fifteen.
It was a boy actually. Doesnt matter what it was. A nurse told me. Theyre not allowed to, but she did.
I say something but the syllable catches in my throat and comes out as a squeak.
I feel laughter rising in my belly. For a minute it still feels like crying, but then it forces itself out of me. I explode out of my mothers embrace and find myself sitting on the floor in a fit of hysteria. She gawps in bemusement, then in anger. I know that every snort and every hiccup is a slap in her face, but I cant stop myself. It goes on and on.
Ill have to tell her now.
Im dragged from this by the sight of my mother marching out of the living room. I get up and rush to the door, which is slammed in my face. I push it open and run into the hallway. I catch her by the arm. We struggle and my bike gets knocked to the floor.
How could you? Her voice is so choked that she cant even shout at me.
Wait! Please wait! Mum!
She pushes me away and goes out of the front door, slamming that one too. I chase her out into the road, where she is walking towards the car, upright and fast.
You can phone me tomorrow.
I cant, Im having an abortion.
That stops her. An old man passing by looks at me wide-eyed.
What the fuck are you staring at? I ask him. His head drops and he hurries along his way. I walk across the road to where my mother stands motionless.
Please come inside, Mum. I need to talk to you. Im sorry.
Its Bens? Oh, Susan!
Stop saying Oh Susan. Its a mess, I know.
And youre sure?
About whos it is?
No, about the abortion.
What do you think?
Doesnt matter what I think.
Yes, Im sure.
Certain. Its not wanted.
Does Ben know?
He knows about Ben, not about this.
What about Rachel?
Sorry love. She smiles, then asks: Do you want me to be there?
There is a silence.
Nothing... oh, you know.
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