Naomi.is my grand daughter, because she is Verity’s child..
I will never forget Jack’s delight when he was told Verity was having a baby. He loved being a grandfather and even in the later stages of his illness, always recognised her. Sometimes she would gently take his hand and her touch seemed to soothe him as nothing else could.
I had, in fact, tried to persuade my daughter to have a baby ever since she fell in love with M’buta ten years before, when she was twenty five. That was when she told me she was never going to have children.
‘You will be sorry when it is too late,’ I said. ‘Even though you are a lesbian you should swallow your distaste and become pregnant. You are not too bad looking. I’m sure there must be some man somewhere who will oblige, even though you are cohabiting with another woman. You needn’t get married, or anything and can always have a shower after.’
‘You don’t know what you’re talking about, Mother,’ she said crossly.
‘If that was the case, how do you think I and your father produced you?’ I asked her.
I felt I had scored a point there but instead of taking it up she said, in a self pitying voice, ‘I don’t know why you even bothered to have a child.’
‘What? Are you saying I wasn’t a good mother? You can’t possible accuse me of neglecting my duty in that area.’ I was outraged.
‘Well, you weren’t cuddly,’ she said.
‘You were a great joy to me when you were little.’
‘Really?’ she said. ‘I never knew.’
‘I did not like the way she spoke at all,’ I told M’buta later. ‘There was a distinct ring of sarcasm in her tone.’
‘You ought to wrap it up a bit, Ladyma.’ M’buta said. ‘She loves you a lot inside her heart.’
‘What do you mean?’ I asked her crossly. ‘Now what have I done wrong?’
‘Couldn’t you tell her you love her a bit?’ asked M’buta. She sounded quite shy to say the word, ‘love.’.
‘Since you tell her that all the time, I can’t see any need for me to do it, ’ I told her sternly.
I and Jack were married for more than sixty years and in all that time never once did I use sentimental language Even our decision to do away with ourselves when the separation time was approaching was done in a businesslike, practical and unsentimental manner. We collected the sleeping pills without even bothering to hide them, those being the days before I had people poking through everything.
Unfortunately, after Jack died, they found the pills and threw them all away.
Later I heard Verity whispering to M;buta, ‘You don’t think Mother kept those pills on purpose and was planning to do away with herself, do you?’
I did not catch M’buta’s answer, but ever since, they have kept thinking up things ‘to cheer me up.’
‘I do not need cheering up,’ I told them. When you are a bereaved person, you can be as furious as you like and no one likes to say boo to you. ‘I do not even want to be cheered up.’
But nothing stopped them. They kept organising silly outings, inviting me to come and do things that I had never had the smallest appetite for, a visit to the zoo, shopping at Harrods, an afternoon at the cinema. They even wanted to take me to see the remake of ‘Mary Poppins.’ You really would think I had become a child again. It when they suggested a picnic by the sea, that an idea came to me. They all seemed gratified and hopeful when I accepted. They did ‘there, she’s coming out of it’ looks to each other. By this time I had managed to assemble a new small collection of sleeping pills, by pretending to put them in my mouth when Verity gave them to me. Not enough to do the full job, but enough, I thought to be effective when in the sea.
‘And I shall go in the sea,’ I told them. ‘So please go and buy me a bathing suit,’
Verity and M’buta went rushing, as though the sun had come out suddenly, after a lot of rain.
I waited till they were all sitting on the Brighton beach, if you could call that heap of oil stained cobbles a beach when I said I thought I would have a little paddle in the sea before lunch. ‘In memory of Jack. I would like to be alone, please.’
Verity and M’buta nodded, looking moved and un-suspicious. Gump, who follows me everywhere, leapt up and tried to come after me, so I asked Naomi to be a dear little girl and hold onto him while I paddled because I didn’t want him to get wet and shake water all over the picnic rug. Gump adores Naomi, and when he joyfully snuggled into her arms I felt a brief pang of irritation at his fickleness, and lack of intuition.. Surely he must know what was about to happen. I thought dogs had instincts about things like that.
‘I’ve never known you to mind about a thing like Gump wetting us, before, Mother,’ said Verity in a surprised but pleased voice.
‘I am trying to follow your and M’buta’s advice and be less selfish,’ I told her and managed to put on a saintly sort of smile which did not, this time, draw from her the question, ‘Is your mouth hurting, Mother? Why are you stretching it like that?’
When I reached the sea and looked back, Gump had fallen asleep in Naomi’s arms and looked comfortable and happy. I felt shocked at his treachery.
By the time I reached the water, I could just make out Naomi waving.