“How much longer will I be allowed to stay here?” I asked myself before shooing away the question in favour of surveying the scene before me, savouring it like satisfying sips of sweet, hot tea. It was the well-organised, tidy bedroom of a new mother. A fully stocked change station rested against a wall and the air was laced with the carnal scents of breast milk and waxy cradle cap.
I could see my daughter, bathed in the bluish light of early dawn, sprawled across the bed, all postpartum plumpness and flushed cheeks. More mature and rounded than I remember her, she looked like a big brazen, unfurled summer flower. Her baby daughter lay nestled in a standing Moses basket, arms beautifully outstretched and bent at the elbow, fully surrendered to sleep. She was fascinating; stark white skin, mini aquiline nose and hair as black as rook feather. Our family blood was coursing luxuriantly through her minute veins. I cast my eyes over her long fingernails and the small patches of dry skin on her hands. Overdue. Reluctant to leave the sanctuary of a warm womb.
I heard the click, clap and whoosh of a boiler flicking on. Water trickled into pipes and moaned its way into concertina radiators, filling the room with dusty heat. The child’s legs jolted for a second before she squirmed and settled, chewing toothlessly at her fist.
The electric element hissed as the potatoes boiled over, spilling snowy froth onto the stove top. I sighed as I turned off the ring, grabbed a dish cloth and mopped up the mess. I am not fit for this today. As I squeezed the sponge free of starchy sludge under the running tap, I fixed my gaze on Geraldine. She was sitting, staring open-mouthed at the wall mounted TV, a newspaper open in front of her on the table. She had been extravagantly ignoring me for the last twenty minutes. I strode over and turned off the TV before returning to the kitchen area. She began reading.
I banged the fry pan on to the stove, dropped in a slice of lard and watched it turn from white solid into colourless liquid before adding sliced onion.
Our usual cosy kitchen ritual, which involves my hovering over Geraldine and giving her lots of detailed instructions, had been disrupted because she had walked off, unceremoniously, as I was asking her if she could slice the onions thinner and into crescents rather than circles.
“The Church is in some trouble,” she piped up, tilting her head towards the TV, referring to the last news article.
“It’ll take more than a few bad apples to harm the Church,” I said draining the potatoes over the sink, “it will weather the storm alright.”
“But it’s more than that, isn’t it?” she said, rubbing the back of her head in a small circular motion with her middle finger as if massaging the words out, “terrible crimes were covered up. Even now, those poor people continue to be abused by the Church’s denials.” Observing her closely, I thought, that barnet could use a hairbrush, she looks like she’s been dragged through a hedge backwards.
“It’s not in our gift to judge these things. We trust in the Holy Spirit at work in the Church. It’s the best we can do,” I said, vigorously mashing the potatoes. I bashed the masher on the side of the saucepan to release the remnants of potato clinging to it and replaced the lid on the pot. I was momentarily distracted by a small twitch that had appeared on my upper cheek.
Geraldine opened her mouth trout-like to respond but then seemed to think better of it. She drew a long, loud breath instead and changed the subject, “What’s the step ladder doing in the hall?”
“Your father is going to have a look in the roof space when he comes home. There is a dripping sound above the spare room, even on dry days.”
“I’m surprised you can hear anything over the racquet of the knitting machine.”
“I hear it when I’m seaming,” I said, in an unintentionally shrill voice. The sound had been a source of irritation for a whole week and Lorcan still hadn’t made time yet to look into it.
She turned her attention to the paper again.
I began to slice a cabbage on the bench which divided the kitchen and dining room so I could take surreptitious looks at her. She had lost weight. Her long face was pale and blank, it depressed me. She wasn’t the vivacious, robust girl that left here after Christmas to return to University. Her shoulders were slightly rounded. Had they always been like that?
It dawned on me that tertiary education was transforming my daughter in peculiar ways. Merely thinking about this caused a hot throbbing pain behind my eyes. It didn’t help that her ludicrous words from last night were also churning over in my head; “Well, I have a bit of news. I would like to drop out of Medicine and read History instead.” Just like that. She said it in the same tone of voice a normal person might say, “I think I’ll have the Battenberg instead of the iced finger.” I knew we should never have let her study in England.
Now she was even questioning her faith. I wanted to scream at her that life is not supposed to be easy. Every temporal problem is not easily solved. It’s is not a perfect institution but the Church is our only chance of salvation.
None of this was to be discussed- yet. I had been given my orders by Lorcan before he left for work, “Say nothing. We’ll talk about it when I get home. Leave that child be,” he instructed, followed by something about ‘too tight a leash’ and ‘live her own life’.
I hadn’t fully grasped it all. I had switched off while he was still talking, as I do, when he gets all high and mighty.
I placed the cabbage in a colander and gave it a good wash.
This is the fear and hurt you face when you have an only child. All of your eggs are in one basket.