Becci’s Mother

Wednesday September 5, 2012 § Leave a comment

The afternoon had grown sordid. Empty heat poured vacantly across the garden, which lay inert and greedy under its luminous shade. Hannah bristled, snorting the hot air, swallowing to keep down a puff of Benson & Hedges, and emitting a little burp as she did so. The garden, its square lawn, its brief ashy terrace, dark beneath the jaundiced parasol, and the spoiled solar-powered night lamps (dormant in the thick daylight, and carrying the slow, murky smear of summer)  jack-knifed into the flaky border soil, had reduced itself to a constellation of surfaces, all lightly reflecting and feeling a little smacked and spoiled with sunlight.
     – Everything’s dying, said Hannah, flecking ash into the tall grass. Except the fucking grass.
     Becci looked up from her magazine. Inside the house a stereo kicks into life, and nineties pop-music drifts out and across the patio. 
     – Why don’t you cut it? says Becci.
     At which Hannah directs a withering look in her direction. It is as if she is saying (but isn’t – in fact it is important that she isn’t, for her power, if she has any, lies in her ellipses, in her silences, in her dilatory, but entirely deliberate  and steely omissions), ‘I didn’t spend my life landladying to mow my own fucking lawn.’ No, it’s nearly seven years since she got out of that game, since that fire at the Loaf.
     Of course, that fire being the other reason she doesn’t say it. Just as it consumed the tired fabric and alabaster certainties of the Loaf and Cheese, so the trauma of it all cauterized her already shaky grip of her own limitations, which now displaced and disputed even in her own mind (though she was cleared of any personal wrongdoing in the tragedy), cause her to decline now even to approach them. This lends her a slightly circumscribed air, with such an emphasis on refusal, and on what can’t be attempted, causing a kind of negative gravity. She inhabits strange orbits.
     – Can’t you just get Martin to do it, persists Becci.
     Martin: former Loaf and Cheese regular, now sometime boyfriend, sometime caretaker for Hannah, who now escalates her gaze to new more rarefied levels of disdain.
     – Mum, I’m just saying.
     – Saying what? Becci’s sister Helen deposits their drinks on the table, taking her own from the middle of the tray, and settling into the only chair still in the sun.
     – I was saying Mum should get Martin to cut the lawn.  
     – I’m sure he would, says Helen hopefully.
     But Hannah is unmoved. She has turned away now, and standing on the edge of the patio much as one might stand on the deck of a ship looking into the sea, the memory of the fire is returned to her, having drifted unbidden, and quite against her own best instincts, into her mind. The mulchy remains and the strange indignity of its shapeless wilted frames – a door, a window – pointing from the debris with delirious quietness. How she would not miss knowing what she knows, having seen what she has seen, she thinks.

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