Miranda spotted the black wig on the pavement as she stepped out of her car outside the house. She bent down to pick it up and felt the slight coarseness that her mother had always complained about. Glancing around to see if anyone else had noticed, she picked it up and placed it in her own bag and retrieved the key. After leaving the family home to work in the city, she hadn’t used it when visiting. She preferred to ring the doorbell and then wait for her mother to open the door and throw her arms around in a big hug that was filled with warmth and love. With a heavy heart she climbed the three steps. Now it was all different.
She unlocked the door and tentatively pushed it open. She noticed the discarded Jimmy Choo’s on the wooden floor in the hallway and the tailored emerald jacket strewn over the bannister. “Hello” she called out; “Bea... are you there?” there was no response, so she checked out the sitting room–no one there and it was just as she remembered it; everything in its place and the silver-framed family photos catching the afternoon sunlight. There was no one in the pristine kitchen either but the kettle was hot and there was a discarded tea bag and spoon in the sink, her mother had always hated that.
She retraced her steps to the hall and as she climbed the stairs shouted again. “Bea, Bea… where are you, it’s me Miranda”. As she neared the top, she could hear sobbing, and she followed the crying to the main bedroom, their mother’s. Bea was lying on the bed, her knees pulled up into a fetal position with her face buried in the pillow, and a cup of untouched tea on the bedside table.
As Miranda perched next to her sister Bea turned her head towards her and said “I can’t do it Miranda… I thought I could but I can’t”.
Miranda had never seen her sister so upset, Bea was always the stronger one; smart, organised and practical. Miranda felt a large lump in her own throat and the hot tears welling up in her eyes. She always cried a lot, and her family had teased her about it. Bea almost never cried. When Bea’s sobs subsided Miranda fished the wig from her bag and laid it gently between them. “I found this outside” she said.
“I know” Bea replied “I panicked… I couldn’t do it”.
“Would you like me to come too?” Miranda suggested. Bea had wanted to go alone, in fact she had insisted. Miranda was not sure why, but she had agreed because it was Bea who knew the people, their names and families, and the minute details of their lives. It was easier to do what Bea wanted, always. Bea thought about the question and then nodded her head.
“OK” said Miranda, summoning all her energy. “We need a rethink; what time were you expected?” Bea glanced at her watch, blinking through the residual tears and puffy eyes, “I should have left an hour ago”. “I’ll text to say you’ve been delayed and that we will both go. If we set off now, we can still get there and I’m sure they’ll understand”. Miranda, didn’t want to drive, but, showing a briskness she did not feel, gathered up the wig, chivvied her sister downstairs and handed her the emerald jacket. “You can fix your face on the way” she said without waiting for comment.
“You know mum wanted to go to this party don’t you?” said Bea once she had recovered her composure. “It was very important to her".
Miranda nodded, whilst keeping her eyes fixed to the road and fighting back her own tears, “I know," she said “it’s just so hard,".
“They are nice women," Bea continued “good hearted, they always looked out for her and she valued their support ". “I don’t suppose I got to know them. It was Mum’s thing," said Miranda “she didn’t talk about them much".
The journey took them about 45 minutes in the traffic and the car was hot. Once they arrived outside the place up they sat for a few moments to compose themselves. There was a note on the front gate instructing them to go straight to the back garden, but they didn’t need it as the smell of wood burning and the hubbub of chatter and laughter soon directed them.
There was a group of five or six women sitting and standing around a small crackling bonfire at the far end. “Come in,” said a very glamorous looking woman wearing a silk turban. “I’m Jean, what will you have: wine or a Bellini? That was your mother’s favourite”. They both accepted a Bellini. Miranda sipped hers and the sweet peachy bubbles caught the back of her throat. She realised that she didn’t know that about her mum, she had never seen her with anything but the occasional sherry. Bea mumbled her apologies for being late and thanked Jean for the drink. “Don’t worry” said Jean, “you’re here now, that’s all that matters”.
They moved towards the bonfire and greeted the other guests. Miranda realised that these women all knew more about them, where they lived and what they did, than either of them knew about Jean and her friends even though Bea attempted to recall the details.
“We all loved your mother she was a real star” said Jean. “She loved a party and was always so cheerful. Now did you bring it?” she asked.
“We were planning this party for her anyway” said Jean “just a shame she couldn’t make it and we couldn’t do this at the funeral” she added.
“No” said Bea, “probably not appropriate”.
Miranda retrieved the black coarse wig from her handbag and placed it on the wooden tray that Jean provided. As Jean carried it aloft to the bonfire, Miranda took Bea’s hand in hers and gave it a tight squeeze. They watched as Jean, with cheers ringing out from the other women, thrust the wig onto the bonfire. “Let’s drink to your mother!” “We’ve had a party for each of us and our wigs” she said, “the end of the treatment and a return to some semblance of normality, whatever that means. Your mother was the last one - such a shame she’s not here - but then she never liked the bloody thing!”