by Gill James
Earl Grey tea
The clock on the church tower has just chimed two. She said she would be here at three. Lunch was over and done with at one. Even the dish washer was loaded. And now it has run. It's too early to unload it. Yet I can't settle to anything else. Will she be on time? I don't know. I don't know her at all. Is she like me? Does she waste a huge portion of her life being much too early for fear of being late? I don't even know whether I want her to arrive ahead of time, so that we can get it over with, or late so that I've got more time to get myself ready.
My stomach churns. Can I keep my lunch down? Will I be able to offer her tea and will we get round to eating the cake? Is it stupid to offer tea and cake on an occasion like this? At least the weather is warm. We can sit in the garden. Being outside always makes things seem better doesn't it?
She'll be a complete stranger, won't she? I've not met her before. Just that one time in a dream. When she was six or so and she'd managed to swim a length of the school swimming pool. I was standing holding a towel for her. Out of the water she came. Athletic and strong and at the same time so feminine and completely my little girl.
Now I can feel my own heart beating wildly and the hall clock ticking. They're in harmony. They are both counting my life away.
I think of the last time I saw Tony. It was a day just like this. We walked down to the corner shop to buy some ice cream. His idea and his treat. As usual I had to trot at his side like a pet dog. He eats well and he's a good cook. He remains thin because he's he walks everywhere and so fast. It's hard to keep up with him.
He's always been a bit of an enigma, my son, my first born. Yes he's tall and strong. Years of dancing, ice-skating as well as the fast walking have made him muscular and supple. He can be strong. He's got back up after blow upon blow. Yet he can cry buckets about a sad film or the death of an animal. He is so talented and creative - and messy. Out of chaos comes beauty.
He daydreamed as we ate the ice cream. It was as if he wanted to tell me something but couldn't quite get round to it. I knew, though, when he left that day we would never see him again. He confirmed this later by phone. And no, we've not seen him since. Not for over three months. We mourn him. He is gone from us. Forever.
I decide I must look my best to meet my unknown daughter. I'm glad I had my hair bleached white. It doesn't make me look old - quite the opposite. I'm sure Tony would have confirmed this and certainly his younger sister approves.
"Just, think, Mum, you could have purple streaks put in. Tony would have loved that," she says.
Yes I'm sure he would. Well at least I can go for purple eye shadow but I stick to a more conventional lipstick shade. Who knows what she'll be into?
I decide I can't slop around in my jeans. I must be smart even if I look casual. I select a top in my best green and my beige linen trousers. Will it do? If only I could ask Tony. He was always good at helping me to find the right clothes. I got that promotion when he chose the bright pink suit for the interview. That white linen skirt he found the day he got the job at Selfridge's lasted for years. And what about those high boots he picked out when we went on the day trip to France? I wish I could ask him now.
I look at the mugs and plates I've set out and decide they're wrong. I open the china cabinet and get out our best tea set. This is an occasion. We must treasure it.
Seconds after the church clock chimes quarter to the hour I hear the clatter of heels on the footpath. I brace myself for the doorbell. I don't have to wait long. My mouth is dry as I make my way to the door. I see the silhouette of a very tall person through the frosted glass. It could almost be Tony. I am trembling so much that I can hardly open the door.
I manage at last and there she is. Soft blond curls frame her angular face. She is wearing a short shift dress in my green. What about that then. Size six, I would say. Size six for goodness sake. Well, at least she won't be stealing my clothes like Tony used to steal his father's. Her make-up is immaculate. Subtle. You can't really see it's there. A small patent leather bag hangs from her shoulder. Under her arm she is carrying what I recognise as a painting. It is wrapped in brown paper. She hands it to me. "This is for you. You might like to get it framed."
She slips off her jacket and sits down at the dining table as if she's been coming here for years.
I open the packet. I recognise one of my book covers.
"Thank you," I say.
She nods and looks down at the table. "Oh you've got the best china out."
"Well it's a bit of an occasion, isn't it?"
She shrugs. "What's the cake?"
"Raisin parkin." I remember how much Tony used to like it.
She grins. Her face crinkles and her eyes are just like Tony's.
We chat. It's as if we've known each other for years.
Then though there is an awkward silence. She puts her hand on my arm. "Should we go round to that picture-framers you told me about? I could help you chose something."
"That's a nice idea."
It's less than a mile away but it's too hot to walk. We take the car. We can't stop right outside. The primary school is emptying and lots of mums have come in cars. We have to park about four hundred yards away.
We set off.
She strides ahead. The heels don't faze her. I have to trot along, just like I did with Tony.
She pauses and turns. "Come on, Mum."
The sun catches her hair. She looks really pretty. My lovely daughter Toni.
About the author
Gill James writes fiction for all ages. She also works as a publisher and creative writing lecturer.
He latest work 140 x 140, a collection of Flash Fiction is published by Chapeltown.
http://bridgehousepublishing.co.uk/ http://www.chapeltownpublishing.uk/ http://cafelit.co.uk/ http://trtpublishing.co.uk