Sunday, May 1, 2011
The double-decker bus sighs to a halt, and we disembark from the open platform to catch Ma, who's already way in the lead. Mary and Peter trot with me on either side, as we scurry to keep pace. She's on a mission, intently marching on ahead against the early evening drizzle.
No idea where she is headed, half-jogging, we take in the wide, grassy stretches of lawn-flanked pavement standing sentry before row upon row of flat, trimmed hedge, guarding the uniformly neat and tended gardens laid behind. Everything is so green and open, my head is on a swivel trying to drink it all in.
Finally Ma, finding where she is, stops and pauses for us to catch breath.
"Stay here a minute, I'll not be long."
She lifts the latch and sets down the path, as we huddle, necks craning to see where she's gone. Lifting the knocker, Ma, jaw set, sharply gives it three loud raps.
Peter absent-mindedly plucks a leaf from the hedge, eyes never leaving her back. Cold, I shove my hands deep into my pockets, squinting at the shape I see move past the window. The door half opens, and a slender woman peeps out, smiles. A little boy, perhaps no more than two, thrusts himself past her legs to gawk up and see who's calling.
"Hello Barbara, your sister home?"
The woman's smile fades, "She's working. What is it you're after now, Elsie?"
"Tell her I've been, that I know what she is."
"Oh aye? And what would that be?"
Ma turns and beckons to us. Hesitantly, we file down the path. The wee boy grins and says something to me, but uncertain yet whether to be friendly, I simply twist my mouth up as he meets my gaze.
"See these kids?" Ma pulls me closer, "These are Larry's bairns, so they are, do you hear me?" Embarrased, I try to wriggle away, but she holds me tight, "You tell her, and you tell that man of mine, his bairns are going without back at home, whilst he and that whore of a sister of yours is squandering the food right from out of their bellies, -"
Barbara, pushing the lad back behind her, snorts, "Now just a wee minute, here!" Face sealed and closed, her voice is coldly clipped, "Our Sandra is far from desperate enough to cast her eye over your pathetic excuse for a man. Who in their right head would be that hard up?"
"Just you tell her, and be sure to tell them both - I'm on to the pair of them, where they're at and what they're up to, you hear?"
"So what's that to me? Away you go off and tell them yourself, since you're so well in the know, and be sure to mind to take this scabby litter of yours off away from my doorstep n'all, as you go!" Making to close the door, she yanks the little boy farther in by his scruff, spitting a parting shot, "Small wonder if the poor sod's run off, with a nutter the likes of you to put up with at home."
The slammed door is far from enough to dissuade Ma from having her say. Bending down, she lifts the letterbox, "Aye, that's right, run off and hide then. You and that slag of a sister of yours are both one and the same, I even hear the Da of yon bairn there had to draw lots from the entire regiment, 'fore you guessed at who planted him.. ?"
Mortified, we watch, trying to avoid eye-contact with the small crowd of passer's-by who've begun to linger to enjoy the show. Peter attempts to intervene, tugging at Ma's arm, "Ma, please, just leave it, eh?"
But she's only got her second breath, and on her knees, through the open flap, she continues to shout, "I can stay here all day and night if needs be - stop shielding the tramp and send her down, I'm going no where 'til I see her - too scared to face me are you then, bitch? I know you can hear me."
By now, half the bloomin' street can hear her.
The upstairs window slides up and a head pops out. It's not Barbara, but someone younger with curly, dark hair. Ma pulls herself up with a triumphant curse, "Aye, see, there you are! I knew, I knew it! What did I say?"
"Go home you crazy, mad cow, I wouldn't touch your ugly, old man with a barge-pole, an alkie like that? What do you think I am? You're welcome to him, Dearie, aye, if you can ever find him, that is."
Ma is almost fixing to climb up and pull her down by the hair now, so furious is she. "You need to watch your mouth so you do, and your back, come to that - "
Peter has heard enough, he steps between her and the door, forcing her to face him. "C'mon Ma, let's go." He grasps her arm, "Leave it, it's time to go home."
"See? Look, even those poor bairns of yours have more sense than to stand here. Some mother you are, God help them. Go and bugger off back to where you came from, and give us all a rest."
Mary joins with Peter, "Ma, it's cold, let's go back, eh?"
Sandra's head disappears, and the window bangs shut. Ma still stands her ground, watching as the curtains pull tight. Peter gives a sigh, "Ma?"
Focusing, she suddenly becomes aware of the small audience we've attracted. Pulling her spine straight, she turns on them, "What? What you staring at? Got a problem then, have you?"
No one has a problem.
Disappointed, they slope away.
Ma grabs my hand. "Alright, come along children, no point in over-staying our welcome, is there?"
The drizzle has turned to soft rain, droplets of moisture mist our face, dampening our hair.
So this is where Da is, then?
Crossing through the gate, I tear a leaf from the privet-hedge, placing it in my pocket. It feels cool and smooth between my fingers.
I wonder if he'll want us to live here, too?
Sandra would need to go.