Here is a sneak sample of an upcoming anthology of adult fairy stories by one of my favourite authors: Richard Hennerley. Richard’s style is acerbically satirical and often very comedic, but he can also write with great sensitivity, tenderness and compassion. I’ve reproduced part of one of his stories, which tells of the love of a mother for her dying child, here. It’s both ravishingly beautiful – Richard’s prose is gorgeous – and exquisitely poignant.
Once upon a time… many, many years ago in a world long since forgotten, there was a country called Anywhere. And in the land of Anywhere there was a fine and prosperous city called Anyplace and within the city of Anyplace was a hospital for children. In a particular room in this hospital lay a particular child, a boy of just nine years of age. The Boy had been struck down by one of the cruellest threads that the Blind Old Weaver Of Fate, in all her capricious randomness, can weave. The Boy was dying of an Incurable Cancer.
Sitting with The Boy was his Mother, She sat, still, determined, watchful, for The Boy’s doctors had told him that the ravages of the Incurable Cancer were now such that this day would Most Likely be The Boy’s Last Day and The Mother was determined not to miss a moment for she loved The Boy absolutely, this child was her life, she had seen him into this world and held him in the first few seconds of his life; she would see him out of this world, too, and hold him in his last few seconds of life.
As The Mother sat in her Patient Vigil over her dying son, she thought briefly of The Boy’s father. It was sad he was not here; he had been a handsome but Selfish and Self-Obsessed man and had abandoned his wife and son in the second year of The Boy’s life to Take Up With another woman, a Younger Model. Not once had he ever contacted wife and son again and The Mother knew not where he was. Ever since his departure it had been her and The Boy. Everything she did was for The Boy, her horrible, poorly paid job, the long hours, the worries about rents and bills, the sheer bloody struggle of everyday life for an Ordinary Person in this land where once again The Greedy One Percent were in Rapacious Ascendancy…that, all of that, it was all for The Boy and it was all made worthwhile by The Boy. Everything was for The Boy because The Boy was Everything. Such is the Nature Of Love.
The Mother reaches out a hand, across The Boy’s bed and lays it on her son’s forehead. The Boy moves slightly and, to The Mother’s delight, a smile blossoms on his pale face. A feeling of warmth travels up The Mother’s arm and she feels blessed relief from the Howling Horror of her and The Boy’s sorry circumstances. And suddenly a picture forms in her mind, of an expanse of fields and woodland, an isolated rural area many miles outside Anyplace that she and The Boy had visited many times: The Boy had loved it there and as he ran through the grass and flowers, dodging in and out of trees, radiant and healthy under a Broad, Bright Blue Sky he would excitedly ask, Mum, Will We See a Troll, Will We See A Troll?
On his website Richard paraphrases the final, moving paragraph of the story, titled ‘The Woman who Loved her Son so much that she followed him out of this Life,’ like this: ‘And their souls danced across a Broad, Bright Blue Sky with all the beauty of a Murmuration of Starlings’. That’s a beautiful collective noun that befits a beautiful story. If your appetite is whetted by this snippet and you’d like to read the rest, visit Richard’s website here.
And still on the subject of mother love, here is chapter nine of my novel Secret Shame. If you would like to begin reading from the beginning, click here. (It follows the main blog).
The following day was Saturday and Derek had got the entire weekend off, as the enquiry had been scaled down. Emma and Darren cast anxious looks at their parents at breakfast. They’d heard last night’s commotion; the angry raised voices (but, thankfully, hadn’t been able to make out the words). They’d wondered if either of them was at fault for some reason (although they couldn’t imagine what). But all seemed to be well. Mum and Dad were chatting normally as if whatever it had been about, the row was now over and resolved. Stacey didn’t seem to want to put in an appearance though. Well it was hardly surprising, Julie thought sadly, that she wanted to keep her head down; it had obviously concerned her.
They finished eating and the children, looking relieved, left the table, intent on enjoying their weekend: Darren heading to the lounge to have his ration of Saturday morning television and Emma disappearing outside to find Katy. Julie looked at Derek. ‘I imagine Stacey’s too scared to show her face. She must have heard us rowing last night.’
Derek smiled wryly. ‘Yeah, I can well imagine she is, poor kid. I’ll have a chat with her; tell her it’s alright. Well, that we’ve agreed on what to do, anyway. I feel guilty now for not making an effort to before. But it seemed easier to let you handle things. You’re her mum after all, and a female. I’m just a useless male.’
Julie returned his smile; refrained from comment on that one. ‘Okay, good. I’ll just run up and have a word first; tell her you’re not cross with her. Then you can go up and talk to her privately. You don’t want one of the others blundering in on you, do you? Come to think of it, I don’t quite know how I’m going to explain to them what’s happened, so I don’t.’
‘Well you’ll be better at it than me, anyway,’ Derek murmured, sounding contrite.
Julie ran up the stairs and rapped on Stacey’s door. ‘Stace? Can I come in?’
‘Okay,’ squeaked a tiny voice.
She entered the untidy bedroom. Stacey was still in bed, the duvet drawn up to her chin. Her face was pale and her eyes red. She’d been crying again. Julie sat on the bed as Stacey moved her legs aside. Julie took her hand.
‘It sounded like you were having a terrible row last night,’ Stacey said anxiously.
‘Julie smiled grimly. ‘Yes, we were, but it’s all over now.’
‘I really have caused a hell of a lot of trouble, haven’t I?’ Stacey’s bottom lip began to quiver again. ‘All through being so stupid.’
‘Julie squeezed her hand. ‘Yes, but it’s alright now. Don’t worry about it.’
‘Is Dad really cross?’
‘No, not now. He’s come round to our way of thinking.’
‘Yes, really. I persuaded him.’
‘Oh, Mum, have you?’
‘Yes, honestly. He wants to have a talk with you, but don’t worry; he’s not going to give you a hard time.’
‘No! He wants to tell you he’s sorry, for one thing.’
‘Sorry? Why should he be sorry? I’m the one who should be sorry!’
Julie lifted her free hand to stroke Stacey’s forehead, brushing her hair out of her eyes. ‘He feels a bit bad about not talking to you before, so. He finds it hard to do though, being a man. He’s typical of them, really: quick to anger and blame but not so clever at dealing with things the way they are. Not like us women; we just get on with things!’
Stacey smiled ruefully. ‘I’m not a woman, just a prattish little girl.’
‘Well, you’ll soon become one now, so you will. That’s what having a baby does to you. It really makes you grow up.’
Stacey grinned but only with her mouth. ‘Mm; we’ll see.’
‘Anyway.’ Julie transferred her hand to join the one holding Stacey’s; gave it a squeeze. ‘I’m going to send your dad up to talk to you now, okay? Don’t worry, he’s not going to bite your head off.’
‘Right,’ said Stacy. ‘Thanks, Mum!’
Stacey answered the tentative rap on the door. ‘Okay?’
Her dad entered, looking sheepish. He approached the bed. ‘Can I sit down?’
‘Sure.’ She moved her legs aside again. He sat, looking down at her. She tried to read his expression. Well he certainly didn’t look angry. A bit sad, perhaps. And maybe, what, relieved? There was a silence, a strained one, as he searched for suitable words. Eventually he spoke.
‘So, young lady. Your mum and I have had a long chat about this pickle you’re in, and we agree now that if you want to keep the baby, you should.’
‘Yes?’ Stacey said cautiously.
‘Right.’ He hesitated, as if having trouble forming the words. ‘I’m sorry about that row last night, Stace. And I’m sorry I haven’t talked to you before about this. I’m just a useless man. I’m supposed to be good at talking to people about serious things, too!’
‘That’s okay, Dad.’
He relaxed visibly, his shoulders dropping. ‘And that is what you really want to do, is it; have the baby?’
He gave her a long look; his eyes searching hers. ‘Right. Fine. As long as you understand all it’ll involve. For your future, and everything.’
‘Yes, I think I do. And Mum says she’ll help me.’
‘You needn’t worry on that score.’ Derek’s voice caught in his throat. ‘Your mum’s a good woman.’
‘I know she is.’ Stacey paused, and then blurted, ‘And you’re a good dad, too!’
Derek’s eyes moistened. ‘Oh, I don’t know about that, Stace. Too short fused, I’m afraid. I’m a silly old bugger sometimes. But I only get cross because I worry and care about you; don’t want to see you ruining your life. I want what’s best for you, that’s all.’
Stacey looked up at her father. He seemed about to burst into tears. She pulled herself upright in bed and her arms went around his body; and his too, immediately, willingly, went around her. She buried her face in his chest. ‘I’m sorry, Dad, I’m so sorry.’
Derek raised a hand to cup the back of her head, pressing her close. ‘That’s okay, Loov,’ he croaked. That’s okay.’
They spent some time embraced like that, until it began to feel slightly embarrassing. Stacey let go and leaned back against the headboard. He sat back too. His tone changed, became more purposeful. ‘Right, now let’s be practical. This young man you’ve been seeing – what’s his name?’
‘Luke. But I’m not seeing him anymore.’
‘I know; so your mum tells me. But I want to talk to him.’
Stacey gasped. ‘He’s not going to be in trouble, is he?’ she asked anxiously.
‘No, although he might well have been, as you’re way under age. I could throw the book at him if I wanted, but I won’t if he co-operates.’
‘How do you mean?’
‘Never you mind; leave that to me. Now, what’s his full name?’
‘Oh, I don’t know. He never told me.’
‘Really? Are you sure about that? Don’t lie to me now, Stacey!’
‘No, honestly. I don’t know what it is!’
‘Mm. Well, is there anything you know about him?’
‘Well I know he’s the brother of Jamie, who Grace goes out with.’
‘Grace?’ Derek pondered then remembered. ‘Oh yes, your friend, who we thought you’d been seeing on Saturdays these last few weeks. Is that who?’
Stacey dipped her head, penitently, ‘Yeah.’
‘Right. I’ll speak to her then. She’ll know, surely. What’s her full name then, and where does she live?’
‘She won’t be in trouble, will she?’
‘No, Stace.’ Derek said, trying to be patient. ‘Of course not. I just need to know that Luke’s name.’
‘It’s Keenan. Grace Keenan. She lives in Anfield. Forget the name of the street. I’ve got her phone number though.’
‘Good,’ said Derek. Give!’
Derek put in a call to the number and after reassuring an anxious Grace that she wasn’t in any sort of trouble, got from her James’s surname and his telephone number too. Then he rang that one. Someone whom Derek presumed was his mother, worried-sounding after he’d told her who was calling, shouted her elder son to the telephone.
A young male voice came on the line. ‘Hello?’
‘Am I speaking to Luke Wilson?’
‘Yes . . . who’s that?’ His mother, flustered, hadn’t told him who the caller was.
Derek introduced himself and came straight to the point. ‘Hello; this is detective sergeant Hawkins speaking. I have to speak to you as soon as possible.’
On the other end of the line, Luke’s heart nosedived. What the hell was this? Had he been caught by a speed camera? It couldn’t be drunk-driving. He would have been stopped and breathalysed for that. And obviously it wasn’t a crime, not even a minor one. He hadn’t done anything. So why was a detective calling?
‘Erm, oh, right.’ He couldn’t think of anything else to say.
‘Is it convenient for me to talk to you at home, in private, or would you prefer to come to the station?’
‘Erm, well me mam’s here at home at the moment. I suppose I could come,’ he lowered his voice, ‘to the station. What’s it about?’
‘I can’t discuss it over the phone. But I need to have a chat.’ Derek paused. ‘Tell you what; I’ll pick you up and we can talk in my car. Where do you live?’
Twenty minutes later Derek was pulling up outside the Wilson family home, a red-brick terraced house in an unprepossessing side street a stone’s throw from the city centre. Luke must have been watching out, possibly fearing the arrival of a conspicuous dayglo-painted police car, because he scuttled quickly out of the pavement-fronting front door before Derek had killed the engine. He leaned across and opened the front passenger door. ‘Luke? Come on; hop in.’
He pulled away as Luke (who hadn’t had the presence of mind to check his identity), buckled himself in. Derek reached into his leather jacket for his warrant card and flashed it. ‘DS Hawkins,’ he confirmed, unnecessarily. He drove down the street to a weedy, rubbish-strewn gap in the houses opposite a flamboyantly painted Indian off-license, judging by the sign above its door, parked and turned off the engine. He twisted in his seat to properly take in his reluctant passenger.
Derek wasn’t impressed: a lanky, moon-faced youth with dark, oiled, spiky hair and dressed entirely in denim, looked nervously back, waiting for him to speak.
‘So, Luke. This isn’t a criminal investigation; don’t worry about that. You haven’t been up to no good in that way, as far as I know. This is just a chat. But I warn you; I don’t want any bollocks from you, or I’ll think of something I can charge you with. Do I make myself clear?’
The colour seeped out of Luke’s face. ‘What’s it about then?’
‘Well, sunshine, do you know my daughter, Stacey?’
Luke’s face completed its draining. ‘Erm . . . I know a Stacey, I think . . .’
‘Right. A young kid? Fourteen years old, she is. Ring a bell?’
‘But she said she was seventeen! –’ He stopped abruptly, floundering, realising that he’d already confessed. ‘She did! She really did, honest!’ he pleaded.
Derek looked at the cringing youth with contempt. ‘Well, that’s as maybe. She’s a silly little madam in some ways. But did you honestly think she acted like she was that age, in spite of all that stuff on her face and dressing like a tart? Come on now!’
‘Well that’s what I thought, really,’ Luke whined. ‘Anyway,’ he offered, hopefully, ‘we aren’t seein’ each other anymore!’
‘Too bloody right you aren’t, you little bastard!’ Derek could feel anger building. He fought to keep it down.
‘And I’ll tell you why you aren’t, although the horse has bolted now.’ Because she’s pregnant!’
Luke stared, horror-stricken. ‘What? But she never said . . . !’
‘No, of course she didn’t, because she didn’t know for sure until this week. But now it’s confirmed!’
Luke looked aghast. ‘Oh, bloody hell!’
‘Yes; quite! If she weren’t in this condition now because you couldn’t keep your nasty little prick to yourself, you pathetic cradle-snatcher, I’d just give you a smack around the head and tell you to piss off, but now it’s a whole new can of worms!’
‘Oh Christ!’ Luke stared into the foot well. ‘I’m sorry, Mr . . .’ He’d forgotten Derek’s name.
‘Yeah; well a bit more than “sorry” is called for, don’t you think?’ Derek fumed, gripping the steering wheel, trying to keep his hands to his self, unable to completely trust himself otherwise.
‘Waddya mean? What’s gonna happen?’
‘Well, I was all for her having a termination, but she’s going to go ahead and have it, so you know what that means.’
‘What, you mean . . . ?’
‘Oh; I thought you meant we’d have to get married.’ Luke looked relieved.
Now it was Derek’s turn to look aghast. ‘What? WHAT? You have got to be joking! Marrying a little tow-rag like you? Do me a favour! And she’s only a kid, still, and you aren’t much more, quite apart from anything else. No, of course I didn’t mean that! Jesus!’
Derek felt almost like bursting into hysterical laughter at the preposterousness of the idea. He went on, ‘No, I’ll say it again. Maintenance. As in, contributing something to support this child you and my silly daughter have created. Do you get my drift?’
Luke blanched. ‘But I can’t afford to pay anythin’! Not on my wages! I’m only an apprentice!’
Derek tightened his grip on the wheel; gritted his teeth. Better that than them finding their way to the little bastard’s throat.
‘Oh really; can’t you now? But you can afford to run a car alright, I hear. That must cost you packet, what with the insurance and everything.’
‘Yeah, but I need a car to get to work –’
‘Bollocks! And to seduce fourteen-year-olds in, it seems. Listen to me, you little creep; if you make a child, you take responsibility for it. Or do you reckon that should be down me, or the state?’
Luke was silent.
‘Yeah, I suppose so . . .’
‘There’s no “suppose” about it! Now then, what’s your wage at the moment?’
‘That’s none of your business!’
‘Oh, but it is, sonny boy. And don’t you give me any lip! If you don’t co-operate with me, we’ll be straight down the station and there’ll be a charge of unlawful sexual relations with a minor before you know what’s hit you. And that’ll cost you a damn sight more than a weekly maintenance payment, believe me. It could be a custodial sentence, if we built a strong case against you, and I’d make bloody sure it was. And we’ll go back home first and tell your parents what’s happening, okay?’
There was naked panic in Luke’s eyes now. ‘Oh no; don’t do that! Okay, I take home ninety quid a week.’
‘Okay, that’s better. Who do you work for?’
‘Kellys. The builders’
‘Right. And you’re telling me the truth about your wages? Not deflating them? I can check, you know.’
‘Yeah, it’s the truth! Honest!’
‘Okay; and how much do you give your mum for your keep? Remember, I can check with her too.’
‘So, you have about seventy pounds spending money, right?’
‘Yeah, somethin’ like that.’
‘Well that sounds quite a lot to me.’
Luke squirmed. ‘Yeah, but a lot of it goes on the car.’
‘Maybe so. But I reckon that, say . . .’ Derek paused, mentally calculating ‘. . . twenty pounds a week for helping support your child isn’t unreasonable, don’t you agree?’
‘But I can’t afford that!’ Luke blustered.
Derek shifted his left hand from the steering wheel to the back of the passenger seat, as the youth flinched. ‘Oh, but you can, sunshine. I don’t care how you find it, but you can. It’s only a bit more than twenty-per-cent of your disposable income. If you were in a relationship and bringing up a child it would cost far more than that, believe me. Now, try acting like a responsible adult for the first time in your life; see how it feels. And if you don’t want to play ball, I’ve just told you what the alternative is.’
‘Right,’ Luke mumbled.
‘Okay then. Do you get paid weekly or monthly?’
‘Right. So here’s what’s going to happen then. Next Friday evening you come to my home, 23 Wentworth Way in Huyton, bearing two nice crisp ten-pound notes, or one twenty, if you prefer. I’ll create a bank account on Stacey’s behalf and it’ll be paid into it. Then a year from now we’ll up it five-per-cent. Call that an inflation adjustment. Or if inflation goes above five-per-cent, it’ll be whatever it is. And that’ll repeat every year until the child is adult. Eighteen. Happy with that?’
Luke nodded sullenly.
‘Well actually, I don’t care whether you’re happy with it or not, to be honest. Just do it. Because if you don’t, I’ll come looking for you. Is that clear?’
‘Yeah, I suppose so.’ Luke paused. Then he spoke again, his voice shrill with fragile, unconvincing bravado. ‘But hang on a minute; why am starting to pay now? The kid won’t be born for ages.’
‘Because there’ll be lots of things Stacey will have to get beforehand, like baby clothes and gear, and a pram and a cot. You’d be surprised how much stuff you need. I’m not saying you should buy it all, but I reckon you should contribute, anyway. Think of it as a baby fund, or something.’
‘Right,’ Luke said, morosely.
Derek took his hand from the back of Luke’s seat. ‘So; that’s all sorted then. We’ll see you next Friday, but don’t expect to see Stacey, because you won’t. Now, do you want a lift back home, or will you walk?’
Luke unbuckled his seat belt and opened the door. ‘It’s okay,’ he mumbled, ‘I’ll walk.’
Derek wasn’t home yet and Julie was preparing dinner, thinking back over the afternoon’s events: the (frankly rather embarrassing) interview with Mr Hughes, Stacey’s head teacher. She’d phoned in the morning requesting it as a matter of urgency, because she hadn’t wanted to be fobbed off with one about three weeks hence, when he felt like granting it. He was going to have to be made aware of the situation at some point, before it became glaringly obvious just from looking at Stacey, so better to get it over and done with now.
He’d been surprisingly sympathetic, as it turned out, keeping a serious, concerned and sympathetic expression in place at all times, with no hint of censure, as if it were no great problem; one that cropped up in his school all the time (although he’d said that there hadn’t been one involving a student as young as Stacey for many years). But they had action plans in place for such eventualities, he’d assured her. He’d given her the name of a specialist social worker, one who dealt with schoolgirl pregnancies on a regular basis, and he would liaise with her too. There would have to come a point where it would be in the best interests of both Stacey and the rest of the students, particularly as it was a mixed-sex school, for her to leave and ‘other arrangements’ be made for her to complete her education, but he’d said he was confident that there would be no problems in that area.
Then he’d sent for Stacey, and once again the two of them had sat side-by-side in front an authority figure being given chapter and verse; taken through the procedures to come. It was becoming a too-regular thing, Julie mused, grimly.
She was shocked out of her reverie by the front door chimes suddenly ringing.
‘Get it, somebody!’ she called, as she was up to her wrists in water, washing vegetables. The responder must have been Emma, because a minute later she appeared in the kitchen doorway. ‘There’s a lady here, wants to see you. Mrs Wilson, I think she said.’
Puzzled, Julie dried her hands and went to the open door. Emma hadn’t thought to invite her in. An apprehensive-looking woman in her early forties stood there, nervously stroking her shoulder bag.
‘Ah; Mrs Hawkins, is it?’ There was a distinct tremor in the woman’s voice.
‘Yes, it is.’
‘Ah, hello. I’m sorry to bother you. I’m Luke’s mother. I’ve brought his money.’ She fumbled in her bag and withdrew a twenty pound note; proffered it.
‘Sorry?’ Julie was briefly puzzled. But then the penny dropped. ‘Oh, right, Mrs Wilson. Yes.’ Julie took the money. ‘Thank you.’
There was a pause as the women looked each other up and down. Mrs Wilson appeared to want to say more. ‘Erm, I wanted to come and see you myself; have a talk and, erm, apologise, like.’
‘Oh, right. Yes. Come in then, please.’
Mrs Wilson, impeccably polite, said ‘thank you’ as Julie stood aside to let her in and closed the door behind her.
The visitor glanced nervously along the hall and through the open lounge door. ‘Erm, Mr Hawkins isn’t here at the moment?’
‘No; he’s not back from work yet.’
Mrs Wilson looked visibly relieved. Julie said, ‘I was just getting dinner ready. Do you mind if we go into the kitchen? It’ll be private in there,’ and led the way through.
The younger kids were engrossed in the television and Stacey was in her room, so they shouldn’t be disturbed. Julie closed the door and invited Mrs Wilson to sit at the table. She sat too, across from her. There was another silence. Mrs Wilson still looked distinctly uncomfortable.
Julie took the initiative. ‘Well, this is a fine pickle our two have created, so they have.’
Mrs Wilson winced. ‘It is that,’ she said gravely, still kneading her bag. ‘I’m so sorry you’ve got all this trouble. Our Luke has had a real earful, I can tell you, especially from my husband. He was furious.’
‘Yes, well mine wasn’t too pleased either, so,’ Julie remarked, dryly.
‘No, I shouldn’t think he was. I’m sorry.’
‘But Mr Hawkins was quite right to come after our Luke for maintenance; we’re completely behind him on that,’ Mrs Wilson continued contritely. She managed a faint smile. ‘He really put the fear of God into the young idiot last Saturday morning.’
Her smile faded. ‘And he deserved it. I feel so ashamed! We knew that your husband was a policeman when he came, because he’d told me on the phone, and obviously we wanted to know what it was all about. I just couldn’t believe it when my Liam got it out of him. We’ve really tried to bring our boys up proper; to respect girls an’ all that, and then this happens! Luke’s such a good lad normally. I just don’t know what the matter is with young people, nowadays, I really don’t.’
‘Yes, well,’ Julie said magnanimously, ‘it probably wasn’t entirely your boy’s fault. It takes two to tango, as they say, so it was perhaps six of one and half a dozen of the other. Girls grow up so quickly, so they do. Our Stacey has, to be sure. She looks a lot older than her years. I can understand your lad being taken in to some extent, I suppose.’
‘That doesn’t make it right though,’ Mrs Wilson insisted. ‘What’s the point of the Church having rules if the young ones nowadays don’t follow them?’
‘Oh, are you Catholic then?’ Julie was mildly intrigued.
‘Well, brought up Catholic, but don’t go to church, I must admit. Are you then?’
‘Yes, but the same as you. Lapsed.’
‘Oh, I thought you might be Protestant, as you sound like you’re from Northern Ireland.’
‘No, I’m from the north of Ireland, not modern Ulster. Sligo. In the republic.’ Julie smiled, suddenly feeling a slight sense of sisterhood-in-common-religion with her apologetic visitor.
‘Really?’ said Mrs Wilson. ‘Small world! My husband came from that part of Ireland.’
‘Sure it is,’ Julie agreed. When did your husband come over?’ It was a relief to be diverted from dismal talk by trivialities.
‘Oh, years ago now. His parents came to Liverpool back in the seventies. Did you come with your family?’
Julie laughed. ‘No, most of my lot are still over there. It’s only my sister and me in England, so it is.’
Mrs Wilson became sombre again. ‘Well, anyway, getting back to our Luke, we’ll make sure he keeps up the payments, don’t you worry about that. He doesn’t earn a lot as an apprentice, but it’s a matter of principle, isn’t it? He has to take responsibility for his actions.’
‘Yes, it’s one of life’s lessons, isn’t it?’ Julie agreed.
Mrs Wilson got up. ‘Well I must be off; let you get on with your cooking.’ She looked at Julie anxiously. ‘Erm, if there’s anything else you want us to do as regards the baby, like pay for anything or whatever, please let us know.’
Julie rose too. She felt a little sorry for this woman, who was probably beating herself up; taking the blame for her son’s actions onto herself. ‘Oh, that’s alright, but thanks for offering, anyway. As you say, it’s the principle as far as Luke’s concerned more than anything.’
Julie ground to a halt, not quite knowing how to end the conversation. ‘Er, yes, right, well thanks for coming.’ She hesitated. ‘Er, I’m Julie, by the way.’
Mrs Wilson relaxed a little. ‘Ah, right; I’m Cathy.’
Julie wondered whether to offer her hand for shaking, but thought perhaps not. She opened the kitchen door and her visitor walked into the hall. Cathy opened the front door herself. Julie noticed for the first time a red, white-striped car with extra headlights, or whatever they were, parked at the kerb a little further along. A youth was slouched in the driver’s seat and music thrummed from the radio.
Cathy said, ‘Erm, do you want to say hello to Luke? He’ll be bringing the money himself in future. He’s not going to wriggle out of it, much as he’d like to.’
‘Oh, er, alright,’ Julie said, uncertainly, and followed Cathy down the drive-in and along the pavement. Luke looked up and registered her presence. He blushed and sat up straighter in his seat, hand darting to mute the radio and the other winding the window down.
Cathy bent to look at her son. ‘Luke, this is Mrs Hawkins.’
Luke’s blush deepened. His eyes darted anxiously down the street, probably expecting Derek’s car to arrive at any moment. Julie said a cautious ‘Hello.’ Luke responded with an embarrassed ‘Hi,’ not quite meeting her eye. No doubt he was silently cursing his mother.
Julie took him in. He was a fairly presentable lad; was dressed all in denim, apart from a black tee-shirt, but hadn’t got dyed hair (well not a ridiculous colour, anyway) like so many of them had, or rings adorning his mouth or the eyebrows above his pale blue eyes or the nostrils of his wide nose (that would have put her right off too). There seemed to be some residual acne pock-marking his cheeks.
But Julie wanted to be angry even if he did look innocuous. So, she thought. You’re the one. The one who’s landed us in this position. Who’s completely buggered up my little girl’s life. Who’s going to be father to her child. Will you want to know, though? Will you just bring us the maintenance money every Friday night, because Derek has made you, and that’ll be the end of it as far as you’re concerned? Will you just move on; find yourself another willing sexual playmate, another poor vulnerable kid, with no more thought for the result of your lust than a randy dog?
She didn’t put any of those thoughts into words though; kept the sudden sullen anger inside her, suppressed, as Cathy hesitated, hovered, waiting to see if she would say anything else. But she didn’t. What was there to say, after all? But she couldn’t end the visit with the usual polite pleasantries; well it was nice to see you. Do call again. All she could think of to say was, coldly, ‘Right, well thanks for the money, Luke. See you next week then.’
It sounded ridiculous. Cathy, her embarrassment returned, mumbled, ‘Okay, well, see you again then, Julie,’ got in the car and buckled her seat belt. Luke muttered ‘See you,’ buckled up too, started the engine, gunned it and off they roared, down the street.