A Gift Most Rare

Excerpt from - Friday, 2 May

She knew the bickering between them had increased. She’d been caught in the middle. Both of them had opinions; her mother no longer just agreeing with what her father said. And, perceptibly, her mother asserted herself more, which was not to her father’s liking. She loved her parents without question, and wanted them to be happy, but she was too much of a realist, and as they had grown older the friction had increased. His buying the shop had been the final curtain on their marriage. They were happier apart.

But why hadn’t her mother taken her doctor’s advice? Why hadn’t they taken precautions? Elizabeth found herself shaking her head. No, they wouldn’t. Her mother must have thought she couldn’t get pregnant, having started the menopause. Oh, Mum, you should have known better. Once more sadness took hold, and uncontrollable despair filled her thoughts. Tears escaped from under her lowered lids. She busied herself putting the items on the bed back into the cardboard box and with a tissue from the dressing table wiped the wetness from her eyes.

But Elizabeth needed to let go; to cry out at the frustration of it all; at the futility of her mother’s death. Her longed for trip would be postponed or even cancelled. Her mother’s funeral would be her priority now, together with the need to make arrangements for the care of the baby. From her father’s reaction she knew there would be some drastic decisions to be taken. Maybe afterwards she could plan a short trip, achieve part of her dream, but her mother wouldn’t be there to share her excitement.

‘Come on, Dad. Let’s sit in the kitchen. I’ll make a cup of tea before you travel back.’ She forced another smile. She had no alternative but to stay and help him make arrangements for the new baby.

Elizabeth folded her mother's dress and put the few additional items of clothing into a carrier bag then closed the door on the bedroom. She followed her father into the kitchen. It wasn’t long before the tea had been made and she was seated at the kitchen table. She watched as her father continuously stirred his tea. She put out her hand and touched his to stop the action.

Her father cleared his throat, looked at Elizabeth, and then lowered his gaze to the brightly patterned tablecloth. ‘I want you to say it’s yours, Beth.’ His finger traced the outline of a yellow daisy.

‘What’s mine?’

‘The baby.’

‘What! You’re joking! How can it be mine? Look, Dad, I know we hadn’t noticed anything with mum, but she was overweight. I’m not!’ She patted her flat abdomen.

‘You haven’t been to the shop for several months. No-one will know the truth.’

‘I will, Dad. Please don’t ask me to do this?’ Couldn’t he understand how she would feel? ‘Why, Dad? Why not just admit you have a new baby daughter?’ He still wouldn’t look at her.

‘I feel a bit foolish, embarrassed at having a baby at my age.’

‘Oh, come on. Plenty of men your age become fathers. And they're proud of it. There must be more to it than that.’

Her father shifted uncomfortably in his chair, then abruptly stood up, walked over to the kitchen sink, and leant his back against it.

‘Don’t get me wrong, Beth, I loved your mother very much, but we decided to live separate lives, and now … now I’m involved with someone else.’ He rushed over the last few words.

Elizabeth stared at her father, silhouetted against the sunlit window, and tried to read the expression on his face. ‘Who’s this someone else? Do I know her?’

‘You’ve heard me mention Sylvia on the ’phone. She’s been good to me,’ he hurriedly explained. ‘I’d find it difficult to run the shop or the house without her now.’

‘That’s just help, Dad. Are you confusing gratitude for love, if that's what you’re saying?’

‘Oh, Beth, I’m not one for flowery words. She’s also a great companion. We get on well together. Like the same things. I don’t want to lose her.’

‘Excuse me for asking, Dad, but what went wrong eight months ago?’

‘I didn’t know her so well then. But the last couple of months she’s been indispensable to me, and the shop.’

‘Very convenient.’

‘Don’t be like that, Beth. I need her help, as well as her friendship.’

‘If she’s such a paragon, then she’ll understand.’

‘I can’t chance her not understanding. You’ve got to give me time to work something out, to soften the blow. I don’t know how she’ll react if I take a baby home. All her family are grown up. She’s already a grandmother. Please, Bethie. I wouldn’t ask but it’s so important to me.’

‘What about me? I’ve had no experience of a younger brother or sister. Do I have to find a husband?’

‘Of course not. You don’t have to be married. There are plenty of unmarried girls who have babies.’

‘Not me.’

‘I know, Beth. I do understand how difficult it will be for you.’

‘Do you? You have no idea.’

‘Once we’ve got Sylvia used to having a baby in the house, I’ll tell her.’

‘Suppose mum told someone about the baby; what then?’

‘From what we’re finding out, I doubt it very much. Besides, no one in Rosedale knows much about Maggie. And they will think the baby is yours, not Maggie’s. Come on, Bethie, I need your help now. What do you say?’



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©Rosemary Kramer 2011