“Mum, I’m pregnant!”
Joy bounded down the steps from the kitchen into the little city garden blooming in late summer with sunflowers and the last of the deep pink wild roses.
Katy stood, open mouthed for just a second and then recovered. She could see the new boyfriend standing in the doorway with a shy smile on his face. It would not do for a future grandmother to seem shocked, rejecting, doubtful. Enough had already been swept under their lumpy family rug.
To cover her confusion Katy gingerly embraced her daughter. Joy allowed her mother to put her arms around her rather than stepping back or stiffening up as she usually did when Katy made any sign of affection.
Katy dropped her backpack and went up the stairs to shake hands and gently pat the arm of this young man about whom she knew so little. It was clear that Joy was crazy about him but Katy had only met Mohammed twice and she wondered what he was feeling.
He was a perfectly polite man who was a perfect enigma to Katy. She had been happy that her daughter finally seemed to have found someone to love. However, to be greeted with Joy’s announcement as she returned from her holiday was a bit of a shock.
Her own boyfriend, blissfully unaware, was still unloading the car in the lane. As he struggled through the gate, burdened down with a cooler, he picked up on the excitement. He was a stocky guy with a shock of thick white hair and an infectious grin. Katy and Mike had been an item for five years. They were very happy together and the only drawback was that Mike was married and was going to stay that way. He simply was too cheap to survive the split of assets a divorce would require.
Katy periodically broke up with Mike but when they were apart she was sad. She missed his good humor, his affection, his flawed love for her and she always gave in to his earnest pleas.
“Give it a go one more time. Something will happen soon, I’m sure.”
The idea of “something happening” was so diametrically opposed to Katy’s philosophy of making things happen that she always cut short his reassurances. He was tortured by guilt for not making a break with his wife and for not treating Katy properly. However, his unquenchable lust for a bargain always won out. Katy was the great bargain of his life and he loved her all the more for that. Like all of us he was a diamond of many facets, some gleaming and others obscure.
Joy usually completely ignored her mother’s relationship with Mike. He meekly endured the occasional sarcastic crack about his absences at Christmas and weekends. He tried his best to be his chatty sociable self with her but he always got the feeling that the blinds behind Joy’s wonderful blue eyes were pulled down when he spoke to her.
After the first flutter of expressions of surprise and congratulations, Katy put out a tentative question.
“Well, how wonderful. A nice spring baby. Are you two planning to get married before that?”
“Err. I don’t know, mother.” When Joy called her “mother” Katy knew she was on thin ice. Joy removed the clip that held her thick brown hair and rubbed the spot where it had been too tight.
“In any case, it would have to be really really soon. Ramadan is in six weeks and then we can’t do anything and after that I would be showing a lot so …well, I don’t know.”
“Oh, aren’t you allowed to get married during Ramadan? I had no idea.”
“My God, Mother. What an ignorant thing to say.”
Katy had a vision of her grandmothers, one a devout Methodist and the other a fervent Catholic. As they rolled gently in their graves at last they had something in common.
She longed to scream. “How the fuck would I know people don’t get married in Ramadan?” but she didn’t.
Mohammed spoke up gently and assured Katy that, of course, he wanted to get married to Joy, “so that everything will be in order for the child.” And at that moment Katy resolved to arrange a wedding before Ramadan.
“Think I can’t manage it? We’ll see about that!”, she thought as she lay awake that night, alone in the queen-sized bed she so seldom shared with Mike. He had soon taken off. After all, his “fishing trip” was over.
In the silent night Katy pondered what a hell of a time it had taken her quite beautiful daughter to find a man to marry. The snooze button of Joy’s biological clock had been hit some time ago and since she wanted children it was now or never. Well, it appeared Joy had taken matters into her own hands and the honorable Mohammed would have plenty to deal with. In the muddled before-sleep, before-dawn hours of the new day, Katy remembered her own panic when she had learned she was pregnant with Joy. What a puzzle everything was. She slept for a few hours.
The next morning Katy called a dear friend whose sister was an events planner.
“For God’s sake, Linda. Find out where I can get a wedding venue at short notice.”
Linda gushed for a few moments about the “happy happy news.” Then Katy got serious and confided in Linda her fears that this was an “immigration marriage.”
“He’s very vague when I mention his status and there’s no use asking Joy. She’d tell me it’s none of my business. I don’t want to scare him off either. I have to get through this as smoothly as possible. You know how difficult she can be.”
Linda didn’t really know. People knew bits and pieces but no one really knew. How heavy and tiresome to think of it all – like a great mountain she had scrabbled over.
Who knew about the complaints from mothers that Joy had been aggressive even in the sandbox? Who knew about the learning disabilities, the tutors, the failed grades and Joy’s own pain when she realized she was different? Who could understand Katy’s sinking heart when an old and kind nun at the school confirmed what Katy had long suspected.
“The child does not understand or react to the feelings of others. We must pray that her heart is softened.”
Who knew about the panicked rush to get her an abortion when she was in her teens and then for years the reproaches that Katy had not handled it properly? Joy’s guilt and grief over the lost child were all Katy’s fault.
Who knew about the dropping out of university and traipsing all over Europe working at odd jobs? The frantic dash to wire money Katy could ill afford to bail her out? Now in her thirties Joy had come home to live uneasily with her mother. A distant cousin had repeated Katy’s arguments that she should go back to school and somehow the idea had been acceptable from that quarter. She was almost finished her degree at last. From Joy’s account it was a wonder her blockhead professors managed to maintain tenure.
Now there would be a wedding and a dear little baby. On a second sleepless night Katy turned onto her side and felt a sudden wave of hope. During the preparations for the wedding Joy would be the center of attention. She would be a spectacular bride in a dress of some striking color. That would please her. Katy would pull out all the stops to arrange a pretty wedding and then the baby would come! Surely Joy would be glad to palm him off on Katy for babysitting. She’d never stuck at much before, so why should this be different?
Maybe it would be a little boy who would adore Grandma. Maybe he would fling his arms around her neck and love her as no one had ever loved her. In his warm innocence he would surely love her more than his mother, his mother who would stiffen up and get angry with him if he didn’t eat his dinner.
Oh, God, it was so hard. Katy threw off the top blanket and turned onto her other side. Maybe that Mohammed would take him away. You heard about things like that on the news. Katy would have to be so careful not to make them angry with her. She would have to be very careful. She would start with a nice wedding and then keep it a secret that she was going to love that baby more than anyone else in the world.
Joy lay awake too. Mohammed turned over, surprised to see her lying still with those saphire blue eyes that he loved so much wide open.
“What is it?” he whispered.
“We need to get a place of our own fast,” answered, Joy, pulling up the covers. “I can’t let my mother have anything to do with our baby. She has no idea how to bring up a child.”
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Isobel Cunningham writes short fiction and poetry. In 2015 her first book of poetry was published, Northern Compass. Her prose and poetry has been published on line in Silver Birch Publishing Blog, Rat’s Ass Review and The Lake.
Photo: Hans Braxmeier