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Short story By: Philip Roberts
Literary fiction

Another of my Smith/Bennett/Mayron unemployment stories.

Submitted:Jan 2, 2011    Reads: 37    Comments: 0    Likes: 0   

"Is that you, Rosemary?" called out Beth from the front door.
"Yes, mum," called back Rosemary.
"Damn this front door," said Beth, struggling to remove her key from the lock. "Remind me to give a blast to the agent about this lock, the next time I go down to pay the rent."
"All right, mum," agreed Rosemary.
"Would you like a cuppa?"
"Yes, thanks," said Beth, picking up her two suitcases, and carrying them inside the front door.
"What is that strange smell?" she asked. Taking off her coat, she walked down the hall toward the kitchen.
"I don't know, mum, I noticed it when I came home."
"When was that?" asked Beth, folding her coat over the back of a kitchen chair.
"Couple of hours ago," said Rosemary.
Placing her handbag upon the kitchen table, Beth picked up a newspaper from the table, looked at its date, then dropped the paper into the kitchen tidy. She went over to the refrigerator to investigate the contents. The kettle began to whistle, so Rosemary went over to switch it off, and then began to make the tea.
"It's a damn nuisance, this tiny fridge," said Beth. could save money by buying in bulk, if we had a model twice the size of this one."
"But where would we get the money for the larger fridge?" asked Rosemary, carrying the teapot over to the tablet to allow the tea to brew.
"That's a thought," agreed Beth. She made herself a snack of cheese and vegemite on Salada biscuits then asked, is your father home?"
"I don't think so," said Rosemary.
"Oh pour the tea for God's sake," said Beth. "You know I don't like it very strong!"
"All right," said Rosemary, a coffee drinker herself, so she did not know whether tea should sit for half a minute, or half an hour.
Rosemary poured the tea for Beth, who took a sip, then ate part of a Salada and said, "Where can your father be? He can't afford to go anywhere."
"He might be over with Uncle Jack and Auntie Norma," suggested Rosemary without thinking.
"He had bloody better not be!" said Norma.
"Oh mum..." began Rosemary.
"Don't 'oh mum' me!" warned Beth.
"But mum, you and Auntie Norma have got to make up some time. You can't go on feuding for the rest of your lives over something that happened so long ago."
"I don't care how long ago it was, I'll never forgive Norma for what she did!" insisted Beth.
"What did she do?" asked Rosemary.
Beth thought for a few moments, sipping her tea, and finishing a Salada. Finally she said, "Well, she threw a glass bottle at me for one thing. She could have killed me!"
"But that was only after you threw a glass Pavlova plate at Uncle Jack," reminded Rosemary.
"All right then, she drove Collie away from us," insisted Beth.
"You drove Collie away," said Rosemary. "You and dad by refusing to let her stay here if she wouldn't go on to Uni."
"Look! I don't intend to be corrected by my own daughter!" said Beth. Standing, she drank the last of her tea, took the cup and saucer over to the sink, to rinse them under the hot tap, then said, "I'm going up to unpack. If your father isn't home by the time I finish, you can go around to the Smiths' to see if he's there."
"All right, mum," said Rosemary.
Beth walked up the hall to the bedrooms opened the door and clicked the light switch, She clicked the switch three or four times, then called out, "The damn light seems to have blown. Do you know where the torch is?"
"Yes, it's in my room," called out Rosemary, "I'll get it."
She raced down the hall, and hunted around under her bed with one hand for a few seconds, before finding the small torch.
"Here it is," said Rosemary, handing the torch to Beth.
"Thanks," said Beth. Switching on the torch, she pushed the bedroom door open wide and stepped inside.
Rosemary halfway back down the hall to the kitchen when she heard her mother's shrill screams!
* * *
10:37 PM
Norma held Beth tight, doing her best to comfort her. Norma was an unlikely choice for the job, she thought, remembering back to the harsh words that had been used between herself and Beth in recent times.
"Is she going to be all right?" Rosemary asked Debbie Williams as they sat together on the sofa in the lounge room. Rosemary had never been particularly close to her mother, more however, she had been shocked by Beth's hysterics earlier, than she had been by the sight of her father's body.
"I think so, honey," said Debbie, patting the teenage girl on the knee. She received a sharp glance from Norma, and quickly withdrew her hand.
From the front of the house came the sound of male voices; Jack and Kevin talking to the police.
"We'll have to get statements from both of them," said a young police officer, "But there's no hurry, tomorrow or the next day will be fine."
"Good," said Jack. "They're in no state tonight, but in a day or two they should both be a little calmer."
Outside the ambulance pulled away, so the two police officers took that as their cue to leave.
"I'd better go and give Pauline a ring," said Kevin.
"Phone's just on the corner," said Jack pointing.
Kevin nodded and headed off in the direction that Jack had pointed. Jack walked down to the lounge room. Seeing Beth still sobbing, he went over to Debbie and Rosemary and whispered, "Kev's going to ring his wife, then we're going round to pick up Chris."
"All right," said Debbie.
"Chris! Is Chris here?" called out Beth, struggling around in Norma's grip to face Jack.
"No. no, honey," said Norma soothingly. "Jack is just going to pick up Chris."
"Pick up Chris?" asked Beth, sounding as though she were talking in her sleep.
Holding Beth at arm's length, Norma was shocked to see how pale Beth was. "My God I hope she's not going to throw up over me," thought Norma, then felt ashamed at herself. She remembered the bad blood which had passed between them, and felt ashamed that she had made no attempt to smooth things out between them over the last three or four months, even if it would have meant Norma having to take the blame for something which Beth herself had caused. Norma had never been a vindictive woman, and yet she had made no attempt to heal the rift, and now she felt guilty about it.
* * *
Norma held the first washed plate out to Jack and said, "Well, don't just stand there, Collie and Rosie should be here any minute now."
"I thought Collie said she wasn't going?" asked Jack, wiping the plate dry, then placing it in the cupboard above the sink.
"That's what she said originally," agreed Chris. "But mum and I ... Norma and I went around to see her, and with Rosie's help we managed to make her change her mind."
There was a knock at the front door and Norma turned to ask, "Will you get that, Chris?"
"Sure," said Chris standing and walking up to the front door. tie returned a few moments later followed by Colleen and Rosemary.
"Let me give you a hand, Auntie Norma," said Rosemary, taking up a tea towel to help with the drying up.
"Is anyone reading this?" asked Colleen, picking up the newspaper from the kitchen table.
Jack looked back toward Chris who said, "No, I've just finished with it. I
"Would you girls like a cup of tea before we go?" asked Norma.
"Yes, please," said Rosemary. "Coffee if you've got it."
"Would you mind making it, Collie?" asked Norma.
Colleen stopped in the doorway, on her way to the lounge room, and sighed heavily.
"Never mind, sis," said Rosemary. "I'll make it once we finish with the dishes."
"Thanks," muttered Colleen, walking through to the lounge room, Sitting upon the sofa, she turned the newspaper to the television page and called out, "We'll be missing a great movie tonight, one I've always wanted to see."
"You can watch it another time, love," said Norma. "I'm sure Beth would be upset if you didn't go to see her."
"Yeah, I suppose so," said Colleen reluctantly.
They finished the dishes, then Rosemary made the tea and coffee, and took a cup of tea in to Colleen.
"Just put it on the coffee table," said Colleen, reading through the fashion pages,
"We don't have a lot of time," said Norma. "So don't let it sit for too long."
"Most of these things are straight out of a Bogart movie," said Colleen, referring to the fashion pages. "Except they looked a lot better on Lauren Bacall and Betty Grable, than on the stick figure women that they call models these days."
"Did you hear what I said about the tea?" asked Norma.
"Yes, Auntie Norma," said Colleen. She picked up the cup, took a tiny sip of tea, then pantomimed receiving third-degree burn.
"Blow on it if it's a little hot," advised Norma. "Don't think you can make the one cup last long enough to get out of going with us,"
"Ready to go Auntie Norma?" asked Rosemary enthusiastically. "Uncle Jack and Chris are still in the bathroom, shaving. And they talk about women taking a long time to get ready to go out."
"Christ, there's no need to sound so happy!" said Colleen, "It's not as though we're going to the pictures or anything."
"We're going to see mum," said Rosemary. "That's something to be happy about."
"Not necessarily," said Colleen. "We don't know what she's like."
"Even so," begin Rosemary.
"Girls, girls," said Norma, "don't argue about it, we're all going to see Beth in a little while, and that's final." She stopped for a moment, then looked toward the hallway and, seeing there was still no sign of Chris or Jack, she said, "While I've got you both together, girls, there is something I wanted to talk to you about. Jack asked me ... That is, Jack and I both thought perhaps you might like to move in with us for a while. We can shift Chris into the lounge room, and put up your beds in Chris's room."
"Well, I'm living with the Bernsteins, next door to our house," said Rosemary, "and I don't want...."
"She doesn't want to move out," explained Colleen, "because she has a crush on their son, Brian."
"That isn't true!" insisted Rosemary,
"Then why do you follow him around everywhere, like lost lamb?"
"I do not!"
"Do too," said Colleen. 'It's a wonder you didn't invite him along tonight. You could have brought along some pop corn and Jaffas, and you could sit around staring at her, and it'd be just like being at the pictures."
"You shut up!" shouted Rosemary. "That's a nasty thing to say!"
"Yes, you should be ashamed of yourself," said Norma.
"I'm sorry," said Colleen, but it sounded like a bad actress reading from a cue card.
As Chris and Jack walked into the lounge room, Norma, asked, "Then how would you like to move in with us for a. while, Collie?"
"No, thanks," said Colleen. "I've recently started work as a typist, and I'm renting a room in a house a couple of streets away from where I work."
"That's convenient," said Chris.
"Yeah," agreed Colleen. "And the couple I'm boarding with have a young daughter, Sonja, for me to play with."
"Sonja?" asked Chris. "That's a co-incidence. I know a girl, about Rosie's age, named Sonja. I met her at night school last year, and I've been taking her to Out of Work People's Action Group meetings, in the hope of helping to bring her out of her shell a-little."
"Sonja Juchster," said Colleen.
"That's right," said Chris, amazed. "Her father, Allan, is one of the interviewers down at the Footscray CES."
"That's right," agreed Colleen.
"He's the biggest bastard I've ever met," said Chris.
"What?" demanded Colleen. "On the contrary, I find him charming."
"Sure, the way a Cobra is charming. You obviously don't know him as well as I do," said Chris.
"I've been boarding with him and his family for almost a month now," said Colleen. "And I've never met a nicer man."
"You obviously haven't met too many men then," insisted Chris.
"He has always been good to me," insisted Colleen. "In fact he got me my job. They had a vacancy for a typist come in, and instead of putting the card up on the job board, he took it home with him that night, so I was the only one who applied for the job, and natch I got it."
"That doesn't sound very fair," said Rosemary. "What about the other girls who he robbed of a chance to get the job?"
"Who cares about them?" demanded Colleen. "What matters is he helped me to get the job!"
"Well, he was never much of a help to me, when I was on the dole," said Chris. "In fact, he's the bastard who threw me off. He turned toward Jack and said, "You know him, don't you, dad?"
"I think so," said Jack. "Is lie the tall, thin bloke who looks like he was rejected by the Nazis for being too cruel?"
"Yes, that's him," agreed Chris.
"He is not cruel!" insisted Colleen. She thought, "It doesn't count with Sonja, since she's obviously a nymphomanical masochist. And he's never raised a hand against me ... well apart from the first day."
"Well, all I know," said Chris, "is that I don't think it's wise for a teenage girl to be boarding with an animal like that. Or a teenage boy for that matter!"
"Oh shut up!" said Colleen. "I don't want to hear any more of your garbage! Mr Juchster is a nice man, and I am staying there. Besides, it's not as though I'm alone with him, he's a married man, and I share a room with his daughter. So he could hardly sneak in on me in the middle of the night ... even if he were that way inclined."
"You're probably right," agreed Chris. He did strike me as being a bit of a poof!"
"That's not what I meant either," insisted Colleen.
"Chris, let's not fight about it," said Norma. "If Colleen is happy there, then the matter is settled."
"Thank you Auntie Norma," said Colleen, surprising Norma by standing and kissing Norma upon the cheek lightly.
"Finished?" asked Colleen, taking her sister's empty cup, which she added to her own. She carried both cups into the kitchen and rinsed them under the hot water tap.
"Wow that's the closest she's ever come to washing the dishes," said Rosemary.
"If we're all ready now, then we'd better be leaving," said Norma, herding everyone toward the front door.
* * *
7:27 PM
As the white robed matron led them down the long hallway, Chris was reminded of all the long-walk films he had seen on the television. The convicts were always led down a seemingly endless corridor to the electric chair, or perhaps the gas chamber.
When they finally stopped before the last door at the end of the corridor, Chris, lost in thought, almost collided into the back of Jack.
"I think it would be best if you were to see her one or two at a time," said the grey-haired matron. "When she first came here it was necessary to keep her sedated most of the time. Gradually we were able to reduce the amount of sedation in accord with an increased amount of therapy. But even so, she is far from well, and too much excitement at once could reverse all of the good work we have done, in one fell swoop."
The matron unlocked the door, which she only opened a few centimetres.
"You can...." began Colleen. At the same time Norma said,
"I think the girls should go first."
Colleen sighed in exasperation, and gave Norma, a pleading look. Norma gave Colleen a return glance which seemed to say, "The sooner you go in there, the sooner you can get it over with. "Is there anywhere we can buy magazines or something for her?" asked Norma.
"Well, she isn't able to read yet," said the matron, "but I suppose you can take her some chocolates, or ice-cream, There's a canteen in the foyer. If you'd like to come with me, I'll show you the way," she said, heading down the corridor at a brisk pace.
"Jack?" asked Norma.
"Why not?" asked Jack, following Norma and the matron back down the hallway. "The girls will be in there for some time yet, I suppose."
But Jack was wrong, it was only a few minutes later that the two girls came out of the room, Rosemary looking as though she was about to cry, and Colleen with cheeks flushed red from anger.
"Is anything wrong.?" asked Chris,
"Only everything," said Colleen, as Rosemary began walking down the corridor, "Why don't they lock her away in a dark vault somewhere, and throw away the key?"
Rosemary began to cry into her hands, Colleen ran after her and put a comforting arm around Rosemary's shoulders.
"Just tell your mum and dad that we had to leave, f said Colleen to Chris, as she led Rosemary toward the visitors elevators.
Chris stood looking back down the corridor after the two girls for a few moments. He hesitated to take the initiative, then decided that perhaps he should get it over with too.
Opening the door, he stepped into the room, and closed the door behind him.
The room was a tiny single-bed ward. At the back of the room was a separate room with a sign on the door saying, "Washroom and toilet." In the bedroom there was q. ceiling height cabinet which Chris correctly guessed to be locked, a metal frame bed, a small cupboard near the bed, and two plastic chairs.
On the bed, propped up by four foam rubber pillows, sit a grey-haired old lady, who looked to be about ninety years old.
At first Chris assumed he had somehow walked into the wrong room. He was about to apologise, when he recognised the old lady as his mother, Beth.
"Mum began Chris, uncertain how to react to her.
It seemed et first -as though the grey-haired woman had not heard him, and he wondered whether there was still time to sneak back out through the door, But then she turned her head quickly to the left end stared hard at him, puzzled look came over her badly wrinkled face.
"Who are you?" she asked in a voice hardly above a whisper, yet which still had a sharp edge behind it.
"It's Chris," he said, walking over to sit upon one of the plastic stools.
"Chris?" she asked, puzzled. For a moment it seemed as though the name meant nothing to her, but after awhile, she said, "Chris ... I used to have a son named Chris."
"I know, mum," said Chris. "Me. I'm your son, Chris," Beth continued as though she had not even heard him, I used to have a son named Chris. but he was stolen away from me."
"No, I wasn't, mum," said Chris.
"Stolen away from me," she said again and stopped to ponder for a moment, having trouble drawing anything up from her faint memories of the post. "When I was a little girl, I used to watch a lot of movies about little children who were stolen away from their parents by gypsies. They always seemed such silly movies, I never suspected it could happen to me in real life."
"Mum I wasn't stolen away from you," insisted Chris.
"Stolen away from me," repeated Beth, not having heard a word Chris had said. "But of course that was a very long time ago," she said. Her eyes seemed to come into focus for a moment as she gazed hard at Chris as though she could almost recognise him. Then she said, "But of course you're much too young to know anything about that, it was probably before you were even born."
"No, it isn't, mum. it was me," Chris almost shouted at Beth. "I'm your son, Chris."
But Beth's eyes had clouded over again like twin moons which occasionally showed through heavy clouds.
Chris did not hear any approaching footsteps, so he was surprised when the door opened. The matron looked in and asked, "Is everything all right?"
"Yes, matron," assured Beth. "I was just explaining to this young man that I used to have a son, but I don't seem to be able to remember what his name was, or what happened to him."
"Don't you know who this young man is?" asked the matron.
"No, should I?" asked Beth. "I'm sure I've never seen him before today."
"Then why did he come in to see you?" asked the matron.
"I really don't know, matron. Perhaps you had better ask him. He simply wandered into the room, I thought he must have come to visit someone, then wandered into my room by mistake," said Beth.
"Yes, perhaps you're right," said the matron. She took Chris by one arm and led him outside.
"There are more people here to see you," said the matron. She ushered Norma and Jack into the room.
"Well, I hope I know these two," said Beth. "I get sick and tired of strangers wandering in and out as though I was an exhibition in a freak circus." She paused for a moment to think. Then she added, "Like those two last night."
The matron was surprised Beth could remember back so far, she said, "Mr and Mrs Mayron weren't strangers."
"Who were they then?" demanded Beth. "And why didn't I know them if I know them?"
"Mrs Mayron used to be married to your husband, Bob," said the matron, wondering whether she had said too much.
"Bob?" asked Beth. sounding genuinely perplexed. "But this is my husband," she said, pointing toward Jack.
"No, Jack is my husband," insisted Norma."
"Who is this woman?" asked Beth. seeming to notice Norma for the first time, "And what does she mean about you being her husband, Jack? Have you been taking advantage of my illness to see floozies behind my back?"
The matron walked back to the door. "If she gives you too much trouble just give me a call," she said to Norma.
"Don't worry matron, I've got my buzzer," said Beth, holding it up,
In the hallway Chris leant against the wall opposite to the door to Beth's room. He wondered how much longer Jack and Norma would be, whether he had time to go downstairs to the kiosk for a few minutes. It seemed to Chris they wrist had been in the room for hours, but not having a watch, he had no way of knowing,
A young nurse walked out of a room halfway down the hall, and began to walk in the opposite direction. Chris went to call after her, then decided it would be inappropriate in this place. Instead he walked quickly down the corridor after her. He caught up with the young nurse just as she pressed the down button for the staff elevators, the doors opened immediately and the nurse stepped inside the elevator.
"Excuse me!" called out Chris.
"I'm sorry, you'll have to use the visitors' elevators," she called to him as the doors shut in Chris's face.
He walked across to the visitors' elevators, then hesitated for a moment. He looked back down the corridor past the half of a dozen locked doors, to the door at the very end. The door was closed, but for all Chris knew Jack and Norma could have been standing behind the door, saying their final good byes.
Chris hesitated for a moment longer, then pressed the red down button.
* * *
8:43 PM
Colleen paid off the taxi and led her sister to the front door of the house, Rosemary had stopped crying but she still seemed upset by the visit to her mother, "Are you sure you don't want me to come inside with you?" asked Colleen.
a long time goo
"No, I'll be all right now," assured Rosemary. "It was stupid of me to allow myself to get upset at what she said. She isn't herself, she's...."
"She's a bitch, the same as always!" said Colleen, shocking her sister. "Some things never change! It was stupid to even go there after what the Mayrons told us she was like."
"I guess we just didn't ... None of us could believe she was really that bad."
"Mum's always been worse than anything you could imagine," said Colleen, "Sane or crazy. No matter what your wildest fantasies about the world's worst bitch are, mum can always find a way to be worse."
"Oh Collie, that isn't fair!"
"I'm sorry," said Colleen kissing her sister on the cheek. "Sometimes I forget you still see the world through rose-coloured glasses."
"I do not," said Rosemary.
"Do to," said Colleen. She laughed, then said, as Brian Bernstein opened the front door, "I'll see you later."
* * *
"But who are these two girls you keep prattling on about?" demanded Beth,
"Rosemary and Colleen," said Norma. "They were here to see you earlier today."
"Nobody has been in to see me today, until you came in," insisted Beth. "And whatever their names are, I still don't see what they are to me?"
"They're your two daughters," said Norma.
"Nonsense I don't have any daughter," insisted Beth. "How could I forget a thing like that? Jack and I only ever had one child, a. son named Chris."
"They are your daughters by Bob," said Norma. Seeing Jack glance at her, she wondered if she had already gone too far. "You do remember Bob, don't you?"
"Of course I remember Bob," said Beth.
Jack and Norma exchanged looks, wondering whether this new development would turn out to be a good thing, or bad. Norma mimed the question to Jack, who shrugged his shoulders in answer.
"But that was a long time ago," said Beth. "Bob hanged himself years ago, before I even met Jack. And Bob and I certainly never had any children!"
"But of course you did," insisted Norma. "Rosie and Collie!"
"I don't know about collie," said Beth, "but I had cabbage and sprouts for tea tonight."
"No, your daughter Colleen," said Norma.
"Don't you think I'd know if I'd had two daughters?" asked Beth. "You're as bad as that crazy woman last night who tried to tell me she was Bob's first wife. Which is ridiculous since Bob and I were straight out of high school when we got married. And he hanged himself two years later, so how could she have been his first wife? Unless they were married in the crib." For some reason this struck Beth as incredibly funny and she began to cackle like one of the old crones in Macbeth.
"But you do remember Bob?" asked Norma."
"Bob?" asked Beth. "I don't know anyone named Bob, what are you raving about now?" To Jack she said, "Who is this crazy woman, anyway, honey?"
"Perhaps we had better leave now," said Norma to Jack.
"You can leave," Beth said to Norma. "I didn't invite you here in the first place," To Jack she said, "Why did you bring this woman here Jack? There's no need to flaunt her in my face. I don't know why you need her anyway. In a couple of more days, when my testing is over, I'll be able to come home again, and then I'll be able to give you everything you need. You should know by now I'd never hold out on you."
Norma stood and glared at Beth, barely containing her rage. She allowed Jack to lead her over to the door.
"Come again, Jack honey," called out Beth, "But by yourself next time, all right?"
Outside in the corridor, they looked around for Chris.
"What are you smiling about?" demanded Norma..
"I was just thinking about her saying she'd never hold out on me," explained Jack.
"What's so funny about that?" demanded Norma.
"Only that one of the main reasons that I divorced Beth was because she was always such a frigid bitch," said Jack. "She was so certain she had the perfect shape, and she was afraid that sex would make her less than perfect. Or worse, she might get pregnant which would really spoil her perfect figure. You wouldn't believe the fuss she made after Chris was born. She spent a fortune on special diets and exercise classes to get back her perfect shape.
"Although, personally, I always thought she was a bit too scrawny," said Jack. He reached around from behind Norma, to grab her large breasts in his hands, and whispered into her left ear, "I've always preferred women with a bit of meat on their bones."
"In that case you must have me by the breastbone at the moment," said Norma.
"To be quite honest," said Jack, "I was amazed she and Bob ever had children."
Chris stepped out of the elevator and walked down the corridor to where Jack was still squeezing Norma's breasts.
"Looks like I'd better get you two home," said Chris. "Or at least get a bucket of water handy ... Quickly!"
* * *
Norma nibbled on the toast for a moment, then carried her cup of tea over to the kitchen table. Sitting she asked Chris, "How was your mother last night?"
"Beth? No better than the first time we saw her, as far as I could tell," said Chris. "Although the doctor in charge told Rosie that Beth was making a slow but steady improvement."
"That's a shame," said Norma. She finished the slice of toast, then sipped her tea for a moment before asking, "Have the girls been going to see her very often?"
"Rosie goes once or twice n week. But from what I could find out Collie hasn't been back since the time we all went together."
"That can't be helping Beth at all."
"Don't blame, Collie," said Chris. "It's the fault of those animals at the CES. If they hadn't thrown Uncle Bob off the dole, held still be alive, and mum ... Beth would still be normal."
"Chris! Your mother isn't abnormal ... she's ... she's just temporarily unsettled, that's all. The doctors were quick to write her off during her problems after the divorce from your father. But she was up and around again in a little under two years." Norma paused for a moment, then said, "I suppose you don't remember much about that?"
"No, nothing at all really," said Chris.
"That's understandable, you were barely six when your mother was released that time."
"Is that why I was given to you and dad, instead of Beth?" asked Chris.
"It was partly that," agreed Norma, "and partly the fact that someone had to look after you while your mother was in hospital. Then your mother was still far from well when she was first released, and your father and I had already married by then. So it was agreed your father and I would look after you, at least for a while. Plus, of course, there was your kidney troubles as a child. We had enough trouble running back and forth between home and the Royal Children's, but Beth wouldn't have been able to take it at all. She was only just out of hospital herself, and didn't need to be reminded of it by seeing you sick."
"Didn't she ever visit me in hospital?" asked Chris.
"No, never," said Norma. 'Or at least not to my knowledge," Norma sipped the last of her tea, then took the empty cup over to the sink to rinse it under the hot water tap. She took a nibble from the second piece of toast on the tray, grimaced, then dropped the toast in the kitchen tidy before saying, "Then of course your mother married Bob Bennett, and surprised us all , a year later by giving birth to Colleen, a few days before Beth's fortieth birthday. Two years later she gave birth to Rosemary, so, since I was nearly forty, and unlikely to have any kids of my own at that stage, it was agreed between the two couples, with a little help from our legal advisers, that Jack and I would continue to raise you. But only on the condition that you were always to know that Beth is your real mother...."
"Oh mum," said Chris. Standing, he walked over to put an arm around Norma's shoulders. "You should know that I've always thought of you as my mother. Beth is more ... more like half an aunt to me; Collie and Rosie like cousins than sisters."
© Copyright 2011
Philip Roberts


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