Tara stood in the school yard in the easy light of an early spring afternoon listening to Sandy saying how important it was to get one’s daughter to do as many after school activities as possible. It could do no harm at all, she honked at Tara, as though Tara had offered a counter opinion.
Tara’s left thumb reached back to rub the mole on the plump part of her hand between her thumb and forefinger. Already the skin there was rougher than anywhere else. The mole wasn’t new, but since she’d moved to Cape Town, she had begun this obsessive reaching for it. It both comforted and irritated her. It had become than a mole: perhaps a reminder of something she had been, or could have been.
Sandy, a coffin of a woman, who towered over her and cast a shadow on Tara’s indistinct, slightly freckled face, was telling Tara about market day and what was generally required of “the mother’s who take an interest”. She tipped her forehead forward meaningfully as she said this. Sandy, it seemed, never missed a word in the weekly school newsletter, for which Tara was mildly grateful. She read it, but never remembered a thing it said.
At 37 Tara still felt underdeveloped as an adult, and a little dazed by life, which had carried her along on events, rather than by her own decisions, tastes and dislikes. Unlike Sandy, who appeared to be in control of every aspect of her and her family’s life, Tara never felt in control of anything. Life controlled her. She hadn’t made a decision to marry, or to marry Ted in particular. She hadn’t thought of falling pregnant, she just had. She’d never imagined what it would be like to be a mother, until she was holding a red-faced monkey apparently belonging to her. She had also not decided to move to Camps Bay from London. But then, she’d never protested against anything either.
And she did try very hard to be engaged by things.
Tara asked her where Sandy would send Jemma after junior school. The answer was long and Tara became distracted by Sandy’s sunglasses. They were black Wayfarer’s, like George Michael’s when he became famous in Wham. These were scratched and African beadwork straps looped past Sandy’s squarish jowls. They were too small for Sandy’s large face, too dark for her complexion.
Sandy’s words emerged like a scarf from the needles of an expert knitter. That such a simple question would elicit such a long response – encapsulating Sandy’s entire theory on parenting – astonished Tara. How much thinking this all must have cost, and how long ago. It was a well-rehearsed and oft-repeated speech, too slick to have been recently edited.
Tara she felt an unusual stirring of nastiness flapping against her consciousness. From the five previous times she’d been sucked into Sandy’s shadow, Tara knew that everything she was wearing accentuated her length and angularity. The T-shirt she had on was too long, too boxy and too pink. Its neckline was so high it left a vast unflattering wasteland of magenta between her thick neck and her badly packaged breasts. She wore only granny trousers, elastic-waisted, shapeless and beige, and they stopped an inch short of her feet. Sandy always wore flip-flops, Tara knew, and her toenails were incongruously tiny and were probably painted a glittering burgundy.
The school bell gave Tara a fright. She’d been dwelling in a part of her brain she didn’t know she had, a part that had to do with aversion and judgment. She didn’t know she possessed such strong feelings – hadn’t had them for almost 20 years.
Then she realized that she’d touched the edge of her mole. Her thumb seemed to be getting looser with practise. It was a funny accomplishment, not the sort of thing you’d share with your friends, but she felt glad that she might soon be able to feel the whole mole with the thumb of the same hand. Like a yogi eventually getting into the headstand position and keeping it.
Two nights later, Tara dreamt about a woman who looked like Sandy, but wasn’t Sandy. The woman was telling Tara what to put on a big orange plate, where to find glasses and what Tara should think of the guests who were coming. In the dream, Tara kept getting things wrong. She put soap on the plate between the strawberries, but didn’t know how she got to be holding soap. She poured beer from cans into a jug that was meant for juice. She knew the woman would be irritated by her, and she felt silly for not being able to follow simple instructions. But when she was finished doing all the wrong things, she felt a little smug. She went to the woman and said “I can’t stay.”
Then she went for a run that went on and on and on. She didn’t get tired. And she started laughing so loudly people stared at her.