Marion Marchand

About time

In the wedding speeches they said I wasn’t losing a daughter but gaining a son-in-law, but that’s all words really. Of course you lose her. Her pretty room in your house is empty; she doesn’t belong to you any more.

Still, we were really lucky. A small house came up for sale just a few doors away, and because an annuity fell due then, I put down the deposit and gave it to them for a wedding present, so there wasn’t that much change really.

I felt I had to keep an eye on her. Cindy had always been sickly from a baby – in and out of hospital the first few years. It was always just her and me; Joe and I divorced when she was only two, then he died in America so I used to call myself a widow. I did it all – drove her to school, ballet, music, sent her to university nearby so I was always on hand.

Anyway, she met Gary at university and they seemed to get married very quickly, too quickly I thought. We got on all right, though he went all vague when I hinted about her health and about not overtaxing her. So what did he do but go and get her pregnant right away! I thought they could have waited to settle down first, let her get the hang of housekeeping.

So I had to go in most days to clean the house properly and cook supper so she could rest – she felt sick all nine months. Little John was born by Caesarian, so of course I was kept busy letting her rest, carrying the baby to her to be fed, making nourishing meals. Whisked out of the house as soon as I heard Gary coming; I don’t think he realised how much I did.

But the real problem was his strange ideas about babies. They must be allowed to swallow some germs, he said, I needn’t boil everything like I had for Cindy, must get the baby outside even on a cool day, dress him lightly – it really irritated me, and we had quite a few words. Cindy got more tired looking, I could see she was trying to keep the peace, but really how could I back down? Endangering my grandson!

Well, I was proved right, in the saddest way. The doctors called it a Cot Death, which really meant they didn’t know what it was, but I kept my mouth shut. Only five months old. Terrible, terrible thing to go through. The tiny coffin there in the church – there wasn’t a dry eye, and I was afraid Cindy would never get through it. I must say though, Gary was really good to her. And I behaved well too. Not once an ‘I told you so’, but nursed my darling girl, tried to cheer her up and looked the other way when he came home.

After quite a few months they went away for a long holiday to the sea. I had the nursery and the rest of the house repainted. When they came back Cindy had a little colour in her cheeks.

Then, I’ll never forget it. She came in very quiet and serious one day and said I must sit down and she had to talk to me. And she said they were moving. To Jo’burg. In two weeks.

“But I can’t sell the house!” I said. I’d lived in that house forty years.

“No, Mom”, she said. “We’re moving away and you can drive over and see us maybe once a month, but I need to manage on my own, you see. I’m pregnant again, Mom. With twins. But Gary will be very good with them and I’ll get a domestic help and we’ll manage, you’ll see, Mom.”

I felt terribly hurt. After all I’d done! But even more, worried to death. Two sad young people. And twins. They’d never cope.

Well. You’d be amazed. She took Pilot classes or something, sailed through the pregnancy. They asked me over when the bonny little girls were three weeks old. Nice, capable little maid. Gary home on leave. And Cindy like another person; calm, relaxed, in charge. I felt all mixed up – partly just a useless old woman, but partly proud of the way she was coping.

Last time they stayed over, Cindy gave me a present. A scrapbook (did I tell you she’s a writer now – has a job as a copywriter, from home?) with a fancy title: “Flotsam rescued from the stream of life”: poems and mementos and pictures of her growing up and now with the twins and Gary and me. And she gave me a hug – a motherly hug.

And I thought: Now I’ve really lost my little girl. And it’s about time.