Mother’s Ruin

The London Magazine - - LYNN BUSHELL -

‘Galileo was the one who thought the earth went round the sun . . .’

Not so, ac­cord­ing to my mother. If the earth re­volved at all, it re­volved around her. She saw it as a vast stage. Be­yond the pit, where she was ser­e­naded by mu­si­cians, was the great well of hu­man­ity. Be­cause the lights were dimmed, she wasn’t forced to look too closely at it. She was sep­a­rated from the com­mon peo­ple by a sheer drop. ‘Flat’ made sense, ‘round’ didn’t.

She’d been chris­tened Ellen Florence. Clearly nei­ther of her par­ents had the least idea what Na­ture had pre­sented them with. Even in the fam­ily pho­to­graphs with ‘Ellen’ writ­ten un­der­neath, your im­pulse is to turn the page as­sum­ing ‘Ellen’ must be on the other side. My mother looks di­aphanous and I don’t merely mean the dresses. ‘Flo’ was even worse; it sounded like a fly-swat. A teacher at the in­fant school pro­vided her with an es­cape.

‘It’s ‘Flora’ in Ital­ian. It means flow­ers. Isn’t that ro­man­tic?’

From that mo­ment, Ro­mance was to form the main­stay of my mother’s whole ex­is­tence. She had called my brother ‘Axel’; I was ‘Ariel’ – names that were seam­lessly ab­sorbed into the fan­tasy she had cre­ated. As she wafted through life, Ariel and Axel would be there on the pe­riph­ery like brides­maids at a wed­ding, show­er­ing her with petals, pick­ing up her train to stop it trail­ing in the mud, not puk­ing scram­bled egg all down her back or cov­er­ing her dress with snot. We didn’t need to lose our­selves in fairy tales as chil­dren: our mother was the phys­i­cal em­bod­i­ment of one. She was the White Witch in a coach carved out of ici­cles, her jew­els flash­ing as she raced across the tun­dra.

She’d de­cided Axel would be bright whilst I was beau­ti­ful. It didn’t take her long to re­alise that the genes had got it wrong. You’d think un­der the

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