Wishing And Hoping
Even as she comforts me, I can hear all her own fears for her lost dreams, and suddenly I feel ashamed She sits down opposite, hugging her elbows, the classic defensive posture
There are two types of people, as my glasshalf-full dad said: wishers and hopers. “Same thing, surely?” I’d say. “Not quite. Hope makes a person act on their wishes.”
So right now, I’m acting on my wishes by travelling to see Anya at her hall of residence, ringing to say I’m on my way, and thus making it a fait accompli.
I know her lecture timetable by heart. On her last, definitive visit, she’d left a tattered copy on the hallway table while sifting through her coat. I’d swiped the timetable, pretended it had gone astray, then said, “Oh dear, it wasn’t your only copy, was it?”
“No, it’s on my phone,” she’d said. Everything is, these days.
Current circs had necessitated my low cunning – though at the time, I wasn’t sure what I’d do with the timetable or any future meeting with her on campus.
Tom and I had agreed a softlysoftly approach was our best response to Madam dropping her bombshell from a great height – its impact particularly shattering, given that our parental hopes (and wishes) were invested in the first of our family to go to university.
So here I am, sitting in an off-campus cafe, watching her wend her way through the tables, keeping a firm grip on my saucer and emotions.
She sits down opposite, hugging her elbows, the classic defensive posture, her leather jacket doing nothing for her pale complexion or greasy hair.
Still, I was the same in the early stages of pregnancy. Instead of blooming, I went all rats’ tails and eye bags. “Are you sleeping OK?” I ask her, as she fiddles with a sugar sachet. “Have you been for a check-up yet?”
“Early days,” she mumbles, glancing up to order a camomile tea from the waitress.
As she does so, I glimpse pale blue piping under her jacket lapels. No wonder her arms are folded. “That’s my blue dress!”
“Yeah, you said it’d be OK if I looked through that bag you’d put out for charity collection. This dress was in the bag, and it’s really comfy.”
She’s got me there. It’s a softly billowing cotton, frayed under the arms, not skinny rock-chick Anya’s style at all – or should I say former style? Although not a size 14 like me or the dress, she’s clearly twigged the case for comfort as her bump grows.
Her bump. A lump of corresponding proportions forms in my throat. “You’re welcome to the dress,” I say. “But it’s frayed and has the outline of a wine stain on the front.”
“No worries. I’m going to put a pocket over the stain and patch the underarms.” Seeing my surprise, she has the grace to blush. “OK, a friend who’s handy with a needle will do the patching. And look, I’m drinking sensibly,” she adds as her tea arrives – though my gaze drifts to her nicotine-stained fingers.
Filthy habit, but the more stressed you are, the more you crave your sustaining habit. I should know; I had to go cold turkey before my 12-week scan years go. Maybe I can offer a few tips? Well, if she asks.
My heart contracts, watching her watching me as she sips her tea, wary as a cornered animal. I think of the endless, circular discussions since the bombshell: how it’s not the end of the world and the uni has an “amazing” crèche… plus, me and Tom have offered to do our bit, whatever that entails, and however much she and Alec want us involved.
But I can’t help thinking of mine and Tom’s wishes and hopes; how we encouraged every glimmering interest in languages, judo and cello, imagining a glittering career first, then family and kids a long way down the line. And then I can’t help a big fat tear falling on to the table; more for myself, I suppose, than for all those childhood interests, some more joyously pursued than others.
“Stuff happens,” says Anya helplessly, handing me a hanky. “The timing’s out of whack, I know, and it wasn’t planned, but we do really want this baby. Don’t cry. I mean, it’s not the end of the world, is it?”
In her trembling question, even as she comforts me, I can hear all her own fears for dreams that might go unfulfilled. And suddenly – better late than never, I suppose – I feel ashamed.
I’ve been so busy agonising for my son and his future that I’ve cast Anya, his girlfriend of two terms, as hussy/silly young girl, blowing hot and cold about the much-mooted idea of a powwow with her parents, who must be equally shell-shocked.
Plus, look how brave she’s had to be; coming to see us on her own as Alec is on his year abroad for his French degree. ‘Poor boy,’ I’d thought. ‘Shouldering the burden she’s placed on him while far from home.’
I swallow hard. “Listen, Anya, I’m aware we’ve been… less than supportive. But I’d like to change that. I’d like to get to know you better. Is that OK?”
She smiles, opening up her tired, wary face. “I’d like that, too, Mrs Christie.”
“Call me Stella.”
“I’ll try. Alec said you’d come round, if I gave you time, and that I had to trust him. I did
– do. You raised him to be the sort of dad I want for our baby.”
Clever girl, appealing to my maternal vanity.
Although, as we sip tea, that sets me off on a new train of anxious thought. Will her parents come round to my boy? He’s due home next month for a six-way powwow. I can only hope that Anya’s equally shell-shocked mother gives him the benefit of the doubt.
Come to think of it, I’ll start wishing for it, too.
Gabrielle Mullarkey, 2017