The daughter

30 June 1998 | Fiction, Prose

A short story from Meddelande (‘Messages’, Schildts, 1998)

Mother, hello! It’s me … can’t hear you very well. I rang a while ago, but maybe you were having your nap?

(Cheerfully) Yes, of course, you can take a nap whenever you like. I can always phone back.

But Mother, listen to what I’m saying now: that’s the last thing I want you to do. It’s awful if you’re just sitting there by the phone, waiting and waiting. You mustn’t do that. I can phone later when I phone, you know that. How’re things?

But that’s good. Great. And you’ve made your evening cup of tea?

Mother, dear, you must. Half the world lives alone, and they make their tea all the same. Now be good, won’t you. It’s ever so easy, you just take….

(Coldly) All right, you don’t feel like it. Fine. You don’t feel like it.

No, I think I sound just the same as usual. I only meant you must do as you please. Sometimes one doesn’t feel like things, and that’s nothing to worry about. Then you do something else which you do feel like doing, don’t you?

Yes, Mother, I know, I know, I’ve got so much to do and you’ve got nothing to do. Exactly. I know all that.

But of course I’m grateful.

Listen now, Mother. Wouldn’t you like to watch Clark Gable at twenty past nine. I marked it in your paper, Channel 2. Earthquake in San Francisco, awfully exciting?

Oh well, all right, you don’t like him. But Les Enfants du paradis isn’t on until after eleven. I don’t know why everything really good is on in the middle of the night. But you could have a sleep in between, couldn’t you?

I could wake you in time. I’ll phone. I’ll be awake anyhow. You know, that layout I have to have by tomorrow.

My layout. I told you how important it is.

No, of course you can’t remember everything. Don’t worry…. By the way, the earthquake is quite short and doesn’t come until the end – I mean, the first film, not the Paradise… Sorry, I think I’m a bit tired….

(Quietly, intently) You know, Mother, sometimes I get so tired, so fundamentally tired, I just sit straight down and yell that I’m tired, of work, of you all, and of this whole load of shit, and I can’t cope and I won’t be on time and what’ve you all got to say about that?

Mother, do you see?

But say something!

Hello, hello.

(Heatedly) Oh, there you are. Fine.

No, I’m not angry.

Really? Yes, yes… no, it wasn’t anything important. I’ll phone the faults department first thing in the morning. Things like that shouldn’t happen. Well, your old friend, did she get hold of you?

You said you were going to meet. Oh, Mother! That’s pretty good! You actually told her yourself you couldn’t do with oldies who’d got old and frumpish in the wrong way, you told her. You are funny, Mother. You know, I adore you when you’re bright and a bit sharp. And she, what did she say?

But then you won’t be seeing each other?

D’you mean never?

(Disappointed) No, no, I see. Of course.

Yes, I’m here all right.

No, why should I be feeling low….

(Heatedly) Mother, darling, don’t say you only want to see young people. Where shall I get hold of them for you? They have to have time to themselves, don’t you see? (Pause) Sorry. I’m sorry.

Yes. I know it’s six o’clock. Six o’clock in the evening, on the dot.

But the church bells always ring at six. That’s routine, their job.

Melancholy? So what – anything can sound melancholy, the rain, the lift running, anything.

No, there’s nothing wrong with the lift. What did you say?

But heavens, it does get darker at six o’clock! Everywhere, here, too, all over the world, no, half of it, or something… and then you phone me.

Yes, I know it wasn’t you phoning. You were waiting for me to.

I can’t hear you. What’ll be too late?

Ah. Exactly. You didn’t mean anything. Mother, sometimes you’re really quite clear. By the way, and listen now, absolutely everything’ll be too late, all the time, everywhere, and so what?

No, I don’t think it’s our fault. It’s not anyone’s fault. It’s just what happens.

No, I didn’t mean anything special. It’s just something people say, you know….

Yes, Mother, I do eat properly, every day. And I do wrap up well, every time I go out. You know I do.

Now just for a change, I’m going to ask (playfully formal) Have-you-taken-your-medicine-today? Did I sound funny?

No, maybe not. But have you taken it?

Why are you so miserable – don’t be like that! Stop it. Shall I come at once…. I’ll take the bus.

You don’t want me to?

So you don’t want me to come. You mean I mustn’t.

What are you saying?

But it’s a good thing, isn’t it, that all the days are the same, then nothing worse can happen, can it… what did you say?

No, darling. I don’t work too hard. Everything’s fine.

Mother, d’you know what I think? We get on each other’s… I mean, we get along together, don’t we?

Well, good. Lots of love. I’ll phone tomorrow just before six.

Translated by Joan Tate

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