Jennifer watched her dance and swirl. A beautiful moment to hold in her mind. Tiny bare feet, bare arms, pretty dress. She looked like her when she was that age, before her mother cut her hair. She had a feeling of foreboding as she watched her brown ringlets bounce towards her but she shook it off and drank in the joy oozing from her child.
She tried to remember dancing and laughing like Emma but the mist in her memory was too thick to traverse. Emma glided over, smiled into her face and wrapped her porcelain arms around her mother’s neck. She kissed her and Jennifer hugged her daughter a little too tight. Emma wriggled out of her arms, dancing across the room again, laughing and singing. She may look like me, she thought but I was more serious, less playful. I was sad.
She puzzled over her thoughts, coming forth and disappearing as quick, while the tinkling laughter twirled around her. She stood up and floated after her daughter, swaying to the music until they both collapsed on the floor with delight, all unwelcome thoughts forgotten. Her husband found them there, floppy on the floor and smiling so he joined them, moment made.
They were happy for the most part except for Jennifer’s silent times. Emma made them disappear easily. Jennifer’s days were spent with Emma, caring for her and her husband Tom. She was happy that way. She had left her job as soon as her maternity leave was up much to her mother’s disgust.
“You’ll regret it when she is grown up and gone and you have no career.”
“I’d rather stay with her and be there while she grows, watch over her.”
“It didn’t do you any harm, me working.”
“No, and I will go back when I am ready but I’m not now. Emma needs me.”
This conversation often repeated itself on her daily visits. Her mother needed her as much as Emma now she was retired, slower on her feet and alone, though she would never admit it.
“Why did you cut my hair so short?” she asked her mother when looking through the photo album over coffee.
“It was the fashion.”
“It was very short, too short.”
“It was easier that way.”
“I won’t be cutting Emma’s, it’s beautiful.”
“So was yours, it is. I’m glad you let it grow.”
“They said I was a boy, remember, at school. I begged to let it grow. They made me cry”
“Ah yes. That’s right. Children can be so cruel.”
She remembered the taunts for her short hair and boyish clothes. When her mother had finally given in to letting her grow her hair and wear the clothes the other girls did it was too late to fit in. It wasn’t much better in the next school. Pigtails while others dyed their locks with ‘Sun In’. It was her beloved quiet father who eventually gave her money to go to the hairdresser. She came home with short spiky boy hair. It was now long again and had been for years. How she missed him. They all missed him.
Emma burst through the door and jumped into her grandmother’s arms. They hugged. Jennifer smiled. Her mother had gotten a new lease on life when Emma was born. She lived for her grandchild just as much as Jennifer did.
“She is very cuddly.”
“Yes, so were you.”
“Oh, I didn’t think I was.”
Another day, another coffee, they watched Emma play outside, no coat, no shoes.
“I was always wrapped up like an onion, with layers of clothes.”
“You were always getting sick. I had to keep you warm. Forever getting fevers.”
“I was always hot and scratchy.”
“You should tell her to put her coat on. She’ll get sick. Cover her up, she’s nearly naked.”
She went out to coax the coat onto her daughters shoulders, her mother watching from inside.
Later that week she walked in on whispering.
“Don’t go on my account” she told her aunt as she stood up to leave the table.
“I’ll have one too.”
She put the kettle on and smiled at her mother and her mother’s sister. Emma skipped in, noted where Jennifer was and wandered back outside again.
“She should be at playschool. She is with you too much. Always checking to see where you are.”
“Ah sure she is only little, let her be. Plenty of time away when big school starts.” her aunt replied, making a face at her sister. She smiled at Jennifer.
“I was just telling your mother John McIntyre is dead.”
Jennifer paused, kettle mid-air,
“John who? Don’t know him.”
She poured her tea and joined them at the table.
“Ah you do, remember, he lived beside me in The Green. Just him and Mary. No children of their own, poor things.”
“Oh yes, but you left The Green when I was very little, sure half of yours weren’t born there.”
“Ah you’re right. You probably don’t remember them, though you were always wandering in to them when you were with me. You drove me mad with your roaming and me trying to mind all my own as well”
“They weren’t angels either as I recall. Sure how would Jennifer remember him, she was tiny when you left there. I didn’t leave her often.” her mother snapped.
She stood up and went outside after Emma who ran to her granny with delight.
“She used to hug you tight like that as well, as if she couldn’t let you go.”
“Did she? I don’t remember hugs.”
Memories presented themselves tentatively that day and continued to flash before her but the scenes were gone before she could grasp them. She was afraid to tune them in, preferring the static buzz of interference from her chores.
“I remember her kitchen, the blue tiles, the clean shiny white gleam. Net curtains in every room. Light coming in. Nothing to see.”
She was mumbling to herself as she folded up the clothes.
“What are you talking about?” her husband asked. “What do you mean, nothing to see?”
“Oh, just someone died that I used to know but it was so long ago I can’t remember much. I can’t even picture his face. I meant you couldn’t see in, from the outside,you couldn’t see into the house.”
“Funny to remember the place and not the person. You said her kitchen, not his.”
She pulled away from him that night.
“Not this again. Why do you sometimes act as if I am going to hurt you. I never would. I love you. You make me feel like dirt. It comes out of the blue. I’m not sure if I can stick this.”
He stormed downstairs. She heard the TV. She cried herself to sleep, not for the first time.
Days passed and tension grew and ebbed, as always. Emma danced, they laughed and kissed. They carried on with life. He left for work each morning and she and Emma planned their days around the chores.
One day she told him.
“I remember she sent me away with biscuits and told me not to come in when she wasn’t there, that he was tired after work. I remember she scared me, not him. She frowned and scowled at me. He was always smiling. I remember her. I know her. I have met her in town. She doesn’t look in my eyes.”
He knew not to interrupt, the flood was coming forth and there would be no stopping it. He held her hand and waited as she sobbed.
“I remember they let me watch TV. I went in because my aunt didn’t have a TV and I remember she wasn’t there but the door was open and I went in. I wasn’t allowed go past his chair to the rest of the house where it was dark but I think I did, I don’t know, I don’t remember everything. I remember her coming in and shouting, not at me but at him. I remember cartoons, sweets and biscuits. I don’t remember going there again. I don’t know what he looked like.”
He didn’t say anything in the silence as she shook and tears poured down her face. He stood up from the table, walked around to her and held her.
“I remember I used to laugh and dance and sing and wear pretty dresses. I swirled and twirled and hugged and kissed. I looked just like Emma until my mother cut my hair. I was three.”