“Nothing wrong with assertiveness,” Grunted my father chewing a large lump of rump steak. He and my mother were celebrating their thirtieth wedding anniversary with me at a small but expensive continental restaurant. Waiters swished by, crisp in their black and white uniforms, men in suits sat murmuring to women wearing designer labels and the neck of the champagne bottle chilling in an ice bucket pointed my way.
Strangely I felt as though I had been here before, but I hadn’t. I sat self-consciously hoping no one would want to inspect the label in my dress to see if I might be an imposter in this place.
“Too many young men are rather wishy-washy to my mind these days. This Digby fellow sounds like he knows what he’s about.”
I rolled my eyes. “He’s a creepy freak, that’s what he is.”
“That’s what your mother here thought of me until I wooed her with a trip to see Rudolf Nureyev in action.”
I stared at him, “You took her to see Rudolf Nureyev?”
“Only at the cinema dear, don’t get excited.” My mother sounded weary.
I decided to change the subject. “Aunty Clara took me out for lunch the other day, she looks awful.”
“More champagne madam?” a waiter hovered.
“Yes please,” My mother took a large gulp the moment her glass bubbled to the brim. “How did Clara look?”
I explained how shocked I’d been by her appearance. “She said it’s a virus but seems to be on long-term sick leave from work. To be honest I was surprised she came out to lunch if that’s the case.”
“A virus?” said Dad with a degree of incredulity. “She didn’t tell you then?”
I felt the table rock as my mother gave him a sharp kick beneath it.
“Tell me what?”
They exchanged looks and fell silent. I repeated the question, my stomach muscles tensing in fear.
My mother reached out and took my hand, “It is cancer dear.”
White noise filled my ears. It all made sense. My heart pounded and I let my knife and fork fall noisily onto the plate. People opposite us looked up in alarm.
“I thought that’s why she wanted to take you out to lunch, to tell you.” She squeezed my hand tightly. “They need to do more tests and well; it might not be so bad.”
Tears spilled onto my cheeks and my mouth filled with salt water. I didn’t want to cry, we were supposed to be celebrating not commiserating. “She didn’t tell me what it was, I tried to get her to but she didn’t. I told her I’d go with her for the tests.” My words came out in faltering sobs. “She said she wanted to go travelling.”
“And she will, once she’s had treatment.” Dad poured me more champagne. “She’ll get through it Mira, tough as old boots she is.
It didn’t seem right to be drinking champagne, but as it was the only alcohol on offer I gulped it down gratefully. “She seemed more worried about my career than her health, or lack of it.”
Dad laughed, “Yes, that’ll be right, you’ve got some catching up to do with Tammy and Christian.”
“Don’t remind me,” I groaned. “The high achievers of the family, can’t I remain the black sheep?”
“Thought you were a fish?” Mother pulled an expression of comedic confusion.
We all laughed.
“She’s right though, I’ve been worrying about you myself Mira.” Dad squinted at me. “You can’t be a temp forever now can you? My credit card can’t take much more y’know.”
He winked at me but I knew he was semi-serious.
“It’s that or marriage and babies, take your pick.”
My love life emulated my working life, full of false promise and non-starters. “I’ve not been here much more than a month; give me a chance. Tammy and Christian are both older than me anyhow, and they had trust funds to get them started.”
“So it’s even more important you better them, show some competitive spirit.”
I knew my father mocked but deep down panic gripped me. “Very funny Dad, I’m not as beautiful and clever as Tammy and Christian has an inherent gift of the gab. It is your fault, if I had better genes I’d be a high flier too.”
My mother laughed, “Touché.”
“Yes typical, blame the parents. Your mother is beautiful, and I’m clever, so you can’t blame genes.” He winked and I knew he didn’t mean his nagging. “So I’m very much looking forward to visiting your house and meeting your housemates tomorrow. Particularly this Daisy character I keep hearing about.”
The night before, Daisy had spent the evening parading in front of Maddy, Scarlett and I in a number of zany outfits. His growing following at the club meant he needed to expand his wardrobe. “Marvin has kindly injected my bank account with funds and I’m not one to argue.” He’d told us gleefully as he pranced across our drab sitting room resembling Joan Collins in the late seventies. False eyelashes flicked his cheeks, costume jewellery sparkled at his neck and he caught a heel in one of the floorboards, flailed dangerously into the fireplace and split his silky sheath dress up the seam. Who knew what my conservative, golf playing, Daily Mail reading father would make of him. Daisy didn’t like sport and had become an ardent opponent of fox hunting. Never the twain should meet, I thought, picking at my raspberry coulis.
“The thing is,” I said thoughtfully, “Is not to judge a book by its cover. You taught me that.”
“And we don’t dear,” My mother said softly, “You know that.”
I wondered if they had ever encountered someone like Daisy in the leafy lanes of darkest Kent. I doubted it.
“That Maddy sounds a character.”
Mum had obviously been filling in my father after our weekly telephone calls. When he knew the full truth about my housemates I imagined him suggesting I move to somewhere more conventional, back home, for instance.
I tried to pave the way. “The thing is, they are a bit loud and erm opinionated but they are the nicest people you could wish to meet. We all get on very well.” I lied, thinking of the screaming match Daisy and Maddy ended the night with when she’d told him he looked more like Mrs Doubtfire than Joan Collins.
“Well I can’t wait,” He grinned winking at my mother.
I’d spent the day cleaning while the others watched with fascination.
“Are your parents very house proud then?” asked Daisy languidly leaning against the bathroom door.
“They prefer not to sit on toilets decorated with mildew, if that’s house proud then I suppose so.”
“How are you going to get the stains out of the sofa?” asked Maddy, having created most of them with her sloppy eating habits.
I told her I didn’t know as I moved on to scrubbing lime scale off the taps. Typically neither of them offered to help.
“Pity we haven’t got a spare room really,” Said Daisy, “Would’ve been fun if they could stay.”
I stared at him, my nostrils full of stinking chemicals. “Are you mad?” I wondered which one of them to bribe to be out when my parents came, I couldn’t afford both. I knew Scarlett would behave, but these two were a law unto themselves.
“Are you going to cook?” Maddy’s eyes shone with hope.
“Yes, I’m going to do a Sunday roast.”
“Aw great!” They said in unison.
“Can Goddard come?”
I sighed, “I’m sorry but I can’t afford to feed the five thousand. My supermarket chicken will no doubt shrink to poussin size once all the water they’ve pumped it up with leaks out.”
“Poussin you ignorant shortarse,” Said Daisy, “It’s a baby chicken.”
Maddy glared at him. “That’s not English word.”
“No it’s French.”
“Well I don’t know no French.”
I wished I hadn’t made the comment. “Never mind, like I said, I can only afford to feed us housemates and my parents this time, unless you want to contribute Maddy?”
She gave a sulky shake of her spiky haired head.
“Didn’t think so you tightwad shortarse.” It wasn’t like Daisy to be so vicious with his comments. Maddy skulked off downstairs, unusually without a retort.
“Can you two try and get on for the duration of their visit please.” I wheedled.
“Oh yes dear. She just keeps rubbing me up the wrong way at the moment.”
Something to do with her having a vibrant love life; while Daisy had no love interest, I suspected. “How are things Daisy? I know you’re busy at the club but you seem a bit down.”
“Me dear? Down dear? No dear!”
He gave me a rueful look. “Everyone seems to have someone going on but me. I’m lonely.”
His honesty gave a little stab to my heart. If anyone deserved to be loved it was Daisy.
“If it’s any consolation, I am too. There’s nothing worse than being ignored by someone you really like. I know my parents are going to be quizzing me later on my love life and all I can offer is Digby the stalker.”
“You could do worse; he’s a nice enough chap.”
“Oh yes, you’d want him as a boyfriend would you?”
“Quite frankly dear, right now I’d settle for Quasi bloody Modo.”
I put the bottle of lime scale remover on the windowsill wondering why it had to smell so foul and gave him an awkward hug. We rarely exchanged any physical contact other than the odd thump but right now the poor man looked like he needed a cuddle.
When I pulled away he gave a little sniff and turned away.
“Oh Daisy, I love you. Tell you what if we don’t find anyone else within the year we’ll marry each other.”
This brought the required response, a haughty scoff. “Oh no dear, if cleanliness is next to Godliness then you are far too religious for me!”
“I know a nice reverend who could perform the ceremony, imagine, Maddy could be bridesmaid.”
We laughed even harder at that idea.
“You’d be too busy bitching at each other to remember the vows.”
Cheered by the fantasy of how crazy our wedding could be, Daisy decided to help me by tidying up the piles of post scattered all over the hall table. No one in our house ever seemed to open any of it in the fear it might be a bill.
Sunday morning my parents arrived by taxi at eleven thirty on the dot.
“They are here,” Screamed Maddy from her watchful post by the sitting room window.
I’d put flowers on the hall table in place of the post to brighten the place up. Daisy inserted a CD of jazz tunes into our large old-fashioned hifi; the oven had been switched on ready to accommodate the largest chicken I had found on the supermarket shelf. The newly cleansed and prepped house seemed welcoming and as bright as it could do despite the worn furnishings.
Daisy called for Scarlett to come down and the three of them lined up in the hallway as if ready to meet royalty. I felt touched at their apparently thrilled anticipation although I knew a large part of it happened to be playacting for fun.
Maddy wore a mini skirt slightly less short than usual. Scarlett wore a peasant style top over worn blue jeans and managed to look as stunning as ever. Daisy wore a blue jumper with a diamond pattern on it with the blue polyester trousers from his suit. I felt a pang of disappointment that he’d toned down his look so much, I knew my mother would certainly be frustrated after all my detailed descriptions of his daily wear. He’d even managed to put his wig on straight. At least my father wouldn’t be alarmed.
I opened the door and let them in. My housemates stood to attention, waiting to be introduced. Maddy dropped a curtsey, Scarlett beamed at them, and Daisy gave an elaborate bow and winked at my mother making her blush. Miraculously his wig stayed on.
I ushered everyone into the sitting room suggesting we all have coffee while we waited for dinner to cook.
“Marvelous,” Said my Dad, “I’m just ready for some caffeine.”
I left my housemates all staring at my parents in fascination.
“Mira looks like you.” I heard Maddy say to one of them, I had no idea which. To my mind I didn’t look like either.
I returned with a large tray laden with an assortment of mugs, coffee pot and plate of biscuits.
Daisy stood by the fireplace in his usual languid pose. Maddy sat on the arm of the sofa sizing up my father, Scarlett leapt up to help me with the tray. Usually so cool, I felt touched by her apparent desire to please me by being friendly to my family.
“Well I’ve heard lots about you all so it’s really good to meet you at last,” Said my mother flashing a somewhat nervous smile around the room.
“What she said about me then?” Maddy frowned as if I had been telling tales out of school.
“Only er good things.” Said Mum, obviously regretting her statement straight away. “You come from Poland I believe?”
“Humph.” Said Maddy.
Daisy smiled charmingly at my mother, “Mira is like a breath of fresh air in this house, she cleans, she cooks she listens to our moans and groans. I can barely remember life before she came.”
My mother beamed at him and my father looked suspicious but didn’t utter a word.
Scarlett passed round mugs. “It’s so nice that you’ve come to visit. Wild horses wouldn’t drag my mother here and my brother only comes if I nag. I do like your dress, such a lovely colour. Do you need sugar? Can I call you Mum and Dad too, surrogate parents would be wonderful?”
Maddy stared at Scarlett as if she’d gone stark staring mad. Daisy blinked rapidly. I could not detect a trace of irony in her request. She seemed genuinely happy to have my parents here. A warm glow of affection for Scarlett encompassed me.
“I don’t mind sharing them with you. After all you’ve all become like family now.” I took a sip of coffee and reeled at its strength.
Dad grinned at Scarlett and purposely ignored Daisy and Maddy. “I always wanted another daughter.”
“Did you dear?” This was apparently news to my mother .
We ate a little later than anticipated. I forgot to put the roast potatoes in soon enough so we had to wait an extra half hour.
Just as we settled at the kitchen table the doorbell rang.
“I’ll get it,” Squealed Maddy reversing her chair from the table with such force she nearly went over backwards.
“Bet she’s invited Goddard anyway.” Daisy winked at me.
I hoped not, the chicken looked barely big enough to feed us.
Moments later she put her head round the kitchen door. “Mira, there’s someone here to see you.”
I handed the carving knife to Daisy and stood up. “Won’t be a moment,” I tried to hide my irritation at the realization Maddy seemed to be up to no good.
Digby stood beaming at me from just inside the hallway.
“Look it’s Digby.” Grinned Maddy as if I were a blind person.
“We’re just having lunch, with my parents. This isn’t a good time.”
“Oh I’d love to meet them.” Digby strode past me, Maddy and I followed in his wake; me shocked by his audacity and Maddy positively gleeful.
The phone call to Ryan appeared to be long overdue.
© Petra Kidd 2013
Before I was born onto land… I was a fish
Also by Petra Kidd
You can connect with Petra Kidd via Twitter @PetraKidd or visit her
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Chapter Twenty-one of Before I was born will be posted on
Sunday 21st April