Tag Archives: London

from MY MOTHER – A Novel

There were also usually steps that led down from the pavement outside these Edwardian houses, through a little wrought iron gate, to a garden apartment. I recall that the prostitutes of west London usually worked out of some of these garden apartments. My father had owned the entire house my mother now lived in and so there was no garden apartment, only a bottom floor that was full of disused and dusty furniture and relics of a not unhappy, forty-year-old marriage. My mother never went down there anymore. She lived primarily on the first floor of the house, in the kitchen where she would sit drinking hourly cups of tea and reading an increasingly large stack of weekly tabloid magazines or editions of Reader’s Digest. Sometimes she would talk on the phone to her sister who lived in Walsingham where she worked at the Roman Catholic National Shrine of Our Lady. In time I found out that these phone calls were becoming less frequent and shorter even when they did occur. My mother had a few old friends with whom she kept in touch regularly over the phone, though she always declined invitations to visit them and she did not have any of them over. Or she would sometimes sit in the front room on a large reclining chair watching soap operas or reality shows or CNN. She watched CNN because it was her way of keeping in touch with America where my brother and I had both lived for over fifteen years.
My mother kept very good health for a person her age, but suffered from typical bourgeois accidie. If she could muster up the little energy she needed to climb to the first floor to her bedroom, she would sleep in her bed at night, but most often she slept in the reclining chair in front of the television. She washed in the bathroom that was opposite the entrance to the kitchen. If she wanted a bath, she would climb to the first floor.
I was not overly particular about what I ate, but being immersed for a number of years now in the green and environmentally conscious popular culture which America had assiduously taken on and which by extension the rest of the world had also now been driven to do, couldn’t find much to eat during my stays at my mother’s house. There was nothing organic or healthy which she could offer me, other than fruit, which I ate in copious amounts when I stayed with her. For both lunch and dinner she ate mostly Cup-A-Soups and ham sandwiches on white bread. Maybe an orange or a few grapes after her sandwich if she felt like eating something sweet. She ate no breakfast.
Her house was kept for her by a Polish woman who also did her shopping and ran whatever errands needed to be done. It was my brother who continued to pay the wages of this woman and it was he who also paid whatever bills my mother needed paid. My mother seldom left her house. If she needed anything or happened to run out of supplies, she went to the shop at the end of Finborough Road. This was the only place she visited with any regularity and whenever there was a need for her to go there she would buy herself a packet of Benson & Hedges. She was not an habitual smoker.
For many years now to prepare for my short stays with her, she drove her 1994, blue Peugeot to the Sainsbury’s on Fulham Road to “shop” for me as she called it. As she had done every Saturday when my brother and I were growing up. My concerns about eating boxed foods loaded with preservatives which I constantly reminded her about, did not prevent her from stocking her fridge with fish fingers and Aunt Bessie’s frozen Yorkshire Puddings and the other food I had liked to eat as a boy. To my mother, my brother and I were always her boys. Abel’s numerous successes and even his Emmy were not able to extricate him from my mother’s conception of him as the small boy who loved to sit on her knee and eat Angel’s Delight. Those were the happiest days of my mother’s life and she clung to them, through us, with a tenacity which evidenced itself in nothing else she had done then or since, except maybe her surrender to the life she now led. It mattered little to her that Abel was rich with several homes or that the lost innocences of childhood had left me with a failed marriage and little ambition other than to use whatever money I made from my insurance job in Chicago to wander aimlessly around the world. It is not implausible to think that had Abel or I wanted to sit on her knee even now and eat Angel’s Delight, she would have allowed it and thought nothing about the absurdity of that type of behaviour. She would have smiled and fed us. Whenever I voiced my opposition to the boxed and frozen food she now bought for me, she said, “I don’t understand what’s wrong with it. You loved it as a boy. You ate it all those years and I don’t recall any of it ever bothering you then. How can something you get at Sainsbury’s be bad for you?”


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