Short story: Mother’s Day Blues, by Richard Gallimore

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Beth pursed her lips in annoyance as the remote control slipped from her arthritic fingers and fell just out of reach on the floor.

Now she’d have to wait for the home care visitor to retrieve it for her.

In the meantime, much to her irritation, she would have to endure the programme just starting – a Mother’s Day special and one of those mind-numbing cooking-against-the-clock shows where contestants, chef and presenter alike all have that moronic look on their faces and comments to match.

If only she could get the remote and mute or change the programme from the interminably ceaseless inane dribble, she thought.

Even reading was difficult with a background of high-pitched and low resonant voices over-talking as everyone wanted their say between cooking whatever it was. As if she cared.

Then one sentence uttered by a contestant ended all that as Beth sat riveted to her seat and leaned forward with interest.

“Yes, I got the idea for this recipe from my grandfather. He used to be in bomb disposal just after the Second World War.”

As the young girl prattled on about the recipe Beth’s memories flooded in and seemed to overwhelm her as tears of sadness came to her eyes.

If only life had been kinder, she thought. She was 25 when she’d married an army captain in 1952. He was five years older and destined for promotion after his latest tour of duty in bomb disposal. London was being rebuilt and numerous unexploded German bombs were often unearthed as excavations proceeded in the rebuilding of the capital.

They’d been married for just over a year and Beth was heavily pregnant when she kissed John goodbye as he was picked up by an army vehicle which headed for London.

She didn’t know it at the time but he was due to work on one of many incendiary explosives which had dropped around St Paul’s Cathedral.

Whatever went wrong left little or no evidence of her late husband who was posthumously awarded a medal for bravery and other descriptive plaudits which, however well meaning, would not bring him back.

Heartbroken she returned to her native Ireland where her parents lived and who organised for her to have her baby in the country hospital run by the nuns.

The birth seemed normal but tiring for Beth who was still in mourning and she fell asleep immediately after delivery. When she awoke and asked to see her baby the nun, who acted as midwife, expressed her deep sorrow that Beth’s baby had died shortly after birth.

The combined deaths of her beloved husband and baby, which was all she had to remember John by, had a profound effect on Beth. Through the intervening years she regularly declined many offers of marriage and threw herself into a diplomatic career.

The work was demanding, the hours long and the job meant frequent extended periods of working abroad.

The first Monday after her Friday retirement and farewell party with the usual handshakes and congratulatory messages from ministers and others saw a very lonely Beth.

No husband, no children, no known family and no real hobbies, other than reading biographies.

The cooking programme was drawing to a close as Beth realised she would not be able to watch one of her favourite quiz programmes as it was on another channel and the remote was just tantalisingly out of reach.

The clock indicated it would be at least an hour before the home carer was due.

Her biography on some English explorer was less than inspiring but apart from looking out of the window at two young lovers enjoying an afternoon hug and kiss, there was little to occupy her.

Once again there was a reference on the TV to it being Mother’s Day and she recalled the number of times she used to give her own mother flowers.

But that was all in the past and the 60 years since her marriage to John was effectively three generations and the future now lay with the next generation and not hers.

As Beth sadly meditated on what might have been and whether her role in the diplomatic service had served much purpose then or now she heard the door lock click.

“It’s me Beth,” said the familiar voice of the home carer.

“Can you get my remote for me please?” said Beth as the home carer appeared with a large bouquet of flowers.

“I’ve a surprise for you Beth,” she said handing them over.

“That’s very kind of you.”

“No they’re not from me but from someone who asked me to give them to you in case you didn’t want any visitors.”

Beth looked puzzled and intrigued.

“Visitors?”

“It’s someone very special but I don’t want the surprise to be too much for you. Are you ready for a really special visitor, or should I say visitors?”

Beth looked towards the door and nodded.

“You can come in now,” shouted the home carer.

“Hello mum,” said a tall, distinguished-looking elderly man who, on entering, gave Beth a flashback to the 1950s of her late husband.

She stared hard at the visitor who was then joined by a fine-looking younger companion.

“Hello grandma.”

“I’m the son the nuns said had died and it’s taken me all this time to find out who my real mother was.

“We’ve over half a century of catching up to do mother dear.”

Tears formed in Beth’s eyes but they were no longer the tears of sadness she’d experience for over 60 years but tears of joy.

But could she ever forgive the nuns for taking away her baby on the erroneous assumption she was a single woman rather than one recently widowed and then giving her infant to a childless couple?

It was going to be a big ask, but now that she was finally looking at her son – and grandson – her previous tearful Mother’s Day blues had turned to tears of joy.