A Mother’s Love


By Sue Buckingham

Sue says: My husband and I live near Cardiff and I own a horse. Having spent all my working life as an accountant, wrestling with numbers, now retired, I am fulfilling my dreams by wrangling words into order instead and have finally finished my first novel.

“Hi, mum.”

“Is that Jane?”

“Yes, mum,” I replied wearily. Who did she think it was? She had rung my mobile number; Mandy was dead and Mark didn’t speak to her – who else could it be? Of course, I then felt bad for even thinking this. She came from an era of ringing a landline, where any member of the family might answer. Mind you, even if I had a landline for her to ring, no-one else was going to answer, there was only me. 

There was only me.

A bolt of loneliness shot through me and then despair.

There was only me.  

Only me, to pay all the bills; the mortgage, the credit card, the utilities. Only me, to cook and clean, for only me. Only me sat in front of the telly, late at night, not wanting to go to bed, because there was only going to be me in it. Only me, to get up in the morning, eat a solitary breakfast and then go to work to try and earn enough money to pay all the bills; the mortgage . . .

Only me, to answer the phone to my mother and dread what this call might be about.

“Who’s Mark?”

I thought I must have mis-heard her.

“Who’s Mark?” I repeated back, like some sort of parrot.

“Yes, that’s what I said, who’s Mark?“ Her voice was querulous, but I could also hear an undercurrent of fear.

I wasn’t sure how to reply. Obviously, she should know that Mark was her son, but clearly she didn’t. Unless, of course, she was referring to someone else called Mark. Her window-cleaner? Someone trying to sell her new double-glazing? Or even one of her neighbours? If I told her she had a son called Mark, she might think I was patronising her and get upset. Alternatively, she might genuinely have forgotten she had a son called Mark and then I would be really concerned.

“I’m not sure, mum,” I said hesitantly. “Which Mark are you talking about?” This seemed like a safe option.

“I don’t know. That’s why I’m asking you.” Now there was definite anger there.

“Well, what is making you ask me who Mark is? Is he someone who has called at the door?”

“I don’t think so.”

“You’re going to have to give me a bit more than that, mum. Is he someone from your past that you’ve been thinking about?’

“Yes, that’s it!” She sounded much happier now. But this only served to make me more concerned. It really did feel like she had forgotten her only son.

I tried to be as tactful as I could. “Do you think you might have been thinking about my brother, Mark?” 

“Have you got a brother called Mark then, dear?”

This was really worrying now.  

“I tell you what, mum, why don’t I pop over and we can have a cup of tea and a chat together?”

“You don’t need to do that,” her voice was harsh. “All you need to do, is tell me who Mark is and if he’s your brother. I don’t know why you have to keep all these secrets from me, all the time. You always were a secretive little girl and you’ve not changed one bit as you’ve got older. Frankly, I’m getting fed up with it all.” She was shouting now.

“Mum, I’m on my way. I’ll see you in ten minutes and we can talk about it then.” I ended the call and quickly grabbed a coat and my car keys.

Arriving in her street, I did a quick turn in the road and found an empty space just a few doors away from her house. I parked and almost ran down the pavement towards the lights, which were streaming from every window.What was going on in there? Was she having a party with this, so-called, Mark, who she couldn’t remember? Had she invited some stranger in off the street and offered him the use of her bathroom and spare bedroom? 

Realising that I was being ridiculous – she had probably just forgotten to turn the lights off when she left the rooms – I slowed down. If I arrived red-faced and out of breath, she might not know who I was, panic and call for the police.  

I took two or three deep breaths and actively relaxed all my body. I convinced myself that mum had just had a ‘moment’ and she would be fine. Feeling better, I knocked on the door. Although it was nine o’clock at night and dark outside, she opened the door without querying who was at the door, or using the safety chain. I had lost count of the number of times I had told her to do these two simple checks.

“Oh, hello, love,” she said. “What a lovely surprise to see you. It’s not very nice out there. Come on in and we can have a cup of tea.” 

The composure I had built up on the doorstep evaporated and I barked, “Mum! How many times do I have to tell you to put the chain on the door before you open it?”

She stepped back in alarm and nearly fell over. I managed to reach in and grab her, just about keeping her on her feet.

“OW, OW!” she shouted in shock and pain. My grip was tight on her bony wrists, thin and fragile under my fingers. I leaned forward and awkwardly shifted my position, letting go of her wrists and placing my arms around her back. I now had her in a bear hug and she started to struggle against me.

“Help,” she whimpered. “Somebody, please help me.”

“Mum, it’s me, Jane. You’re OK.”

“Help me, someone.” Her voice was a bit louder now. 

The front door was still open behind me and all I needed now was a diligent Neighbourhood Watch member phoning the police. 

“Mum, please, it’s me. Your daughter. Jane. I’m not going to hurt you. I’m just trying to make sure you aren’t going to fall.”

Her head dropped until it was nestled into my shoulder. She stopped struggling and started to weep quietly. I gently manoeuvred her around and into the living room. By now, she was grasping hold of me, as if she were drowning and the weeping had turned into a low-pitched keen.

I managed to settle her into her chair and leaned over her, hugging her gently and murmuring over and over, “You’re all right. Everything’s going to be fine. Don’t cry, mum. Please don’t cry.”  

I felt like crying myself. I really didn’t need this. It felt as if I was the mother and mum was my child. A single mother at that. No-one to help me. All the responsibility on my shoulders. Only me, making all the decisions, good and bad. 

I straightened up, my back cricking as the bones settled back into place. 

“Are you okay now?”

“Yes, I think so. Thank you for coming to my rescue, I don’t know what would have happened, if you hadn’t been here.”

She seemed to have completely forgotten that she had rung me earlier and so I took the coward’s way out.

“That’s okay. It’s all over now. Shall we have a cup of tea?”

“Oh, yes please, that would be lovely. Are you going to make me some dinner?  I haven’t eaten yet today, but suddenly I’m starving.”

I made her some beans on toast and chatted away to her, while she ate it. I kept clear of the subject of Mark, security chains or anything else I thought might upset her (or me). It was close to ten o’clock by the time she had finished her meal and drunk three cups of tea, so I helped her up to bed.  

“Goodnight, my darling,” she said, as I tucked her in. “Thank you so much for coming over. I get so lonely on my own. It’s really lovely to have company. Especially the company of my beautiful daughter. I do love you, Amanda.”

My eyes filled with tears and I had to turn away. I said quietly, “Mum, I’m Jane.”

“Yes, of course you are. That’s what I said. I do love you, Jane.”

“I love you too, mum.”