Wednesday, 23 November 2011

All At Sea

I clicked the red, off button on my mobile phone and sat down. Poor bugger. Hubby walked in from the kitchen.
“Who was that?”, he mumbled, a chocolate Hob-Nob protruding from his mouth.
“Sue. Her husband’s ship has been turned around. She doesn’t even know where he is in the world or when the hell he’ll come back. It’s just open ended. She’s just had a two minute call from him. She’s really upset”.
“Life in a blue suit”, added Hubby, helpfully.
“I’m going to see her; the girls’ school uniform needs pressing and our Lost Boy needs to change his sheets and generally muck out his bedroom. At least it was a bedroom, I haven’t seen any evidence of a bed for weeks”.
“But I thought we were going to watch Strictly and X-Factor and Downton together?”, replied Hubby, overtly crestfallen for a strapping, heterosexual man.
“For heaven’s sake, Sky+ it and I’ll watch them with you tomorrow night”.
“We won’t have time then, you’ll be busy, I’ll be busy. It just won’t happen”.
“Well then, you have two alternatives, either you put on James Bond and get your son to watch tv with you, or, you ask any one of your three daughters if they’d like a girly tv fest on the sofa with their big, butch dad. ”
“I’m not watching that rubbish”, said our teenage daughter, “Honestly, I just don’t understand how people can watch such crass, cruel television”.
I am delighted that this girl is very much her own woman, I’m proud of her stellar achievements and thrilled that she stands out from the crowd and doesn’t blithely follow fashion magazines and celebrity gossip, but there are times when it wouldn’t be as wearing if she could just enjoy a little popular culture, which is by dint of its name, popular.
“What are you going to do this evening instead then?”
“I’m writing an essay on quantum mechanics”.
“Come again?”, I asked, scratching my head, “What subject is that for?”
“You’re not doing Mechanics A level are you?” asked Hubby, as baffled as me.
“God, you two are so thick”, she said emphatically before flouncing in the direction of whence she came. Hubby and I looked at each other and shrugged.
“As I was saying”, I said, “I’m popping out to see Sue, lend a shoulder to cry on, that sort of thing. Any wine in the rack?”
Two hours later and I was exhausted, as was a mansize box of Kleenex tissues.
“It’s the not knowing that I can’t cope with Alice”, a refrain that she had sniffed, repeatedly.
“I know, I know”, I replied soothingly, patting her knee.
“I mean, will he be home for Christmas? Can I book a winter holiday? Can I get pregnant? We were considering another baby, Alice. Think of all the eggs I’ve wasted.” Her tears started anew. My patting on her knee became more rhythmical.
“I’m knocking on”, she added, gesturing at her womb, “I only have so many eggs left”. It was like comforting a depressed Easter Rabbit.
“There, there”, I soothed, my free hand shaking an empty wine bottle as though it were lying that there wasn’t so much as a dreg left. Sandy bottoms as Hubby would say.
“He’s been away for months already. He’s missed everything, GCSEs, camping in Dorset, a benign lump, his parents Golden wedding anniversary. I can’t bear it any longer”.
“I’d like to say, just be strong a little while more,” I advised, “but it’s futile. Our husbands didn’t marry Sherman tanks, they married women; soft, squidgy women with bosoms and feelings and the romantic idea that marriage was about two people sharing a life, a home and family. It’s no wonder then that when we are separated for long periods, there are milestones that they miss and then, we miss them ”.
“He couldn’t cope on his own”, snivelled Sue, “I went to Center Parcs before he went with some friends and there was a message on the tannoy system for me to call home. I thought someone had died”.
“Had they?”, I asked
“No, one of the kids had to go to a birthday party and he couldn’t remember where it was or what I’d done with the present”. We laughed. A second later and her twin girls walked through the front door.
“Oh no, mum”, they said simultaneously, rushing to her side, “What on earth has happened?”
Sue explained that their father wouldn’t be home for another few months. I was expecting them to be stricken and, as we were out of tissues, to have to employ a roll of toilet paper to mop up the tears. I was much mistaken.
“Hey mum, that means we can watch all the chick flicks we want!”, said Anna.
“And Strictly all the way until the Christmas show”, added Ava. Their father is an Alpha male and unlike Hubby, not in tune with his feminine side, he is thus very unlikely to condone viewing marathon episodes of sequins and spangles on a Saturday and a Sunday night.
“Besides”, said Anna, more gravely, as her sister held her hand, “He won’t be here to rant and rave. Because…”, there was a pregnant pause. “I think you should know. I’ve had a tattoo”
“I’d better leave”, I said, getting up, remembering my own breakdown when my son disclosed his.
And this is where Sue surprised me. She slowly and very dignifiedly, stood up. And, undid the buttons on her blouse.
“Beat you to it love”, said Sue, revealing an ample bosom decorated with a small anchor and HMS Love entwined on it, “Got it done on the way back from Center Parcs. I was trolleyed”.
The shoe was on the other foot. Tears and tantrums, the ‘how could yous?’, the ‘but you are old!’ even, ‘mum you slapper’. This was a milestone their father would have been delighted to miss.

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