‘Ladies day tomorrow. My treat, Mum!’ Cries my daughter, whirling through the house, shedding lightness and luggage in every room. ‘Find me a list of local spas.”
‘Spas, Love, well I don’t know about that. A film would be nice. It’s lovely to have you visit!’
‘Well, I’m here to show my appreciation. I missed your birthday. I want you to relax and enjoy.” As we sit down for lunch, she says,
‘Sorry, Mum, can’t eat this. In fact - can’t eat anything with flour, milk or sugar.” She scratches her arms, ‘Allergies.’
‘Allergies, Love, but you always ate like a horse.’
‘Exactly, Mother!’ Red meat is also off. As she sips water and tucks into some lettuce, we go over her recent travels, work schedule and the way her life is turning out.
‘I should have studied math at university, Mum. You should have persuaded me - not sat back and watched me sign up for Spanish literature.”
‘But you were dead set on it!’
‘Was I? Well, if you hadn’t made it so obvious you wanted me to be a teacher…”
I think back, but can’t remember ever having had much influence on anything she’s done, whether it was studying, dating or planting trees up north.
‘But you never listened to me,’ I say.
‘Oh, I did, Mum. And to prove it, tomorrow, we’ll go shopping for you.’
Next morning, after breakfast, we waltz into the biggest mall downtown.
“Top floor only,” she announces.
The light upstairs is marvelous. Most of my shopping is done below ground, in the gloom. We browse exotic boutiques and designer rooms, with me being careful not to look at price tags or mention how far a dollar used to go.
‘Today is for you!” She laughs and pushes me and armfuls of swish clothes into gilded changing rooms almost as big as our house. After I try on four nice, but-not-quite me, outfits in Sasha’s Separates, her eyes light on a chic black top on a side display.
‘Hang on a minute. Look at this!’
I turn back.
‘Oh, I couldn’t wear that, Love.’
‘No, no. For me! It’s egggsactly what I’ve been looking for.’ And she snatches up a black, skinny-rib sweater with a crossover, high-cut, fringed front, and darts into my dressing room. The top fits her like a dream. The six-inch strings of tiny, sparkling beads forming the fringes swing with every hip twitch.
‘Yes!’ she breathes. ‘Purrfect.’ Holding it whilst she redresses, I notice some of the bead-strands are fraying.
‘These look a bit dodgy,’ I say when she emerges.
‘Agh, that’s nothing. I’ll soon re-sew them.’
Sew beads? I doubt she knows one end of a needle from the other - not that she isn’t up to tackling anything, more - who mends clothes these days? But it doesn’t matter, because the saleslady, offers a discount, and that’s that. As if swaddling a newborn, an assistant wraps the garment in tissue and presents it to the happy shopper.
Back home, the shopper dons the top immediately, humming as she irons her wash loads, rummages through the house and sorts her suitcases. As I follow, watching, she tells me how to restyle my hair, prepare couscous and update the living room, all the time stroking the little sweater she’s hardly had off her back. The fringe dancing with every move.
‘I love this top, Mum.’ she sighs. ‘Such a good buy. A great souvenir of our day together!’
I tread on the first bead as I set the table for supper next morning and on a second as I wash up. Another lodges between my toes in the shower. I pick a couple more off the carpet beside the guest bed, and a few from under the kitchen table. How many beads that wonderful fringe contained. How seductively they twinkled. How they pleased her. And how she cheers me up, I think as I go to find a jar to put them in, knowing full well I’ll be picking up the beads until she returns.