Each time I sit down at the word processor for a spot of writing, the machine gets more and more reluctant to boot up, until I have to kick it almost to death before I can use it. So we summon a techno-freak friend, who opens it up and prys inside, uttering a stream of incomprehensible jargon, or so I think, until one familiar word bowls across my room to where I sit quietly spinning a yarn, not on the computer, but the oakwood wheel.
‘– Mother –’
‘What?’ I say, unable to imagine anything motherly about the innards of a computer.
‘Mother-bawd,’ he says, without turning.
‘Is that some kind of new insult?’ I say brightly, and this time he gives me a look like a pat on the head.
‘Mother B–O–A–R–D. It’s part of your PC. Here, take a look!’
I get up greasy-handed from the raw wool and look over his shoulder at a structure at the bottom of the box, a flat surface green as leaves, studded with rows of symmetrical black lumps.
‘Those are the memory chips, see, and the green is the motherboard.’
‘Why call it that? I mean the top of the spinning wheel is called the Mother-of-All, which makes sense, spinning being traditional women’s work, but computers aren’t, not usually . . .’
‘I only fix the things,’ he says. ‘I don’t worry about their nomenclature.’
End of conversation. As I go back to my wool-making it occurs to me that the motherboard does look vaguely like a skirt, with a brood of children hanging on to it, but it also brings to mind a parade ground, with the chips in battle array. Men created the thing; and they should have named it after what was, for them, the obvious. They hadn’t, though, and I knew why: She, the Goddess, was manifest in there.
You don’t know who I mean? Open your art history books back almost to the very beginning, and there you have her, big, fat and beautiful. The Lady of Sé, or the Venuses of Willendorf and Lespugue, carved in bone or cavewall, painted in vegetable juice and ochres. I’m not talking about Astarte, Aphrodite, Hestia or even the Virgin Mary – they’re just aspects of the Mother Goddess, little chunks cut off for separate worship, because people, and I mean men, couldn’t cope with the immensity of her, the Big M. She’s underground now, as she’s been ever since the phallic gods took over, in you-know-who’s opinion, down but definitely not out. Though hidden she recurs, in the day-to-day objects we use, the spinning wheels, the computers, so that in tapping keys, pulling at wool, we unconsciously invoke her, say a prayer to her.
Everyone collects something and me, I collect manifestations of the Mother. Some people might call it manifest madness, but I know better. She’s got power, that one: she is not mocked. This story proves it.
I begin with the first manifestation I collected: the Russian Matrioshka doll, the round headscarfed woman, whose belly opens, to reveal another round doll, whose middle also splits, with another doll inside and another, smaller and smaller down to one final egg, too tiny for the woodcarver to subdivide. Mothers and daughters, my daughter calls it. She opens it, takes out the next doll, and the next. She reseals the first two, and stands all three in a diminishing line.
Listen. Once there was a mother, and she had two daughters at one birth, twins derived from the one split egg. A doctor once told me: no identical twins are identical. So much happens after the egg breaks, with the microscopic lumps of jelly growing, side by side, into kicking, active babies, that one child may be black, one white, as occurred once in England, she said, with the twin girls of a mixed-race couple. At the least they have different birthweights, and here it happened, grotesquely; for one twin was half the size of the other.
Ysabel, the parents called her, for that was the name they had chosen for a little girl. The other got plain Kate, but not for some days, for what with the fuss over Ysabel, putting that tiny baby into an incubator, they hadn’t a moment to spare for the larger, healthier twin.
So. Kate had the initial advantage, but Ysabel got her back for that, by stealing all the attention. Twins form a hierarchy of two – one is top, dominant to a greater or lesser degree, and the other is submissive. But Ysabel was subtle about it, even at 4 lbs 2 oz. ‘What a dainty wee lass,’ the relatives said at the joint christening. ‘A little princess. You mustn’t let her be bullied by her big sister,’ referring to Kate, who wasn’t a large baby, but in comparison with Ysabel looked lumpen indeed.
Here’re some snaps from the family album. That’s Ysabel, in the lace confection worn by Great-gran Isabella at her christening, still a little tearful from having been doused in holy water, with a ringed hand stroking her forehead. Kate lolls next to her in the bassinet, wearing a gown from the other side of the family, which isn’t hand-embroidered, and even has machine lace edging, which tickles. Her eyes are clear, staring at the camera. She hadn’t cried when the devils were driven out of her, so nobody paid her particular attention.
One year later, a reverse image, two toddlers on a daisied lawn, in matching smock frocks, but Kate’s looking rumpled, like her face. Shortly before the photo was taken, she tried to snatch the lollipop from Ysabel’s hand, and got smacked. Ysabel waves her lolly at the camera, all sunny smile and spice. When she grabs Kate’s sweeties the reaction is ‘Let her have it, Katy!’
Turn over a couple of pages, to the twins in their first school uniforms. If you look closely, with a magnifying glass, at the hair of each, you can see that Ysabel’s curls twist in one direction, Kate’s in the other. Identical twins are mirror images; what is positive in one will be negative in the other. Ysabel hugs a gift from her namesake, Great-gran Isabella, a baby doll. Kate looks at it from the corner of her eyes longingly, but she knows better than to grab, is resigned to such things by now. Ysabel has said that if Kate looks after her, this first day at school, protects Ysa from the big kids, she will let her play a while with baby.
Adolescence now, which in the seventies is ugly indeed, fashion wise, but Ysabel makes the most of it. They are off to the school dance, and so perch on platform soles, but only Kate looks about to fall off. Ysabel wears cheesecloth and cotton lace, in tiers; Kate a batik caftan she made herself, with its hem not quite straight. Ysabel’s beau points at the beauty spot Ysabel has grown, slightly above her lipgloss. Kate has no such mark. ‘Just as well,’ the boy says. ‘Otherwise I’d get youse mixed up and kiss the wrong twin.’ Kate’s unadorned lip twitches, blurring the photo. She has no beau of her own for this dance, only a castoff of Ysabel’s.
Final shot, bride and bridesmaid, peeping over huge bouquets. The one in white satin is Ysabel, of course.
Kate and Ysabel’s mother collected wedding photos, and the twins added to the cluster of little frames by four, Ysabel three times and Kate once. When Ysabel finished her commerce degree, she went to work in an advertising agency, and in no time was being squired by the more glamorous clients. After a year she was engaged to George, who was Greek, but not very, Ysabel told Mamma. Why, they didn’t even have to get wed in a Greek church! They instead married in St Swithin’s down the road, with neighbours and relatives packing out the ceremony, and then had the reception in a huge marquee behind George’s family home. It was a white wedding, white bride, white groom, white lilies, everything snowy except Kate, who wore cream. In the wedding photo given pride of place, in the best silver frame, Kate looks as if her mum didn’t own a Whirlpool.
Kate went to teacher’s college, where she met Len, who sat next to her at classes. He wasn’t at the wedding; for though they ended up at the same school, and shared a familistery with some other new teachers, they had only become ‘an item’, to use a favourite term of Ysabel’s, the week before, after a flagon of red wine and a conversation that began with that pig of a Head, moved on to other topics, and ended at dawn, with them fast asleep in Len’s bed.
Kate normally shared her life with Ysabel, but her twin was so busy with the wedding preparations that there never seemed time to tell her. After the ceremony Ysabel was off on her Greek honeymoon, and then busy with homemaking, driving her white Mercedes (George’s wedding gift) from shop to shop, in search of curtains, ruffles, railings.
Thus it was that Kate and Len, walking down their suburban main drag, hand in hand with their groceries, heard the squeal of brakes, then the frantic toot of a horn. Len looked up to see an ice-cream car, and waving frantic-ally through the windscreen his Kate, but overdressed, and wearing a daft shade of lipstick. Then he glanced at the woman holding his hand, whose face was suddenly expressionless.
‘Your twin sister, whom you’re always talking about,’ he said.
‘Darling!’ said Ysabel, jumping out of the car. ‘You secretive puss! Now I know why you grinned all over your face, when you caught my bouquet.’
‘This is Len,’ said Kate.
Ysabel looked him up and down until he blushed. ‘I approve,’ she said loudly. ‘And I’m sure George will approve too. Why don’t you come to dinner this evening?’
Kate started to say they’d bought fish for that night, but Ysabel kissed her firmly on the cheek, then jumped back into the Merc with a cry of ‘Well, that’s settled! I’ll see you at eight.’
As the car zoomed away Len took out his handkerchief, and wiped the kiss mark off Kate’s cheek.
‘We’ll put the fish in the freezer,’ he said.
It was just their luck that on that very night, they got fish, ocean trout, cooked to the standards of Ysabel’s gourmet classes. There was good white wine to drink; George poured it out liberally, laughing and joking with Len all the while. ‘How well we get on!’ Kate thought tipsily. But in the taxi home Len was quiet.
‘What’s up?’ Kate said, snuggling up to him.
‘I was thinking. About that twin sister of yours.’
‘She’s got a beautiful house, er, expensive clothes, nice enough fella . . . but she doesn’t look happy.’
‘How can you say that? She’s newlywed!’
‘I was watching her. Whenever she stopped talking, and the attention was away from her . . . the smile fell off her face.’
And sure enough, about a week later, Kate, who had been doing the shopping by herself, for Len was at a meeting, came home to find the ice-cream car parked outside the house. Ysabel wound down the window at her approach and stuck out a face shockingly daubed with tears.
‘Oh Ysa, Ysa!’ said Kate, clutching her groceries and feeling helpless. ‘What’s happened?’
‘George . . . he’s porking his secretary!’
And Kate, who had never heard that expression before, but could guess what it meant, dropped her shopping bag. It burst open, revealing toilet cleaner, tampons, and most embarrassingly, a pound of pork sausages, extra large.
So there had to be a divorce, and while the family were wondering how to tell Great-gran Isabella, now in her nineties, the old lady went aloft, leaving all her money to her namesake. Ysabel grabbed it and went overseas, ‘To forget!’ as she said at the airport.
‘But not forgive, I’ll warrant,’ said Len. They had just booked a trip by themselves, modest in comparison, off to the other side of the continent, where Len had grown up. Come the school holidays, away they went, driving down dusty backroads, basking on quiet sandy beaches, making love under the stars, or beneath the ceiling roses of old pub bedrooms, even once by the roadside, watched incuriously by an Aberdeen Angus steer.
One morning Len woke, to find an empty space beside him in the bed. He found Kate seated in the shower stall, tossing up and catching what he first took to be a knucklebone but then realized was a tampon.
She met his gaze.
‘Looks like I won’t be needing this for a while,’ she said, quietly.
There was a long pause, then Len got down on his knees. Kate started to laugh, then wept like a drain.
The photo on her mother’s sideboard shows Len and Kate outside the registry office, thousands of miles from their relatives and friends, with the witnesses, a nice Norwegian couple from the youth hostel. Were it not for Kate’s nosegay of native flowers, gathered fresh that morning, the casual onlooker could think this was not a wedding, but a small and happy party – which it also was.
Kate’s mother worried about that for a while, then put it aside, literally, for Ysabel sent a photo of a blond, pallid Englishman called Robin. Len referred to him as ‘Milquetoast’ but only with Kate. ‘I’m sure he’s quite nice in person,’ Kate said charitably, but they never got to know. By the time Ysabel’s divorce came through Kate was nine months pregnant, legally unable to make the plane trip with her parents to Ysabel’s second wedding. ‘Cheer up!’ said Len, ‘you’d look a matronly matron of honour indeed, even if we could afford it.’
Kate stood up to throw a cushion at him, then gave a yelp. Her waters had broken.
I once saw a painting, towards the middle of the art histories, of twin sisters from the Elizabethan period, lying side by side in bed, which must have been artistic licence, given that they wore matching frocks, complete with stomachers, ruffs and jewels. Each clutched a swaddled child, for they were delivered on the same day. Twins tend to synchronicity; and thus, at the moment when Ysabel, standing on the damp grass of an Oxbridge lawn, said ‘I do’, Kate, in the maternity ward of an Antipodean hospital, cried ‘I don’t think I can stand this any more!’, and delivered Nance.
What with Ysabel’s honeymoon, this time in France, it was some time before the post brought Kate a parcel of English baby clothes. In fact Ysabel did not see her niece until Nance was toddling.
Their father was ill in hospital, so Kate went to collect her sister from the airport. Ysabel’s first words were ‘Can’t you give me a hand with this?’, spoken from behind a laden luggage trolley.
‘Sorry, I can’t manage suitcases with a stroller. And I’m not allowed to carry weights, not with being pregnant again.’
Ysabel pushed up her sunglasses for a better look at Kate’s belly, which swelled slightly but unmistakably behind the curtain of a T-shirt left over from Nance’s gestation.
‘Fertile, aren’t you?’ she said flatly.
‘Well, I only get so much maternity leave from the Education Department . . .’
At this moment Nance said: ‘Pitty!’, pointing at Ysabel.
‘Yes,’ said Kate. ‘That’s a pretty lady,’ as Ysabel paid attention to her niece for the first time. Kate glanced up, and saw their reflections in the airport mirrors, she pudgy, not only from pregnancy; in need of a haircut; and dressed in clothes that had been put through the washing machine too often. Ysabel was pale from an English winter, but had offset this with a henna rinse in her hair. She had somehow survived the transcontinental flight without creasing her suit.
While Kate stared at the mirror image of her mirror image, Ysabel’s head lifted from the baby, and she gazed into the glass, apparently unaware of her twin’s scrutiny. To think we started out as one egg! thought Kate. Never had they seemed less identical.
At Len and Kate’s second-hand station wagon, they loaded the myriad suitcases, and installed Nance in her babyseat. ‘Pitty,’ Nance repeated. ‘Pitty.’
Ysabel turned from the child as Kate started the car.
‘She leaves out the “r”,’ she said. ‘Sorry,’ Kate said, feeling oddly responsible for the babytalk. She edged the car out of the park and into the airport traffic.
Ysabel sighed. ‘In a way it’s appropriate. With Dad so sick. And . . .’
‘And?’ said Kate, not looking at Ysabel because they had just got to the 100-kilometre zone. Ysabel sighed again.
‘And Robin. Another bad apple.’
‘Oh,’ said Kate. In the rear-view mirror she could see Nance, contentedly chewing her sash. When she finally gave Ysabel the desired attention, she noticed the mole above the lipstick was trembling slightly.
‘Oh Kate, it’s so awful. He’s into rough trade.’
‘I thought he owned an art gallery,’ Kate said in bewilderment.
‘No, silly. It’s an English expression. Sailors and brickies and things. Once even a police sergeant!’
There was a long pause. ‘I don’t know what to say,’ Kate finally admitted.
‘You don’t have to say anything. Just be comforting.’
Kate put out her gear hand and caressed the silky hennaed curls, that coiled in the opposite direction from her own neglected mop.
‘What are you going to do?’ she said after some twenty kilometres.
‘Stay here and try not to do anything silly on the rebound! I’ll work, basically.’
‘I rather fancy the antique business. Being in England you develop an eye for the good old stuff . . . there’s so much of it there.’
It was on the tip of Kate’s tongue to ask how Ysabel would set herself up in business, as the money from Great-gran must be all gone by now, but they had turned into their home street, and Len, still carrying his briefcase from school, was waving to them.
The next few days were a mess of hospital visiting, and family dinners, and Nance coming down with a cold – out of which Ysabel emerged, perfectly groomed and with a paternal cheque to start her new business.
‘Godammit,’ said Len, when Kate finally told him. ‘She beat me to it. I was hoping he’d help out with the house extension. We need it.’
Kate bent down and wiped Nance’s nose for the hundredth time, it seemed.
‘Well, we could wait until I have the ultrasound.’
‘How will that help?’
‘They’ll sex the baby. And if it’s a boy . . .’
‘I see. He was talking about spouts last time I passed the sickbed, but I naively assumed they were on teapots, not infants. Well, love, if male chauvinism gets us the new bedroom, then three cheers for it.’
But as it happened, Kate and Ysa’s dad gave up, not more of his money, but the ghost, only a few days before the ultrasound.
‘It is a boy,’ Kate told Len, when he came back from school that day.
Len swore, softly but with feeling.
‘Are you sure?’
‘Here’s a copy of the ultrasound. I can’t see it myself, but Doc Donna was positive.’
Len gazed at the blur that was his son.
‘Let’s get a frame for this,’ he said after a while. ‘One of those metal ones, like your mother has.’
‘Silver, then. We’ll put it up on the mantelpiece, and watch the rellies go ape.’
‘It’s male chauvinism,’ Kate said primly.
‘Of course, but it puts you in the spotlight.’ For once, he nearly added. ‘Enjoy it. Me, I’ll enjoy watching Ysa try to trump this. She won’t be able to, unless she gets herself married to a prince next.
Oddly enough, Ysabel did marry royalty, but not for some years, a time of milk and honey, as Kate thought of it later, with Ysa the busy bee, buzzing around the countryside in search of old wares, and Kate staying at home, feeding babes. The boy they called Jim, after Kate’s dad, got a Georgian spoon from his aunt Ysa; and five years later Ysa was doing so well that Kate’s second son garnered an antique rosewood cradle. Len brought it in to the hospital – Ysabel was too busy to visit.
‘It won’t go with his hair,’ he said.
Kate looked down at the tiny shock of ginger at her breast. ‘Er, no,’ she said. ‘But it’s the thought that counts.’
To her the cradle looked most uncomfortable, but she said nothing when Ysabel, armed with an immense sheaf of orchids, finally made her grand entry into the hospital room.
‘My god,’ she said, pointing theatrically at the baby’s head. ‘Wherever did that come from?’
‘Len’s grandfather was a redhead.’
‘Well, it certainly didn’t come from our side of the family,’ said Ysa, tossing her hennaed curls. She sat down with a swish in the bedside chair, still clutching the orchids.
‘I think it’s nice for Len. The other two did rather take after us.’
‘You were trying for a different genetic mix?’
‘Er, no. I was trying to get back into the paid workforce.’
Ysabel tweaked a stray strand of hair beside Kate’s ear. ‘And I thought you were so efficient! Girl, then boy, nice balanced nuclear family . . . Like they say, there’s many a slip ’twixt the pill and the lip.’
‘So I have five more years of being a homebody!’ Kate said snappily, then repented. ‘He is a little dear.’
The nurse entered, and Ysa handed her the flowers: ‘Do be sweet and put these in your nicest vase, please!’ Then she caressed the baby absently.
‘You do produce adorable children. And so easily! Lucky you for being so healthy – earth mother, that’s what you are. I think you should have a baker’s dozen.’
‘We have only a small house,’ said Kate. And we still haven’t saved up enough for the extension, she thought. Things are going to get tight with young Rufus. ‘Babies are most expensive.’
Ysa pulled her hair again. ‘Silly. Other people could pay for them.’
‘What do you mean?’
But Ysa never clarified the remark, for at that moment Len entered with a vase of orchids. ‘Nurse said I should bring these in. Kate, love, your mum’s bringing Nance and Jim along from the playroom shortly.’
‘Then there’ll be no space for me in this little room!’ said Ysabel. ‘I must go!’
She kissed Kate, kissed Rufus, even gave Len a sisterly peck of the cheek, and was gone.
Lord, how she slathers on the lipstick, thought Len, as he wiped his face, then the baby’s, then finally Kate’s. When he finished it seemed all the colour had drained out of Kate’s face, and into the fuchsia stain on his handkerchief.
‘You’re white, love.’
‘I was just thinking. What if I had another accident?’
Len cradled Rufus.
‘Frankly, we couldn’t afford it.’
‘Then I’ll get myself spayed.’
‘Well, when it comes to the knife, it’s six of one and half a dozen of the other, isn’t it? I was going to offer.’
‘No, I think it should be me.’
Her tone was insistent, and Len frowned, but then Nance and Jim came in, all alarums and excursions.
‘I’m going to be a bridesmaid!’ yelled Nance. ‘And Jimmy’ll be a flowerboy!’
‘No I won’t!’ Jim retorted.
Their grandmother was beaming. ‘Such wonderful news about Ysabel!’
‘What news?’ said Kate.
‘Didn’t she tell you? Oh, you new mums are all the same, can’t shut up about bubby. Ysa’s getting married again!’
‘And who’s Prince Charming?’ said Len, nearly adding – this time.
‘Funny you should say that. He’s a Russian prince.’
When they finally met Dmitri, over dinner in his ex-quisitely renovated terrace house, he looked mildly em-barrassed to be introduced by Ysabel as ‘My prince!’
‘It was my grandmother’s title,’ he said in cultured Strine, ‘before the revolution. After that, she mopped floors. I don’t use it, myself.’
‘Never mind, it’s still there if you want to,’ said Ysabel, brightly. Len nudged Kate. While Ysa and Dmitri were in the kitchen, putting the finishing touches to the entree, he murmured:
‘Kate, I vaguely remember something about Milque-toast’s mother being a Hon.’
Kate was wishing she had Rufus handy, as she had just leaked milk on her best blouse. ‘Yes, that’s right,’ she said. ‘Ysa underlined the word three times in her letter home.’
‘Goes up in the world, doesn’t she? What will she do if this marriage breaks up? Find a king or something?’
‘Ssh,’ said Kate, as Ysabel came into the dining room with a cornucopia of prawns.
During the drive back to her mother’s place, where the children were, Len raised the topic again.
‘This time’s for keeps,’ Kate said wearily.
‘She thought that before.’
‘We had a long chat when we were making the coffee. She said she wasn’t going to make the same mistake again, that this time she’d held out for someone steady and true, who wouldn’t love anybody but her. A family man, she said. Like Len.’
‘I’m flattered. But seriously, Kate, can you see her with a grotty little brood like ours? It’d detract from the glam a bit.’
Kate was quiet, thinking on that odd conversation in the hospital, that’d seemed about to lead to . . . what? It had disquieted her at the time, but that was probably post-natal hormones, reacting to nothing at all.
‘We’ll see,’ she said, as their station wagon nosed down her mother’s driveway, to the accompaniment of piercing screams, from Rufus.
‘We’ll see,’ said Kate numbly. Ysa and her mother sat looking at her across Kate’s battered kitchen table, and just at that moment Kate felt like sliding under it, and helping Rufus play with his blocks. Anything rather than think, as Ysa had asked her to do. ‘I’ll have to talk it over with Len. It’s a big thing, s . . . s . . . surrogacy.’
There it was, spoken aloud. Ysa had talked in circumlocutions: ‘My health’s always been delicate . . . I was such a frail baby . . . not like healthy old you . . . I’d do anything for Dmitri . . . he’s such a good husband . . . but children . . . it’s not possible . . . the physical strain alone . . . it’d do me in, the doctors say . . . And Dmitri wouldn’t want a child not his own . . . he’s old fashioned that way . . . Kate, you’re my one hope.’
‘Are you aware that I had my tubes tied?’ Kate said.
‘Oh darling, I wouldn’t want you to give away a child that was half yours, not even to your own sister. It’ll be so simple – they’ll take out an egg of mine, fertilize it with Dmitri’s seed, and you’d be the incubator.’
Kate stared at her.
‘Oh, tactless me, for repeating doctor-talk. I mean, you’d nurture the baby for us.’
Kate turned to her mother, who had been silent during the preamble. ‘Mum, you talked this over with Ysa?’
Her mother bent down and picked up Rufus from under the table. When she was upright again she nodded.
‘What do you think?’
Rufus squirmed, but the older woman clutched him tightly.
‘You never met your Aunty Jane. She was my oldest sister, the one who married the ex-Jesuit. They were mad for children, but nothing happened. I was only a girl at the time but I remember thinking that when I got married I’d like to give one of my children – I had six planned – to Jane, because she was my favourite sister and she looked so unhappy. I did have some doubts, because the bub would be reared Catholic. We were all rather bigoted in those days. But then we found out that Jane was infertile because of ovarian cancer . . . she was gone in a few months, and her husband was engaged to be married again within the year. I never forgave him.’
She suddenly dumped Rufus in Kate’s lap and left the kitchen, shutting the door behind her. Kate looked up and into Ysa’s eyes.
‘See, Mum even thought of doing something like that.’
‘Yes, but she didn’t have a husband to consider.’
‘Oh, you can wind Len round your little finger!’
Can I? thought Kate. Do I want to, even?
‘Kate,’ said her twin. ‘I could attempt it. I would, you know, for Dmitri. He does so want a child. But he can’t have it and me. It’s as simple as that. And at worst he’d have neither.’
Rufus reached up and patted Kate’s cheek. She suddenly thought of the rosewood cradle, filled now with Nance’s collection of dolls. What would this house be like, without dolls, without blocks, without their three babies? In her mind an empty cradle rocked, to and fro, aimlessly. Her face clenched.
‘Oh Kate,’ said Ysa. ‘I do so want this marriage to last. But without a child . . .’
She began, delicately, to weep too.
‘Yes,’ whispered Kate. ‘Yes, yes, I’ll do it for you.’
They had a tactical meeting, as Dmitri called it, at his and Ysa’s house, with Nance and Jim sent to play in the big garden and the rest of the family – the two couples, Rufus, and the twins’ mother – closeted in the sitting room. During the preliminary cake and coffee another party arrived. He introduced himself as Doctor Abdullah.
‘He normally works with IVF,’ said Ysabel, ‘but he’s agreed to help us through the pregnancy.’
Kate was disentangling Rufus from the legs of an antique carved chair, and it was a moment before this remark sunk in. When it did, she said:
‘I already have a Gynie.’
‘Who?’ said Abdullah.
‘Donna, Doc Donna . . .’
Abdullah drew in his breath sharply.
‘Oh Kate,’ said Ysabel, ‘she wrote all those letters to the paper about the Baby M case! No no, she wouldn’t do at all.’
‘She is not the best,’ said Abdullah.
‘There you have it,’ said Ysa, ‘from the mouth of an expert.’ Abdullah smiled slightly. Kate scrutinized him; he was quite handsome, with a neat black beard and even, large white teeth. However, he put her in mind of mullahs in turbans, women shrouded in black from head to foot, unspeakable genital mutilation. Stop that, she thought, you’re being racist. But as she looked at the olive-skinned hands that would touch her intimately, she felt a sinking feeling. She did like Doc Donna . . .
‘Then that’s settled,’ said Ysa. Abdullah, his part in the proceedings over, took a slice of cake and wandered out to the garden. Kate could hear Nance and Jim prattling to him.
‘Abdullah does like children,’ said Ysa. ‘Six of his own, I’m told.’
With how many wives? wondered Kate.
Dmitri was flicking through a folder in his lap. He cleared his throat.
‘We would of course pay all medical costs.’
‘Thank God,’ Len said quietly.
‘Although this is not a commercial transaction. I must say –’ and here he looked directly at Kate and Len for the first time, ‘– I feel the notion of buying a child somewhat distasteful. Even though my ancestors owned serfs. But I think you should have some recompense.’
Kate was aware of Len leaning forward.
‘Ysa tells me that your eldest children share one room, and that baby sleeps in a bassinet at the foot of your bed.’
‘We were saving up for an extension,’ Len said.
‘I may be able to help in this area.’
‘Ah,’ said Len. ‘Now you’re talking.’
‘Besides the law firm, I have various . . . interests. Show cattle, one leg of a racehorse, property here and there. I own a house, not far from where you live, that belonged to my mother. It is large, four bedrooms, with an established garden. The tenants have not been good, but that can be repaired.’
‘And?’ said Len.
‘I can let you have it, for the value of your current house. This is not a business deal, but between family.’
‘You’re on,’ said Len.
Rufus was just about to take a mouthful of pot-pourri, but Kate caught him in time. He howled.
‘Fine healthy lungs,’ said Dmitri. ‘Fine child.’
‘Len, take him outside,’ said Kate. It was probably her imagination, but she felt that Dmitri was looking at her as if she was one of his blessed show cattle and Rufus her calf. To her relief Dmitri closed his folder and followed Len and Rufus out. Now there were only women in the room.
‘One thing,’ said Ysa, ‘hasn’t been discussed yet. Dmitri and I feel that the most efficient way to do this would be, rather than separate pregnancies, to get it over and done with quickly. We’d like to put all the eggs together in the one basket.’
‘A multiple birth!’
‘They happen all the time in IVF, Abdullah says. Easy as picking peas from a pod, the deliveries.’
‘He said that too?’
‘Yes.’ Ysabel stared back unblinkingly, as if nothing untoward had been said.
Their mother suddenly put her cup down hard on the coffee table.
‘I said, no. It’s too much to ask. You don’t know what a multiple pregnancy’s like! Lord knows, I’m glad I had the pair of you, but at the time it was sheer hell. I felt as full of my young as a cat stuffed with kittens, I could barely move. Your poor father had to pick me up and carry me in the last few weeks. His back was never the same . . .’
Ysabel had gone white, but when she spoke her voice was steady.
‘Well, after hearing it from the horse’s mouth, if you pardon the expression, Mum, I’d rather not.’
‘Well then,’ said Ysabel. ‘One baby, then.’
The mole above her lipstick twitched. Ysabel put her hand to her mouth to suppress it, her antique rings glistening as she did. Kate looked down at her own hands, and suddenly noticed a mole on her fourth finger, above the thin wedding band.
‘Ysa, could you please take off your engagement ring, for a moment?’
Ysabel raised her eyebrows, but obliged.
‘Not there,’ Kate explained. ‘Ysa has a mole on her face, and I don’t. I have a mole on my wedding finger, and hers is lilywhite all over.’
‘Not genetically determined, moles,’ said their mother. ‘I remember reading that once.’
Like other things, thought Kate.
Several months later, Kate lay flat on her back in a hospital room, her legs splayed, cold metal holding her soft flesh open to Abdullah, who reached deeply inside her. She felt a twinge as his instrument, that carried the microscopic child of Ysa and Dmitri, pressed against the wall of her womb.
‘I’m glad I don’t have to do that again,’ she confided to Len later. But she did, for the first implantation did not take.
‘Oh Kate,’ said Ysa, staring reproachfully at the little bottle of urine, that had just tested negative. ‘And I thought you were so fertile.’
‘Well, it wasn’t my egg,’ Kate said lamely.
‘It might have been,’ Abdullah said suddenly. ‘You two are biologically the same, you would carry the same genetic material.’
Ysa brushed this aside. ‘I hope this doesn’t happen again, Kate. I don’t want to suffer another egg collection . . . it was agony!’
It’s not exactly a picnic for me either, thought Kate. ‘Well,’ she said, ‘next month, then. And if that egg doesn’t take, then we’ve got two more goes before Ysa has to donate again. Isn’t that right?’
‘We have three eggs left,’ he said. His gaze met Ysa’s for a moment, then slid away.
‘Come on, Kate,’ said Ysabel. ‘Let’s go and see how the painting’s going at your new house.’
The colour scheme looked beautiful, but Kate, the next month, wondered if it was really worth it, as she lay on her back for Abdullah again. This time, after that faint, cold, internal touch, of catheter against flesh, she shuddered.
Abdullah swore in an alien tongue, then withdrew hurriedly. ‘Couldn’t you control yourself?’ he said. ‘You nearly wrecked everything!’
‘Sorry,’ said Kate, but after the apology, felt a tinge of anger. ‘What did you call me?’ she asked.
‘You said something in Arabic. I want to know what it meant.’
‘The way you said it, I know it meant something.’
‘No,’ he said. ‘Forget it. You should relax now.’
‘I can’t, not after being sworn at!’
Abdullah loosened clamps, drew metal out of Kate. ‘Don’t make an issue out of it!’ he said savagely, and strode out of the room.
‘I hate Abdullah,’ said Kate to Len. ‘He’s a creep.’
‘Well, love, I can’t say I’m keen on him, but bear with it. We get a nice new house, don’t we?’
‘If this works,’ said Kate.
‘Twins!’ cried Ysabel, staring at the ultrasound.
‘What?’ said Kate.
Abdullah pointed at two faint dots on the screen. ‘Two embryos. There’s no mistaking it.’
‘Oh clever little egg!’ said Ysabel. ‘It divided, didn’t it, just like we divided, you and I, Kate, all those years ago. Twins run in families.’
Kate was mentally clambering around the family tree. As far as she recalled, she and Ysa had been the only twins . . .
‘What sex are they?’ she asked.
‘Far too early to tell,’ replied Abdullah.
Ysabel was frowning. ‘I’m not sure we should know the gender,’ she said. ‘It would spoil the surprise.’
‘You want to wait nine months before knowing?’ Kate asked, intrigued. This was most unlike Ysabel.
‘Well, that’s been the lot of women since the dawn of time, hasn’t it? Not knowing whether to knit in pink or blue.’
‘Ysa, you can’t knit for toffee apples,’ Kate began, and then winced. Abdullah had withdrawn the scanning equip-ment abruptly, and roughly, from between her legs. She felt that flash of anger again, but did not voice it until later. As Ysabel was treating her to afternoon tea in a flashy little bistro near the hospital, she said:
‘Ysa, I don’t feel happy with Abdullah. He may be good, but his bedside manner is . . . off-putting.’
‘He told me,’ said Ysabel. ‘He said you’re ever so difficult with blood samples, because your veins go and spasm when he sticks in the needle.’
‘He told you that? He never told me. I was wondering why it hurt so much . . .’
Her voice trailed off. See what I mean? she thought, but did not say. Other words, that she had been rehearsing, came more readily to her, though she spoke them tentatively.
‘Ysa, I think it’s good for me and for the babies, if I have a good relationship with the Doctor. Abdullah’s done his bit now with the implantation, so can’t I get Doc Donna for the remainder of the pregnancy? I relax with her, and she’s such a good midwife.’
‘You won’t need a midwife.’
Kate wondered if she had heard aright.
‘How am I supposed to deliver these children?’
‘Abdullah will do a Caesarian.’
‘But, but . . . I’ve never had any problems before, and I don’t see any arising now.’
‘It’s standard procedure with IVF, darling, Abdullah does it all the time. They really can’t risk losing the babies, you know.’
‘Losing? We aren’t living in the dark ages.’
Ysa’s gaze was like a steel caress.
‘Recall, Kate, the case of our brother.’
Their mother had never spoken of it, but somehow, through the osmosis of cousins and aunts, they had heard of the baby who had died two years before they were born.
‘He was strangled with the birth cord, wasn’t he?’
‘Ysa,’ said Kate, appalled at this old trauma, and also at the fact it was being used against her, ‘it couldn’t happen again, could it? Not twice in the same family.’
‘We can’t risk it,’ said Ysabel. Her eyes suddenly filled with tears. After a moment Kate put her arm around her.
‘OK, you win.’ Again, she thought. ‘Cheer up now, eat your cake . . . you’ve hardly touched it.’
‘No, darling, you have it. You are supporting three, you know.’
Kate ate it, but as she traipsed round with Ysabel that afternoon, from maternity shop to maternity shop ‘Because you deserve to have the best, Katy!’ she started to feel ill. She barely got back to her house before vomiting.
‘Food poisoning,’ she decided, but the next morning she threw up again, just as she was trying on one of the expensive maternity dresses.
‘I’ll be late for school,’ he grumbled. When he came into the bedroom he found her, ruffled in orange like a fairy cake, clutching the skirt of the dress to her face. Ysabel’s choice, he thought, and her taste. I suppose you could call that a gut reaction to it.
‘You won’t have to wear that thing for months,’ he said. ‘Why put it on now?’
Kate said something incomprehensible and raised a face tinged with green. ‘I’ll call your mother,’ he said. ‘Although the amount of babysitting she’s done lately, I wouldn’t be surprised if she starts charging.’
Kate’s mother dropped everything and came, not just this once, but many times, for Kate kept on vomiting. It was morning, afternoon, and evening sickness.
‘You’re losing weight,’ said Abdullah. ‘I may have to put you in hospital.’
Kate leaned forward.
‘And how am I supposed to run my household, care for a husband and three children?’
‘You have a mother. That’s what mothers are for,’ he said.
‘We’ve imposed on her enough.’
‘Then your sister will surely pay for help. After all, it’s her children at stake.’
And me, thought Kate. Sometimes, as she stared at the back of the toilet bowl, she wished to be dead, notwithstanding Len, Nance, Jim, Rufus, her mother, Ysabel and last but not least, the babies she carried.
As it happened, her mother wouldn’t hear of hired help, and held the fort while Kate spent a week in a private hospital. She stopped vomiting, but came home very thin. When she looked at herself in the mirror, the bulge of the twins gave her the look of a child with malnutrition.
While she was away Nance had got clucky.
‘I want you to have two baby girls, Mummy.’
‘Well, I don’t know about that,’ said Kate.
‘I want two baby sisters. So that we’ve got more girls than boys.’
‘Hey!’ said Kate, and lifted Nance onto her lap, with difficulty, for the bulge was in the way. ‘I thought we’d explained all that. They’re Ysa and Uncle Dmitri’s babies . . . your cousins.’
‘But they’re in you, aren’t they?’
Kate sighed, and reiterated the child’s guide to surrogacy. Later she confided to Len:
‘Why couldn’t we have a tomboy? Jim can’t give a damn about the babies.’
‘Cultural conditioning,’ said Len, tidying up one of Nance’s dolls from the sofa. ‘It’s a powerful thing.’
There was a rustle, and two smaller dolls fell from under the first doll’s skirt and landed at Kate’s feet. She picked them up wordlessly.
From then on, things got slowly worse, with Kate be-coming a blimp on legs, subject to the thousand natural shocks that the pregnant flesh is heir to: heartburn, incontinence, insomnia, even internal bruising, for the twins had quickened into a kick-boxing match.
‘They’ll be born with black eyes and pug noses at this rate,’ said Kate, at 2 a.m. one morning.
‘I know,’ said Len, from the other side of the bed. ‘Can feel it over here, even.’
He put out a hand and set it firmly on the bulge. ‘Pipe down, you two,’ he said in his deepest voice.
Amazingly, it worked. That was a rare good night. Other times, Len was too tired to support Kate, what with work and the demands of their other children, who suddenly seemed possessed by devils. Jim had a spate of bedwetting, Rufus threw tantrums, and Nance alternated between being mother’s little helper and teasing her brothers unmercifully. Kate could barely keep them in order, she was growing so big and unwieldy.
One day, when she lumbered out of bed, her shoes would not fit her feet.
‘Mummy’s like Bigfoot,’ said Jim.
‘Fluid retention,’ Kate explained. ‘It happens to pregnant ladies. It’s just that I’ve never had so bad.
Her feet, when she could see them past the twins, looked like pink hills.
‘Talk about being barefoot and pregnant,’ said Len, but stopped, for Kate had begun to weep bitterly.
She ended up in hospital again for the last months of the pregnancy, lying on a waterbed, for that was the only surface comfortable for her bulk.
‘I just want all this waiting to be over,’ she told Ysabel, when her sister had torn herself away from the furnishing of the new baby-room to visit her.
Ysabel stroked the bulge.
‘Darling, don’t you think I want that too? My babies, at last! It’s so exciting.’
‘It’s very boring, for me,’ said Kate. Ysabel shrugged.
‘Well, tell me what I can do to help. You want it, I’ll go out and buy it for you.’
‘I want . . . a pregnant cat. As round as I am. So someone around me is in the same situation.’
She gave a harsh laugh.
‘Kate,’ said Ysa. ‘Think of the health regulations! It wouldn’t be allowed, not in a hospital.’
‘She could sit on the pillow,’ continued Kate. ‘And we’d commune, across the species barrier, about how awful giving life can be.’
‘Kate!’ and her sister hurried off, to consult with Abdullah. Perhaps because of that conversation, the caesarian was put forward.
Kate woke, nauseous from the anaesthetic. ‘Easy now,’ she heard Len say, and slept again. She drowsed, rising out of her unconsciousness now and then to hear his breathing, to smell flowers, en masse surely, for their scent dominated the hospital room.
When she finally opened her eyes it seemed as if she and Len were somehow in a flowershop, one specializing in exotic orchids. She giggled, then drew her breath in sharply.
‘My stomach feels like a block of wood.’
‘You’ve been cut open, in case you can’t remember,’ said Len.
‘No, I remember. How . . .?’
But he wouldn’t let her finish. ‘I see what you meant about that bastard Abdullah. When we were all gowned up and you were wheeled in, he made a crack about pulling the rabbits out of you. I said that even though my wife was unconscious, she still deserved some respect, and he shut up.’
‘How . . .?’
‘I tell you, if Ysabel and Dmitri hadn’t been there, I’d have clouted the creep.’
‘Len, stop interrupting me, please! I’ve been trying to ask about the twins.’
‘Fine and healthy,’ he said, curtly.
‘Any difference in weight?’
‘A few ounces. Nothing to worry about.’
He stared at the nearest orchids, then, very deliberately, swept vase, flowers, water and all, onto the hospital floor.
‘Len!’ Kate tried to rise, but subsided in pain. ‘What is it?’
‘The twins are boy and girl. Fraternal, not identical twins, from two eggs, not one dividing! Now I know why there was all that secrecy over gender. We’ve been used.’
‘What was that crash?’ A white-clad Sister appeared in the doorway.
‘An accident,’ said Kate. ‘Get Abdullah. And my sister. Now!’
She spoke quietly, but the Sister turned abruptly, as if by military injunction. How odd, thought Kate, someone doing what I want.
But it was her mother who came first to the room.
‘They’re two fine bubbies,’ she said to Kate. ‘Lovely and healthy. You’ve done a wonderful job.’
She paused, but Kate made no response.
Len said: ‘I just told her. When did you find out?’
The mother sighed. ‘When two antique cradles get fitted out with lace canopies, in pink and blue, you can’t help noticing, can you? “How can you know, Ysa?” I said, and she replied, “because Abdullah told me!”’
‘Nobody told me,’ said Kate.
‘I would have, but Ysa wouldn’t allow it.’
‘What is it now?’ said Abdullah, entering the hospital room. He wore a business suit, and his beard looked freshly trimmed. But he was almost elbowed aside by Ysabel, who came tripping up to the recumbent Kate, radiant.
‘Oh Kate, oh Kate, they’re so beautiful!’
‘Don’t come near me,’ Kate whispered. Abdullah sud-denly seemed about to sneak out the doorway. ‘Stop!’ she said. ‘Two eggs! I know all about it!’
‘It was three, actually,’ said Abdullah. ‘We had to maximize the chances.’
Len had suddenly put his hand on hers. I know what that’s for, thought Kate. Not support, but restraint. He might have broken the vase earlier, but now he’s thinking of the lovely new house. Old half-remembered fragments of church services at St Swithin’s were coming back to her, something about selling birthright for pottage.
‘One failed,’ said Abdullah. ‘And we couldn’t tell immediately whether two had failed and there’d been a natural division of the third, as happened with you and your sister. And when we could sex the twins . . . you weren’t in a good state. It seemed best not to upset you.’
‘In case I had kittens, I mean, the babies, on the spot?’
She was suddenly remembering what the old church services had called the likes of Abdullah, and quite forgetting the nice Turkish mothers at Nance and Jim’s little school, she cried:‘Infidel! Deceiver!’
‘I’m sorry,’ said Abdullah, and went out.
‘Kate . . .’ began Ysabel, but Kate turned on her, screaming:
‘You too! Deceiver! Liar! Thief!’
Post-natal hormones were a good thing, Len said later. It meant Kate’s outburst could be ascribed to chemicals, and nice Uncle Dmitri could fork out for a rest cure.
‘Buying us off again,’ said Kate.
‘I know, I know, but you need it.’
After Kate had stopped screaming, which was about two minutes after Ysabel had fled the hospital room, her mother had sat down firmly on the bed and taken hold of her.
‘Ysa does what she wants to,’ she had said. ‘And we live with it. We even love her for it.’
Kate had sobbed and then slept again. In the morning she had been wheeled out to see the twins. Nikolai had a dark mop of hair; the girl, Anastasia, was bald except for a few white wisps. Apart from that, they looked like the rest of the newborns – ugly as boiled mice. Only a mother could love them; and Kate did.
As she gazed Len bent down close to her ear.
‘I’ve been thinking. I know it’s a bit late in the day, but we don’t have to do what other people want.’
Kate said nothing.
‘Those two kicked me in the back often enough, as I lay beside you. That’s . . . endearing, odd though it may sound. We don’t have to take the new house. We could take the kick-boxers.’
‘They’re not ours.’
‘Well, sure, they’re half Dmitri’s, but you carried them. And didn’t you tell me Abdullah said the eggs of identical twins were the same? A clever lawyer could make something of that.’
‘Dmitri’s a lawyer,’ said Kate. ‘He might not give up his babes without a fight.’
‘Well, we fight him then,’ said Len, but without conviction. He tried to smile, but it faded from his face. I know what he wants me to say, thought Kate, and said it.
‘Len, we’re poor as church-mice, even if you get your promotion. With three we’re struggling, with five, we’ll be on the streets. No.’
‘Thank God,’ said Len, quickly. ‘I wasn’t looking forward to Dmitri getting nasty. We’ve got a lawyer suing the school now, all over his fool of a son’s broken leg.’
Kate wrested her gaze from the twins.
‘One thing, Len. I want a holiday. You, me, and our kids, just a nuclear family. We need to escape.’
‘I’ll talk to Uncle Dmitri,’ said Len.
They ended up at a Balinese resort, where there were local children for Jim and Nance to play with, and a local Nannie thrown into the holiday package, to keep an eye on Rufus. Len and Kate could be alone together, for almost the first time since their pre-wedding holiday, all those years ago. They walked hand in hand down jungly paths, lay on beaches with the sand bright as platinum. Things mended: Nance stopped talking about baby sisters, Jim slept all night in dry pyjamas, Rufus grew placid. Len browned and relaxed; the scars in Kate’s body healed.
But not the ones in her soul. ‘I know I’ve done wrong,’ she said on their last day. Len jumped – it seemed as if Kate was not addressing him, but some vast impersonal other.
But her gaze was directed at the Hindu idol behind them, a gigantic gilded woman, with multiple arms, but only two breasts.
She turned away from the statue, with one of her slow smiles, as if she was his old Kate again.
She isn’t though. When they move into their new house, the first thing Kate does is nobble the spare bedroom, that Len had earmarked for a study. ‘This will be Kate’s room,’ she says, and he decides not to argue about it. She moves an old school desk into the room, then a chair.
‘I’m going to study,’ she says.
‘Sure, love, but what about babysitting? I mean, we can’t rely on your mother, what with the twins home and Ysa opening a new antique shop . . .’
‘Ysa and Dmitri have a Nannie,’ she says, ‘so Mum will have some free time. If necessary we can dump the kids on the Nannie now and then. They can all play happy families together!’
Len’s promotion comes through, so there’s a bit more money in the house. Kate can even pay for childminding while she’s at the Adult Education. Her first course is in Art History, then she studies Craft. She buys a second-hand spinning wheel and installs it in her room, processing wool and knitting it into bulky jumpers for everyone except Jim, who has a wool allergy. When the family are well and truly sick of homespun, she sells the surplus woollies at the school fête.
Len doesn’t know what to make of her. She used to be slow-moving and content; now she moves incessantly from one activity to another, her eyes hollow. The weight she lost during the pregnancy never returns – Kate is stick-thin, with Ysa puffy in comparison with her. And then there’s the matter of the collection . . .
One day Len brings Kate a cup of tea and finds her staring at something which he slowly recognizes as the carved Russian doll Dmitri gave Nance for her birthday.
‘It’s called a Matrioshka,’ she says. ‘That’s from the word for “mother” in Russian. Nance calls it “Mothers and Daughters”, because it splits – see! – and there are generations of dolls inside.’
‘Well, love, that’s all very interesting, but . . .’
‘I asked Dmitri to give me one too. I’m starting a collection.’
‘Of what?’ Len asks, genuinely frightened.
‘Of Her!’ and Kate laughs.
In time Kate’s collection encompasses Italian bread dolls, with coloured foil skirts and rows of breasts; a lump of clay decorated by Rufus, which is amazingly like the prehistoric loom weights in her art books; and newspaper articles, from the women’s section of the paper, which she tapes to the newly painted walls. She goes to the local library to make microfilm printouts of Doc Donna’s letters about Baby M, and sticks them up too. Even the spinning wheel is part of the collection, although she doesn’t tell Len that. These small, subtle things belong to a mystery, one that is not meant for him.
She thinks she is half crazy now. Other times she feels merely that the scales have fallen from her eyes. It is hard to tell which is preferable, although both, it seems, are part of the same thing. She looks up at the yellowing newsprint on her walls, and burns to use words to say what she wants, to express her story in a scream that will carry far beyond a hospital room.
The next course she takes is Creative Writing, but even after it Kate struggles with her narrative, filling up pad after pad with experiments in form. Len is Deputy Headmaster now, quite the bureaucrat, he jokes, and he could use the money for a new car. Instead, he buys Kate a word processor, and she sits in her room, tapping away.
It is only after the computer malfunctions, and their friend the Maths teacher fixes it up, that Kate learns the computer, too, is part of her collection. And almost at the same moment comes the idea of an alternate self to tell her story, a mirrored persona, standing outside Kate, reading her mind at crucial moments, even reading Len’s.
Because . . . what Kate wants to say so badly that it hurts like childbirth, is that, as she said to the golden statue, she has done wrong. And the faces on her wall, of Mary Beth Whitehead and Elizabeth Kane, the first paid surrogate mother, they say it too. To have another carry your child, nurturing it from microscopic grain to viable human being, is false parturition, a mockery of the Mother. A baby taken from its birth-mother under such circumstances is nothing less than stolen. ‘Thief!’ Kate had cried at Ysa. And on child-stealers the Goddess has no mercy.
Ysa fusses over Nikolai and Anastasia, but they push her away, run to the Nannie, or Kate when they see her. They are going through a ‘phase’, as Ysa puts it, in which everything is ‘Pooey!’, including their genetic mother.
‘Pooey Mummy!’ they chorus to Ysa, who pours herself a stiff drink. Anastasia looks at Kate and grins widely.
‘Unpooey Mummy!’ she says.
‘Jesus, how can they know?’ says Len, when Kate tells him later, over the washing up.
‘They know,’ says Kate.
The phone rings. She answers it, and hears little voices on the line.
‘Is it those two again?’ asks Len. Kate nods.
‘That Nannie will regret she taught them how to use the phone, when Uncle Dmitri gets the bill.’
Kate smiles and concentrates on the twins, who have something important to say about their pet rabbit. After a while Len takes over, on the extension, and she returns to her computer, to the spot in the manuscript where she left off yesterday. From a great distance, she can hear Len talking about hutches. Kate stares at her text, then types on to the screen:
She’s got power, that one.
Pausing, Kate adds:
She is not mocked. This story proves it.
Lucy Sussex edited The Fortunes of Mary Fortune (1989) and is co-editor of She’s Fantastical (1995) among others. Her short story “My Lady Tongue” won the Ditmar (Australian Science Fiction Achievement Award) in 1988. In 1994 she was a judge for the international Tiptree Award for speculative fiction. She writes a weekly review column in The Sunday Age and The West Australian.
From: Angels of Power
Eds. Susan Hawthorne and Renate Klein