Wednesday, 17 March 2010

True stories

Last night I went to watch Sam play his guitar in a concert. I had to take all four children with me as Neil was working late. In the past this would have given me palpations, but fortunately they are at an age now where they can enjoy a concert. Sam had to be at the concert early, so we arrived 40 minutes before it was due to start and were able to sit in the front row. Daniel and Jo played on their DSis while we waited. Alice had hoped to play on Jo’s old gameboy. Jo plugged it in to charge when he got home from school, but he didn’t have time to press the switch on the plug because he needed to go outside and practice free kicks (this explanation made perfect sense to him and he gave it straight faced when the gameboy battery ran out after just 10 seconds). Fortunately I had several pens in my bag and I handed the concert tickets to Alice and told her to draw on the back of them. She told me to sit very still because she was going to draw a picture of me.

I wasn’t allowed to look at the picture while she was drawing it, so I stared straight ahead and ended up tuning in to the conversation of a mother and daughter behind us. The daughter spoke in a loud, self-conscious voice, aware that people might be listening, striving it seemed, to humiliate her mother. The mother responded in flat, weary tones, making no comment as to her daughter’s rudeness. The mother ruined everything, was irritating and needed to just stop talking – doh. It was the mother’s fault that the daughter couldn’t see (they were in the second row) but when the mother offered to change seats the daughter refused. The daughter’s complaints were interspersed with look-at-me comments: I just LOVE these shoes, I need to lose half a stone, I don’t know how I’m going to dance in my prom dress.

I started to feel a bit queasy – how long before I get to enjoy the pleasure of being spoken to like that? I thought.

I broke Alice's rules and looked down at her just as she was waving the pen at me, counting.

‘What are you counting?’ I asked.

‘Your spots,’ she said.

‘Oh,’ I replied. I watched as she began to draw spots on the picture of me. ‘Do you have to draw the spots?’

‘Yes,’ she said. ‘This is a proper picture. But I’ve only drawn five and you’ve actually got thirteen spots. Stop looking.’

I was happy to stop looking at the picture and tuned back in to the conversation behind me which was progressing nicely. The mother had the temerity to smooth a piece of the daughter’s hair down and was told to get off. Some boys sat down next to the daughter: her volume increased accordingly. There’s no way I’d let you chaperone me at the prom mum, no way. You’re too embarrassing. The mother didn’t reply: if such an offer had been made it hadn’t been made at the concert.

I hazarded another glance at Alice’s picture. It seemed to be almost finished, however I noticed that she had only drawn the top part of my glasses frame in two thick lines just above my eyebrows. ‘There’s no eye bits in my glasses,’ I said.

‘They’re not glasses,’ she replied. ‘They’re lines. You’ve got lots of them on your forehead, but I’ve just drawn two.’

‘Oh.’ I took the pen off her and drew a circle around each eye to connect with the lines, making them into glasses. ‘That’s better,’ I said.

‘You’ve spoilt it now,’ she moaned.

A tiny part of me wanted to explain that the spots and the lines on my forehead are new to me, that I wasn’t expecting them, that they have snuck up on me since her birth and I was hoping that she wouldn’t notice. A small part of me felt irritated by the smooth, thick plain of her forehead and the scrutinising eyes underneath, determined to observe the truth of my appearance. Another part of me wanted to laugh at both of us.

I thanked her for the picture, put it in my bag and asked her to draw another one. She drew a picture of us standing next to each other. This time she didn’t look at me. There weren’t any spots or lines, but I seemed to be missing an eye.

She knelt on her chair and held up the picture. ‘Look,’ she said.
The people behind us could see the picture. ‘It’s me and mum,’ she said.

I glanced back over my shoulder and smiled at the mother and daughter. The mother’s face was scrubbed shiny with tiredness, her hair unruly and frizzed. The daughter slouched in her seat, angled away from her mother; beautiful, but awkward, fidgeting with her cardigan. They smiled back.

Not long after the lights went down, Alice crept onto my lap, leaving her seat empty, improving the view for the girl behind us. As Sam serenaded the hall with his classical guitar music, Alice planted a warm kiss on the back of one of my hands and perhaps the girl behind us inched a little closer to her mother too – if this was one of my stories that’s how I would end it.

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