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Assumption's sister dies: a lonely Bittersea wishes it mattered.

Can't Do It

part 8 of Common People

I decided to tell Assumption the news over a cup of tea at the shopping centre, because the SMS from Over There had arrived while I was collecting the cat food. I had left Assumption looking in the wig shop, as she was very unhappy with the colour put into her hair by the hairdresser. Not black enough! She complained. Too black, in my opinion. On a woman that old the dark colours just look horrible.

I always thought myself lucky when I was younger, having two daughters. See, mothers have daughters so their daughters keep them from looking horrible in their old age: pluck out all the grey beard hairs from the moles, keep the hairstyles from going bad, make sure bras are always worn, all the things that husbands and sons are useless for. But Assumption's so stubborn, nothing I say matters. I think she thinks the mirrors are lying to her. She can't pick herself out in any photos any more. She points to pictures of Beloved, back when she had long hair, or pictures of Princess, and says, 'Is that me? That's me! Lovely. Gosh, I'm lovely.' I don't know what to do; she looks ridiculous, all the time. But who knows. Maybe Beloved and Princess think the same of me. Beloved will never tell me, appearance being anathema; Princess can't hardly talk to me without some comment on my weight.

While I was pondering how to tell my mother of her sister's death, she'd gone and bought herself some wig thing called "Daisy." The girls had fitted it to her head with clips. As we sat to our tea, and I tried to work out gentle words to broach the subject of her sister Ideal Wife's death, she pushed hair from the wig back off her forehead. The whole thing stood up on her skull like an inverted, deflating balloon.

Thank God the coffee lounge was shutting down and we were the only ones in it at the time, or I would have been mortified. She wasn't stressed by the creeping of the wig, so I gently started to explain that I had just received this SMS from Over There, and the news was bad.

She immediately said her sister's name.

Which surprised me: I was expecting it, because I had spoken to Ideal Wife on the phone a few weeks ago. So did Assumption, but when that conversation was finished she said sneeringly, '...huh, silly old woman didn't make any sense.' This from a woman with dementia! Still, she's never been much for others, my mother: at the time I didn't know if she realised her sister was actually on her deathbed, but now I thought she just had no sympathy for the situation.

'Yes.' Gently. 'Your sister has gone to her Father.' That's what they used to call God. Their real father, they called by name.

'Ah, it was her time.' No concern. She went back to her creeping wig and tried to pull it down again.

Except Daisy crept off the back of her skull as she pulled it down. Suddenly, it was sitting on the table between our cups of tea. I looked at the hair on the table and I looked at her indifferent awareness of the whole situation and her sister's death hung between us, unaddressed.

I thought I would burst out laughing.

'Look at that,' I admonished, 'those girls went to so much trouble to put it on you and you just take it off. You don't care about anything, do you?'

She looked at me in frustration. She picked up the wig and put it back on.

'It's on back to front! Let me fix it!' I reached across to move the thing the right way round. She flipped her hand up, irritated.

'Leave it, I'll do it. It's my wig!'

She put it on sideways.

I let her sit there, my ridiculous mother, with her dead sister's unaddressed death between us and this stupid Daisy thing sitting sideways on her head. She drank her cup of tea like that, then gave in and took it off before we walked out to the car.

November 2011

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