I crossed the landing. The bedroom door was slightly ajar. What on earth was she doing? What sort of a state was she in? What was I about to see? And more than anything – why? why? why?
But before I go any further, I should say something about my mother. She was a fearful soul. Whether or not she had always been so I don’t know, but I suspect she had. Her early years and upbringing in a poor family in a very poor part of Sheffield in the 1920’s had been pretty tough. She was the youngest of six. And if the fact that facially and by temperament she resembled none of the other five was anything to go by, then their father was almost certainly not her father. But then, her mother – the grandmother downstairs who ate her cake while looking the other way – was known to have been, in her day, a touch on what you might call the promiscuous side – her marriage notwithstanding. So my mother, like me her only son was, by birth, almost certainly illegitimate.
I’m sure that sort of thing was no more – or no less – common in those days than it is today. But there has been, since then, a quantum shift in the manner in which it is regarded. In those days, publicly, it was just not acknowledged, and if spoken about at all was done so in whispers behind closed doors. The truth was just too shocking. And I think that sort of attitude in society, an attitude which extended beyond matters sexual, was perhaps one of the prime sources of my mother’s deeply entrenched fear – in common with many, many others of her generation – of uncomfortable truth.
So I approached the bedroom door. And very gently pushed it open. But I couldn’t see her – where was she?? Then there was her face – white and taut – just visible above the covers of the bed which she’d drawn right up to her chin. Her eyes stared wide at me. I sat down slowly, uncertainly, on the edge of the bed. She looked at me. I was, to say the least, a bit lost. “Why,” I managed eventually to ask her, “did you not tell me all that? Why?”
Her barely audible answer was, “I didn’t think you’d want me any more.”
There are so many levels of sadness in those words that it’s painful even now to relate them. I can only wonder at the psychological pain which she had for so long silently and voluntarily endured, as it lay in wait for that moment to come – a moment that would not be in her gift – when she would be, as she saw it, called to account. But that moment had arrived; it was Now, in this room. And contrary to confirming and inflicting the pain she had, for all those years, anticipated, it had almost instantly dissolved it; the truth had set her free.
I said my mother had endured her seventeen years of pain – ‘voluntarily’ – but it was hardly so. She was just another child victim of and struggler beneath a yoke I believe far too many people still have to cope with – that of ‘respectability’.