Random passage from my Marion Grace novel THE GODMOTHER, as yet unedited and unrevised. (Dysfunctional family struggles in the aftermath of two World Wars in pre-millennium Britain under its dour but charismatic oracle, Sibyl.)
After James Alexander’s birth, his father became increasingly immersed in work. Despite what had been said about brighter prospects at the Building Society, he was excited by a project involving a house clearance service which he proposed to venture with a guy he'd met in the The Bull while avoiding infant ablutions and bed-time.They'd been discussing mortgage interest rates and the growing trend of re-possession orders.
"It'll be another string to my bow," he told Annabel. "You never know what you might find. We could make a fortune!"
"There are more important things in life. Don't you want to be around for James?"
"He's not going anywhere, is he? It's for him as well."
"I'd trade lucre for an adult conversation now and then?"
"About the meaning of life? I don't know the meaning of life, but I know the meaning of cash-in-hand!"
He had been all too ready with the rejoinder, his eyes kindling with alarm. He was bent on his own dissenting ends and his bedtimes no longer coincided with Annabel's. If he made a token fuss of the baby, it was soon counteracted by a pressing need to catch up with the news or the weather forecast, or else rush off to plunder the contents of pre-War semi whose owner had passed away. The truth, buried deep under fatherly platitudes, was that Godfrey sensed that James had supplanted him: he was now destined to lose. It was crucial to construct a whole new plot.
"He's no slouch, Godfrey, and that's the truth," Sibyl observed, above her spectacles with her knitting needles wide-angled. The officious clicking over Paton’s Halcyon continued without a hitch. "Works all the hours God sends. He's not idling around like your father at the end of the day!"
"Dad’s not far off retirement. I expect he gets tired."
"I can't retire, can I? These days, I wait at the door with the Hoover. Make sure he does his bit before dinner. The discipline's done him a power of good."
"But Dad's always put in such a lot of overtime," Annabel protested.
"The doctor says his cholesterol's too high. Needs more exercise."
"A gentle walk in fresh air," Annabel said. "I'd be glad for Godfrey to spend more time at home. I’d like him to want to."
"You'll be glad Godfrey's got his priorities right when there's another mouth to feed."
For her part, Sibyl was keen to wrest the baby from his mother and imbue him with her own superior comfort and wisdom. Annabel had hoped that bringing an infant into the world might give them some common ground and satisfy her own repressed need to be appreciated. To produce a grandchild ought to engender respect. Instead, she found she had made a new rod for herself.
"Your Dad's cut up, of course, about the name," Sibyl prattled on, the staccato of the needles describing the full force of her obsessiveness.
"The baby's?" Her daughter was taken aback.
"He doesn't know what you had to go calling him James for. There's no one in the family with that name, not on my side, nor his."
"Well, he's James," Annabel said firmly. "That's who he is. It's the same as Godfrey's middle name, Jack." She came perilously close to revealing that everywhere else, Godfrey was called 'Jack' and she was 'Bel'. Sibyl could not have handled the idea of escaped personae. And Annabel was too worn down to field the ramifications of such trauma.
"I had five brothers, and none of them was James. Your...your father's cousin...was Bruce."
"And I haven't met any of them."
"...and his father was Eric and my Da was Liam."
"Where are they all now, I wonder?"
"Gone!" Sibyl said abruptly. "We don't hear."
They grew apart, all three of them, Annabel, Godfrey and James. The child cut his milk teeth, took his first tottering steps and, before you could turn around, was on a bike without stabilisers.There must have been some bright times, as there must during Annabel’s bleak childbood, but, looking back, she saw the shadow of death across those years, as though she were in the condemned cell awaiting execution while silently yearning for a reprieve. Sibyl had imparted her own sense of doom and dislocation.
At the back of Annabel’s mind, the thought harped that there was an extended family lost to her and to history. Who knew where? In a neighbouring village? Or scattered across the seas?
But Edwin's abrupt departure had triggered release. They were lowering the coffin into a rectangular pit that smelled of churned earth, and Annabel reflected that the same fate would befall her one day. And there would be no one in the hereafter who had blazed a trail and who would enjoin her company for its own sake.
It was the nadir of Annabel’s loneliness, that moment beside Edwin’s grave.
She remembered how she had suddenly become conscious of his cousin’s hand upon her shoulder.
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