“Congratulations, Mrs. Austen. It’s a girl.” The midwife announced happily, placing a pink screaming baby in her mother’s needy arms.
“It’s Miss Austen,” the sweaty woman said, looking down at the infant, “I’m widowed and went back to my maiden name after that cheating whore-mongerer died in his slut’s bed.” The midwife stared at the 48-year-old woman in shock as she rambled on, “Never thought I would have a child, and yet here she is, just before my clock ran out.”
“Her name?” The midwife asked hesitantly.
“Jane... Jane Austen, like my favorite author.”
“And the father’s name?” The midwife asked and withered under the cold look Emma gave her as she reached into her purse and pulled a cigarette out. “Miss Austen, we don’t allow smoking in... the... maternity ward...” The midwife stammered to a stop.
“Then send me and my daughter home.” Emma breathed out the words with tendrils of smoke. “And no, I don’t know his name. Only that he was young, beautiful, and a gypsy of the sea, or so he called himself. He left on his ship after three days of the best sex I had enjoyed since my twenties.”
The dark-skinned nurse aide who had assisted the shocked midwife, coughed to hide her laughter, and Emma gave her a smug wink.
“I’ll... I’ll send the doctor in.” The midwife retreated, and Emma shook her head. “Some women are too meek for their own good.”
“Miss Austen, you’re a hoot.” The nurse aide held out a bedpan and Emma flicked her ashes into it.
“Call me Emma, please. And it’s just bravado. The doctors told me when I was young, I’d never have a baby after a bad miscarriage. I don’t even know how to change a diaper. I can ride a horse, sail a boat, fly a plane, race a car, run my café, and be a landlord, but I don’t know how to be a mother,” She confessed as she looked at the tiny suckling bundle wrapped in a pink blanket. Realizing that nothing in her adventurous life had prepared her for this was terrifying.
“Shirley,” the nurse aide introduced herself. “Shirley Anderson. You don’t let her attitude get you down, Miss Emma. Daylight ain’t ever seen between her legs.”
Emma laughed out loud and the baby made grumpy noises. She looked at Shirley in a panic and the woman helped her adjust the little girl. “I could help you out when I’m not working here until you get used to her.”
“How much do you make an hour?” Emma asked and was shocked by the number. “You’re hired at twice that.”
Twenty years later...
“Jane! You can’t just show up here with a baby and a newborn, and demand money to follow some guy to Europe. You need to move home and stop being a gypsy. You have children now. I had to settle down when you were born, you need to do the same,” Emma scolded.
Her daughter’s tourmaline eyes flashed defiantly as she tossed her red hair over her shoulder. “You didn’t change anything about your life! You still ran the café and the rentals.”
“I stopped traveling because I knew I couldn’t drag a child to the ends of the earth. I ran the café to help support us, and so you would learn responsibility from my example,” Emma argued.
“I learned that I had to find my own fun, my own adventures, because I was alone while you worked... I don’t want that for my girls.”
“So that’s why you had one baby and got knocked up a two months later, because I was too old to give you a sibling. Ohgawd, Jane! Are you kidding? Do you know how much work one baby is? And you have two!” Emma lit a cigarette with shaking hands.
“Shirley can help us,” Jane insisted, think about her mother’s companion.
“Shirley is retired and has her own grandbabies to tend,” Emma argued in an exasperated tone. “This work will be on you and me and your babies’ daddy. You need to call him. I’ll help him get a job.”
“He won’t come,” Jane huffed.
“You need to tell him to come,” Emma insisted.
“You didn’t tell my dad about me, I didn’t need him, my girls won’t need theirs.” Jane snarled hurtfully. “You didn’t even know his name. At least, I know their father’s name.”
Emma swallowed and sat down, tears that had not fallen but twice in twenty years suddenly burned in her eyes and overwhelmed her lashes. “I knew his name, but I was too embarrassed and angry to give it. I didn’t want you to feel unwanted. Because he didn’t want us, he just wanted my money when he came to port, he wanted me to buy him a boat of his own.” Emma lit another cigarette and looked at her daughter in regret.
“Henry had just died in his girlfriend’s bedroom. I was embarrassed and angry. One day this beautiful young man, came into the café. He was half my age and he smelled like the sea and sin. For two years, every time he came to port, he came to the Sunflower. I loved him. He wanted a fishing boat, he said so he could stay close to home, close to me. So, I bought him one, and the damn thing sank in a storm with him on it. I had just found out I was pregnant. He never knew.” Emma paused for a moment remembering how happy she had been, then how shattered she had become.
“Mum?” Jane murmured, and Emma realized she had been quiet a long time.
“I, um... went through his things looking for his brother’s address and found a letter he hadn’t sent yet. It was horrible. He bragged about how he got the old widow from the dinner to buy him a boat. He talked about how the sex was great if he didn’t think about how old and wrinkled she was. He had always told me he liked my smile lines, that they showed I was a person who had loved life. I went crazy with rage and burned everything of his. Then I took the insurance money from the boat and put it aside for you. I vowed I would never speak his name again. I’m so sorry, Jane. I thought I could love you enough for both of us.”
“Mum, you did. You love me more than I deserve. I’ve been a terrible daughter and now I’m in trouble. Liam... Liam doesn’t want the girls. He was upset about Bernadette, and then when I got pregnant with Beatrix, he left. I waited and waited for him to come back but he didn’t. When I called to tell him Beatrix was born, a woman answered the phone. She said she was his wife.” Jane confessed, as her tears dripped off her chin. “I just wanted to make sure Bernadette was never alone like I was. I thought he loved me.”
Emma folded her daughter into her arms. “Shh, shh, it will be okay, we’ll figure it out.”
Eleven years later...
Their mother Jane had shown up at the house and insisted on taking Bernadette for dinner and ice cream for her 13th birthday, even though she was two months late. She had been travelling and the girls had been with alone with their grandmother for almost a year. Ever since IT happened. The ice fog had rolled into the city from the sea and the roads were slick. As they sat in the restaurant, Bernadette noticed that Jane looked different; thinner, anxious, older.
Bernadette ate in silence as her mother talked about taking them to live with her new gentleman friend in the mountains.
“I don’t want to go, I want to stay with grandmum.”
“Bernie, don’t be difficult. You’ll love it. You can learn to ski and have your own pony,” Jane insisted. Bernadette started to cry.
Jane swallowed her vodka and vermouth, and hissed, “Bernadette, stop it.” She waved her glass at the waiter as she whispered angrily at her daughter, “Eat your strawberry sundae.”
Tears of terror and suffering dripped down Bernadette’s face as she forced herself to take bite after bite of the sickly sweet treat. She was cold because her mother made her wear a sun dress and light sweater and the ice cream made her shiver uncontrollably. Jane pinched her arm after the waiter brought her drink and gave Bernadette a worried glance.
“You’re embarrassing me. No one is going to touch you here, stop shaking.”
“B-but... I’m c-cold n-now.” Her teeth were actually chattering. She had never had the chance to tell her mother that she hated strawberries and ice cream now. It was how he had gotten her trust before IT happened. She just wanted to vomit.
“Is everything okay, madam?” The waiter looked between Bernadette and Jane.
Her mother laughed lightly, “It’s fine. Bernadette loves ice cream sundaes, it doesn’t matter how cold it is outside. I warned her, but it is her birthday... And I couldn’t say no. Can we have the check please?”
As they drove, Bernadette still shivered, clenching her teeth as tight as she could to keep them from knocking together. Her mother reached over seat smacked her cheek. “I said stop it, Bernie. I swear, you are so infuriating.”
“I’m sorry, mommy.”
“Stop shaking. Nobody touched you, nobody even looked at you. You aren’t even pretty. What happened was a mistake, it shouldn’t have happened, and you need to get over it,” Jane scolded.
“I’m sorry, mommy.” Bernadette repeated the three words that she felt like she had said a million times since her mother’s last friend had hurt her.
“Stop saying you’re sorry.” Jane snapped, then she rubbed her forehead in exasperation. “Honestly, Bernie... I don’t know what to do with you.”
“Stop, Mommy!” Bernadette screamed as her mother ran a red light and a then there was the screech of tires, the moan of tearing metal, and shattering of breaking glass. Bernadette felt her mother’s arm press her into the seat, but it wasn’t enough to stop her from flying into the door.
Bernadette woke up to the sound of her mother and grandmother arguing, then her mother was gone and her grandmum Emma took her hand. “It’s okay little birdie, you clipped your wing, but you’ll be fine.”
Emma squeezed her hand. “Your mother had to go to the police station. She had too much to drink and shouldn’t have been driving. She has.... Has to go answer some questions about the accident. We’ll see her tomorrow.”
Bernadette scratched at the cast on her broken arm, it itched horribly. Beatrix fidgeted beside her, clinging to her shirttail. Their grandmother had not gotten out of bed since their mother's funeral last month. The night of the car crash, their mother had left the hospital to go to the police station in their grandmother’s car, or so she said. Instead, she went to a bar and then the car went off a sharp curve into a ravine in the hills. Jane had died instantly.
Mrs. Anderson came in and ushered the girls downstairs, she fixed them sandwiches and soup in mugs since Bernadette struggled to use silverware left handed.
“This is very good, Mrs. Anderson. Thank you,” Bernadette said politely.
“Thanks,” Beatrix added.
“Oh, it’s just soup and sandwiches. Now, eat up, and I am going to get Miss Emma a bath. Say, how would you girls like to come over to my house this weekend? Jared and Mary would love to have someone to play with besides each other,” Shirley invited.
“Yeah!” Beatrix cheered and began eating as fast as she could.
Later, Bernadette helped Shirley put her grandmother back in bed, then followed the family’s oldest friend downstairs. “Are you sure we should leave her alone, Mrs. Anderson?”
Shirley smiled at Bernie sadly, then hugged her, releasing her only enough so that her hands rested on Bernadette’s shoulders. “Sweetie, your mother was the most precious thing in your grandmum’s world until you and your sister were born. Miss Emma has lost everyone she ever loved and now, she’s lost Jane. She just needs time and love.”
PLEASE ~Vote and comment. I am trying to get an honest opinion of this story from as many as possible. What do you like? What do you dislike? Thanks. Mama Magie