I smile at her. ‘I missed you yesterday.’
‘Have you had breakfast?’
‘Yeah. I brought some stuff for you.’ I reach into my knapsack, bring out the tins of biscuits and chocolates and put them on my mother’s small kitchen table.
My mother comes forward, but she does not touch the food. Instead she looks at me. ‘Did you steal this?’ Her voice is no more than a whisper.
‘Mum!’ I cry, shocked. ‘What are you saying? Blake’s secretary bought all this for me and I brought some back for you.’
She sinks weakly into a chair. ‘Sorry. Sorry, Lana. Of course, you would never steal. I’ve just been so worried about you. Everything is so different. I don’t know what to think anymore.’
The oven pings and she stands, but I push her down gently.
‘I’ll get it,’ I say, and donning the oven gloves, take the cake out. It smells divine and is nicely risen. I close the oven door, put the cake on the metal rack and lean against the sink. ‘Shall I put the kettle on? We need to talk.’
Mum nods and I set about making the tea. While the tea is boiling I lay cups and saucers. Everyone else in the estate drinks from mugs except my mother, who always uses a cup and saucer. I pour the boiling water into the teapot and carry it to the table. When the tea has brewed I pour it out into two cups. Then I open a tin of biscuits from Fortnum and Masons and hold it out to my mum. My mother’s thin, pale fingers hesitantly take one. She bites into it and chews.
‘Nice?’ I ask.
My mother nods slowly.
‘You’re going to America on Wednesday, Mum.’
My mother puts the biscuit down beside the saucer. She links her hands tightly on the table and faces me. ‘I’m going nowhere until I know exactly what is going on. Exactly how you are getting all this money? And what you are doing for it?’
‘I explained last night. The man I am seeing has given it to us.’
‘Who is this man who has fifty thousand pounds to spare?’
‘Mum, he’s a millionaire many times over. He gave me double what I asked.’
She stares at me aghast. ‘You asked him for money? I didn’t bring you up to ask strange men for money.’
‘Yeah, I asked him and so what? I didn’t force him or steal it.’
‘Well, I don’t want it. I’d rather shrivel up and die than use this dirty money.’
I stare at my mother in shock. Her face is set in the stubborn lines that I know mean that her mind is made up. It cannot be changed. I swallow the lump in my throat and stand suddenly. ‘You’d make me an orphan for your stupid pride,’ I accuse.
My mother blinks suddenly, the wind taken out of her sails.
‘Are you going to sit there and tell me that if I was dying and had a few weeks left to live you wouldn’t have asked a filthy rich stranger for a bit of money?’
My mother says nothing.
‘High and mighty ideals and principles are all right when you are not utterly, utterly desperate, Mum.’
‘You didn’t just ask him, did you? Tell the truth. You prostituted yourself.’
‘Assuming that I did. And I didn’t.’ I say a little prayer for my lie. ‘Wouldn’t you have done the same for me?’
My mother begins to cry softly. ‘You don’t understand. You will, one day, when you have your own child. I am not important.’ She beats her chest with both her hands. ‘This is just worm food. I won’t have you sully yourself for this destroyed body. You are young. You have your whole life ahead of you and I am going to die, anyway.’
‘No, you’re not,’ I whisper fiercely.
‘But I am. And it’s time you accepted that.’
‘Remember when Daddy left and I swore to take care of you?’
My mother’s eyes become bleak. ‘Yes.’
‘Would you have me break my promise?’
‘I’m going for another bout of chemo on Monday.’
‘What for, Mum? What for? That stuff is so dangerous it’ll probably kill you before the cancer does.’
Her lips move wordlessly. Then she covers her mouth with one hand. ‘Sit down, Lana,’ she whispers. ‘Please.’
I shake my head. ‘No, I won’t. What’s the point? In all the time I was trying to find a way to keep you alive I never thought that it would be you that would stand in my way.’
I turn away from her and begin to walk out of the house. I have sold myself for nothing. I reach the front door and I hear my mother shout from the kitchen, ‘Do you like him?’
I turn around and she is standing there, so frail and breakable my heart hurts. Now I can be truthful. ‘Yes.’
I walk towards her.
‘I’m sorry,’ she sobs.
I take her poor wasted body in my arms and the tears begin to flow. Neither of us say anything. Finally, when I can speak, I choke out. ‘I love you, Mum. With all my heart. Please don’t leave me. You’re my mum. I’d do anything, anything for you.’
‘I know, I know,’ my mother soothes softly.
‘Oh shit,’ I say.
I step away from my mother, put my hand into my pocket and bring out bits of blue shell. ‘I brought you a blue egg.’
My mother tries, she really tries hard, but a giggle breaks through. For a few moments I can only stare at the rare spectacle of my mother stifling laughter. Then I too crack up.
‘Take that jacket off and go wash your hand,’ my mother finally says. ‘I’ll make us a fresh pot of tea and we’ll have some of those nice biscuits you brought.’
‘They are nice, aren’t they?’ I agree, slipping my soiled jacket off and walking towards the sink.
I am wiping my hands on a tea towel when my mother says, ‘And you’ll have to bring that nice man—Blake Barrington, did you say—over to dinner.’
‘Uh, yeah… When you get back from your treatment.’
My mother stops and looks at me. ‘I’m going to meet that young man before I get on the plane and I’ll have no more said on the matter,’ she says firmly.
While we are having our tea I tell her about the appointment I have made for a wig fitting in Selfridges.
Unconsciously she puts her right hand up to her scarf. ‘Oh,’ she says. ‘Will that be very expensive?’
I grin. ‘We’re not paying for it.’
And my mother laughs. For the first time in many months, my mother throws back her head and laughs. ‘That’s good. That’s very good,’ and while she is laughing she begins to cry. When I go to hold her, she takes a deep, steadying breath and says, ‘I know what you have done for me. You have used your body as a begging bowl.’