The woman in the cafe surveys my family with a smile. “Four girls,” she says approvingly. “Same as me.”
I smile back, though these conversations are not easy and, when Max is there, I’m robbed if the ability to say anything that I feel comfortable with. Max has four girls. I have four girls and a heap of grief that should be a son.
She hasn’t finished “I have four girls too. Four girls…. And one boy.”
I gape at her. The girls freeze, petrified in the act of choosing a pasty. Max goes as still as a creature that knows a buzzard is watching. And I just look. I don’t know what to do. What to say. I’ve practised so many responses but I don’t have one for this; at least, I don’t have one for this in front of Max. To him, any mention of Freddie is undignified, to him it is wrong to say “we did have a boy”. In his mind, seeping out of his aura, is criticism if I risk making someone else feel bad because of my baggage. So I am wordless, again, frozen while my family wait for my move.
I turn away and tell then to choose some food. I stare blindly at cheesecake while Max puts food on a tray and the girls slide away to find a table. I think something must register in the woman’s face because she grabs our order and hurries away and I pay someone else.
There is no escape from how far sideways these moments knock me though and not one of the five are surprised when I leave the table. My sobs frighten old ladies in the toilets and cold water can’t wash away the signs. I’m angry, angrier than ever that 17 months on I am still unprepared for out of the blue. This is like no grief I have ever known. There is no slow recovery; yesterday I was back to the moment he died. What that innocent passing of pleasantries cost me was a night of sobbing in my sleep while I dreamt of a tiny hand turning blue and someone else’s arms carrying one of my children to a mortuary. A mortuary, for the love of the gods. No one should leave a child in a mortuary.
Later on, I wondered about how she phrased her remark. I wondered about her “four girls… And a boy.” I wondered whether, had I met her eye and said “same as me” we might have had a different – better – understanding.
(Thanks to Three, who loaned me a Mifi and therefore let me get this off my chest on Bude beach while I was having a solitary, bag guarding weep.)