A Biting April Breeze
by Tessa Fenley
‘No more blind dates for me, Mum. Stop fussing, I’ll be fine.’ Joyce kills the call in a snit, trying to spot her daughter who is skipping along the embankment.
‘Don’t you just love it when the daffodils dance in the breeze?’ Joyce enthuses in spite of Lily’s harsh frown. Sunshine and flowers do not warrant unbridled cheerfulness in the world of eight-year-olds.
Comfortably settled at the Riverside Café, Lily decides this is the moment she has been waiting for. ‘Mummy, where does true love live?’
Joyce looks up from the menu. Momentarily flabbergasted, she searches her daughter’s face for clues on the origin of the question. ‘I’m not sure, pet. Where do you suspect it lives?’ Buying herself time, Joyce rummages in her Sunday morning brain for a sensible answer. ‘Let’s ask Daddy,’ Joyce suggests. ‘Shall we pick some daffodils and pay him a visit after breakfast?’
Lily’s Aries disposition rears its snappy head. She wants answers, not more questions. Daddy would not be any help. ‘The thing is, it’s urgent. Who else can we ask? Today.’
Joyce sighs at her daughter’s wilfulness, wondering how to redirect her attention to more suitable topics for pre-breakfast conversation. ‘Why don’t you decide what you want to eat?’
‘I’ll have the usual.’
Since he died, Lily invariably sticks to her daddy’s favourite: poached eggs on toast with smoked salmon.
‘Dad was my true love.’ Joyce offers.
‘Where did you two meet?’
‘At the library. It’s closed today, though.’
Lily feels increasingly exasperated. If only she could be honest with Mummy. ‘Daddy has been dead for a long time now.’
‘I suppose.’ Joyce says, taken aback by Lily’s matter-of-factness.
‘Maybe you should go out more. I could stay with nana. I don’t mind, honestly.’ Lily says.
‘Lily Beale, if you don’t tell me exactly what is going on, I will ground you for the rest of your life!’
Mortified, Lily lowers her gaze.
‘Out with it,’ Mummy orders.
‘I heard some teachers talking about you. They were mean. One of them said you had lost your good looks. They said you would never find a new man again. I wanted to defend you but I did not want to get in trouble.’
Stunned, Joyce gasps for air. Not trusting herself to speak, she chokes back her silly tears and reaches for Lily’s hand, squeezing it affectionately. She manages a grimace which is supposed to resemble a reassuring smile and orders breakfast.
‘Tell you what,’ Joyce says after they are finished, ‘why don’t you use the bathroom before we go and I’ll nip out for a sec.’
Outside the café, seeking shelter from the biting April breeze, Joyce calls her mother. Instead of agreeing to another blind date, as she intended, she falters and sobs while her mother listens and smothers her own tears as she tunes in to Joyce’s heart-wrenching despair. It finally dawns on her that there is no fertile soil in her daughter’s heart yet.
Tessa Fenley is currently finalizing her first detective novel. She lives by the sea which invariably inspires her work.
Tessa’s story ‘Love Equals Loss’ was selected as Reader’s Choice for our February competition this year, on the theme of confrontation. You can read it here.
Our Reader said –
An exercise in the power of brevity, this story explores the relationships between three generations of women in one short scene. Quite a feat!