Thursday, 8 December 2011
Susie tumbled out of bed as the phone rang. Sleep hadn't quite disappeared and her head was in a fog. Clarity pushed through crashed dreams to focus on the fact that Poppy hated it when she left the answer phone to pick up. Susie rang her yesterday, trying to connect, just to say hello, keep in touch, but Poppy didn't pick up. Funny how it seemed OK for Poppy to ignore Susie's calls but Susie got a rollocking whenever she left the answer phone to filter out who she should call back.
Despite her protestations, Susie felt sure Poppy was secretly pleased at getting a recorded message rather than her mum. It got harder to know what to talk about since Poppy left their home town for a job as a health visitor 300 miles away. They couldn't have become more different in just three years. Poppy, it seemed, wasn't particularly interested in what Susie had to chat about anymore but Susie felt she had to try and make some sort of effort or they would drift even further apart.
She paused before picking up. Did she really want to speak to Poppy now, half asleep and imperfect? She'd say something wrong. She always did but mostly never realised it. Just being herself seemed to offend Poppy these days. Yes, she was bitter at the lack of contact but she didn't know how to make it stop. The more Poppy stayed away, the more Susie nagged her about it, the more Poppy didn't want to come home at all.
Susie felt she was losing her daughter and soon she'd be out of Poppy's life without trace if she didn't try to bridge that divide that widened each and every time they came into contact with each other. Susie could acknowledge it was 50/50 but Poppy never tried. She just stormed off as soon as Susie broached any subject that Poppy didn't want to hear about.
A flash of memory shot through and cleared the last of the sleep haze as Susie rubbed her eyes and in the whisper of a moment she felt Poppy's soft black hair snuggled into her neck in the intimacy they shared as mother and child. Things were easy then. Poppy needed her mum and loved her. Susie was the centre of Poppy's world. Now Susie felt like she was a nuisance just because she was there and wanted desperately to see Poppy who appeared to make any excuse she could not to visit.
Susie lifted the receiver to her ear. It wasn't Poppy. Her throat felt like the bottom of a bird cage, her voice sounded like an old 33 and third scratched vinyl copy of a Billie Holliday song on a shaky old gramaphone.
"You haven't just got up, have you?"
It was Mary, her sister.
Susie cleared her throat : "Yes, so what? I thought you were Poppy or I wouldn't have got up and answered the phone. And anyway, I've no reason to get up early. It just makes the day longer.
"Well, Poppy just called me to say she's coming home. She left about an hour ago so I reckon she'll arrive in another couple of hours - probably 3pm-ish."
Susie felt that pain again. Like a twisted knife in her chest - the pain that only Poppy made her feel.
"So how come she never called me?"
"She said she tried - the answering machine was on. You know how much she hates it."
Susie looked at the phone. The light on the answering machine flickered in alert that someone had called.
"Ah. I never heard it."
"You should stop smoking that crap Sue and then you'd have a clearer head, and Poppy wouldn't worry so much about coming to see you. I mean imagine if..."
"...that's just an excuse."
"Well she is a leading health worker who hates smoking never mind the added risk of that stuff that you insist on using despite what she thinks. It would hardly do her career any good if she was at your house and you got busted."
"I won't and she knows it. It's something I've done for years - why should she make it a problem now? She should stand by me instead of always having a go at me about it. It's not like I haven't always done it. It's me - who I am."
"Look, kid yourself all you want but try not to upset Poppy when she comes. You know, instead of having a go at her for not coming home more often why not try just enjoying the time you've got together. And make sure that you're hash is out of sight."
"Yeah, yeah, yeah, I always do anyway," Susie said but her heart felt chewed and she swallowed hard. Her throat was still dry. She needed a drink.
She put the receiver down and wandered into the kitchen to make a cup of tea.
"Fat chance of this going well," she thought to herself. No matter how hard she tried, or what she did, it seemed she and Poppy were genetically predisposed to fall out. Last time it was about her refusal to quit smoking. The time before because she had a political view on smoking. The time before that because Susie smoked weed and Poppy didn't approve. And the time before that because Poppy insisted staying with her dad and his new woman.
Suddenly, Susie didn't want Poppy to come home but she knew she'd have to put aside her fears, not talk of the things that interested her, stay off any subject about smoking and dad, especially, and crack on and get ready to be the perfect host. She'd stick to polite and banal - safe ground but not the place she wanted to be - not with the daughter she hoped would be a lifelong friend.
Susie sighed, hugged her dressing gown around her and moved towards the bedroom. She picked up her stash tin from the dressing table and checked her plants under the window. Growing marijuana was her hobby and smoking it was something she'd done for the last 40 years. She'd just plucked and dried a very nice piece of African herb which she sprinkled into a cigarette paper and topped it with tobacco - again home grown, Susie's additional new hobby. She liked growing her own. Poppy wouldn't be interested. She hated smoking full stop and that was something Susie would be unable to do during her visit. In short, she couldn't be herself and that was all she knew.
She sat back in a bedroom chair and inhaled deeply and felt more relaxed with each draw. Some of her friends that she started smoking with in her teens had matured and given up. Poppy always said Susie needed to grow up and give up but she had little else in life these days to extract so much pleasure from and it was about self-medication after all. When she was down, sad, angry, tired she smoked. When Neil left her for Julie she smoked for 48 hours without a break and then sank into the sleep of the dead. The only way to numb the pain.
The alternative was to be like her own mother who she watched go downhill rapidly in a physical and mental sense after doctors turned her into a prescription drug addict. To help her quit smoking they said. She lost her mum then and never got her back. She died a quivering and sweating wreck after a fall took her to hospital and they cut her NHS drugs off dead to make her go through cold turkey. She didn't survive the experience. Susie swore she wouldn't be like that. If she had a problem with hash, if it led to financial instability, or a mental breakdown, then she would give it up but she felt no need to abandon something that gave her so much pleasure and so much comfort even if it was illegal.
Some of Susie's friends still smoked weed and only one seemed to have developed some sort of psychosis but then she was a bit of a nutter before she started anyway. Susie hadn't seen her for years. Best avoided she thought as she inhaled the last of her spliff and crushed it out in the ashtray.
Poppy's visit now loomed like a dark cloud full of thunder and Susie felt an urge to run, to get out of the house and just not be in when Poppy arrived, but instead she stepped into the shower to wash away the stench of the smoke that her daughter hated so much