Back in the old house, when Isla was about twelve, she’d had a bad case of flu. She was out of school for a week, couldn’t eat much beyond soup, and wasn’t sleeping well. One night, as the flu was wearing off, her Mum came in to kiss her goodnight. For some reason, which she couldn’t quite pinpoint, Isla pretended to be asleep. Dropping her breathing rate, relaxing her limbs, she posed as if peacefully sleeping. “Boo-boo?” Her Mum asked, using a childhood nickname Isla hadn’t heard in a while. Isla didn’t stir. Her Mum sat down on the bed next to her very gently, and stroked Isla’s cheek, and then kissed her forehead. “Mummy loves you,loves you, loves you”, she whispered, and then left the room. Isla found herself momentarily overcome with the desire to cry, and then drifted off into a dreamless sleep.
Now nineteen years of age, Isla is finishing her first year of university. Her Mum picks her up, arriving late due to traffic. Isla hugs her friends goodbye, who help load up the car, and then Isla and her Mum begin the journey back to the new house. And Isla, completely to her own surprise, starts to weep. “You alright Baby Boo?”, her Mum asks, passing Isla a tissue and squeezing her shoulder. Isla nods. “I just can’t believe that I did that”, she says, almost whispering in order to control her tears. Her Mum gives her a knowing smile, a further squeeze, and then turns the radio on. The two of them sing together all the way home.
At the close of an intense year Isla is tired, worn down, but nonetheless happy, as her Mum doesn’t fail to notice. Isla has grown up, she’s learnt how to fail, and learnt a little more about having fun. She is by no means a fully functioning adult – indeed, the notion of being a ‘real adult’ fills Isla with pure dread – but that she has grown in the last year is undeniable. She has a whole new group of friends. She’s fallen in love. She’s read some incredible literature, some incredibly dull literature, and written some decently average essays. She’s cooked for herself, she has got up every morning, she even has a schedule for her laundry. She has done pretty okay.
“Let’s talk about your Mum”, says Isla’s therapist one week during that summer. Isla immediately tenses up. “Do we have to?” She moans. “I’m done, I’ve forgiven her for what she did wrong, I know that I was to blame as well, and I really don’t have the energy to be angry with her again. We’re good right now. We’re better than good, we’re great”. Isla’s therapist tilts her head to one side, in that specific manner which is very cute on dogs and very infuriating on therapists, and asks “And so how is she with food at the moment? Has she made any comments about your weight?” Isla rolls her eyes, but it does take her a while before she decides to go home after her session.
This summer, Isla and her Mum spend an inordinate amount of time with each other. Dad is working in the North Monday to Friday, and her sister Thea is partying for the first time, so isn’t home much either. Isla and Mum sit in the garden in the early evening with a glass of wine and a cigarette each almost every day. Isla doesn’t comment on Mum’s smoking, and Mum doesn’t comment on Isla’s drinking. The two of them talk about everything. Isla’s boyfriend, work, Uni, Thea, Dad, the Grandparents, books, religion, politics, and even on occasion, Isla’s eating. Isla sometimes cancels plans now to spend time with her Mum. On Fridays, the two of them sometimes go to the pub whilst dinner is in the oven. They laugh a lot. And Isla feels like, although she has always loved her Mum, what is truly special about this summer is that she really gets to know her. As a person. Kind of outside of her Mum-ness. There are things that aren’t perfect about their relationship, Isla knows, but then, who does have a genuinely perfect relationship with their Mum? ‘At least we know’, she thinks, ‘at least we know we love each other. Finding out that we genuinely like each other is a blessing that many mothers and daughters certainly never stumble across’.
The four of them go on holiday for two weeks – Mum, Dad, Isla and Thea. It is, quite frankly, bliss. Everyone gets on, everyone reads, everyone eats a lot of calamari, and everyone swims. One day, Isla is laying down on the sofa, and her Mum comes over to join her. Isla lays her head on her chest, and slowly falls asleep to the sensation of her Mumma stroking her hair. She sleeps for a little over an hour, but it is the best sleep she has had in months. She wakes to the smell of Mum’s cooking and the sound of her singing in the kitchen.
The days get shorter and summer, as it always does, comes to a close. Isla is ready to leave again. One day at the end of September, Isla and her Mum pack up the car, and begin the drive towards the University. They share a flask of coffee on the way, and Isla’s Mum puts the radio on. Isla, once more, is suddenly struck with a lump in her throat. “Are you stressed, Boo? Are you worried about this term?” Mum asks. Isla is silent for a long time. When she’s able to speak, she haltingly says, “I’m so excited to go back, you know, I can’t wait to be there again. I think I just find it a bit sad, really, that I don’t always live at home anymore”. Mum nods, Isla smiles, the gas meter goes down, and they drive further and further from home.
Isla settles in again. She loves her friends. She enjoys the work. She is tired and stressed but happy and content. Two weeks in to term, she calls home. She briefs her Mum on recent events, her Mum tells her a little about home, but there is no avoiding that the physical distance between them creates a barrier. There isn’t any rosé, no cigarettes in the garden. They don’t talk about everything and nothing at once down the phone, it’s impractical. Isla finds herself not homesick as such, but looking forward to Christmas, to a hug, to her Mum stroking her hair.
“Right Boo, time for bed”, Mum says, “Love you.”
“Night night Mumma. Love you too”.