The Secret Mother

The Secret Mother by Victoria Delderfield

Book: The Secret Mother by Victoria Delderfield Read Free Book Online
Authors: Victoria Delderfield
gave me birthday money and you didn’t get any. Here, take it.” Jen held out the envelope, “Take the money. I’m really not that bothered.” In fact, she had been saving up for the Olympics in the hope they might all go to Beijing.
    “Darling, Ricki already has an envelope.”
    “Then why are you so mad, Ricki?”
    She glowered. “Mad … I’m mad because …”
    “Ricki, stop. Jen deserves to hear this from me.”
    “I’m mad because that fucking May woman abandoned us at birth and you didn’t see it and I didn’t see it and all the time our own fucking mother kept it a secret!”
    Her mum lunged and slapped Ricki fast and loud, on the side of her cheek. “I told you not to,” she shouted.
    Jen managed to grab her sister’s wrist before Ricki struck back. “No. Stop it.”
    “Tell her that’s the truth,” Ricki screamed.
    “Mum?”
    “The day of your party, the day May … went into a coma … I went to her bedsit. All her belongings were there. I only realised when I found her things.”
    “She’s lying, Jen.”
    “I’m not. I promise. I knew nothing until Sunday. May was the one who lied. Oh God, I’m sorry I hurt you. Ricki, let me see your face, is it bleeding? What have I done?”
    The blow had left a red imprint in the shape of a hand.
    “When were you going to tell us?” Ricki wheezed, her asthma worsening.
    “What are you saying?” Jen interrupted. “That May’s our mother?” She wanted to laugh out loud it sounded so crazy. May was her teacher. Their birth mother was thousands of miles away in China, anonymous, faceless, unknowable.
    “When were you going to tell us? Next week, next year? Or were you going to keep up the lies. How convenient that May’s in a coma. I bet it would suit you just fine if she died right now?”
    Her mum shook her head. “I didn’t know, I didn’t know.” She covered her face. “I tried to tell you this morning.”
    “What do you mean, you didn’t fucking know? We have a right to know about May.”
    “You’re not to swear at me like that Ricki. I’ve brought you up better than this.”
    Ricki gave a sardonic laugh. “I’m getting out of this nightmare.” She wiped her face with her sleeve where the thickly clotted mascara had streaked her cheeks and hurried out the door. It slammed behind her on its gilt hinges.
    “Ricki,” called her mum. “You’ve forgotten your inhaler.”
    When the front door clicked moments later, Jen knew it would be Stuart, escaping from the house as fast as he could. If she wasn’t part of the mess she would do the same.
    Jen trudged through to the kitchen and switched on the kettle. She covered the casserole she had made earlier with tin foil and wiped the surfaces mechanically with a J-cloth, picking up bits of leftover food. She sat at the breakfast bar, where she’d shared so many meals with May, and waited for the kettle’s whistle. It didn’t sound so homely now.
    A few hours ago, she’d cooked a family meal in the deluded hope Ricki would return and her parents might let Stuart eat with them. Before all this happened, her biggest worry in life – apart from exams – had been how to give her boyfriend a blow job without her mum hearing. Now winter cold crept beneath her skin.
    That fucking May woman abandoned us at birth.
    Jen looked around her …
The Pelican Chinese
take-away menu, the lucky dragon fan on the fridge, the cheap lunar calendar. Was China really a warehouse of red tat, made for pence? What about the terracotta army, the Great Wall, the mighty emperors, Confucius … The things May had been so proud of. May was the most genuine part, the most real, living, breathing piece of memorabilia Jen knew. All this, was the fake.
    Jen had longed to learn Mandarin: not to please her mother, not to piss off her sister, but to create a space, a language in which to find herself. Could May really be anything other than her teacher, the little, bumbling lady who came every Saturday? May’s

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