A Good Chat

Author: Tom Farrell

Father gets caught between his postmodern postfeminist daughter and his traditional mother

On the fourth of April 1973, Jude’s first meaningful encounter with Lynne formed a broad template for the honeycomb of their future relationship. When, at four o’clock in the morning he was awakened by five day old Lynne’s cries, equal parts of terror, duty and love prompted him to feed her, change her nappy and cuddle her. This satisfied whatever need she had been trying to articulate, so she went back to sleep leaving Jude with a unique sense of empowerment and satisfaction. There were times over the next thirty years when he would understand the needs he was fulfilling; most times he didn’t think it necessary to try. Duty, love and a desire to avoid stress dictated his responses to Lynne’s demands.
Consequently, when she expressed a strong desire to go with him to bring Greeny � Jude’s mother – to Mullingar hospital for her check-up, he didn’t question or demur.
“I really want her to bond with Damon; she must validate my life choice” Lynne insisted with the same intensity she had displayed at twelve when she felt that she was mature enough to go to teenage discos in the local tennis in club in Athlone; the same intensity that she had displayed at sixteen when she felt that she was old enough to sleep over with her friend without telling her parents. Now, as on those occasions, Jude wished to prevent her sense of her own rightness exposing her vulnerability.
“Give her time, it’s only been two months” he had assured her. “At her age she needs time to adjust to the novelty of Damon’s genesis.”
In fact Jude had never been able to find the courage or the form of words to explain to his mother that Damon’s father was a sperm bank; the egg was Lynne’s and gestation had taken place in a borrowed womb. His lack of specificity had led her to conclude that Damon was an orphaned clone. As far as she was concerned he wasn’t a real baby and didn’t count as a great grandchild. That Damon bore a strong resemblance to both Jude and Lynne was of no consequence. “I don’t see how he could look like both of you” she sniffed disparagingly “I always said that Lynne was the image of her mother” She had, in fact, always maintained that Lynne was definitely on “our side”
Lynne was determined that Damon should be accepted in the same way as any other child. “If I had perpetrated the hypocrisy of a traditional marriage and my partner had gone off and left me, she’d have no problem with it” she reasoned
“I must have Greeny’s affirmation of my life choice, she’s part of Damon’s heritage. Damon is an absolutely essential part of my self-realisation as a woman, but that doesn’t mean that I want to spend my life shackled to some monosyllabic turnip!”
So she insisted on making the journey, which passed as these journeys always passed, with Lynne’s conversation refracting off Jude’s indifference or empathy. “I was really looking forward to this drive with you � we never have time for a good old chat, I used to love when I was young and we – you and me � would always come to see Greeny on our own � just the two of us.” The process of driving had always acted as a filter for Lynne’s conversation � childish patter or post-feminist zeitgeist – and Jude had long since developed a habit of letting it flow round and over him, seldom interrupting except when her tone or a brief silence suggested that she expected a reaction from him.
“And for once, I’m under absolutely no pressure to get back” she assured him “so long as I’m back for my chat room this evening.” More and more young women of Lynne’s age found it impossible to achieve a balance between demanding careers, busy social lives and intimate relationships with friends, so Lynne had joined a web based chat room frequented by women with similar concerns to her own. “It’s absolutely amazing” she told Jude, “to have developed this incredible empathy with women I have never met; I make decisions about my life that I just wouldn’t make space for if I hadn’t given a commitment to the group. It’s really about relationships and validating each others” experiences and all the really important little stuff.” Reproductive issues were the group’s current source of angst. When? With whom? Was an ongoing heterosexual relationship necessary, or was it worth the hassle? The group had been an incredibly deep fount of emotional support when Lynne had made her own choice �stronger and deeper than many of her friends in traditional relationships had received. “They all think that I’m just so amazingly brave and just so right for Damon in insisting that Greeny accept my life choice” she assured Jude “and we are all meeting in the chat room this evening so that we can celebrate The Bonding.” Jude’s longing for middle-aged equanimity recoiled at the bravery and recklessness of her quest, but duty and love for Lynne and Damon counterbalanced his apprehension of Greeny’s response. Although not religious, Jude in extremis had a mantra on which he always fell back in times of confusion and desperation “You can; I can’t” he would say to God. This and the immediate necessity of concentrating on his driving got them safely to Granard.
Greeny’s appointment in Mullingar hospital was at “eleven or half eleven � it’s before the dinner, anyway. I’m sure they’ll wait a few minutes for me; and if I’m early I want to call to see Mrs. O’Driscoll for a chat � I’ll have to call to see her anyway.”
“What’s wrong with Mrs. O’Driscoll?” Lynne, full of concern, then reminiscing, “I remember when you used to go to visit her and dad and me would collect you, and she would give me sweets and say “there you are, you poor little orphan’, and she’d look at me as if both of you were privy to some awful secret about me. I used think that maybe dad wasn’t really my father and that was why he was nice to me.” Jude knew why Mrs.O’Driscoll called Lynne a “poor little orphan” Mrs. O’Driscoll was his mother’s confidante her intellectual and emotional doppelganger. If his mother wanted to obliquely criticise something he had done, she would attribute the criticism to Mrs. O’Driscoll. As in “Mrs. O’Driscoll says that any woman that wants to have a job shouldn’t have family as well � the poor little things are no better off than orphans” apropos of Clare � Lynne’s mother – keeping her job as an accountant when Lynne was born.
“They must have given you an appointment card, surely?” Jude diverted the conversation.
“Arrah, they gave me a bit of paper with something scribbled on it, but you couldn’t make head nor tail of it!” she dismissed.
“You wouldn’t, by any chance, still have the bit of paper?” Jude already knew the answer.
“It was her own fault” she continued, picking up the train of the sidelined conversation, pushing stigmas, orphans and half-mothers into the background. “She was riding the bike down Spout Hill with no brakes, and if a rabbit didn’t run out in front of her and put her up on the ditch and break her wrist.”
“Is she still riding a bike, I thought she was crippled with arthritis for years?” Lynne again wanting to sound concerned.
“We could all be crippled with arthritis if we wanted to be” with an abnegatory sniff “I never in my life rode the bike down Spout Hill, I always get off and walk, no matter how much of a hurry I’m in.”
The journey was punctuated by Greeny’s recitation of the number of Protestant homes that had disappeared off the landscape between Granard and Mullingar since she was a girl, “And to think that Westmeath used to be full of Protestants, and now there’s hardly one left” She said it as if it was the fulfilment of some prophecy, as if it was the emergence of the correct order of things.
“It’s great to get out for a drive and a chat and see around the country. There’s nothing nicer than a nice September’s day and all the harvest in and reared” harking back to the time when September marked the winding down of the farming year.
In the back of the car Lynne was pointedly explaining to the uncomprehending Damon that Greeny was her grandmother and his great grandmother “So you can call her Great Greeny. Greeny, can Damon call you Great Greeny?” nervous, playful, hopeful. Greeny half turned to Jude “If she’s talking to me, you’ll have to tell me what she’s saying, ‘cos I can’t hear a word with the noise of the car, or else I’m going awful deaf.”
When they arrived at the hospital at 10:45 for her 11:45 appointment, Greeny was gleeful, triumphant, “Didn’t I tell you it was around eleven?” So she went off to visit her friend Mrs. O’Driscoll who slept right through the visit. Greeny had understated her injuries � she had broken both her legs � and she was under heavy sedation. She would go back again after her own appointment. Mrs. O’Driscoll was still asleep, but Greeny held on for an hour until the O’Driscoll clan arrived. It would be a dreadful waste if no one knew that she was after going to the trouble of calling. The O’Driscolls were overwhelmed at her kindness in coming to see their mother, “it was no trouble – Jude was coming to Mullingar anyway.”
“I didn’t bother telling them that Lynne�” leaving a space for Damon’s name “was with you because the daughter is as nosy as the mother.”
Jude, avoiding Lynne’s eye, winced at the gratuitous hurt.
She had to go to Dunne’s Stores to buy a nightdress – just in case she might have to go in to the hospital in a hurry. “I know I must be an awful trial, delaying yous all day, but I seldom get the chance to come to Mullingar” she confessed to Lynne.
“Today is just for the four of us”, Lynne stressing the word four, “and I don’t care so long as I get back on time for my chat room”
“I didn’t think the young women today had time to chat” disdainfully, but she looked at Lynne with the beginnings of approval.
There was a bit of shopping to be done in Granard; she had to visit the doctor to get him to explain her prescription, and go to the chemist to get the prescription filled. Friends were met along the way; her tales of Mrs. O’Driscoll, her own travails with the consultant, the doctor and the pharmacist were retailed.
“Do you know you don’t find the day going when you’re out meeting people and chatting” she
exclaimed on one of her frequent returns to the car to brief them on her next foray. She began to include Lynne in her briefings, sneaking glances at Damon even as she ignored Lynne’s attempts to get her to acknowledge him or mention his name.
“And when you’re chatting to your friends this evening, Lynne, you can tell them how this doddery oul one kept you out all day. I love a bit of an oul chat myself, and I’m delighted you’re like me in that way.”
As they were sitting the car saying their goodbyes, Lynne looking crestfallen, defeated – Jude wanting to cuddle her – Greeny reached into the back and put her finger into Damon’s hand while stuffing a five euro note into his bib.
“You poor little orphan,” she beamed “You might grow up to be an oul chatterbox like your mother and great grandmother.”