Gwen eyed the turkey with distaste. She had grown to hate turkey. Turkey meant big family gatherings, a day spent in her kitchen preparing to feed the masses who would descend on her home expecting to be welcomed and entertained. It was always the same. She had the fine house in the home town, the big table that could seat all who wished to attend. They would breeze in through her front door brandishing bottles of wine, six packs of beer, and noisy bonhomie. Tired from their long drives they would hug and stretch before filling her sofas and relaxing with their drinks. She was never consulted. They would give her their arrival time and expect her to play her part.
This past week had been spent cleaning every room from top to bottom, clearing out cupboards and disposing of anything that could be remarked upon. She knew exactly who would feel justified in rifling through her things, who would claim they needed some small item and hadn’t wished to disturb her. How many times in the past had they appeared in front of everyone brandishing an unexpected find that could feed their gossip, feigning interest or concern? She was determined not to provide them with ammunition.
Yesterday she had faced the crowds in town, wasted hours shopping for the food they would all consume. Her evening had been spent over a hot stove, preparing all that could be done in advance. Now she must deal with this loathsome turkey. She hated turkey.
Once upon a time she had enjoyed these family gatherings, had looked forward to welcoming the crowds to her home. Then Michael had decided that his perky little trainee was more exciting than her in his bed, his ego taking precedence over the well-being of their children. How she had laughed when she had heard that her replacement was pregnant with twins. How her family had berated her for letting him go, as if she had had a choice.
She still saw him sometimes, driving his sports car to and from his bachelor pad in town. She knew that he was good to all of his kids giving them everything he could except his time. Time was the one thing that she could offer in abundance but Beth and Robbie showed little interest in that now. They were too busy travelling the world, falling in and out of love, furthering their careers. Gwen was proud of her children, glad that they had found new lives away from the prying eyes and the small town mentality that had ground her down.
The ringing phone in the hall jolted her from her reverie. She guessed it would be Mother demanding to know when her lift would arrive. Gwen could picture the old lady sitting fretting by the window, coat by her side hours before it would be required. This was the third time in as many days that Gwen had explained the arrangements. Mother would not accept that her son was picking her up on his way through. Did Gwen not know that Mother did not care for his wife? She would continue to pick at this sore in the hope of guilt tripping Gwen into doing as she wished, ignoring the fact that someone had to attend to the food and welcome the unasked for guests. Mother always thought that her desires should take precedence over all else.
At least today she would have a new audience for her grievances. Twice a week Gwen would drop by to hear the same tales being told, the same complaints aired. Mother regularly made clear how bad a daughter Gwen was for not doing everything that the loving daughters of her acquaintances did. On this point Gwen would not acquiesce. She had no wish to do time for matricide which she feared would be the outcome if she allowed her mother to move into her home.
Today Mother would have all her children around her and most of their children too. She would berate Gwen for not insisting that Beth and Robbie be there, unable to comprehend that it was the guilt she poured so liberally on Gwen that had fed her determination never to inflict such treatment on her own offspring. They would be free to come and go as suited them with no feelings of obligation. Their visits may not be regular but they were happy ones.
Gwen returned to the kitchen and heaved the dead bird into the oven. With so many dishes to prepare for this afternoon’s feast the time would go quickly enough. Whatever efforts she made there would still be complaints, vaguely coated in supposedly well meaning advice. She wished that she didn’t care.
The post dinner kitchen looked like a disaster zone. Closing the door against the raucous good cheer Gwen poured herself another glass of wine. Mother had outdone herself. She now had three of her four children determined that the only acceptable solution to her sadly explained predicament was that she move in with Gwen. With so much space and time on her hands it made sense to everyone else that Gwen should become her mother’s carer.
Picking up her phone Gwen clicked on the number she had carefully saved but rarely used. As she listened to the distant ringing she willed him to take the call.
The silence was deafening. Gwen fought her desire to laugh at their stricken faces, aware that such a reaction may sound hysterical. For the first time in many years she felt empowered.
‘You can’t just leave her, she is an old lady, she is your mother!’ her brother implored.
‘She is your mother too.’ Gwen retorted. ‘She has spent the whole afternoon complaining about her current place, I’m sure that with a bit of effort you can find her somewhere she will prefer near to you. Maybe you could even have her move in.’
It took all of Gwen’s powers to suppress her smile as husband and wife exchanged stricken looks.
Mother looked from child to child. ‘I don’t understand Gwen. Why would you wish to leave this place at your age? Where will we all go when we need to meet up?’
And of course that was the crux of the matter. Gwen was expected to be there when the family wanted her to be, to serve them all as they saw fit, as she had always done before.
‘At my age? Maybe that is why’ she replied. ‘Maybe I want to see some of the places Beth and Robbie talk about. Michael is happy for me to rent this place out, he says he may even join me.’
Her sister-in-law eyed her quizzically ‘You never told us you were still in touch with Michael.’
Gwen looked her in the eye, ‘I don’t tell you a lot of things.’