Sisters 69

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CHAPTER 69
It was an even longer drive up this time, as our two charges needed extra special care. More stops, partly for them, but also because I seemed to tire more easily as my body adapted to being drained of its precious bodily fluids every few minutes, or at least one fluid. Siân was glowing, despite our interrupted sleep, and I am sure I must have looked insufferably smug.

These were ours, not on loan, not to be gathered up and removed at the end of each day. I know our friends and family didn’t feel like that, had never felt that way, but as for myself I knew that I could at last look them in the eyes fairly, Arris, Vicky, Diane, Mam. I was a mother, we were mothers, and in the end I still felt a twinge of guilt and sympathy for my sister and for Annie.

Sarah and Tony had made it across three days after we were home, Jim riding pillion behind his Dad, the big man in tears as he cradled two tiny figures, sobbing their names as Jim cuddled him from behind along with his own Mam, my sister.

So much water under the bridge, so much change since we were little girls, or rather sister and sort-of brother. I had wanted to include something of her friends in the children’s names, and if they had both turned out to be girls, Rebecca and Joanne would have had another wriggling little memorial along with Sarah to keep their names alive, but it wasn’t to be. Our parents had to be there, in the end, and their other parents, because Tony and Sarah could never be separated, and naturally enough there was no fucking way Carwyn would ever have contact with them in any manner whatsoever, let alone see his own name live in them.

This was our first trip to see their other grandparent, and it was hard work, harder than it had ever been. Feeding, changing, simply taking our own rests, more than enough to worry us without my nightmare memories of Annie sobbing at the roadside to keep my driving safe and steady.

That was another worry safely pushed aside, for I knew in my heart I had skated far too close to the edge with Diane. Leaving her and Annie alone in our house had been unavoidable, but I had worried about it almost non-stop until our return with the new people. Dad had driven us home, as a proud Bamps, and I had a slight attack of the giggles when I spotted a couple of tents on our back lawn. We came in the door, and there were Di and Annie slumped against each other on the settee, laughing happily at a photo album. I gave them a Look.

“Make yourselves at home, why don’t you?”

Annie just grinned, as did Di, and I saw they had been doing more than a little female bonding while I had been sweating and straining. Di looked at her new/old friend, then back at me.

“Been interesting, Lainey. Once we got past the what the fuck stage—er, I suppose I should start watching my language now. Little ears, innit?”

Annie giggled, actually bloody giggled, like an overgrown school-girl.

“I think these two might be a bit young to worry about language just now, but, well, Lainey? Remember Ginny?”

I laughed as I took a seat, Little Tony cradled to me. “How’s it go? Fuck, yeah? Sorry, Mam!”

She nodded. “Friend of mine, Di. Bit larger than life!”

Siân guffawed. “A bit? Ooh, mustn’t do that, bloody stitches”

I took her free hand. “Aye, very much larger, that is, Annie. And?”

The dark-haired girl was doing her best to keep her face straight, but it wasn’t working too well.

“She and her wife adopted a young girl, and the first time Ginny got excited, she almost strangled herself. ‘Fuh—lip yeah’, it was! All the habits of a lifetime’s insanity had to be tied down and sedated”

Mam tried to frown, but it wasn’t really a serious attempt.

“Little ears may not be old enough, but these ears are. Now, Elaine: what are you going to do about your mother in law?”

Her choice of words was telling. She didn’t say ‘Siân’s Mam’ or anything like that, nothing with any warmth to it. Mother in law, a cold, factual description of her as a role rather than a person. I squeezed my wife’s hand.

“She deserves to see her grandchildren, and before you say it, yes. They will both be her grandchildren. She is what she is, but I married her daughter, and family is family. We know that, here, in our family. Look at how many are here, look how strong we are together. All I want to do is clear it with the other two people involved first”

Mam looked confused, just for a second, and as her face cleared she just nodded.

“You are right, Elaine. They are as much one as you two are. I see I brought up no stupid children”

Diane just raised her own eyebrow, and that set her and Annie off again, giggling like teenagers. Annie managed to rein herself in, with just a couple of hiccups.

“Elaine, we’ve done quite a bit of talking, the two of us, once we got past, as Di put it, the double-you tee eff stage. A lot to share, aye? And then she was telling me all about that unit you set up. Very well done, Inspector”

Di nodded. “Got a lot of work on now, Lainey. Can’t share details, naturally, but they’ve got us another string to our fiddle. Not just the cold case stuff we did but more of the sort of sub-NCA stuff. National Crime Agency, Sioned. We are picking up some of the nasty organised stuff that isn’t quite big enough to rattle the politician’s cages. Done quite a bit with HMRC and Trading Standards, especially round Christmas. Nothing changes there, aye?”

Annie nodded. “And we’ve sent Arwel and Alice out on a mission”

The door banged, and as if answering to their names, the older two were there, the smell of fish and chips. Blake called from the kitchen.

“Bread and butter are on their way, boys and girls!”

That set the tone for the next few days, a steady feast of smiles and warmth, love and good humour, family and friends. Arwel and Alice were no sooner off back home than Arris and her family were setting up on the back lawn, and I lost track of exactly how many times the babies’ heads were metaphorically wetted. What the two of us did do, though, was eat. I was ravenous so much of the time, and that seemed to be exacerbated by the lack of sleep the new arrivals gave us. In the end, both of us began expressing our milk so that our family could take over some of the feeding duties, and I developed an even greater respect for Mam and Dad, for they had coped with both my sister and myself with nobody but themselves to rely on. I gave Sarah a smile one morning as she stumbled down for breakfast.

“Lainey, bloody sight easier getting kids the way I did. Less mess, more sleep!”

“Tea?”

“God, yes. How do you stay asleep when it’s not your turn?”

“Ear plugs”

She shook her head. “Annie suggested that. Anyway, Simon was asking, she says”

“Eh? Merry’s man? The vicar? Oh, morning Tone”

He settled into a chair and poured his own drink. “Thank fuck Di and Blake have gone home. I couldn’t cope with those little shit machines from a sleeping bag”

I asked him the same question. “Simon?”

He sipped, then sighed. “Aaaaah. Yeah, Simon. He wants, or he’s offering, to do us a christening, or naming, or whatever. I wasn’t, we weren’t sure if you had something planned over here, so we made no promises”

“By we, you mean the two of you?”

He shook his head. “No. The three of us. Jim’s brother and sister, so we thought he should get a say”

He was forever full of surprises, but each one let me see why my sister loved him so much. He carried on explaining.

“Steph and the Woods have already made the usual offers, as has Dennis. We’ve coped before. We just need a yes or no. Your choice”

“Oh shit. I will have to delegate this one. Mam!”

She came in from the living room, Little SAS in her arms attached firmly to a bottle.

“Yes, cariad?”

“Mam, christening, aye?”

“Simon will have offered, isn’t it? Miriam’s husband? He’s a good man, Elaine. I can’t think of a better one for the task”

I just shrugged. “All right, then. You can tell him it’s a yes. But we need to speak to Siân’s Mam first”

I looked at my own mother, and corrected myself. “Her other Mam, that is”

So it was that we found ourselves parking outside a North Wales establishment for those awaiting death, unloading two new bits of life to challenge it. This time, I didn’t leave my lover and head off to the beach car park but followed her in through the heavy oak doors. The receptionist, an Oriental woman of some kind, clearly recognised her, and beamed with delight on seeing the carry cots.

“Mrs Powell! Congratulations! And you must be the other Mrs Powell. Can I ask…?”

Siân smiled back. “One of each, Carmen. One of each. Want to be introduced?”

“Oh yes please! What are their names?”

“That one is Anthony Twm Kevin, and this one is Sioned Angharad Sarah”

Carmen’s smile drained from her face. “You honour your mother, Mrs Powell, even when—no. I am speaking out of place. But you are indeed a different person. She does not know how lucky she is in you”

“Thank you, Carmen. I appreciate that, and you are not in any place, as you put it. I appreciate your concern. How is she?”

“Please wait a moment. Hannah? Can you take the desk?”

Another tiny woman came out of a door just behind, and then Carmen led us into a small sitting room.

“Mrs Powell, Mrs Powell”

I held up a hand. “Siân and Elaine, please”

She gave a little bow. “Thank you. I am honoured. I will be blunt. I have no idea how she is still with us. She has a fight in her of a strength I have rarely seen, but it cannot last. There is only so much the spirit can do for the body, whether it is hers or the Holy one. Ambrose is with her at the moment. Do you wish to wait for a private moment?”

Siân shook her head. “No. He is a good man. I will share… we will share the moment with him”

“Come, then. We will use the lift; safer for the little ones”

There was a smell on the upper floor, a hospital smell, underlain by a sourness. It wasn’t the same as our little room off the ward at Glangwili, and I wondered whether my preconceptions were affecting my nostrils. Death’s waiting room.

Ambrose was kneeling by the bed, praying quietly, a bible open before him, and Angharad…

What was left of her was wrapped in tubes and wires, and when I say ‘what was left’ it was entirely bone and stretched skin. This was what my wife had been seeing while I walked the beach and looked out over the sea to distant mountains? I put Little Tony down and moved to hold my wife.

“Mam? I’ve brought visitors”

Ambrose stood and moved aside, and I saw fever-bright eyes open as machines made noises and pumps whirred. A paper-thin voice rustled over their murmuring and bleeping.

“You have brought your partner in sin this time?”

Cow.

“I have brought my wife, Mam. And our children. Your grandchildren are here with us”

She tried to lift her head as her mouth worked, and Ambrose stepped forward again.

“Grandchildren? Please…”

Siân nodded to me, and we took our infants from their cradles, holding them before her as Ambrose cradled her head so she could see. I decided I wasn’t going to stay silent this time.

“They are Anthony Twm Kevin and Sioned Angharad Sarah”

“Which one comes from my daughter?”

Siân put a finger to my lips. “No, Mam. They are ours, ours together”

“Angharad…”

She took a little while to find another breath, a claw-like hand reaching out so, so gently to touch each child’s face in turn.

“You…you honour me, even when…”

Siân nodded, red hair falling forward to cover her tears.

“Yes, we did. Are you not still my Mam?”

“They will be baptised?”

I made a snap decision and nodded to my wife, who simply said “Yes, Mam”

What was left of the old woman reached out to touch her daughter’s hand, and as she said one last word, the machines started to make louder noises, and Ambrose went to stand against the closed door, and I realised it was to stop any medical staff from entering. He looked at me, a weight of ages in his eyes.

“Finally. It is finished, as our Lord said. She had one request, ladies, and it is one I will arrange, given no objections. Simply put, she wishes to go home to the retreat and rest with us. We have a space for her, a place for her. Are you willing?”

My wife looked at me, and she knew my answer, and then Carmen had tea for us as Ambrose finally let the medics begin the long job of removing all the equipment from what had been my mother-in-law. I led her from that place an hour later, after everything had been signed and sealed, and we drove Ambrose to the station before settling ourselves into the beach car park I had occupied so often, before we began the long, silent journey back home.

A week later, the children safe with Mam and Dad, we stood on a windy knoll on a bleak island as what was left of her mother joined others of her creed to rest with their god. Ambrose was so much happier, which seemed odd at a funeral.

“Oh, dear ladies, it has been a hard path to walk with her. She was a stiff-necked old harridan, but inside, there was so much love struggling to get out. I find myself rather lacking in true Christian charity and love for that man she married”

I just grinned. “As I am not bound by any religious views, I can be clearer in my condemnation, my friend. I hope he rots, the bastard. Now, what are you doing in a month?”

“What are you asking, Elaine?”

“We made Angharad a promise. Would you stand for her, stand as a godfather to her grandchildren?”

First his jaw fell, then his tears, and finally the strain from his posture, and yes, yes, he would be honoured.

The choir was as thunderous as ever, making two little people yell in their turn, but Merry was there, eyes shining, along with Mam and a horde of aunties, all ready to fuss and soothe. Ambrose was sanding to one side, along with Kevin, Vicky, Di, Blake, Annie, Eric, Arris, Steve, Steph and Geoff. Simon was grinning happily, as he so often was. He said the words, about his dearly beloved, and how true that was, and said the names, and wet their foreheads.

I held my wife and our children, and I thought of that lone last word of Angharad’s.

“Love”



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