“Ach, Naomi, don’t be going out tonight. Please. Your father is more likely to keep his clothes in the cupboard if you are here.” Naomi’s mother, Ruth Patterson née Plum, was brinking with tears.
Naomi went to switch off the television which was permanent background noise in their home. “What is this crap, Mum? Crossroads?”
“Naomi.” Naomi knew she was in for a lecture from the old woman. Aunt Grace Plum was fifty-one but would live to be a hundred, Naomi just knew.
“Far be it for me to lecture you,” the old woman said. “This is not a soap opera but news about last week’s general strike in Ulster: your parents’ homeland. Four men were killed in shooting incidents last week but maybe your myopia is getting worse. This is no ‘sop’ opera. Naomi, ‘do not use foul language or foul thou shalt become’. Exodus 20: Honour your father and mother for your father has worked at the Junction on shifts for years as a railway booking clerk and your mother at the chocolate factory and you would not be here without her.” Aunt Grace Plum sat in state with open legs and arms. The open legs was an old habit. The excess weight on Grace’s legs made it more comfortable to sit with legs slightly parted. From certain angles, her suspenders could be seen. She also wore a felt green hat with a feather and sensible Bible black lace-ups. Permanently. And horned-rimmed glasses. Aunt Grace towered with good sense and strong beliefs beside Ruth and continued her lecture. “They have kept a roof above your head,” she said pointing a finger in Naomi’s direction, “and myself,” pointing upward, “and your father,” she said, thrusting a forefinger downward, as the sound of dragged furniture screeched below, “ who is making an awful lot of noise down there, I might go far as to add. ”
“Oh, Aunt Grace, it’s been your Old People’s Home for the Demented that has kept me from the streets,” Naomi said applying pink Rapturous Delight lipstick.
“Naomi,” Ruth said as Grace’s eyes narrowed and her face puckered. “Don’t say those demented folk are old. Aunt Grace will make you eat your words if not your red hat.”
“Naomi.” Grace was off again. “Do not poke or gain amusement from those less fortunate than yourselves, lest, lest, and may I be allowed to say this, Ruth,” she said without taking air, “you, Naomi, or your mother or father for that matter, may in years to come be in need of the kind of service I, and your friend Janet Fretwell who has come to my aid and employment, are able to provide from the goodness of our hearts and my …”
“Aunt Grace, nobody was suggest…”
“Ruth!” Grace almost shouted at her niece. “May I be allowed to say just a few words and voice my opinion?” she said, glaring at Naomi’s mother as if she was seldom given an opportunity to speak on a soap box. “I was going to say, that I provide from my own ‘pocket’ and not the nanny state’s. I don’t want to get political, Naomi but your mother has a point.”
Naomi looked bewildered. She had lost her great-aunt’s point but her great aunt took pains to point it out. “Your father would be less likely to leave your mother, if only to move downstairs, if you stayed at home tonight. When all is said and done …”
Naomi opened her mouth in anticipation of speaking.
“When all is said and done,” Grace unfailingly continued, “it’s a cold night and parties are for the frivolous if I may be allowed to say.”
It was true. Her father would be less likely to move into her basement flat downstairs if she stayed. “Sorry, sorry, Auntie Grace. I’ll be back just after midnight, Mum, I promise. I’ll tell Dad I need the bed in the basement. And I’ve promised Janet we’re going.”
Aunt Grace seemed to have satisfied herself, and sat back on the mention of Janet Fretwell’s name as Naomi suspected she might.
“What are you and Dad quarrelling about now?” Naomi asked.
Ruth was beginning to cry. “Janet doesn’t want to go. She was looking forward to the wee birthday celebration I had arranged for you.”
Naomi had been born prematurely. Her mother had always said her daughter was impatient and in a hurry. Naomi straightened Caroline’s long flower-printed skirt. Something inside was telling her now to … hurry.
“What’s so important about this party, anyway?” Ruth said, blowing her nose.
Naomi didn’t know. She straightened Caroline’s skirt again. She must … hurry.
“Oh, Naomi, go and persuade your father to stay.”
There was another crash of furniture from below. Hurry. Her mother was now throwing herself into the business of crying wholeheartedly whilst Aunt Grace watched the news. Grace could only speak in monologues; dialogue tired her.
Naomi saw a tear drop down her mother’s cheek and on to her lip. There was something inside that would not hold her back from going tonight. Her mother’s tears began to fall. “Oh, sod it,” Naomi screamed in agony.
“What is it?” Ruth stopped crying on the jiffy and sat up in alarm.
“My bloody contact lens. Where is it?” Naomi was now searching the mock Chinese rug with fury.
Ruth scrambled to the floor in search of the lens with her daughter and then sat back and relaxed, hands in the pocket of her woollen cardigan, in her armchair. “Oh, well you won’t go now, then, will you? You wouldn’t go anywhere with Janet without your contact lenses. That’s the blind leading the blind.” There was a sliver of a smile on her lips.
Naomi’s hand was flirting with the door handle. It was true. Janet was such a worrying ditherer; she never knew where she was going and now Naomi had lost her contact lens. She felt divided. Halved in two, tautologically speaking. “Look. I’ll get back early and have a word with Dad. He won’t move downstairs, Mum. He hates my posters of King Crimson.”
“If you went and had a word with your father you know he would come up here and the four of us could watch a re-run of Casablanca and have a box of Black Magic.” Ruth looked around the room for her box. Ruth knew all about Black Magic: the discarded green marzipan and nougat in favour of the toffee crisps and fudges. Her mother’s plan sounded awful. “Mum, I’ve seen Casablanca forty-two times. It’s boring.”
Ruth was screaming at her. “How can you stand there and say Casablanca is boring?” Ruth shouted.
Naomi replied. “The dialogue is old-fashioned and clichéd. In fact the whole story is a cliché. Mum, how can you spend your days eating Black Magic chocolates and watching re-runs of old movies?”
But Ruth never really answered questions. “I don’t want you out on the Brumsdon overground tonight or on the streets of London. You’re not going out, Naomi. You’re to stay at home.” Ruth pulled Naomi’s hand away from the door handle and barred the exit with her full weight which was more than ample.
“I’m not a child, Mother. I’m not the child you dressed in red woollen coats with a sailor’s hat and matching tassel! I’m nineteen now.” Naomi shouted.
“There’s something else,” Ruth suddenly said abruptly.
Hurry. Hurry. There was a hurried pause. With one contact lens in and one out, Naomi didn’t want to get into her mother’s ‘something elses’. She pushed her mother aside in as much as it was possible to push her mother aside. It seemed very important to get to this party in Sleasden.
“I’ve seen the light,” Ruth said. “I agree with your father. We need to speak to you, Naomi. You can’t go out tonight.”
Her father appeared. “And why can’t you go to the ball?” he asked, smiling, with a screwdriver in his hand. Naomi’s father often walked about with a screwdriver in his hand. He liked to have screwdrivers to hand. He was a practical man. He stood in his boots which laced up to give support to his arthritic ankles; consequently his feet smelt.
“I agree with you, Jimmy,” Ruth said. “We need to talk to Naomi tonight. After all, she was nineteen this week and I’m not happy about her being on the overground trains into London tonight,” she said.
The train timetable was carved on Naomi’s father’s heart, lifelong booking clerk that he was. “The last train to Brumsdon is at midnight on a Saturday, Naomi. It gets in at thirty-two minutes past the hour and I’ll be there at the station to meet you. The car’s running.” It wasn’t always, despite Jimmy’s box of tools. “Promise me you won’t miss the last train. Your mother will worry in the wee hours of the morning if you don’t get back.”
Naomi gave her father a broad smile. She had nice teeth but they were slightly yellowed. “Dad. Thanks. I promise. This is so important to me. And I can celebrate my birthday with you all tomorrow, can’t I?”
“And what about our wee talk?” Ruth said.
Aunt Grace reached into the box of Black Magic, raised her knowing eyebrows and placed a praline in her mouth.
Her father nodded. “That can wait until tomorrow as well.” Then her father said something strange. “It’s waited long enough. Run along now and don’t be late. After all, the child didn’t ask to be born, Ruthie did she?”
This was absolutely true. Nobody had actually asked for Naomi Plum to be born. Except maybe Nic Finn, for as far as he was concerned he had created her. And Naomi was conceived the day that Nic Finn was born.
Ruth Plum had spent Coronation day, June 2nd 1953, on her back and conception had taken place with the raising of a cotton skirt, a scribbling of lean fingers on her fleshy thighs whilst Our Lady looked down with an exclamation mark!
Ruth Plum closed her eyes and tried hard not to think of Ireland or the dusty portrait of the Virgin Mary above. Or the fact that a greater sin than pre-marital sex was sex in a Catholic bedroom. A tugging took place at the elastic of her navy blue school knickers which cut into the roll of fat at her non-existent waistline. The knickers struggled downwards. They had been the only ones available that Tuesday and she had searched the drawers in her own Protestant house for a white cotton pair. The thick blue knickers now discarded on the eiderdown, there was a pulling at Ruth’s ample bra. She thought the bedroom smelt of dog, like the pungent scent of stale knickers. Ruth Plum had never made love in such salubrious surroundings. It was usually an alleyway.
She tried to concentrate on the task in hand and, placing a plump, inky finger on the zip, she pulled it downward to reveal a soft warm lump. She cradled the warmth in the palm of her right, blue-splodged hand and realized that ‘her lover’ had come prepared: he had refrained from wearing his Y-fronts. Ruth Plum allowed her legs to heave apart in welcome. She was overwhelmed with a soft if somewhat sharp but familiar warmth. Others had been here before. Ruth Plum enjoyed pure, unadulterated sensuality but what she really pursued was pure and unadulterated Romance. The Casablanca Kind. Ruth Plum was in the business of creating Passion.
“When’s your period due?” ‘her lover’ whispered upward and down.
“Any day.” Which was true. She was a girl who did not live by calendars. Passion doth not live by numbers. Ruth Plum’s voice was cup cake; thick, coated and darkly chunky as was everything else about her.
It was easy to love in a darkened room with the home-made curtains drawn on seal wet streets. The soft patter of rain accompanied murmurs within. Ruth Plum, so aptly named, was like simmering jam; sweet, maroon and softly bubbling. For a few brief minutes Ruth Plum and her lover were united in a physical ecstasy even if their minds were in different places. Ruth was wondering what the Virgin Mary was thinking, but her lover was not. Outside the trickle of rain built slowly into a torrent. History was in the making. Naomi Plum to be Patterson and then another name beginning with ‘p’ was being conceived.
Alas, what was the fifteen year old Ruth Plum to do some weeks later? Her thoughts turned to Jimmy Patterson’s cheesy feet and promise of contraception. He had scribbled down one address on a piece of paper that found its way into Ruth pocket with the potato money and his new Brixton address on another. But it was the contraception address which Ruth erroneously released to the wind. The Brixton address was to come in handy for when Lizzie Plum discovered that her daughter was pregnant by a catholic mick and the mick was Michael Donaghue she announced that this had been ‘pure rape’ and dispatched her daughter to her Bible belted Aunt Grace in Brumsdon.