Listen to Maternal Voices
Heather’s friends never tired of telling her what a lovely neck she possessed. They used words like shapely, elegant, swanlike, words enough to make a self-conscious woman blush. Heather had always considered herself more a giraffe than a swan, but she was willing to a humour an inter-species adaptation of the old ugly duckling tale. For her fiftieth birthday, a colleague bought her a charming Tudor ruff. The colleague said it was about time she started showing God’s gifts off to the world. Heather gratefully wore it to her birthday party, the first time in over ten years she’d left the house without a turtleneck jumper. The shape, length and girth of her neck received compliments from men and women throughout the night, seemingly without envy or hostility. A young European man followed her to the toilets, where he pressed his lips against every inch of her neck. He took her home in a cab. For the first time in her life, Heather glowed with confidence. But as she lay back on his bare mattress, she could hear something unexpected, something undead, interrupting his exotic, whispered syllables. It couldn’t be – but it was – the voice of her long deceased mother. “He must be half-blind – or stone drunk,” the dry old voice said, from somewhere behind the European’s wardrobe. “You look like a Tudor tart. You look like gum stretched from a shoe. You look like a slut of the savannahs.” The European ignored Heather’s hysterical screams for a further twenty minutes. When he was done, he locked her in the bathroom. After escaping through the window, she waited almost an hour for a cab to pass, all the while fingering her ruff, which was by now crumpled and stained with drink, her wet sobs, hot, European breath.