‘Look, Mummy, this flower is standing up!’ exclaimed the little girl. ‘It’s so big.’
Jane smiled at her daughter, Arabella, as they strolled through the Botanic Gardens. They were meeting Jane’s elderly grandmother in the cafe that overlooks the pond. Or, as Gran had said yesterday, at ‘A quarter past ten, Jane dear, don’t be tardy.’ She was a formidable woman and age had not lessened her eminence. Jane flicked her wrist and her Fitbit lit up, showing the time; she gasped in shock, her heart raced.
‘Hurry Arabella, we’re going to be late to visit Granny Ethel,’ Jane said, pulling softly on Arabella’s arm.
‘I don’t like Granny Ethel,’ Arabella stated firmly, holding her ground by the flower. ‘I like this flower. It’s pretty. Can I pick it?’
‘It is pretty. But we just look at the flowers in this garden. We’re not allowed to pick them and take them home.’
‘Why is it so tall?
‘The stalk makes it grow tall and strong.’
‘The bird makes it grow?’ Arabella asked, her eyes wide with wonder. ‘Why does the stork make it grow, Mummy?’
‘No, darling, not the stork in the book.’ Jane and Ben, Arabella’s dad, had been reading nature books to her at night. ‘The stalk is this,’ Jane said, bending down, forgetting about Gran and pointed to the stalk of the sunflower. ‘It’s a stem, or for you, like your spine.’ At this she traced her finger up her daughter’s back and grinned as she giggled and squirmed.
Jane loved moments like this; she smiled again at Arabella. ‘You’re such a clever girl, Arabella. Mummy loves spending time with you. Just like this.’ She wanted to stay and chat about flowers all day. Arabella’s innocence, her delight in the little things, made all the struggles, all the stress and the juggling and the arguments with Ben melt away.
Arabella opened her mouth to speak, but Jane interrupted her. ‘C’mon darling, we must go. Granny Ethel said she had something important for us.’
‘OK Mummy, but I don’t like her. Will you tell her that for me?’
‘I most certainly will not tell her. And neither will you. You’ll remember all your manners, please, Arabella.’
As they began to walk towards the pond, Jane wished there was another way into the cafe. She didn’t want Arabella to be distracted by the pond, the ducks and swans. Gran would be waiting inside by now, silently transmitting her displeasure to the patrons around her like radiowaves.
The two of them rounded the bend in the path and the water from the pond twinkled in the sunlight. Jane stopped suddenly and crouched down to Arabella’s level.
‘Now, I promise you we will come to pond after morning tea with Granny Ethel. We’ll feed the ducks and we can even sit on the grass for a little while. But we must go straight into the cafe now. OK?’ Jane’s eyes bored into her daughter’s. Arabella stared back at Jane, her hazel eyes just like her dad’s: soft, kind, but something else. Jane’s tummy flipped over as it struck her. The flashing defiance, the glimmer of unreleased irritation. Just like Ben, Jane mused, a little unsettled, but she rubbed Arabella’s arms and grinned.
‘Alright, Mummy,’ Arabella agreed, nodding her head. Together they strode towards the cafe’s doors, ready to face whatever news Gran had to share.