In 1990 my mother arrived in Melbourne to help my partner Sonny and I prepare for the birth of our first child, Emmi. Emmi wasn’t due until the following week, so Mum decided to entertain herself by visiting a clairvoyant in North Carlton. She’d heard about this fortune teller from a friend. She was the best around apparently, even though Mum had no trouble securing an immediate appointment.
Mum tried to persuade me to go too, but I said that as I was nine months pregnant I knew what my future had in store for me – at least for the next eighteen years.
It was four stops on the tram to North Carlton from where we were living in Brunswick East; Mum could manage this outing on her own. I was looking forward to having an afternoon sleep, so I gave her a key to let herself in when she returned.
I woke to hear a frantic banging on the front door.
“Coming.” I could see through the frosted glass panel it was Mum. “I gave you a key. What have you done with the key?”
“I can’t get the bloody useless thing…the stupid key,” she said. “Let me in. Just let me in.” She banged hard on the glass.
When I opened the door the key dropped from her hand. I picked it up and put it in my pocket. I looked at the door to try and work out why she couldn’t open it. There was an original lock further down that would need a key five times the size. “Did you try to put the key in there?” I said, pointing.
“Did you not see the new lock where you turn the handle?”
Mum didn’t answer. By this time she was slumped against the wall in some sort of stupor. I had to hold her up and guide her down the hall and into the lounge.
“Why can’t you stand up properly?” I said.
“I just want to sink into the floor and melt away”
“You need to sit down.”
She studied the chair as if she’d never sat down before. “I just have to wait for the bad news to come. There’s nothing I can do about it.”
“Come on, sit down, I’ll make you a cup of tea. I’ll put sugar in it.” I left her to figure out how to sit while I went into the kitchen to put the jug on.
It took a minute for my eyes to adjust to our darkened lounge after standing in the bright kitchen. Sunless rooms were a blessing in the Melbourne heat. It was the end of March, but it was still hot. Mum had managed to sit and there she was, legs splayed, mouth agape, like one of those heads at the Fair waiting for a ball to be tossed in. I tried to give her the sweet milky tea. She didn’t respond with her hands to accept the drink, so I pulled the small side table next to her chair and put the cup down. I’d made myself a herbal tea. I balanced it on the fat arm of the couch. I couldn’t see my feet when I sat because of my beach-ball belly.
“The clairvoyant said terrible news and losses starting next week. April and May are going to be especially bad months for me.” Mum lurched forward. “Oh god, Eva,” she said, looking at me keenly, “I hope the losses aren’t anything to do with you. I couldn’t bear it.”
I was relieved when I felt a kick from inside my distended abdomen, though it did nothing to stop the rush of doubt and dread. Emmi would be born dead. Of course. I could feel my heart beating in quick drubs like a captured mouse.
“She said I’ll need regenerating after the trauma. How can I avoid this? Oh god. Can I somehow numb myself and just get through it?” She leaned back in her chair like she was in an opium den and had just had a long suck on a hookah pipe. She looked barely alive.
“I don’t think she’s a very responsible clairvoyant making you feel so fearful.”
“Things will improve by June. There will be more contentment. The rest of the year will bring many good things,” she said, as if to reassure me.
“That’s good then. Just a couple of months to get through.”
“Yes. That’s right. You make me feel so much better. You always do.”
“Drink your tea, Mum.”
“I must focus my thoughts, jump over the bad bit.” She balled up the fabric on her shirt as she reanimated. “It sits like a heavy rock under my breasts and down to the pit of my stomach.” She picked up her tea and took a sip. “It’s too sweet. I don’t have sugar in my tea.”
“I’ll make you another one,” I said.
When Sonny got home from work he was carrying a parcel from New Zealand that he’d picked up from the Post Office. It was too big to fit in our letterbox. It was from his parents. While he poured Mum a brandy and heard about her shock, I went through the pile of items for Emmi. Sonny’s mother had knitted two cardigans, a little jumper, four lamb’s wool singlets and over pants. There were three Peter Rabbit stretch and grow bodysuits, a Wedgewood nursery set with a bowl, cup, plate and spoon, and a bank cheque to buy the nice pram we wanted with the car-seat attachment. While Sonny poured Mum another brandy, I went through the pile again, rubbing my hands over the clothes, holding them up, looking at them from different angles, pressing the lamb’s wool against my cheek.
“You’re a lucky girl Emmi,” I whispered to my stomach.