My mother was not one to suffer fools gladly.
She had a caustic sense of humour and when she uttered one of her frequent sharp comments, Dad would say, ‘Ah, there she goes again with that Irish sense of humour.’
Mum was an observer of people and though she was not one for hugs or telling me she loved me, I always knew she had my back.
She came to Brisbane to stay with me, my husband Stan and our two children shortly after my daughter was born.
A few days into her stay, I broached a subject that had been a thorn in my side for the past few months.
‘Mum, I found out Stan’s been having an affair. He wants out.’
She wiped her hands on her apron and her eyes became hooded; she had that steely glare. It was her ‘Tell me more’ look.
I plunged on.
‘This has been going on for ages. He never plays with Michael and has hardly given the baby a second glance. I’ve had a gutful.’
Her eyes never left mine. Her face was expressionless and she didn’t comment.
Mum wasn’t one for criticism. The fact that she listened was a consolation and I felt better afterwards.
The following day, the smell of coffee and the sound of the juice extractor woke me.
Mum was in the kitchen preparing breakfast. On the bench were three glasses of freshly squeezed orange juice.
I reached for the first glass. Mum shook her head, grabbed my hand and whispered, ‘No, that’s Stan’s.’
I frowned. What had she done? I knew I’d unleashed a torrent of emotions, but had she? Would she dare? Surely not.
Mum was an avid reader. She devoured Agatha Christie’s novels at an alarming rate. We often discussed them, marvelling at the expertise with which Christie wove her fiendishly deceptive clues and her creative use of poisons into the plot.
‘Did you know,’ Mum once said, ‘that Agatha Christie learned all about poisons during the First World War when she volunteered as a nurse in a hospital?’
This comment was foremost on my mind.
Who knew what my mother was capable of, especially when it came to protection of her offspring? If she had done something diabolical, so be it. I didn’t really care anymore.
Stan emerged from the bedroom, all pressed and ready for work, the usual shitty look on his face.
Mum handed him his juice and a slice of toast spread with vegemite. Not a thank you was uttered; he just downed the juice and grabbed the toast.
‘I’m off,’ he said.
I raised my eyebrows at Mum. She shrugged.
I walked to the balcony as Stan reversed his yellow XC Falcon GS sedan from the garage.
He looked straight ahead as his car roared off down the street.
‘Arsehole,’ I muttered.
Back inside was Mum, sitting at the kitchen table finishing her breakfast, with a carefree, nonchalant look on her face as she studied the front page of The Telegraph.
‘Mum, tell me, what was it about the orange juice?’
She sat bolt upright, assumed a regal look and took a deep breath.
‘Well, it was like this. When I went to juice the oranges, some of them were rotten. Why waste them? I’ve never said this to you, but he’s given me the shits for years. Now it’s his turn.’
I sat down at the table.
‘Phew, I thought you might have done something worse.’
‘It crossed my mind, but I figured you might need me,’ said Mum, taking a sip of her coffee.
‘I’d be no help to you if I were languishing in jail, would I?’