‘Now. Please try and behave today darling. Be a good girl, for mummy.’
I didn’t like the cut of Mother’s jib. What was she trying to insinuate with her pleading words and her pitiful expression? I am always a good girl, unlike Mother whose behaviour can frequently be described, at best, as questionable. Just the other day she had an epic meltdown on her return from the hairdresser’s. ‘It looks like a mullet!’ she exclaimed through her sobs. ‘Party at the back, business on top,’ joked Father. I didn’t have a clue what he was talking about but Mother clearly did by the way she clenched her fist meaningfully.
‘We don’t want a repeat of last time now do we?’ suggested Mother in a sing-song voice which would have put my teeth on edge, if I’d had any.
I had no idea as to what Mother was referring – a figment of her imagination, I suspected. Mother is well known (to me) for her over dramatics.
But then, as we stepped through the huge glass doors, I felt a flicker of a memory tickle my consciousness.
‘I just had to abandon everything,’ exclaimed Mother with her usual level of heightened drama as she struggled to guide my legs into a little metal seat. ‘C’mon darling, bend your knees,’ she muttered as she huffed and puffed. I don’t know why but quite a curious quirk of mine is that whenever Mother or Father attempt to seat me or lie me down or move me anywhere, my first thought is of resistance. I have never been known to be complicit with Mother and Father’s wishes; perhaps this is my way of keeping the pair of them on their toes and reminding them who’s boss.
‘And everyone was looking,’ she continued. ‘Your screaming was so loud I was surprised we didn’t get banned for life. The checkout girl looked like she was on the verge of tears.’
My recollection was a little hazy but from what I could recall, the last time we had been within these environs, I had become mildly dissatisfied and had expressed this as politely and as quietly as I could. As I’ve said, Mother’s propensity for exaggeration is legendary.
‘Right then,’ she said, steering the trolley haphazardly (her ability to captain a trolley about as skilful as her ability to park a car – as the lamppost outside our house would attest) towards the fruit aisle. ‘What do I need?’
I watched in amusement as Mother filled the trolley with apples and bananas and oranges because I knew perfectly well that these poor innocents would meet the same unsavoury end as their predecessors – rotting in the fruit bowl after weeks of avoidance by Mother. ‘I don’t know why you bother,’ Father had tutted last time Mother was forced to empty the contents of the bowl into the bin. ‘The only time I’ve ever seen you eat fruit is when it’s crushed and mixed with alcohol and poured from a bottle.’
‘Oooh, half price,’ she exclaimed now, happily distracted from the innocuous vegetable aisle by a brightly coloured, large display of what – surprise, surprise – turned out to be chocolate.
‘Hello little one. She’s a pretty thing isn’t she?’ said a lady, bending over towards me to get a better look. The lady, who was quite a bit older than Mother I surmised (and that’s saying something) grinned at me broadly. ‘She’s absolutely lovely.’
I, meanwhile, remained po-faced. I don’t care for people who get in my personal space, particularly when they smell heavily of a potent perfume which made my eyes water.
‘Thank you,’ replied Mother, beaming, her chest puffed out. I shot her a look of annoyance. The woman has got some front. Whenever anyone remarks kindly upon my appearance or demeanour (the latter occurs less frequently), Mother always takes the credit. ‘Oi,’ I yelled. ‘I think you’ll find she’s speaking to me.’
Mother carried on smiling but I noticed a tic above her eye. ‘Oh dear,’ she laughed nervously. ‘That’s a silly noise. Are you going to smile for the nice lady?’ Her eyes were pleading.
This is standard behaviour from Mother. Whenever we happen upon passers-by who take an interest in me, she practically begs me to ‘smile, darling’ as if I am a performing seal. Which I am not. I will smile when I feel like it; I do not grin on request, in spite of the best efforts of Mother and the lady who were urging me to turn up the corners of my mouth.
Eventually, the lady and Mother gave up their efforts (there are few people who can outwit me) and the lady sniffed in disapproval as if she had been snubbed. ‘That’s a shame,’ she began. ‘My daughter’s little ones never stop grinning. Always beaming from ear to ear. Such happy children,’ she added, her eyes narrowed, before pushing her trolley away in the direction of the cream cakes.
As soon as the woman was out of earshot: ‘How bloody dare she,’ began Mother. ‘My baby is perfectly happy aren’t you darling?’ she implored me.
Well, not especially, in that moment. We were near the freezers and I was starting to feel a chill. But generally, yes, I was most content. I expressed this to Mother with a scream. ‘That’s right darling,’ she agreed with a nod, for once understanding me.
And also for once, Mother and I felt quite united. It was rather pleasant being steered around by Mother, in spite of her terrible command of the four wheels. Mother too seemed rather at ease and even started talking about ‘popping into the café for a coffee and cake.’
But then – and I’m not quite sure what happened – I suddenly remembered that I absolutely hated the supermarket. I hated the bright, bright lights which illuminated everything, even, I expected, the determined bald spot on my head, yet to be covered by hair. I hated the noise and the shelves, so full and busy that they were just a blur. And I hated the atmosphere, of the general grumpiness amongst the patrons, who clearly didn’t want to be spending their lunch hour determining which tin of beans to buy.
Well, what could I do? I screamed. At length and with strength.
I don’t know how long this went on for, I must admit that once I give into a tantrum I lose myself in it. But, the next thing I knew, Mother and I were outside, back in the car, Mother sweating and swearing profusely under her breath. I say under her breath but her words were so audible that the lady from the supermarket spotted her as she trundled back to her own car. I heard her mutter and say loudly: ‘Poor child.’
I looked at Mother, on the verge of tears, and realised there was only one thing for it: I gave her a big grin. This seemed to perk her up a bit and she gave me a kiss. ‘Rude woman,’ she said to me, conspiratorially as we watched the lady get in her car.
It may surprise you to hear that ever since, Mother has been conducting all her grocery shopping online. According to Father: ‘That’s the only way we’ll ever get to eat.’