My Mother, the Antique

Tomorrow is Mother’s Day in New Zealand. Thanks for being a great Mum, Mum!

Here’s a thematically appropriate story what I wrote two years ago.

IT IS A WORK OF FICTION. I AM NOT CALLING MY OWN MOTHER AN ANTIQUE.

My Mother, the Antique (written 2013)

In the depths of my unemployment, I took my mother to the Antiques Roadshow.

I want to be upfront about this from the start: I didn’t take her so she could look around. I took her so I could sell her.

“I’m not really sure I count as an antique,” my mother said.

“Don’t be so modest,” I said. “You’re eighty-five. And your hip clicks non-stop.”

“It’s hardly Ming Dynasty,” she objected.

“True,” I admitted, before a thought cheered me up. “Hey, you’re older than that lamp we sold last year, and that paid for us to fix the car.”

“Well the car’s broken again now.”

“That’s why we need the money,” I said. “Otherwise we’ll be walking to the supermarket.”

“I don’t know,” my mother said. “It’ll take me ages to find something to wear.”

She wasn’t kidding. It took her all morning.

*

The Antiques Roadshow was incredibly dusty, as if they had brought in truckloads of dust especially for the occasion. I had the odd sensation of two hundred people simultaneously craving brooms.

I immediately disliked the man sent to appraise my elderly mother. A good antiques expert should at least have the decency to look like an antique himself. Gerald had the name of an old man, but he was altogether too young and too spotless. I kept peering into corners to see if there was a more distinguished individual lurking out of sight and keeping an eye on this cocky trainee.

“So,” Gerald said, much too brightly, “what can I do for you today?”

My mother stared blankly at him. “Don’t ask me,” she said eventually.

Gerald turned to me in surprise. “Okay, what can I do for you?”

“Um,” I began.

“Do you have something for me to appraise?” he prompted.

“Oh, yes,” I remembered. “I brought my mother.”

“Yes, I can see that,” Gerald agreed. “Does she have something for me to appraise?”

“No,” I said. “I do.”

Gerald blinked, faltered. “Okay,” he said again. “What do you have for me to appraise?”

I stared at the gormless fool. “I brought my mother,” I said again, slowly and clearly.

Gerald looked from me to my mother and back again. “Oh,” he said.

“Hello,” said my mother helpfully.

“Oh right,” said Gerald.

“So, um, how much do you think she’s worth?” I asked.

Gerald opened his mouth a few times. “Well, let’s see. I suppose… Well, how did you acquire her?”

“She was always in my house when I was young,” I said. “As long as I can remember.”

“But you don’t know where she came from?”

“She came with my father,” I replied. “That’s all I know.”

“As if,” my mother interjected. “I had a life before your father, I’ll have you know.”

“Well let’s hear it then,” I said.

“Yes, do tell,” Gerald agreed.

“Isn’t that your job?” my mother asked.

“That’s true,” I said.

Gerald swallowed. “Well, let’s see. I would say she looks – you look – she looks – ”

“You can talk to me directly,” my mother said.

Gerald looked at me for confirmation. I shrugged.

He continued. “I would say you were born in the early 30s.”

“Late 30s,” I corrected.

“Late 20s,” my mother corrected.

“North England, rural mining community,” Gerald continued. “Daughter of… I’d say a miner and a teacher.”

“What sort of teacher?” I asked.

Gerald studied my mother closely. “Primary?”

“Nursery,” she said. “Sometimes Primary.”

Gerald laid a hand on my mother’s arm. “You liked birds as a child, although you never had a pet. You liked drinking cough medicine and sometimes sneaked it out of the medicine cupboard. You were scared of horses and worms. You wore mostly brown. You loved learning but you didn’t go to school. Your mother taught you at home.”

“He’s good,” my mother said.

“He’s okay,” I said.

Gerald forged on. “Then your mother died. But not before she instilled in you the importance of education. When you had your own child, you gave up everything to ensure they could go to a good school. You moved to London even though you hated it. You gave up a promising career in advertising to look after and educate your son.”

My mother stared. “Did I?”

Gerald nodded. “You did. You could have been an accounts executive.”

She looked frail suddenly. “I’d forgotten that,” she said quietly. “He’s good.”

“He’s okay,” I said.

“One-of-a-kind, certainly,” Gerald appraised. “Good condition, fascinating heritage. Decent resale value.”

“How much?” my mother asked.

“Oh shut up Gerald,” I said abruptly. “You don’t know anything.”

Gerald looked at me, a hurt expression on his youthful face.

“That’s not very nice,” my mother said. “We should find out how much I’m worth.”

“I know how much you’re worth, mum,” I exclaimed loudly. “Gerald doesn’t have a clue. We’re going home.”

I supported her as she shakily rose to her feet. We turned away in search of the exit.

Behind us, Gerald moved swiftly on to a teapot.

My mother and I, we walked to the supermarket.

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