‘Have you heard about Mum and her funny ‘do’ in the supermarket last weekend?’
I had been talking to my sister for fifteen minutes, and I was beginning to tune her out – conversations with her were often repeatative and circular – but I snapped back to attention at the mention of Mum.
‘No, what’s happened?’
I could feel my heart start to pound, Mum rarely kept anything from me and I’d spoken to her three times since last weekend.
‘She had to abandon the trolley full of food and go home. Serious back and stomach pains. Apparently she was stood cyring in the veggie section. Doctor seems to think she might have a kidney stone, as all the blood tests came back clean.’ There was a pause, ‘She didn’t tell you?’
There was a concerned smugness about Cynthia’s tone – smug because she finally knew something that I didn’t, but concerned because that was typically the case.
‘I haven’t heard anything. Not even from Dad.’
My mind started whirring, re-examining conversations from the past week and searching for any signs of avoidance or secretive behaviour. There was none: my parents and I had a very healthy relationship.
‘Maybe she just didn’t want to worry you.’
I frowned. My own health hadn’t been fantastic over the past year, and I’d had some trouble with work recently, but for my Mum not to tell me about doctor’s appointments, blood tests and ‘funny do’s’ in the supermarket was very odd; that she’d told Cynthia instead was downright unheard of.
‘I’m more worried now that I would have been if she had told me to begin with.’
‘Well,’ a confessional tone replaced that of smugness, ‘she didn’t really tell me to begin with either. I only found out because Bryan was up there clearing out the guttering and he noticed that she couldn’t bend down to pick up his coffee cup. When he asked she mentioned the incident in the supermarket, and so when he told me I went up to see her on Sunday and managed to get the full story out of her.’
That made a bit more sense. Mum could be quite a private person sometimes, although I was still confused why she had kept a follow up with the doctor from me. Usually our health – or the failings associated with it – were something we bonded over.
While Cynthia regurgitated the story again, this time beginning with Mum having stomach pains and back ache from the week before, followed by the visit to the GP, then the blood test, then the supermarket trip, and so-on, I pondered over reasons for my own mother to keep something hidden from me. I decided the best thing to do would be to give her a call and ask how she was, mentioning that Cynthia had clued me in on the supermarket trip and, as I found out now, the fact that she had been in bed all day today.
I rung off with Cynthia as soon as I was able – which included another ten minutes of her explanations with what was wrong with Mum, followed by an insistance that if I found out anything else from Mum I would need to call her back. I’d promised nothing.
Mum picked up on the sixth ring.
‘Hello dear,’ she answered amiably. She must have seen the number on the screen.
‘Hi Mum. How are you?’ I tried to sound casual.
‘Oh you know, I’m fine.’
I listened carefully for any inflection that might indicate deceipt. Nothing. Either she really was fine, or my mother had become very adept as lying to me. It made me consider all the other possible things she could have just ‘not told me’ over the years.
‘Cynthia said that you were in bed, I didn’t disturb you did I?’
‘Just a bit of indigestion, nothing to worry about. Think that the fry up for breakfast was a bit of a mistake. I told your Dad that the fried bread was too oily, but I suppose it wouldn’t be fried bread if it wasn’t, eh?’
I smiled and agreed, pursed my lips and then tried a different tack.
‘She also mentioned something about the supermarket last weekend; that you had to leave the shopping because of some pain?’
There was a moment of silence; the guilty being caught out, I thought.
‘Well, how silly did I feel? I had just gotten my carrots and went across to get the potatoes and when I bent down I must have tweaked a muscle or a nerve of something in my back. It was terribly painful, made my eyes water something shocking. I decided it would be best to come home and rest it. Seems to be fine now though, so…’
She tailed off cheerily. I added some flippant comment about how glad I was it had only been a minor thing and asked if she was feeling okay now. She said she was ‘right as rain’ and I didn’t have the heart to enquire further. Obviously she didn’t want me to know about the tests. I felt a surge of disappointment, as though I had failed her. But then I couldn’t realistically help if she wasn’t going to be honest with me. After a few more minutes she passed the phone over to Dad, who mumbled something about the cricket scores, but I wasn’t in the mood to talk by then so made my excuses and hung up.
I immediately texted Cynthia to let her know that Mum had been tight lipped with me and had blamed the pains on indigestion and a back spasm. Cynthia replied with lots of exclamation points and question marks, before pointing out that indigestion didn’t cause chills or fever and she was now even more concerned that Mum was keeping something from us. Mechanically, I typed in: ‘we just have to give her some time and space maybe? Take her for a coffee when you see her next and see what she says. Let me know. x’ then hit ‘send’ forcefully.
I put my mobile phone down and tried to reassure myself not to panic.