Jade, Clara and angels in Pick 'n Pay
Jade stood next to the bin of snarled tinsel, sad leftovers that would never make it to any tree, a box of fairy lights in her hands. Wind-tangled hair, grey stranded red, sprang back from her narrow face. "My Botticellis", her husband called her and Sammy, "my Renaissance beauties". Jade smiled. Gazing through the rush of last-minute shoppers, she tuned out the piped music and prayed to her angels. Watch over Sammy, she instructed them, bring her peace and strength.
"Jade!" She turned to see Clara bearing down, a galleon in full sail, her large frame impeccably clad, her long feet shod in narrow gleaming brogues. Clara held up a bottle of vanilla essence. "Just whipping up the eggnogs. Realised I didn't have any of this."
"Clara." Jade summoned a smile. "How are you?"
"Coping. Just. It's been a difficult time." Clara's sentences were as neatly clipped and trimmed as the rest of her. She took Jade in at a glance, the T-shirt, the thin cotton skirt, the sand between her bare toes. Jade's smile stayed glued in place. "And your daughter? Still with you?"
"Sammy? Yes, we've told her she's welcome to stay as long as she needs."
"Hmmmm. Well, it's all for the best. Now that they've separated, I can speak my mind. At last. I told Marty last night. Marty, I said, I knew it would never work."
Seven years, Jade thought. I've been polite to this woman for seven years. But can I make it through the next seven minutes? She loosened her grip on the handle of her trolley. "It's just a temporary separation, Clara."
"I should have told him right at the start. They were totally unsuited. From two different worlds." Her glance slid over the shopping jumbled in Jade's trolley. "Samantha didn't have what it took. No matter how hard Martin tried."
"As far as I know, he still wants to try."
"Now Jade, let's be realistic. This is as good a time as any to clear the air. I know Samantha's your daughter. But sometimes we need to speak the truth. Plain and simple. That's what I said to Martin. Marty, I said, I'll be blunt. You can't take the daughter of two Muizenberg hippies and expect her to cope. The poor girl can't boil an egg. Let alone plan a dinner party."
Breathe, Jade told herself, breathe deeply. She closed her eyes and saw the soft flicker of fairy lights, red, yellow-gold, green. Clara's voice sliced the image, a twin-edged sword of self-righteousness and condescension.
"Thank heavens there are no children to worry about. One must be grateful for that, if nothing else."
"Well, there couldn't be, could there?"
"Couldn't be what?"
"Children. There couldn't be children. Not until Martin's in a better frame of mind, at any rate."
"I beg your pardon?"
"Surely Martin's told you about his problem?"
"I'm sorry, I thought you knew. I thought you said he told you everything."
"What are you getting at, Jade? Have you been smoking Ma-rige-ju-ah-na again?" Clara chopped the word into bullets, her expression as it always was when she spoke to Jade, as if she had inadvertently stepped into something nasty.
Serendipity. This meeting has to be seen as serendipitous, Jade thought. Why else would the angels have delivered Clara to me, on Christmas Eve, of all times?
"No Clara, just trying to clear the air. You see, Sammy wants their marriage to survive. She always tries her hardest, especially for the people she loves. And she loves Martin. That's why she didn't mind him using her make-up; she even laughed when she told me how he'd ruined her new bra."
"What are you trying to say?"
"I'm not trying to say anything. I'm simply telling you what Sammy told me. But surely you knew, Clara? Martin told Sammy about his transvestism before they got married."
Clara's mouth, Jade observed, was not designed to hang open like a newly-gutted fish. Still, at least it kept her quiet.
"I've always encouraged my children to be open-minded, to accept people. The cross-dressing doesn't worry Sammy. But Martin? Poor boy. He's battling to believe in himself. That's Sam's interpretation. She thinks that's what's caused the impotence. He wants to go into therapy. Apparently he needs to deal with a lot from his childhood. Sammy will wait for him, but this is a journey he has to take on his own. He'll always be a transvestite of course; it's part of who he is. You're right Clara. These are difficult times for our children. But they love each other dearly."
"How dare you! I could have you ... Libel! Have you sued!" Like a string of light bulbs shorting, the words fizzed and spluttered from Clara's mouth. She grabbed Jade's arm.
"Take it back," she hissed. A small fleck of spittle landed on Jade's cheek. "Take every one of those lies back, right now."
Samantha's voice filled Jade's head. "You know Ma, Martin's biggest nightmare is telling his mother."
"Clara." Jade spoke gently. "Remember all the maids you've fired, how you told me they robbed you blind? Your new Ferragamos, those bits of clothing? Martin told Sammy he wears the same shoe size as you, Clara. Your clothes fitted him well too. The advantages of having a tall, well-dressed mother. He hated stealing from you Clara, but your wardrobe was irresistible."
Have I done the right thing? Jade asked her angels. The murmur of their wings gentled the wild beating of her heart. She turned from the venom of Clara's glare and reached down another box of fairy lights, the last one, from the shelf. Tonight, their house would shine.
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