Mary’s Boy Child
22nd December, 1992
Constance Helling chases a three-year-old Thomas Helling through the front door of The Grand Hotel. She grabs him by the arm, pulling him up to face her. Constance and Thomas both giggle at each other. “Say hello to your godmother, Thomas,” Constance says.
“He’s growing up so fast,” Valerie Pickering says from behind the bar.
“Too fast!” Constance agrees. “He’s also running too fast for me!” She lifts Thomas up and sits him on the bar.
“Well at least you’re keeping fit!” Valerie laughs.
Constance gives Thomas a biscuit and the boy is momentarily occupied.
“How’s Benjamin doing these days?” Constance sits herself on a stool at the bar.
“He’s much better these days,” Valerie says, picking up Thomas. “I guess every day gets easier.”
“Still so tragic, though,” Constance says. “Losing his wife like that. Poor Joanne will never know her mother.”
Valerie sighs, placing Thomas on the floor. He runs around the establishment, giggling to himself.
“Do you think Benjamin will ever tell Joanne?” Constance asks.
“Tell her what?”
“About her real mother,” Constance says. “Sylvia Jessop.”
“No, he’s not going to tell her,” Valerie replies. “She’s too young to understand anyway.”
“She’ll start asking questions about her mother, you know,” Constance persists. “There’s really no point holding the truth from her, especially when she’s old enough to understand.”
“That won’t be my place to tell her,” Valerie says. “When she’s old enough, Benjamin will tell her everything she needs to know.”
23rd December, 1992
“I’m so glad that you could come,” Constance says to Valerie, placing a platter of fruit mince pies on the dining room table. “My Christmas parties are famous!”
Valerie Pickering looks at the familiar faces around the room. “I’m glad you invited me,” she says, watching the guests around her take sips of their alcoholic drinks. “I figured everyone would be here, so I could afford to close The Grand for the night.”
Constance laughs heartily, throwing back the remainder of the glass of champagne she is holding. “I need another. Are you sure you don’t want one?”
“No, no,” Valerie says. “I don’t drink, remember.”
“Oh, come on. It’s Christmas!” Constance says. “Just have one!”
“I don’t think that’s a good idea,” Valerie protests. Before she knows its, Constance thrusts a full glass of champagne in into her hands.
“You’ve got a night off!” Constance refills her own glass. “Drink up!”
Valerie raises the glass to her lips and she smells the sweet liquid bubbling in the glass. She knows she shouldn’t, but reasons that it would be rude to turn the drink away.
“Merry Christmas, Val!” Constance taps her glass against Valerie’s. “To the best of friends!”
“Merry Christmas,” Valerie says back to her friend. She closes her eyes and takes a sip of the champagne.
24th December, 1992
Thud. Thud. Thud.
Valerie Pickering’s head thuds.
“Oh, God!” she says to herself, prying herself from her bed. “Whose idea was that?”
She gingerly makes her way to the bathroom cabinet and administers herself some paracetamol. She grimaces as she tries to recall the number of glasses of champagne that she had drunk the night before.
Valerie Pickering shakes her head as she remembers that she had been drinking. She ended up getting herself drunk.
“You’re not going back there, Val,” she says to herself. “You’ve worked too hard to go backwards.”
Christmas Morning, 1992
Benjamin Pickering sits underneath the Christmas tree with his two-year-old daughter, Joanne, by his side. He helps her to tear open the wrapping on one of the presents to uncover a pink coloured tricycle.
Benjamin places the tricycle on the floor and encourages Joanne to get onto it. Instead the two-year-old is only interested in the box it came in, manoeuvring her whole body inside of it.
“Where’s Joanne gone?” Benjamin says playfully.
“Boo!” Joanne laughs, making herself visible.
“You’re so clever.” Benjamin smiles at his daughter as she continues to play in the box. He looks over to the fireplace and catches someone else smiling at his daughter. Annette Pickering looks down over her family from her resting place. A portrait of Annette sits alongside a vase of her cremated remains on the mantelpiece.
Christmas Day, 1992
Benjamin Pickering sets the dining table for his guests. They would start arriving shortly for the Christmas lunch he had been preparing for longer than he cared to admit. His sister, Valerie, was supposed to have joined him two hours ago to help him prepare, but so far she had not shown up. She also hadn’t answered any of his phone calls.
“Where is that woman?” Benjamin huffs to himself as he tries dialling her phone number again. He slams down the telephone as he hears a knock at the front door and rushes to open it, rearranging some cutlery on the table as he passes.
“Where have you been?” Benjamin berates his older sister, Valerie, when he sees her at the front door.
“I told you I’d be here, Benny,” Valerie says, laughing. She holds up a bottle of wine that had been decorated with a red bow. “Here, I got you something.” She thrusts the bottle towards Benjamin.
“You said you were coming over earlier to help!” Benjamin says, taking the bottle and noticing that it has already been opened.
“I’m here now, aren’t I?” Valerie says, slurring her words.
“Have you been drinking?” Benjamin says, annoyed.
“No, of course not,” Valerie goes to give her brother a hug. “You know I don’t drink anymore!”
Benjamin steps away from the woman and stands in front of the doorway. Valerie tries to look around her brother into the house. “Where’s little Joanne?” she asks.
“I think you should leave,” Benjamin says.
“Benny, I just got here,” Valerie laughs.
“I don’t want Joanne to see you like this,” Benjamin suddenly says. “You told me things would be different. You’re not welcome in my house.”
Without hesitating, Benjamin Pickering closes the front door on his sister.
“Merry Christmas to you too!” Valerie calls out, before sauntering back up the driveway.
Christmas Night, 1992
Valerie Pickering stands at the edge of the cliff. She looks down over the small town below her, the sun starting to set in the distance. She pulls a bottle of vodka to her lips and takes a swig, grimacing before throwing the bottle to the ground, crying.
“You’ve ruined everything, Val!” she cries to herself.
She sinks to the ground, hanging her feet over the ledge of the cliff. Looking down at the lights of the town starting to twinkle, she reminisces of a time long ago.
She was twenty years old, living with her boyfriend in the town of Holgate. He had promised her the world, but had delivered on none of his promises. The only thing he had given her was something that neither of them had wanted at the time. A child. She became pregnant and four months before giving birth, the drop-kick boyfriend up and left her. She never heard from him again.
And that was the trigger.
She had to look after a baby on her own.
She didn’t know how to take care of a baby.
So she turned to drinking. That made it easier.
She sedated herself with alcohol and drowned out the cries of her baby.
Valerie Pickering is suddenly stirred from her recollection. She can hear movement behind her. “Who’s there?” she asks.
“I’ve been looking for you everywhere,” Constance Helling steps towards Valerie and kneels down next to her friend.
“Leave me be! I don’t deserve to live!”
“Stop that talk, woman!” Constance shouts. “You’re coming home with me.”
Constance grabs Valerie’s hand and helps her friend to her feet. “They took my baby away from me, you know,” Valerie says.
“You told me that you couldn’t keep the baby,” Constance pours the remaining vodka from the bottle onto the ground. “You told me that you gave it up for adoption.”
“That wasn’t my choice. It was taken from me because I was an alcoholic.” Valerie grabs Constance by both hands. “When my baby was taken from me I vowed that I would sober up and track him down.”
“That’s why you came to Peppercorn Patch,” Constance nods.
“Yes, and I did sober up. I hadn’t had a drink in over ten years!”
“I’m sorry, Val. I didn’t know,” Constance gives her friend a guilty look. “If I knew I wouldn’t have offered you that drink.”
“It’s my fault,” Valerie turns her back to Constance. “I wasn’t strong enough. And now I’ve ruined my chances.”
“It’s not too late.”
“He’s 13 now.” A tear falls down Valerie’s face. “My baby boy is 13 years old.” She turns to face Constance again, almost angry. “I’ll never get my little Michael back.”
See you in 2016 for more Obnoxious Weeds!