Read Ricochet Baby Online

Authors: Fiona Kidman

Ricochet Baby

ricochet baby

Fiona Kidman

For Lauris, with love


Title Page





Family Connections



Bernard and Orla
The Unclean Box



Breathing Lessons
Moon Shadows



The Third Daughter of the Earl of Maudsley
The Cage
Scarlet Ribbons






Life in the Country



Breaking Rules
Thoughts About Leaving
At the End of the Year



A Letter to Roberta
16 Digglie Street



Clearing Wreckage
Roberta’s Baby



Birth Notices



The Water Bearer









Only the Lonely
The Woman in the Paddock



War Woman
Rockin’ Rollin’






The Counsel of Fools



True Virgins
A Mandelbrot Set






Cat Twists
Some Aspects of Sexual Desire



Mrs Blue Eyes
Home TIme






Family Remains
An Application
Conversations Abroad



Infinite Chaos






More Recipies for Disaster



Choosing Truth



Roberta and Sarah
An Ordinary Gran
Going On








About the Author


I wish to thank Michael Harlow, who has been generous with advice; Themla Puckey and Dr Rob McIlroy, who supported my research into psychiatric care; members of the Post and Ante-Natal Distress Support Group; Elizabeth Smither for helping me to research crop circles; Joanna Kidman and Amelia Herrero-Kidman who advised me about songs;
programme staff; Victoria Forgie; and Anna Rogers, for her unfailing patience and good humour while editing. Jane Tolerton’s
, by Marina Schinz and Gabrielle van Zuylen, were two particularly invaluable reference books. My thanks, as ever, to Ian Kidman, who makes computer
work for me.

Permission to use the following songs and poetry is gratefully acknowledged: ‘Scarlet Ribbons’ by Evelyn Danzig/Jack Segal (
by permission of Warner/Chappell Music Australia Pty Ltd. Unauthorised Reproduction Is Illegal.); ‘Moon Shadow’ (Sony).

Victoria University Press for lines for ‘Instructions for how to get ahead of yourself while the light still shines’, from
Moving House
by Jenny Bornholdt.

While working on this book I was the recipient of a grant from the former Arts Council of New Zealand Toi Aotearoa (now Creative New Zealand).


pregnant her whole family is filled with joy. Fallen is not exactly how Roberta would describe it, for she and Paul have planned the baby and it has been conceived at exactly the time they chose. But that is how their mothers speak of it, as if there is something wanton and abandoned about the conception, and in a way this pleases Roberta. Both sets of parents immediately arrange to visit. We’ll have a party and celebrate, they say. Her mother and father drive over the hill from the farm, more than two hours away, and Paul’s come from across town.

Fay and Milton, Paul’s parents, bring good champagne, with a clean, crisp bite. Edith and Glass bring a bottle of gin. Paul raises his eyebrows in mock astonishment, but Roberta pretends not to notice. Of course you won’t be drinking now, they all say.

‘I’ve brought you some silverbeet, Edith tells her. ‘The iron is good for you. Seafood’s good, but for goodness’ sake be careful. And milk. You never liked milk, but if you can just try to get it down. Six glasses a day? Well, you are taking motherhood

‘Are you getting heartburn?’ Fay wants to know.

‘A little.’

‘They say it’s a sign the baby will have lots of hair. I had it so much you wouldn’t believe.’

‘I don’t remember that,’ Milton says. ‘Paul didn’t have much hair.’

Fay laughs. ‘I didn’t say it was true.’ But she looks uncertain, as if there is faulty recognition in her memory.

Edith has brought the christening shawl that has been in Glass’s family for years. ‘It needs some airing, but plenty of time for that.’

Her husband’s eyes widen. ‘Where did you find that?’

Edith looks embarrassed, as if she’s been caught in some illicit act. ‘It’s odd what you find when you’re spring-cleaning.’

‘So there’ll be a christening?’ Fay asks, more eagerly than she intended. Paul and Roberta had had a secular wedding in the

‘If they waited until the summer I could do a mixed pink and blue cornflower border. No? Then I could make it all white, which might be nicer.’ Edith is at her sharpest and most charming best, as if everything is decided.

Fay and Milton exchange glances which they think nobody sees.

‘Have you told Bernard and Orla?’ Roberta asks her mother, hoping to change the subject.

‘Time enough for that,’ Edith says easily. ‘They’re so busy, now the season’s starting again. You’ll have to let Michael know.’

‘You know how hard it is to get in touch with big brother.’

They nod, they sigh.

Paul’s parents have brought a matinée set wrapped in tissue paper. The pattern is like shells and foam, delicate, precise, not a stitch out of place. We know babies wear stretch-and-grows and all those modern cute little clothes and we can’t wait to start buying them, they say, but Milton’s mother knitted these before she died. It was her
to live long enough to see her great-grandchildren, … well, it can’t be helped, but it seems a nice way to start your layette.

Layette. It’s not a word Roberta has heard since she was at school, when girls still talked about their futures.

The two families move on to prams. One will buy that, the others the bassinet, but who will buy which?

‘Shouldn’t we leave the pram till the baby’s born?’ asks Glass.

‘Why?’ They are all instantly curious.

‘Oh, I don’t know. Something I heard.’

Superstition. You can feel the unspoken word settle on them, lightly, like an echo dissolving into their laughter. But nobody wants to know what will happen, if they don’t follow through, now that the matter has been raised. Once you’ve stated the possibility of disaster, then everything has to be done to avoid the risk. Besides, pregnant women are unsettled by such talk; there’s no knowing how their fancies will stray if they are fed with ideas. The mother is host to the mystery, her child the unknown person in their midst. She must not be disturbed.

‘We can wait until the baby comes then,’ says Milton,
his daughter-in-law’s father. ‘As long as we decide on who’s doing what.’

They will toss for it. And there in the startling sunlight, the coin spins and twinkles, and rolls down the path so they have to
run after it. Heads, they call, tails, and everybody is happy with the outcome.

‘We’re going to open a special bank account for education,’ Milton says. ‘You can’t start early enough.’ Milton is a public
. He is well placed in the ministry, as he tells them in an easy and charming way.

This day will come to seem like a dream to Roberta. Although it is midwinter it feels like early spring, a day on which their house is suffused with sunshine, and they are able to open the windows to the sea. An early dusting of snow lies on the hills but inside their courtyard it is warm enough to bring tables outside. The trees will grow, the families say, looking at the gums and kowhai Roberta and Paul have planted. We’ll be able to sit in the shade of them some day, and this baby will be climbing in their branches. You can build a tree-house for him, Paul. Or her, as the case may be.

You won’t find out the sex of the baby, will you? It doesn’t matter what this one is, as long as it has all its fingers and toes. Have you thought of a name? And they all look expectantly,
, towards the young couple, then avert their collective gaze, hoping to disguise the naked longing in their eyes. Edith. Fay. Glass. Milton. Well, maybe there is nothing in these names for young people. They will have their own ideas. The parents don’t voice their thoughts.

The sky above is as blue as a thrush’s egg and the far below sea a dark navy that stains the Wellington horizon. They all feel drenched with blue and gold light and full of hope.

Except that, once during the afternoon, when they have eaten lunch, fresh salmon seared quickly and cooked with a slice of brie and a dash of chablis, and a salad, and soft focaccia bread
whole grapes, Roberta looks up and sees a dark unease in her father’s eyes, as if he can see into the future. This frightens her because she knows that sometimes he does. She looks across at her mother. Something about Edith, sitting in the sunshine, makes her think of a buttery-coloured frog. Beneath the weathered skin lies a pallor as if she is recovering from an illness, which, in a sense, she is. Hers is a chronic ailment.

Later, Roberta opens the bathroom door and finds Fay sitting on the edge of the bath. Her air-brushed, permanently suntanned mother-in-law, arms laden with gold bangles, is crying. Roberta supposes this is the effect of Edith’s gin, and that Fay is not used to
it in such quantity. When she looks up at Roberta, her face is ugly with grief, but Roberta is mature enough to know that women have regrets as they grow older, regrets that can catch up with them in unexpected moments and go away as quickly as they have come.

In the evening, a sudden storm from the south whips itself up into a frenzy and she and Paul lie in bed with their arms wrapped around each other and listen to the rain and say what a good day it has been.

As Glass and Edith drive home over the hills towards Walnut, the air is thinning with cold, and on the other side, away from the wind, frost settles on the roofs of barns and sheds.


, I have felt like a person on the move. In all my dreams I am moving.

When I was a child I was a gymnast, my body perfectly tuned to perform on the beam, hovering over space with immaculate poise. It is as close to flying as I will ever come, my body like a machine or an instrument, with an infinite capacity that I was always testing. My medals still cover the wall of my old room at the farm I now think of as home, the place where I grew up from the time I was a small child.

Before that, my mother roamed over one or other of the farms we lived on, across the wide Waikato Plains, holding me buttoned under a man’s rough jacket and singing to me as she worked. I’m not sure whether I recall these details exactly, but my mother described it to me once, and I believe I remember. She told me in one of the rare moments when she sought to be close to me, and, I think, at the time, I pretended not to hear her. Or perhaps my father came in and distracted us. There is a certain violence in his eyes which I find quite beautiful and compelling, and so does she. But there is a memory of ineffable joy which comes to me
in the middle of the night when I’m lying awake beside Paul, and I suppose it is this that I’m remembering. Tonight I can’t sleep, and I wake him to ask him what he thinks, whether this beating wing of happiness in my heart is memory. I wouldn’t do this as a rule, but I’ve been thinking about today. Already the baby has
a host of new sensations, which are crowding in on me, and I wonder if they have already begun to change my perception of the past.

‘You’re supposed to know how people feel,’ I say. Paul has a degree in psychology. He is what’s described as a human resource consultant, meaning he hires and fires people for his company. Communication and skills are his business.

‘Go back to sleep,’ he groans.

‘Interpret their innermost thoughts.’

‘You’re feeling inadequate again, Roberta,’ he says. ‘Can’t we talk about it in the morning?’

‘Why do you say that? Who says I feel inadequate?’ I have a half-finished degree in accountancy, which is the only specific thing I might feel dissatisfied about, and that’s only temporary, because one day I’m sure I’ll finish it. I work as a data processor in the tax department.

‘What’s the matter? Have you had a bad dream?’ His skin is rumpled round his eyes like a premonition of age and I feel remorseful for waking him up. Paul has a shock of brown hair and slightly prominent upper teeth which give him interesting hollows in his cheeks.

‘What will it take to put you back to sleep?’ he asks, placing his hand gently on my stomach, letting me know that he
why I’m restless. ‘Roberta, honey, I’m really tired. We’ve both got to go to work in the morning.’

‘I just can’t stop thinking.’

‘I can’t stand thinking at two o’ clock in the morning.’ He puts the light out.

‘Paul,’ I say, quietly in the dark. ‘D’you reckon I’ll be a good mother?’ For this is what I need to know so badly. The trouble is, I don’t know exactly what it means. I’m thinking about Edith and Fay, and neither measures up as the role model I’m seeking, though I can’t explain why. My mother can’t be so bad; I am her obedient child, and so far I have not done too badly in the world.

Paul is asleep already; it’s a trait I envy in him, this ability to drop straight into oblivion. I try to lie very still, staring up at the glimmering dark of the ceiling. I’ll come to think of this moment, like the day that has gone before, as part of something nameless. Nobody knows what the most unforgivable act in the world is until they have done it. In the end, I will have to name it.

Other books

Perilous Pleasures by Watters, Patricia
One Four All by Julia Rachel Barrett
Higher Ground by Nan Lowe
Love Drugged by James Klise
Scarred Asphalt by Blue Remy
Bestiary! by Jack Dann
Filaria by Brent Hayward
A Dangerous Fiction by Barbara Rogan