Excuse me, can I have a word? The thing is, I wanted to catch the early bus but I didn’t get on it. I wanted…actually, I needed to speak to you. Have you a minute or two? It’s warm in here. They keep these shopping centres over-heated, don’t they? What a lovely baby ! He’s not going to fret, is he? Good. Lovely. Oh, she, then. You can’t tell, can you? Not with the rainbow suit. What’s her name? Aurora? …..How unusual …and what’s yours? Samantha….but you like Sam. Lovely names. I’m Jessica, by the way. I’m maybe speaking out of turn….the thing is, I was shopping here earlier on when you were handing out leaflets. I was hot so I took a break on one of the benches. I watched you. You were nervous, weren’t you? Bucking up the nerve to approach people. I could see it in your face; you sort of froze just before you spoke. The baby made it easier. Even when they’re sleeping, people just love to look at babies. It’s like looking into the future. I saw them come up to you. But that old man, the one who raged at you, did that upset you? Yes, I thought it did. It used to upset me too. Don’t look so surprised. That’s what I wanted to speak to you about. When I came by you looked at me, but you didn’t hand me a leaflet. No, don’t be embarrassed. You don’t need to apologise, either. I’m not angry. I just wanted to know….was it my clothes or my face?… Do I look too old? Do I look like the kind of person who would just turn away? I was trying to remember whether I felt like that at the Faslane demos. I think I did. With some people, you get a feeling, don’t you? That they don’t want to get involved, and they’re angry with you for making them show it. Is that what you felt coming from me? You were just weary. Are you not getting enough sleep? Does she wake through the night still? Not tired then. Weary. Weary of people’s indifference. Yes, I used to feel that
I just gave them a leaflet anyway to show my strength. I was weak inside, like a baby. Looking at the crowd, listening to the shouting. Feeling excited and afraid. Needing a pee every five minutes, not knowing if there were toilets. Hundreds of policemen. The military police…..you couldn’t see their eyes under their helmets. American accents. They whispered obscenities at us. Horrible. One time, there was an old man there (like that one that shouted at you) ex-army wearing medals, shouting at me….pointing at my baby in the pushchair… 'don’t you care if he’s killed by the bloody Russians?' He was so angry. I thought he might have a stroke. I tried to ignore him but he kept staring at my baby, and coming at me. 'Why don’t you take him out of the cold? What kind of mother are you? We fought a war for the likes of you, you scruffy bitch.' Scruffy bitch! If I had a pound for each time I’ve been called that……. Oh, I know you wouldn’t think it now looking at me but it was so exciting to dress like that. Bright colours, badges, it felt like the inside of your mind was on your outside. I dressed my son in red tights and an 'angel top', black gingham, like a smock. My mother nearly fainted. She knitted him piles of pastel cardigans but we had discovered 'Babygro' suits by then, yellow not lemon, royal not sky blue. At the creche on the mat they looked like a handful of jelly beans, even the babies were glowing then.. It seemed we could move mountains. I’m so glad I lived through that time. I still feel the same inside. Full of hope…..in spite of everything.
Have you been on a big march? Glasgow….two weeks ago? Brilliant. With Aurora? Of course. Yes, I took mine to Faslane and Greenham (and loads of other small cold places you’ll never have heard of) lots of CND and Vietnam marches through the sixties and seventies. Everyone took their kids (of course, a lot of them only had mothers.) It felt like the world was growing then. To be with hundreds of other people who cared for things outside themselves. Funny thing is, my generation seem to want to forget they ever did that kind of thing, except for theme nights at the club. Then out come their pink and orange glad-rags. Odd how so many of them kept them. It’s all aerobic classes and holidays for most of them now. Or pensions. They don’t like admitting that they ever cared. I’m an embarrassment to them these days. Your friends are like that too? But you’re standing here handing out leaflets to people, feeling nervous, no confidence. And they screw them up, stuff them in their pockets, drop them on the ground…… Yes, I know, you’ve got to do something. I’ve sent 75 e-mails to Westminster in the last two weeks, and a packet of cooked rice to feed the Iraqis. Bugger all use probably….. 'pointless gesture' I can hear my dad saying it. Your dad does too? There’s some days I don’t know how far I am from taking a brick and throwing it through MacDonald’s window, or the bank or the council offices. Don’t laugh…I would if I thought it would make a difference.
My husband says it’s the mothering that does it. So that’s what I wanted to say to you. When I think about it, I only wanted the world to be safe for my boys. You know, in old paintings the babies don’t look any different than now. And the mothers are the same apart from their clothes….and those haloes. But it’s in their faces…………….. Every mother has that Madonna somewhere in her soul and it makes us brave (or reckless, as my dad would have it.) Don’t lose it, Sam.
Vivien Jones is a poet, short story writer and playwright based in Annan.
She is co-editor of Southlight Magazine, now in its 16th edition.
In 2017 alone she has had stories published in Pushing Out the Boat literary magazine and Three Drops from a Cauldron - Beltane anthology, and one of her plays was a finalist in the 2017 Short Plays Scotland award.
Her resonant and moving story, Madonnas, is taken from her collection White Poppies, published by Pewter Rose Press.
Images: Baby in striped hat courtesy of Virvoreanu-Laurentiu.
Jelly babies courtesy of Steve Buissinne.
Police at demonstration courtesy of Ray Evans.
Michelangelo's Pieta courtesy of Tim Stringer.