Lift Off on Wednesday

Liesl Jobson


Four o’clock on a Wednesday catches me napping. It slips away leaving me red-faced and cringing when my daughter’s therapist calls to enquire about her whereabouts.
Despite filofax entries, post-it notes on the fridge and electronic cell phone alarms, this particular appointment routinely finds me unprepared.
“Felicity, it happened again,” I confess to my therapist next session. “I’m such a bad mother.”
Even when I don’t forget the appointment, I don’t allow enough time to battle Johannesburg’s revolting traffic. A 20-minute trip takes, after all, twenty minutes, yet invariably I leave too little time. As we drive past the nursery school, I am convinced I shall knock over a child. My mind fills with scenes of blood, crushed teddies and shattered little skulls, so before my paranoid fantasy becomes reality, I slow down.
Patti’s first appointment for the initial assessment with Josephine Franklin was scheduled for that fateful September 11th. I had stared at the TV, sick with worry about my sister living on the lower east side of Manhattan, reluctant to leave the house, unable to get her on the phone. When we arrived at the child psychologist, I mumbled a garbled apology,
“New York, disaster, aeroplanes, Twin Towers, my sister...”
The child psychologist, unaware of the event, nodded sagely as I babbled. I watched her make a mental note to refer me for evaluation.
Following my previous episode of neglect, I asked Felicity whether I had ever forgotten my own appointment.
“No, you’re so diligent that you even arrive when I am on leave.”
“So why can’t I remember Patti’s appointment? It’s embarrassing.”
“You feel judged because Patti needs therapy?”
“I’m a bad mother.”
The floors Josephine’s rooms are sanded wood. I listen to Patti’s footsteps entering the playroom. They are neither eager nor recalcitrant. I wonder if she is going through the motions of play therapy to make me feel good. Then I remind myself that this is not about me, this is about Patti, who is being disruptive at school. The ceilings are high, pressed steel. It is an old house, much like my childhood home. The cream shantung curtains feel familiar.
Today when I got home to fetch Patti at 3:35, she was in her swimming costume in the vegetable bed, covered in mud.
“I phoned you before I left work,” I screamed, almost in tears, hosing her down. Wild garlic flowers dangled in her hair. “I told you to be ready…”
“Yah, Ma,” she had sighed, into the phone when I called. “I’m making fairy mounds.”
 “Too cold,” she moaned, jumping out of the spray.
“You’re deliberately sabotaging me,” I yell. What nine-year-old comprehends that, I asked myself, trying to get a grip on my anxiety. She cried as I roughly towel her dry. I pull her into fresh clothes.
“I want my aquarium t-shirt,” she begged, “my favourite.”
“It’s filthy,” I shouted, “look, the dolphin is covered in marmite.”
“It’s not,” she wailed, “I’ll lick it clean.”
In the car, I tried to lighten up. An internal monologue ran: stop criticising Patti, back off, be gentle on yourself, this isn’t a big deal, Josephine’s every patient has been late now and again. Patti was chewing her t-shirt where the marmite landed.
“Hey, you’re hurting Mr Swordfish’s nose,” I said, trying for a humorous tone although it felt like a fish bone was stuck in my throat.
“He says he doesn’t mind,” she said, still sulky, still hurt.
“Will you show me your fairy mound when we get home?”
“Yes,” she grumped, “if Muppet hasn’t trampled it with his stupid hairy paws.”
“I’m sorry I didn’t see it earlier,” I wanted a reconciliation before we arrive.
“Probably the fairy dog will guard it from Muppet…”
“Probably it will.”
“Wuff! Wuff!” she imitated the terrier’s high-pitched bark.
“Go away, Muppet,” I yapped, “go away.”
Patti laughed. I breathed easier.
We passed a poster advertising the Silverton air show this week. Patti spotted it.
“Look, Ma! Can we go? Please…”
I crash land into a brocade lounge chair six minutes late. Down the passage I hear the rise and fall of Patti’s voice. Her tone is earnest, enthusiastic. I can’t hear the words, only the tone, the intention. It doesn’t sound like she is giving a blow-by-blow account of all the mean things I said to her today, of each shouted accusation, of every maternal rejection.
I gaze at a picture that’s always been there. It’s the first time I’ve really looked at it though. It depicts an owl in a tree, above an arrow nailed to its trunk that reads, “GO”. At the base are a number of empty wine bottles. A birdman rushes towards the ledge of a cliff. Flimsy wings are attached to his back; a bottle of Pinotage strapped firmly to his chest is siphoned to his mouth.
I like this woman’s humour.
On an adjacent wall, a dejected jester sits on the same cliff edge. His tricorn hat askew, his mask, which has been removed, dangles in a woebegone fashion. His body language bespeaks mortification at his own immense failure. Yet, he is surprised, his face is uplifted and the sight of a biplane rising above ginger storm clouds has restored hope, as it heads off into blue space, under the sliver of a new crescent moon.
  Patti’s skips in to the waiting room. Josephine confirms the next appointment.
  At Josephine’s gate we hear a whirring overhead, like a lawnmower. An old plane circles above, advertising the air show in smoke letters. Patti screeches in delight, extends her arms and ‘flies’ to the car. I watch the puffy letters elongate in the wind and drift into nothingness.
“Mama,” Patti pats my leg while I’m driving. “One day I’m going to be a pilot.”
“I’m going to paint the sky with letters too.”
“Letters that say…”
“My mother is the best mother in the whole wide world.”
Lift off. We have a lift off.

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