Whose Choice Is it Anyway?
Christine smiled. All day she smiled and now felt the smile was pasted on. This was supposed to be the happiest day of her life? Christine snorted into her glass of champagne. Everyone had come up to her, to congratulate her on this wonderful day. Wonderful for whom, Christine wondered. Everyone had said what a wonderful couple Ian and Sally made, how well-suited they were.
Christine snorted to herself. All she could see in Ian was a jumped-up little soldier - a soldier for heaven;'s sake! - who had stolen her daughter. Who would look after Christine now? Who else would run all those little errands for her and those thousand and one other things that Christine got Sally to do. Why did no-one but her deplore this state of affairs?
She thought of early that morning, when Sally had been getting ready for the wedding ceremony. 'Are you sure this is want you want?' she'd asked Sally, as Sally adjusted her hair and make-up.
Sally had put down her hair brush and stared at her mother. 'For heaven's sake. How many times do I have to tell you, mother, that I am marrying Ian. You've had six months to get used to the idea. Now, if you're going to scowl like that, please go away and arrange your face in a more pleasant expression.' Sally picked up her hair brush and fiddled with her hair again.
Christine had left her daughter's bedroom. Without a word to anyone, she'd marched straight to the church, just five minutes walk away. The vicar was there, talking to the verger. Christine had marched straight up to him. 'A word, if you please,' she interrupted. The verger tactfully walked over to the floral displays.
If the vicar was annoyed at the interruption, or her tone, he gave no sign. 'Yes, Mrs Dickinson, how may I help you?' he asked politely.
'This marriage must not go ahead,' she blurted out.
The Reverend Marcus Smythe stared at her. 'Is there an impediment?' he asked.
'Of course there is,' Christine stormed. 'My daughter is making the biggest mistake of her life. You must refuse to conduct the service.'
The vicar gazed at her sadly. 'Mrs Dickinson, whether or not your daughter is making a mistake, that is for her and her future husband to decide. Not you. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have things to do.' Christine watched in fury as he walked away.
Now her husband David was standing up. He'd clearly given his speech. Everyone was laughing and now they were standing, their champagne glasses raised to toast the bride and groom.
Christine leaned past her new son-in-law and said to Sally, 'Pour me another glass of champagne. I'm parched.'
Ian put both his hands on her shoulders and forcibly pushed Christine back in her well upholstered chair. 'My wife will do no such thing. There is a perfectly good bottle just there on your right. I serve you notice that Sally is now my wife and as such is no longer at your beck and call. Cheers.' He raised his glass to her. Christine glared at him, furious. She poured herself another glass of bubbly and swigged it down, unaware that a cousin (sitting at another table) had watched everything and was now grinning at her discomfiture.
'Would you like a dance?' Christine turned to find the world's worst bore, her husband's best friend, Rodney Cook, addressing her. She regally nodded her head and allowed herself to be led onto the dance floor.
'That Ian Banks, DSO, MC, is a fine young man,' her old codger of a dance partner said.
'Really?' Christine's tone was glacial.
'But of course. His heroism on the battle field, not to mention his excellent standing in his regiment. His commanding officer, all his colleagues and all his friends say the same,' said Rodney. 'You must be delighted your daughter married such a fine man and that he is now a member of your family.' It was all Christine could do not to choke.
It was such a relief when the evening came to an end. That is, the younger members of the do were off to a nightclub and Ian and Sally were off to a hotel, prior to flying off on honeymoon. After being detained for more congratulations and thanks, Christine was glad she and David could go home.
A month later, when Ian and Sally were back and settled in their new home two hundred miles away, Christine had had enough. Without her husband's knowledge or permission, she rang a solicitor and made an appointment to see him.
'Well, Mrs Dickinson,' said Mr Taylor, shaking her hand. 'How may I help you?'
Christine sat down. 'I want to arrange a divorce.'
'No.' Christine permitted him a small smile. ''I want you to arrange for my daughter to get a divorce.'
Mr Taylor stared at her. 'On what grounds?'
'His unsuitability. My son-in-law's unsuitability, I should say.'
'Has he beaten your daughter? Made her suffer mental cruelty? Been unfaithful?'
Christine tutted in annoyance. 'Of course not. No, it's quite simple really. I want my daughter back.'
'Why? There's no-one to do all those little things she used to do for me. Who will run fetch and carry for me, I ask you? I can't do all these things myself.'
Mr Taylor stared at his client for a long moment. What he saw was a selfish, self-centred woman who was clearly used to getting her own way. Hmm. 'Mrs Dickinson,' he said, slowly and clearly. 'I cannot do as you ask. For this simple reason. If your daughter wants a divorce, it is something she must consult a solicitor herself to achieve. As it happens, I happen to know your son-in-law's father very well. Now, since I cannot help you, it's best you leave.'
He watched Christine leave. In the fifteen minutes he had before seeing his next client, he wrote a long email to Jon Banks, Ian Banks father, detailing what Christine had said. Mr Taylor knew very well that it would get back to Ian and Sally. In fact, he told Jon he could tell them everything.
Christine was in a foul mood as she stomped back home. As she came in, her husband David greeted her with a warm smile. 'Sally just phoned. She and Ian are expecting their first child. Isn't it wonderful?' Wonderful? Christine paused. Her eyes gleamed. Perhaps she could control the child instead. Yes,she could get back something. She turned to her husband. 'Perhaps we should send a card of congratulations. Flowers, that sort of thing,' she said. Yes, being a grandmother would be good.
Sally and Ian arrived the next day. Christine glared at her son-in-law, but swept her daughter into a hug. 'You'll be staying here for the rest of you pregnancy, of course,' she said. 'And having the baby at our nearest hospital.'
Ian stepped forward. 'Indeed no. We have Sally booked into the main hospital on the Isle of Wight - our new home.'
'The - the Isle of Wight,' Christine stammered. 'Why, that's even further than Hampshire.'
Yes, it was. But Ian was dammed if he would have his mother-in-law's poisonous tongue do any more damage of he could help it. First her trying to stop the wedding, then the attempt at getting a solicitor to end his and Sally's marriage. There had to be an end to her attempts to get her daughter back under her bullying thumb.
He hadn't countered on Christine's viciousness. Since his retirement from the army, Ian Banks had found a job as a bursar at the sailing centre at Ryde. Since the yachting club was extremely busy year round, he had his work cut out. But since sailing was his hobby, the job was a pleasure. He soon got to know many people, in and out of the yachting community. The Isle of Wight was a small community, where many knew each other and Ian was a popular character.
When Christine came to visit, she seized her chance. She bent the ears of whoever would listen at the yacht club, the bars and restaurants that Ian and Sally patronised. She did her best to blacken Ian's name as the man who has stolen her daughter. When she and David left after a two week visit, Christine was well satisfied. Before the month was out, her daughter would be back home, ready to resume her life of running and fetching for Christine.
It took Ian little time, in truth, to restore his good name. The way Christine had gone about her dirty work had been done so badly, that very few could really believe what she'd said in the first place. The fact that she's said it, of course, was damaging. But since Ian was here and Christine was miles away on the mainland counted for more in the end. And Sally seemed happier, more relaxed and freer out of her mother's reach.
'My mother,' Sally sighed, 'is so helpless. Helpless by choice. She's never done anything for herself. Dad's a really good man, but I think she only got married because women had to in those days. But she would never do anything for herself. I remember growing up and I'd spend more time shopping cooking, cleaning and running around after her than on schoolwork or spending time with friends which is what I'd much rather have done. Here, anywhere in fact that she's not, is wonderful. Here, Ian, you're so happy working at the marina is more play than work. I've never seen you so happy. And I have friends at the sports club. You know a lot of them from sailing. I've never been so happy. And soon, we'll be a family.' Ian hugged her and smiled. They would be alright.
Christine, back at home, wept with frustration. Her ploys had failed. All of them. 'What's the matter?' David asked, coming into the living room.
'It's Sally. I invited her to come over when the baby's due, but she refused.'
'You mean you wanted her to come back and live here, you mean.' David sounded angry. 'So that you could bully her and get to do all the household stuff you can't be bothered to do.' David thought of the cleaner he'd had to hire, just so the house looked clean again. And the occasional cook so that he'd get some decent meals again.
'Don't be silly, darling.' Christine buried her face in a tissue. 'I worry about her, that's all.'
'Rubbish,' David asserted. He loved his daughter, phoned her frequently. He and Sally had always got on so well. She'd always turned to him for help and advice, never her mother. 'There are no flies on Sally. Ian's a good man and-'
'He stole her away from me,' Christine said fiercely. 'I won't forgive him for that.'
'I give up,' David said angrily. 'You're nothing but a selfish woman. Accept that if you carry on this way, you will drive Sally away for good.' He looked at his wife scornfully and left the room.
Christine was barely aware of his going. She reached for the bottle of anti-depressants that her GP had prescribed and took two tablets, washed down with a G&T. The alcohol, always a comfort, had become more of a crutch of late. Damn Sally and that dammed husband of hers. Damn David for not understanding, for taking Sally's side as always. She had nothing now. No family to raise. She gave no thought at all for the son she loathed and the other daughter who had chosen a career over her family. And Sally, who had chosen a husband and children over her own mother. Christine poured herself another gin for consolation.
Sally phoned two months later. Unfortunately for her, she got her mother instead of David. 'Good news, mother,' Sally's voice said in Christine's ear. 'Ian and I are the proud parents of twins, born just two days ago. A boy and a girl.'
'Are you coming home?'
'What for?' Even Christine could not miss the puzzled tone in Sally's voice.
'I thought you might want some help.'
Sally laughed derisively. 'I was the one to help you, never the other way around. No, I phoned to tell you you are a grandmother. Perhaps you'll do a better job of that, than as a mother.' The phone line went dead.
Christine slowly put down the phone and wept. David came into the room and sighed. 'What is it now?' he asked heavily.
'We have twin grandchildren, but Sally refuses to come home.'
'You mean without Ian,' David said drily. 'Well, I'll go and see them myself. Me - a grandfather. Just think!'
He looked so pleased, Christine looked at him furiously. She turned her attention to loading the dishwasher so that David couldn't see her face. Enough was enough. She would put her final plan in place.
The next morning, she made some phone calls, very successfully in her opinion. She was promised the paperwork would arrive in the next few days. Christine smiled to herself. In just a matter of weeks, she would finally get her way.
The letter from the Isle of Wight lawyer was a shock, when it arrived two weeks later. It stated that as Ian and Sally Banks' lawyer, he was withdrawing their house from the market. As Christine was not the legal owner of the property owned by Mr and Mrs Banks, she had no right to try and sell it. Furthermore, the lawyer went on to inform Christine that his clients wanted no more contact with her. Enclosed was the injunction forbidding her to contact her daughter and son-in-law ever again.
With a small cry, Christine let the letter drop to the floor. As she did so, a searing pain struck across her chest. Gasping, she clutched ineffectually at her clothing, in a vain attempt to breathe.
'Christine?' It was David, kneeling beside her.
'I think it's my heart,' she whispered.
'I'll call for an ambulance.' But as David reached for his phone, Christine's hand went limp in his and her breathing stopped. David bent his head in sorrow. For all that she had been and not been, he mourned his wife, who was now dead.
© 2017 Alice Dancer