Author: Meredith Whitford
Paperback: 266 pages
Publisher: Endeavour Media Ltd (UK) 2017
As death approaches, family secrets will be revealed…
As Jaques’s mother clings to life, he and his brother Toby wait for the inevitable.
‘Not long now,’ the Doctor says grimly.
As they deal with all the business of death, Jaques reflects on his relationship with the mother he loved.
She was fun, amusing, witty – she knew how to be happy.
She was a good companion, and she was his friend.
But as the family comes to terms with their grief, they discover secrets from the past that threaten to change everything.
Can the family manage to salvage Christina’s memory and the family ties that hold them together?
And is everyone in the family being honest?
From the talented Meredith Whitford, Missing Christina is a heartfelt, gripping tale of family strife and parental love.
Guest Post By Meredith Whitford
There’s quite a lot about synaesthesia in this novel. I put this in partly for the fun of it, and because my narrator insisted on being a synaesthete. As the plot developed, it turned out to provide the solution to an old mystery – something I hadn’t seen coming until I wrote that part of the book.
As I noted at the back of the novel, synaesthesia is a gift, a sort of extra sense, that makes us synaesthetes perceive letters of the alphabet, numbers, days of the week, months of the year, often names and sometimes musical notes, as having their own distinct colors. I feel a bit silly saying that I spent most of my life thinking this was normal –until I came across an article in a magazine saying it’s quite rare and is being studied. My family looked at me as if I’d gone mad when I asked them what color Monday is to them. Poor things, they live in a monochrome world, except that my son sometimes hears musical notes as colored.
Every synaesthete has his or her own colors. To me, my first name is blue, although the letters are sky-blue (M), red (e), dark blue (r), red (e), black and silver (d), dark grey (i) brown (t), purple (h). August is a rather dull month, mostly brown despite its lovely strong yellow A. September’s much more cheerful.
So far, studies show that about 1 in 2000 people are synaesthetes. I’m rather sorry for the others. Imagine not knowing that Wednesday is green! And that the title Missing Christina is blue.
Usually I like New York, but not today. Not in the mood today. Noise. Rush. Hassle. Hysteria. Not a good start, when I was fighting my own hysteria.
At least the Immigration guy was friendly. Looking from me to my passport photo he did a sort of double-take and said, “Hey, man – Jaques Randall! Sir, I’ve seen all your work!” I guess he was pronouncing my name phonetically, but he got it right, Jake-wez not Jakes or the French Jacques. As I’ve had to explain virtually from the cradle, I was named after the Jaques in As You Like It, because Mum was watching the play when she went into labor with me. “Over here for filming?” the passport man went on.
“No,” I said. “My mother’s dying.”
I hadn’t said that to anyone since I left home. Saying it to strangers would make it real. Also, it was a private thing.
Because of the background noise, Passport Guy caught only the word ‛mother’ and thought I was swearing at him. Welcome to America. He was nice, though, once he understood.
Toby was waiting for me at the hospital, and of course, I hoped, because you always do stupidly hope, that he’d give me good news, that Mum was better, was recovering, crisis over. But he took little running steps forward and flung his arms around me, a thing he hadn’t done since he was about six. I hugged him, stroking his back, then held his shoulders to look at him. It was over a year since he moved to New York, and we hadn’t met in that time – twenty-two now, he was taller and thinner, and without the puppy fat he was so like Mum it shocked me. He was pale and dark-eyed as if he hadn’t slept. I suppose he hadn’t. Nor had I.
“Any news?” It was the only way I could express it.
“They said ‘sinking, but not yet.’ Christ, I’m glad you’ve come.” His voice cracked on the words. He took a deep breath. “Ready?”
“Yeah. No. Just a tick.” I took out my phone and rang home. Silvia answered on the first ring, her voice tight with fear.
“Me. Just to tell you I’m here. At the hospital, I mean.”
“Don’t know yet.”
“Oh for God’s sake, why’d you ring if you’ve nothing to tell me? Toby’s already told me not to hope – what d’you think it’s like here?”
I’d had half the night to know what it was like at home, and said so. “Silve, how are Dad and Granny?” Dad had collapsed when he heard the news. Granny wasn’t much better. We’d called the local GP, who spends so much time ministering to Dad’s hypochondria that she might as well move in with us, and she had treated them and put them to bed.
“Gran’s being brave and that’s so heart-breaking I wish she’d take that quack’s pills like Dad. He’s been doped to the eyeballs since you left.”
Oblivion always was Dad’s first recourse in any crisis. Nevertheless, I said, “But what if he, well, has to come over here?”
Silvia’s voice gentled to sadness. “He won’t want to. You know that. But I’ll try to make him – get him to… Ring me as soon as – when –”
“All right.” No point in saying more. I disconnected and followed Toby down to Intensive Care or whatever it’s called. The nurses were expecting us, and they were kind in their distracted way. One, perhaps more senior or the one used to breaking bad news, said with welcome directness that there were signs that it wouldn’t be long now. Sinking, she said. Be prepared. Perhaps only an hour or two.
I took three long breaths, the way I do before going on stage, and went into Mum’s room. She’d been in quite a bad accident, hit by a taxi, thrown into the path of another car and then to the pavement, but most of her injuries were, let’s say, not visible to visitors. All the same, I had tried to be prepared for anything. Anything except this stillness, this absence. Mum was always a restless, untidy sleeper, and I had never seen her lying flat and straight, unmoving. Jesus, how often have I been in cop or hospital shows on TV, playing everything from the bloodily dying victim to the harassed but caring young doctor – so surely this was only another film set, the nurses extras, the ward a construction of flats and backing. Any moment now the director would call “Cut!” and Mum would sit up, pull off all these tubes and drips, wait for the make-up girl to touch up those signs of injury.
The chart on the end of the bed said “DNR”. Do Not Resuscitate.
I took the chair nearest the bed and held Mum’s hand. Her hands were like mine, square and long-fingered, although her knuckles were knotty with the beginning of arthritis. Her nails had been torn and broken in the accident, and that would have distressed her, for she always took great care of them, buffing them to a diamond shine. Holding that flaccid, cool hand I said, “Mum, it’s me, it’s Jaques. Sorry I couldn’t get here sooner.” They say that hearing is the last sense to go, and I suppose that despite everything I had expected some response, but the monitors beeped on without change. I kept on talking to her. I told her Toby was here, that Dad was on his way (a lie, but it no longer mattered), I told her Hugo had another tooth and was almost crawling. I think I even talked about the weather.
Nurses came and went. A doctor swept in, saying with the supreme tact of his kind, “Not long now.” The woman with him, a medical social worker I think she said, sat down beside me and clicked the top of her pen. She had already talked to Mrs, er, Lady Randall’s other son about this, she said, but was I quite aware…
I was. Mum was a vocal, often vituperative, supporter of voluntary euthanasia and opponent of arrogant medical meddling. She always said that once your mind goes, or your faculties, you’re no longer a sentient human being, and thus better off dead, and the medical profession could keep its hands, and its tubes and respirators and wonder drugs, well away from her. She’d signed one of those Living Wills and carried a card saying so. Also, she was an organ donor – another card in her wallet said so, as did her MedicAlert bracelet (allergic to morphine.) Toby had rung home about this, and Uncle Quentin, Mum’s cousin and solicitor, had faxed some sort of consent to the hospital for her organs to be harvested. Not that anyone used the word ‘harvested’, any more than they said ‘corpse’ or ‘body’ or ‘dead’. Euphemisms rule. Our Loved One was Helping Others Even After Her Passing.
I signed forms, then said, “What exactly happens?”
“When your mother passes, you may have a moment alone with her. Then, I’m afraid, we must move quickly. Later you can see her again if you wish. I can make all the arrangements with the funeral home if you wish.”
Toby and I exchanged a helpless glance, he looking to me because I was the eldest, me to him because I was in a foreign country. Then, together, we said, “Make the arrangements.”
Mum died about an hour later. She made a sound, really just an exhalation, nothing more than “Eh…” I wondered if she was trying to say my name. Then she just ceased to be alive. Toby and I both saw it. Her face smoothed, she looked younger. Peaceful.
I didn’t know what to do. Well, you don’t, do you? You can’t just walk out. There’s a feeling that something is expected, even required. Actors are always conscious of the audience. Yet Mum was dead, I couldn’t speak to her, she was no longer there. I kissed her forehead, then her hand. I could think of nothing to say, or not allowed. To myself, to Mum, I said, I love you, I’ll miss you, you were a good mother, my friend, we’ll all miss you, I don’t know what we’ll do without you. Toby kissed her, and I saw his lips moving as he said his own farewell. Then nurses came, and that arrogant doctor, and quite gently but firmly and with some haste, we were eased out of the room.
We held each other, too numb for tears. It wasn’t real yet. Things like this don’t really happen. They happen on TV, in the America of film. This, now, had the same lack of reality, because it just could not be true. If this had happened at home I’d have felt shock, threat, grief, but not this unreality. America made it dishonest.
But of course, it was real. My mother was dead.
About the Author
Meredith Whitford lives in Adelaide, South Australia. She has a husband, two adult children, two grandchildren, and usually two cats.
Educated entirely after leaving school, she finally went to university as a mature-age student. She has a BA in History, English and Classics from the University of Adelaide, and in 2011 completed a Master of Creative Arts (Creative Writing) degree at Flinders University, Adelaide. Her Masters thesis was a novella, “What Became of Winifred Wimsey?”, using characters from the crime novels of Dorothy L Sayers and Margery Allingham. In 2012 she began a PhD on Margery Allingham.
She has been Director of Between Us Manuscript Assessment Service (www.betweenusmanuscripts.com) since 1998.
When she is not writing or reading (and she usually is) her hobbies are cryptic crosswords, being pedantic, and sleeping.
She suffers from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS/ME). On the up side, she has the great good luck to be a synesthete.
She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
I would like to thank Ms Whitford, and Endeavour Media Ltd (UK) and #Lovebooksgrouptours for allowing me to be a part of this blog tour. Please feel free to stop by and check out the other bloggers that are on this tour! See the list below!