Things that make me cry

     Things that make me cry:
     1  Stand By Me. The Ben E. King version, of course.
     2  All the old Frank Sinatra records that I inherited from my father.
     3  The bit in ET when Elliot cycles up into the sky with ET in his basket. 
     4 Thinking about Sophie when she forgot to take her scone ingredients into school and had to spend the whole lesson outside in the corridor while all her friends did cookery.
     There’s something strangely therapeutic about a good cry. Cleansing the soul. Washing out the cobwebs. All that kind of thing.  But at the moment I’m driving along happy as can be with my ten-year old daughter, Sophie, sitting in the passenger seat next to me. We’re on a shopping expedition. Just her and me. We’re spending what’s known as ‘quality time’ together and probably about to make a seriously deep incision into my bank balance as well.
     Anyway, we’re on our way into town – she’s quiet, daydreaming about something, probably pink lip gloss or Justin Timberlake, and I’m wondering whether she’ll notice if I take the road that circumvents McDonalds, when on the radio comes Ben E. King singing Stand By Me and I’m gone. As tears bubble up, burst, and blur my vision I go through a red light and narrowly miss a motorcyclist.  Whoops – that’s a bit of a shock to the system. I turn the radio off and although it pains me to miss Ben E. King singing Stand By Me, I decide that Sophie’s life (and mine too) is, definitely, a lot more important than hearing an old song on the radio.
     Sophie pulls a crumpled shopping list from her pocket.
    “Which shop are we going to first, Mum?”
     Sophie has to buy the ingredients for next week’s cookery class. For the last two terms at school her class has been doing a project on scones. They’ve made plain scones, cheese scones, butterscotch scones, an apple ring scone, and marmalade breakfast scones. They’ve designed scones, researched the price of scone ingredients, looked up the history of scones on the internet and done role play in scone costumes. Now this week it’s walnut and chocolate scones.
     ‘Supermarket first,’ I tell her ‘and clothes shop second.’ Work before play, as my father always taught me.
     In the supermarket Sophie wheels the trolley, then we queue up behind an elderly gentleman. He’s small. Not much taller than Sophie.  He has his basket balanced on the end of the conveyor belt. His hands are rigid, and bony. He painstakingly transfers the contents of his basket onto the belt - a packet of meat containing one pork chop, a tin of processed peas and a pint of milk. I’d like to help him but I don’t want to offend.
    Another thing that makes me cry – the way the elderly man hands his purse to the cashier for her to sort out the right money, and then shuffles off carrying his one carrier bag. I stretch my lips in a tight smile, the way people do when they see something sad, and the cashier mirrors my expression.
    On the way out of the supermarket I notice ET on the video rack with that image on the cover of the black silhouette of the bicycle superimposed over the round, white moon and try to think whether Sophie’s seen the film.  Then I remember the bit where ET’s dressed in a wig and a necklace when he’s hiding in the cupboard, and that makes me laugh.
     Other things that make me laugh:
     1  The memory of my father waltzing around the room to his Frank Sinatra records.
     2   All Sophie’s corny jokes, like her latest…
        - Doctor, doctor I’ve got a strawberry growing out of my head. 
        - Here’s some cream to put on it.
     3  Sophie when she gets her words muddled up. Like the history essay she wrote about the pheasants who revolted in the middle ages…(they were  peasants, Sophie!)

     In the clothes shop I spot a jumper I like the look of. Sophie has nabbed the last free changing room and there’s a queue. I notice a full-length mirror outside the changing room, so I decide to try the jumper on there. A woman and a little girl are sitting on chairs next to the mirror. I take my coat off and hang it on a  hook just above the little girl and pull the jumper over my head. I examine myself from different angles in the mirror. The jumper’s yellow and I’m not sure the colour is me. And then I hear the little girl’s squeaky voice saying, ‘Mummy!…’ 
The girl is about four with a tiny white face and dark eyes. She actually looks quite terrified for some reason and is silently beseeching her mother to help her. I realise then that my coat has slipped off the hook and is hanging over her left ear.  She’s frozen with fear, afraid to move.
‘Oh! I’m so sorry,’ I say, laughing and removing my coat. Her mother laughs too.

Sophie chooses two t shirts, some jeans, a belt and a pack of socks. On the way home she twists my arm and I agree to go to McDonalds after all - as long as she promises to be good for the rest of her life. 
‘I promise I will,’ she says.
‘And remember,’ I remind her, ‘ this is just a one-off because you’ve been so good.’
‘I’ll remember,’ she says.
‘So don’t expect a McDonalds every time we go out.’
‘I won’t,’ she says with a little giggle, which partly means she doesn’t believe me and partly means she’s excited because she’s going to have a McDonalds.

    I’m not keen on McDonalds myself, but at least they don’t do scones. McScones they would probably call them if they did.  I don’t think I could manage to eat another scone if my life depended on it, although I’ll still probably make the effort with the walnut and chocolate ones when Sophie brings them home in her cookery tin next week.  
It’s getting dark so I tell Sophie we’ll have to do a drive through because of the time. The boy at our window who serves us is solemn, rather spotty and has a baseball cap on back to front and only one star on his star badge and his name is Ben, so then the old Ben E. King song starts going through my head. 
When the night has come
And the land is dark
And the moon is the only light we'll see
As he hands me my change through the car window, Ben unconvincingly expresses the sentiment that I will ‘have a nice day’- even though it’s gone six in the evening.  Sophie starts unpacking her Happy Meal – we drive off and then realise she has no drink so we have to go back to Ben’s window and explain.  After he’s supplied us with the missing drink he again insincerely expresses the wish that I will ‘have a nice day.’
‘He said that last time!’ Sophie stage whispers. Sophie and I both start giggling and she blows bubbles through the straw into her drink. I laugh so much I can’t speak although I want to tell her not to make a mess in the car with her drink.

Other, other things that make me laugh:
1 The sweet little girl in the changing room who had my coat hooked over her ear. 
2 Ben in McDonalds.
3 Anything to do with scones.

As we turn off at the roundabout an old Frank Sinatra record comes on the radio.   
Chicago, Chicago that toddlin’ town. Chicago, Chicago, I’ll show you around…
Of all  Frank Sinatra’s records, Chicago was my father’s favourite. He loved that song and knew every word.  He always sang along to his records and for a moment my eyes blur again, but this time with the memory of my father.  I realise that I know every single word of Chicago too, he played his Frank Sinatra collection so often when I was young.  I begin to sing along with the radio, getting louder and louder.
‘Bet y’r bottom dollar you’ll loose the blues in Chicago, Chicago…’
‘Mum!’  Sophie is shaking with giggles. ‘Mum!  You said bottom.  Stop singing! You’re making me laugh!’
And we’re both off again, tears of laughter streaming down our cheeks.

One more thing that makes me laugh. 
When I kiss Sophie goodnight and she says ‘Have a good day’ in a spot-on imitation of Ben in McDonalds (except she’s said ‘good’ instead of ‘nice’).

One more thing that makes me cry. 
As I get up from her bed to go back downstairs, I see her new things laid neatly out on her chair and Sophie says in a little sleepy voice, ‘thank you, Mum, for the new clothes and the McDonalds.’ 
And I say, ‘that’s alright,’ and close the door behind me, knowing that it’ll be a good few years before she understands just how completely alright it really is.

    © Alison Clink 2007

I wrote this after a shopping trip to Trowbridge with my twin daughters when they were ten – although for the purposes of the story I’ve made them into one person. Unusually, most of what’s in the story did happen and for some reason the ending always does qualify as one of those odd things that makes me cry. This story was also published in Woman’s Weekly Fiction Special in 2007.

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