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Queen Bea

By: JDG Chambers on the 13th May 2010 at 7:30pm

Life - Anecdote - Family

 In her sleep, Beatrice resembles a customer at the sink of a hair salon: her good eye is closed, the hospital pillows prop up her white curls and the bed sheet is pulled up around her shoulders.

Her three daughters decorate the private room with flowers and collect the cards and dedications into piles, making a list of the senders who have wished their mother a speedy recovery and/or commemorated her centennial milestone. The messages that achieve both are read aloud to their own children, who sit in a semi-circle around their grandmother’s bedside waiting for her to wake up. All of the grandchildren want to leave, except Daphne, the youngest, who springs her own newborn son on her knee. Baby James is the only man in the room.

Beatrice opens her good eye. “Margaret,” she whispers to her eldest daughter, a widow of twenty years. “Mags…”

“Yes Mum,” Margaret replies.

“How’s John?”

“Never mind John for now. How’re you, Mother, how’s the eye?”

“It’s fine. I’m always fine. A few cataracts won’t finish me off… unfortunately!” she replies, winking at Daphne, who smiles sympathetically.

“Don’t say that, Mother. Not in front of the children.”

“They’re not children anymore,” Beatrice snaps, “so don't go treating me like a child. I want to know how my own son is doing. Haven’t I earned that much at my age?”

Mel, Beatrice’s youngest daughter, takes up her mother’s hand. “Of course you have, Mummy, and John’s fine. The doctors said it was a TIA, which is like a mini-stroke. He’s in a bed upstairs and his speech has completely recovered.”

Beatrice closes her eye and says a small prayer. She gives thanks for being blessed with a long life and six wonderful children, twenty grandchildren and thirty-five great-grandchildren, but now she would rather join her husband (bowel cancer), her son-in-law (stroke), and her two eldest sons (another stroke and throat cancer), than watch her youngest John, her last remaining son, go through the same motions.

Mel’s husband comes into the room carrying the bundle of cards he has been sent to collect from Beatrice’s house.

“Put them on the side, there,” Mel says.

“Not so fast,” he replies, “I’ve got something your mother’s been waiting for.”

“What’s that?” Beatrice asks, shuffling in her bed. 

Mel puffs the pillows and looks suspiciously at her husband.

 “The postmark says Buckingham Palace…”

“Please, please, please…” Beatrice says, stretching her hand to receive the card. “Glasses, glasses, glasses…” she continues, until her glasses appear in her other hand.

Beatrice is careful opening the envelope and holds the paper like a Museum curator. Her family gather around her to read the congratulatory message from the Queen.

“Lizzy knows what I’m talking about,” Beatrice says, placing the letter back in the envelope. She grips the package, closes her good eye and lies morbidly still. “Now I’m ready to go.”

“Quit playing around, Mother,” Margaret says. “You’ll outlive us all.”

Beatrice squints at two-month-old James. “That’s what I’m afraid of.”


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