By John McCormick
Sophie Lee was tall, strong and gorgeous. Her dazzling smile captivated everyone within range. Her dark eyes assessed people with a direct look which was both flattering and daunting. She would have been a striking young woman even without the bright blue streak in her hair.
Sophie and Liling discussed this in the calm, respectful way in which teenage girls always talk to their mothers.
‘Sophie, haven’t I told you a hundred times not to dye your hair those awful colours?’
‘Yes Mum, and if the first ninety-nine didn’t work, why did you think it would work this time?’
‘Don’t you be cheeky to me Sophie Lee. A good Chinese girl should obey her mother.’
‘I’m not a girl, I’m seventeen, and I’m not good, as you keep telling me, and I’M NOT CHINESE, I’M A KIWI!’
‘Don’t say that! You should be proud to be Chinese.’
‘Proud to be part of an oppressive, patriarchal culture? No way. As a feminist, I’m proud to be fighting to change it.’
‘Don’t keep saying that. How are you ever going to find a husband if you call yourself a feminist?’
‘I keep saying it because you never bloody listen! Mum, I’m lesbian, I’m never going to find a husband because I’m never going to want one!’
Liling tried, almost successfully, to hold back the tears. ‘I wish your father was here. Maybe he could talk some sense into you.’
‘Well he’s not, is he?’ Sophie replied. ‘He’s off in Hong Kong working, like he always bloody is. I don’t know why he was so keen to come to New Zealand, he’s never here.’
The stairs shook as Sophie stamped to her room, slammed the door and sobbed loudly. Liling didn’t respond because she was not there. She had gone next door. She had become friends with Rebecca, mostly through shared stories of the challenges of teenage daughters.
‘Hi Rebecca, do you have a minute?’
‘Liling, of course. Come in. I was just pouring a glass of wine, do you want one?’
Liling didn’t usually drink, but this time it seemed like a good idea. ‘Yes, thank you, I will.’
They chatted as usual, Rebecca direct and voluble, Liling more reserved, but with the occasional sly digs that caused Rebecca to burst out laughing. When Rebecca topped up their glasses Liling didn’t object.
‘Did you have something in particular you wanted to talk about?’
Liling hesitated. ‘I had another fight with Sophie.’
Rebecca rolled her eyes. ‘I thought I heard something.’ Then she stopped. This wasn’t the usual amusing stories they told each other. Liling’s eyes were bright with tears. She was struggling to get the words out.
‘Take your time’ said Rebecca softly.
‘I don’t know what to do. She’s always talking back to me. She just won’t listen.’
‘It’s hard, isn’t it’ said Rebecca. ‘We want the best for them, but sometimes they don’t want to hear it …. and sometimes we don’t want to hear them either.’
Liling took a deep breath. ‘There’s something else. She’s saying she’s… she’s… a lesbian. Surely it’s just a phase, she’ll grow out of it and get married and give us grandchildren. Won’t she?’
Rebecca hesitated. Then she said ‘Liling, do you want comfort or do you want the truth?’
Liling hesitated. Then, very softly, ‘Tell me the truth.’
‘No, she won’t grow out of it. The relationship with Donna probably won’t last, but if she says she’s lesbian then she’s lesbian. But that doesn’t mean no grandchildren. Many lesbians have children these days.’
Liling was deep in thought as she walked back to her house, slightly dizzy from the unaccustomed alcohol. She hadn’t expected to open up to Rebecca quite so much, but she was pleased she had. Perhaps there was another way to deal with Sophie.
Sophie had called Donna and begun an expletive-laden tirade. After a few minutes she said ‘Donna, are you even listening to me?’
Donna said ‘No, I’m not really in the mood for one of your dramas about your mother.’
‘What’s that supposed to mean?’
‘It means that my mother has breast cancer.’
It was only a few seconds, but it felt like a long silence.
‘Oh Donna, I’m so sorry. When did you find out?
‘Yesterday. We just got the test results. The doctors say it’s treatable and she’s found it early and she’ll be fine and I keep telling myself that but it doesn’t help. Oh Sophie, I’m so scared.’
They talked for another hour. When it was over Sophie lay on her bed and cried quietly for a long time.
Sophie walked downstairs, found Liling in the kitchen and hugged her tightly. Liling was surprised, but after a few seconds she relaxed and hugged back.
‘I love you Mum’ said Sophie.