Her Giant Octopus Moment
Elisabetta Beecham walked with her husband on a Cornish beach on a morning early in April. Above them, the sky was scrubbed clean of clouds. A confident wind whipped from the water, bringing salt to her cheeks.
Ned was holding her hand. He always did this a little awkwardly, his fingers interlaced with hers so that the resulting clasp felt like a tangle of nubbly, knuckley ginger. It was both gentle and committed, and thereby typical of him.
‘There’s this,’ he said, passing her a letter which he had folded so carefully within his jacket breast pocket there was no clue it was contained there. Elisabetta stopped, her boots sinking a litte with the suck of the sand.
A letter. For a moment she was baffled. Who would send them a letter that Ned would hand to her so gravely? She looked back along the beach to Maia. Surely it couldn’t be anything to do with her adoption, not after all this time?
‘You are frightening me,’ she said.’ Say something. Who is it from?’
The typeface danced before her eyes. There was a child. There had been a baby. The blood roared and thumped somewhere deep inside her ears. It seemed Joan Simpson had lied. She read it, and re-read it. There had been a baby, after all, and this letter quietly, baldly, calmly, affirmed it, when surely someone should have been screaming it from the cliff top? From the wide bowl of the sky things came raining down; raining down on to her skin as painfully as knives, forks, spoons, pots, pans. That time, that dreadful time, those years of trying to conceive, her tattered innards, the antiseptic smell of hospitals, clinics, the desperate knot of hope and despair in those places. And then Joan Simpson. Her hair on the pillow. Her own hand on Joan’s forehead. Joan’s eyes which had been clear, without emotion, at the point of implantation. The grief, on hearing of her miscarriage. An afternoon spent quietly, utterly still, at home, her hands in her lap, her face drawn, her lips grey, accepting that all routes had been attempted, pursued and that it was time to give up. Yet the baby’s heart had beaten on.
‘Am I angry?’ she said softly. She bit deep into her lip, and tasted the sweet iron of blood. It felt right that this letter had drawn it. ‘I think so. She lied to us. How could she? It was supposed to be our baby. She could have said that she had changed her mind. Then we wouldn’t have thought that we had lost that one too.’
When Ned and Elisabetta Beecham find a surrogate mother to carry a child for them they are overjoyed. When she miscarries, Elisabetta grieves for her lost chance of motherhood.
But self-centred Joanie has not miscarried, she has simply changed her mind and decided to keep the child for herself. When her deception comes to light ten years later, she bolts with Scout, the daughter who is biologically hers and Ned’s, and tries to evade the authorities who seek her.
Scout is a resourceful child who tries to create order within her mother’s increasingly chaotic life choices. Her Giant Octopus Moment questions who a child belongs to in the face of biological complexity, and explores what being a parent means, and what a child needs.
It is obvious that Langdale is very gifted. The sympathetic understanding of her characters, the even handed exposition of different types of mothering and the beauty of her crystal clear prose all come together to make this a must read.Red