The bannister. The core of the wartime house
The banister in a wartime house is not made of fancy oak spindles. It is just wallboard. We used to slide down it, but it was about only about two feet long, so once you were on it, you were pretty much at the bottom. Usually we’d just sit there and hang out, like we were on a hobby horse. But having a solid banister had its advantages. It was a great place to sit and eavesdrop on the grown-ups.
I think my mom was so embarrassed about explaining the “facts of life” to me that she did it while on the phone, knowing that I was sitting on the stairs listening.
“Hello? Yes, this is Betty McLennan calling regarding my prescription for birth control pills? Yes. I need to get my prescription if that’s okay. Yes. I can get it up at Shaughnessy Drugs. The pharmacist there knows me. Yes. I really appreciate this. Thanks a lot. Bye.”
Oh my god. I was in shock. My mother is pregnant and is taking a pill to kill the baby. How could she? I was shaking as I sat there. I turned and crawled up the stairs into my room and fell onto my bed. I wept into my pillow.
I pondered the idea of begging her not to go ahead with it. I did not know how I could broach the subject with her, and nothing was ever said.
Another time, I woke in the night and found myself sitting on the stairs listening to my parents fighting. My dad was wearing his blue ESSO shirt and my mom had just gotten home. It was very late. He had packed the suitcase and was leaving, for good. That time I had to intervene. The tears were pouring down my cheeks. My sister and my brother were still sleeping, but I was there in the middle, begging from the bottom of my broken heart for my dad to stay with the family.
I had not considered why he would possibly leave. I knew Mom was home late and had been out with some curlers or old friends or something, but that wasn’t important. Nothing could be so bad that my dad would leave us.
He didn’t leave.