Mothers and Daughters

She was five years old - tearing up the stairs, almost bursting in her excitement: Mommy, Mommy, there are kittens! Come see! Daddy says I can keep one!

Chrissy paused, out of breath, then tumbled into her mother's arms. Her mother's laugh was the most joyous in the world. The world was a place of bright colour and joy when her mother smiled. She was smiling now. Her mother was so tall and so much more beautiful than even the angels in the church windows. And sometimes so sad. But today, today, everything was sunny and wonderful.

"Why isn't the child ready to go?" The colours faded and Chrissy saw Gram standing behind her mother. "Quickly girl, into your blue dress and crinoline". She watched as her mother's face seemed to fade - became sad again. She looked at her daughter as from far away. "Chrissy, dear, let's get you cleaned up and into your new party dress"

Not fair! She wanted to share the kittens and her mother and the bright sunny day - and she hated that awful crinoline - it scratched and she wasn't allowed to play in it. "I won't! I won't!" She tore down the stairs, back to the kittens, back to the sun and her father - "Disgraceful, that child is spoilt, Helen. You have to put your foot down" - and away from her Gram.


Christine Cagney felt the sun on her face and opened her eyes when she heard Mary Beth and little Alice Christine chatting as they walked hand in hand towards her.


Well hello!

Alice Christine runs up to her Aunt Christine, jumping into the hug and kiss that Christine bends to give her.

Mary Beth

Sorry we're late Christine, we had to stop and buy some sneakers for Alice. She is growing like a weed! Been waiting long?


Not at all. I was getting some sun. Very nice sneakers Alice. Bet you can run like the wind with them!

Alice jumps up and away while Mary Beth and Christine laugh and follow her.


It was the best day ever! She had hit one homer and took home in a slider on another run! Yes! Chrissy punched the air with her fist, threw her ball glove into the air and started to run just for the fun of it. She was ten now. It was going to be a great birthday party! Her Dad would be home. He would bring some terrific present. They'd laugh all through dinner and laugh so hard and get along so well that Mother (and Gram) would let him stay. She was at the gate when she saw Brian.


(disgusted, as only a brother of 13yrs can be): He's drunk again. Pauses for effect. "They're fighting".


"shuttup! You're lying!" She chokes back the tears and runs all the way to her room slamming the door.


"Get cleaned up, girl. Clean your face and come downstairs. We'll have none of your antics. Your father gives us quite enough of that."

She is now eleven. It is still night, or maybe early morning. She is at the top of the stairs, holding her breath and listening. Her mother is crying, sobbing and pleading with someone. With Gram. Gram admonishing, lecturing. Her mother sounds like her heart is broken, like she is terribly afraid. Chrissy's heart is beating in her throat. Something is terribly wrong.

Her memory is hazy, but she remembers later that day:


"Your mother has gone away for awhile. She has been dreadfully tired lately, no thanks to your father. We will make arrangements for you to be away at school, dear. God knows its time you became a lady"

Things are so vague after that The first day at private school with the plaid uniforms, the unsmiling nuns. The discipline. She clearly remembers the gnawing loneliness.

The day her mother came home is etched in crystal clarity. Only it wasn't her mother. It was a stranger's eyes that looked back at her. A haunted, hunted look from a frightened stranger. It was like her mother was gone. Like her mother was dead.

Her Gram weathered Chrissy's confused raging and tears about her mother dispassionately: "Your mother is a Donovan. And despite your father, you, too, are a Donovan. And a Donovan never cries, never fails. Pull yourself together girl".

But Chrissy was also her father's daughter. Donovan though she may be, she had the instincts of a Cagney - of a street fighter. She and her Gram fought with a ferocity that only families know. Chrissy also learned to run. She ran from her mother. Ran from her feelings.

Helen Cagney, her mother, lived in her own world. She was perhaps vaguely happy, and only vaguely aware of her unhappy daughter. Helen no longer fought. She would smile and retreat. Retreat and smile. But she remained beautiful: as beautiful as the stained glass angels in the church.

By the time Chrissy was thirteen, her father was the only one who could tolerate the tempers, moodiness and delinquent behaviour his daughter displayed. Chrissy moved in with Charlie. Charlie adored his wayward daughter and Charlie, according to his daughter, could do no wrong. She had a lot at stake in that belief and she would do almost anything for her dad.

Alice Christine was ecstatic. She had a whole day with her mom and her auntie Christine - and she had new sneakers. She could stare at her feet and run as hard as she could and pretend she was flying! And Aunt Christine had promised to show her how to fly a kite!

Mary Beth was enjoying the soft spring day. She didn't often have the time to indulge her youngest daughter in a day together. And she enjoyed watching Christine play with Alice. She had been pleasantly surprised when Christine had agreed to come. She usually avoided family outings. Christine seemed allergic to family entanglements. In fact, her partner was allergic to any emotional involvement. Even Mary Beth was rebuffed by Christine's reticence. But Christine loved little Alice without reservation.

Mary Beth suddenly laughed as Chris and Alice tumbled down the hill chasing the runaway kite.


The last time she saw her mother, they fought. Or rather Christine fought. Christine accused, goaded, raged: anything to provoke her mother into a response. Her mother heard none of the accusations, denied nothing and acknowledged none of the charges. What charges? Desertion? Indifference? Betrayal? Helen Cagney finally looked at her daughter. Her eyes latched onto Christine's. They hardened. Helen finally spoke. "Leave me alone. What do you want from me?" The hard stranger in her mother's eyes hurled all the accusations back at Christine, ripping bare Christine's heart. Desolation. Christine reacted the only way she knew how. She struck back, lashing out at her mother. "I never want to see you again". Christine Cagney turned from her mother. She swallowed her shock, fear and loss. She walked away.

Christine never turned back to see if her mother was crying. She knew she wasn't.

Christine was in Paris when her mother died. She didn't return for her mother's funeral and she told very few people about her mother's death. When her friends commiserated and offered her the chance to talk about her mother, Christine didn't respond. Chrissy had cried for her mother when she was 11 years old. Christine had buried those tears long ago.

Candlelight played softly in Christine Cagney's loft. Christine sat on the ground surrounded by photographs and letters. She held a photograph of a woman and child. The woman was blond, with high cheekbones and dark blue eyes. The photographer had caught her smiling softly at some private joke. She was holding a tow -headed child wearing a ball cap. The little girl looked up at her mother as if expecting the answer to a question. The woman was looking far into the distance - at something far beyond the camera.

The image blurred. Christine Cagney dropped the photo and began to sob. She sunk to the ground, surrounded by the photos, her shoulders shaking as she covered her face with her hands. She continued to sob even as the candlelight began to fade.

Mary Beth walked into the ladies room. Christine was sitting on the bench with a photo in her hand. Mary Beth crosses the room and sits besides Chris. They sit in silence for a moment. Mary Beth has recognized that Christine has something to say. She is waiting for Chris to chose her moment.


voice husky, speaking tentatively): This is my mother.

Mary Beth is surprised. Christine seldom mentions her mother. Mary Beth has understood that Christine didn't get along with her mother, and that Christine had some strong, unresolved feelings towards her mother.

Mary Beth

(taking the photo): Oh Chris, she was beautiful! You have her eyes.



Mary Beth

And you have her smile.

Chris begins to cry. Mary Beth goes to hold her and then thinks better of it as Chris moves away.


(agitated and moving around the room. Her throat is tight and breathing is difficult): You know how a mother is supposed to love you no matter what?"

Mary Beth nods and listens.


"Sometimes, sometimes Mary Beth, something beautiful can be shattered and destroyed, you know?" And if it is somebody that is broken, then, then even if they pull themselves together and pull all the pieces together, so that , so that, they look almost the same - they're not - the same. They look the same but some of the pieces are missing and they're, they're broken, Mary Beth, and no matter how much you love them and no matter how much you pray, they ARE NOT THE SAME. THEY ARE GONE! You know?

Chris is sobbing by now: tears are streaming down her face. Mary Beth has tears in her eyes, aching to hold her friend, but waiting until Chris is ready.



My mother was gone long before she died, Mary Beth, and I left her! I left her because I didn't know how - didn't want to help her! I looked into her lost eyes and I ran away Mary Beth! I felt like I would never escape! I ran away and she, she, she faded away. The pieces were lost and my mother was gone, Mary Beth.

Chris finally runs out of words and stands with her hands over her face in the middle of the room.

Mary Beth gently leads her back to the bench and holds her. She rocks her gently.

After a few moments:

Mary Beth

(softly, gently): Chris, your mother's death was not your fault. A child loves with all her heart. Wherever your mother went, she knew that. She knew it Chris. And you did the best you could. You couldn't save her, Chris. You're not God. None of us is. Do you hear me Chris?

Chris holds on to Mary Beth and nods her head. She pulls back a little, looks at her friend.


Mary Beth, I know that even if I had been there when my mother died, I couldn't have changed anything. I know that. And I know that I couldn't change what happened to her when I was just little. But Mary Beth, they tell us the story has a happy ending - and it isn't a happy ending. I'm a cop. I see it everyday. But she was my mother. And, Mary Beth, Mary Beth - I'm afraid. It makes me afraid.

Mary Beth

(pushes a strand of hair from Chris' face): I know. We are all afraid. But now you know Chris. You aren't running from it anymore. Maybe your mother was afraid too. But you're looking at it. Maybe you've chosen not to run anymore, eh Chris?

Chris, still weepy, smiles at her. Mary Beth smiles back.

The two women sit for a while on the bench in companionable silence. One crying for herself and for her mother: one reflecting on all the sadness and all the joy in the world.

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