When she opened the front door to the house she listened, and everything was quite silent, quite still, apart from the slow, deliberate tick-tocking of the grandfather clock in the hall, and the hollow, metallic clicking of warming radiators as the ancient central heating came on.
Her mother had always been the voice from upstairs. “Pauline? Is that you?” And each time she had wanted to say, “Who else would it be, you stupid woman?” and bitten back the words and only said, “Yes, Mother, it’s me. Have you been okay today?” Now, once again, she heard herself calling, “It’s me, Mum… Hello.” She could not help herself, it was ingrained, impregnated into her soul, and her voice echoed softly up the dark stairwell. When she heard it, it was a shock, for what kind of woman was it who talked to herself and was afraid of an empty house? What kind of woman? “You see what you have made me into, Mum? Even when you are not here, you influence me, you control my life because you cannot let me go... even in death, you cannot let me go. I hate you.”
And if it hadn’t been for her mother, surely she would not still be a virgin. A virgin at fifty-one, my God, it was laughable, absurd. If she had wanted a celibate life, then she would have joined a convent and promised herself to God. But she did not believe in God, in a god, in any god. Her mother did. She had been a devout catholic and church-goer in the days when she had been able to get out and about. She had kept a heavy bronze statuette on her dressing table - Jesus on the cross. It was one of the first casualties when Pauline had cleared the room. She couldn’t wait to throw it out. She had been driven almost mad by her mother’s nightly ritual, her muttered recitation of prayers – mostly in Latin - before sleep. Yes, it had been her mother who had held her back; there was no doubt about it. She had ruined any possibility of Pauline forming relationships with men. Even on the rare occasions she had dated men, had merely been asked out, it had been impossible. When it came to them asking about her home life, how could she have brought them back to her mother’s house, this depressing place, to meet her... her virtually bedridden mother - the mother who had always warned her about men, the perils of relationships, their dubious motives? Men, said her mother, were probably after only one thing... two things if you counted the very remote possibility of any man finding Pauline attractive.