be guid tae yer mammy

By Emma Grae

Narrated by three generations of women – a darkly comic family drama set in modern-day Scotland.

The ferry’s engines roared as it cut through the Clyde’s choppy water. Ah took a deep breath o’ the salty air and looked doon at the white horses. It wis exactly whit the baby needed. Hame wis a few grey dots against the green hills in the distance. The hooses looked pretty fae here. But the church looked best o’ aw. Jesus would’ve approved o’ it bein’ the tallest buildin’. Some draft bugger hud chucked a roll and fritter oot oantae the deck. The seagulls wur squalkin’ as they battered lumps oot o’ each other tryin’ tae get a bite. Ah wis feelin’ sick fae the waves, and the squalkin’ just made me feel sicker. Ah’ve gat a smashin’ pair o’ sea legs, but nae wumman should be oan a ferry when she’s nine months gone.

“Cannae wait till oor son gets here, Donald,” ah said wi’ a haun oan ma belly.

He wis lookin’ oot the windae. “As lang as the wean’s healthy.”

Ma Donald’s a richt handsome man. He’s tall wi’ dark broon hair; everythin’ the lassies up the dancin’ want. Mind ye, he still hud tae put in a guid bit o’ effort tae get me tae go oot wi’ him. Oor girls are smashin’ lookin’ weans an aw. Ah’d dressed them in black velvet coats and tied their curly broon hair back wi’ red ribbons the day.

“Ah’ve heard boys are easier tae rear than girls,” ah said.

“It’d be nice tae huv a wean tae play fitbaw wi’,” Donald replied. “Ah cannae lie.”

“Here’s hopin’ yer son turns oot tae be a Celtic supporter an aw.”

Donald laughed. “Ah should bloody well hope so.”

We wur oan the ferry headin’ back fae Glasgae. A gypsy hud tellt me ma third wean would be a boy, and ah wis due any day noo. Ah could feel ma son gettin’ impatient. He’d been kickin’ me like a wee boxer aw mornin’. That’s sommat ma lassies didnae dae. Ah ne’er gat mornin’ sickness wi’ either o’ them, but ah’ve been as sick as a dug ma whole pregnancy. Goin’ oan a ferry when ah wis this close tae poppin’ wisnae ideal, but we didnae huv a motor so it wis the easiest way tae get hame. Maybe ma son will be a sailor. His father’s an engineer so ah reckon he’d be a richt high flyer in the yards.

“Are ye feeling awricht, Jean?” Donald said, lookin’ at ma belly.

“It’s just the sea. Nought some ginger beer cannae fix.”

“Ah’ll make sure ye get yer feet up when we get hame.”

Ah opened ma haunbag, took oot a wee bottle o’ Barr's and hud a sip. It wis a short ferry crossin’ fae wan end o’ the Clyde tae the other. Ah’d manage.

“Mammy, is the baby comin’ soon?” Cathy asked. “Ye should call him Willie.”

She wis sittin’ oan Donald’s lap. Ah think Cathy will huv a hard time when the baby gets here. Sandra’s a wild wan; she’s always aff daein’ hur ain thing, but ma Cathy just loves hur daddy. She’ll need tae accept that she willnae be his main priority anymair.

“Oh naw. He’s gettin’ named John efter the disciple.”

“And whit if it’s a wee lassie?”

“Ah’m tellin’ ye, Cathy, it’s a boy.”

Ah looked up. Ma Sandra wis wanderin’ oot o’ the passenger area and oantae the deck. Ah cannae take ma eyes aff that lassie fur mair than five minutes. Donald stood and ran ower tae get hur. Cathy followed. She’s a richt daddy’s girl. Ah put the ginger beer back intae ma haunbag and put ma hauns oan ma belly. Ma insides felt like they wur squeezin’ themselves together. Then ah noticed a warm patch oan ma seat. Ah’d either pished masel or it wis happenin’. A sharp pain rushed through ma body.

“Donald!” ah shouted. “Get yer arse back ower here. Ma water’s huv broke!”

A wumman sittin’ a few rows doon fae me suddenly turnt roond.

“Aw shite. Dae ye want me tae get help, Mrs?”

Ah shook ma heid up and doon. The pain wis too much tae even say aye.

“Try no tae panic, ma sister hud hur wean oan a tram, and she’d nae bother!” the wumman said. The other passengers wur starin’ at me.

“Jean,” Donald said, rushin’ tae ma side. He wis as white as a ghost. “Ye’ll be awricht.” He took ma haun. “Ye’ve done this twice before.”

Ah looked at ma girls. Their eyes wur wider than whit they’d been oan Christmas mornin’. “Ye two sit there like guid lassies fur yer mammy,” ah gasped.

The pain fae ma womb rushed through ma whole body again. It doesnae matter hoo many weans ye huv, it’s just as painful each time. Ah tried tae relax efter each contraction by takin’ some deep breaths in and oot. It’s whit the midwife tellt me tae dae, but aw the antenatal classes in the world couldnae prepare ye fur this shite. Nae wonder Mammy callt it the pains o’ hell. Ah screamed durin’ the next contraction.

“Ladies and gentlemen. A woman on the ferry has just gone into labor,” the captain said ower the tannoid. “If there’s any doctors or nurses on board, could you please go into the passenger area on the starboard side of the ferry. Quickly please.”

Donald wis sweatin’ mair than me. “Hopefully someone can help,” he said.

We wur relieved when a smart lookin’ doacter rushed in. Ah tellt Donald tae leave wi’ the lassies. It wis nae place fur a man who’s no a professional. As ah composed masel efter a contraction, ah noticed that the other passengers hud left. Ah wis glad ah didnae huv an audience, even if they’d be able tae hear me fae ootside.

“What’s your name?” the doacter asked.

“Jean Kelly.”

“You’re going to have to lie on the seat so that I can deliver baby.”

“Huv ye done this before?”

“Yes. I’m not a midwife, Mrs Kelly, but I know what I’m doing so you’ve got nothing to worry about. I’ll make sure baby’s delivered safely.”

The doacter took ma haun and helped me up oantae the seat. Then he put his jaicket underneath me. At least the wean wouldnay be born ontae a cold wooden seat, ah thocht. Ah looked at the ceilin’ tae distract masel fae the pain. There wis a white pipe runnin’ alang it and lights that turnt blurry when the pain gat too much tae bear.

It’s a guid thing the doacter didnae mind puttin’ his jaicket under me. Ah wis wearin’ ma best wan. But it wis old noo. Ah’d bought it in Copeland and Lye fur ma big audition tae be in a picture that wis gettin’ filmed in Glasgae callt The Showgirl and the Sailor. Ah loved goin’ tae the pictures—even mair than ah loved the dancin’. Doris Day wis ma favourite actress, and ah’d dreamed o’ becomin’ a star o’ the silver screen like hur.

Ah shut ma eyes. The jaicket didnae dae the trick fur gettin’ in the picture, ah thocht. Isabelle Black gat the part insteid o’ me. Ah gret fur days efter the director sent a letter tae ma hoose tae tell me it wisnae me. Ah’d huv auditioned fur another picture, but ah met Donald durin’ the war so that wis the end o’ that. Isabelle Black’s in Hollywood noo.

“Only a boy would cause this much trouble oan his way intae the world,” ah said.

“Try to concentrate, Mrs Kelly.”

The pain just kept gettin’ worse. Aw ah wanted tae dae wis curl up intae a wee baw tae try and make it go away. Ah felt like ah wis gonnae pass oot.

The doacter smiled. “Well done, Mrs Kelly. That’s baby’s head delivered.”

“He couldnae even wait till ah wis back oan bloody land,” ah gasped.

“I want you to take some nice deep breaths. Try to breathe in for a few seconds and then breathe out for a few. Then you’re going to push as hard as you can during the next contraction. This baby’s going to be special, being born at sea.”

Ah shut ma eyes and breathed in deeply then oot again. Aw ah needed tae dae wis gie the baby wan last push and it’d be ower. Ah screamed as ah felt the wean slidin’ oot o’ me. 

The baby started greetin’. He’d some pair o’ lungs. People wur clappin’ ootside. Ah wondered if ma son wis gonnae make the paper an aw. Ma Cathy did because she wis the first wean born in Thistlegate efter we’d aw shown Hitler who wis boss. The doacter smiled again, this time fae ear tae ear, and haunded me the wean.

“Congratulations, Mrs Kelly. You’ve got another beautiful baby girl.”

Ma heart sank. “Another lassie?”

Donald rushed inside tae meet the baby. He smiled at me, and ah shook ma heid.

“It’s a girl,” ah said. “And ah wis so sure we wur huvin’ a boy.”

“But we’ve gat a smashin’ wee lassie insteid. We can always try again.”

Ah hauf smiled and haunded the wean tae Donald. Then ah started greetin’. He wis richt. We could try again. But knew ah a wisnae gonnae huv any mair weans. There wis nae way we could afford another mouth tae feed, no wi’ Donald’s drinkin’.

“So whit we callin’ hur?” Donald asked, beamin’.

“Stella Marie,” ah said. “Star o’ the sea.”

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