The older you get, the more you realise that nobody, particularly not your parents, can be perfect. That their judgement isn’t the be-all and end-all of your life. Three years she had been married to Vernon and still, when she looked out at the quiet avenue with its manicured patch of grass in front and its little garden out the back, when Vernon got in from work and praised every meal she made as if it were fit for royalty- she felt that twinge of pleased satisfaction tempered with a touch of ‘I told you so’ at her parents. Her Dad, who laughed uproariously when she suggested trying to cook something of Delia’s, rather than the usual, predictable fare “You? Cooking? That’d be the day. Anyway that kind of food’s too poncy for me. Give me your mother’s bangers and mash any day.” Or -worse- her Mum’s mild rebuke “If you tried as hard in your more academic subjects as you do faffing about in home ec I’m sure you could really make something of yourself. Have you thought of a typing course?”
Memories like that made it all worthwhile. She had shown them, hadn’t she? Found someone who loved her and appreciated what she could do and made her feel special for a change- and they lived a good deal better than that scruffy old terrace. Times were changing, the factories closing but here- in a beautifully manicured, altogether nicer location people like Vernon and Petunia were on the up. It was just as well she’d got out when she had, she thought. Got away from the clammy grasp of a dying town and a family that didn’t want to know her.
Obstinacy ran in the family, and Petunia did not allow herself to dwell on the past, less still to have regrets.
Most of the time.
When Dudley was born, though, she had wished fleetingly that her parents could have been there. That she- Always Second Best- had made this beautiful little human being, that bawled and clutched and gurgled, soothed by the sound of her voice. She sent them some pictures and they returned with an eager letter- telling her Lily was due – any day now- to have her own baby and ‘wasn’t it a coincidence’ to be grandparents twice-over.
Petunia put the letter in the washing up bowl and binned the pulpy remains. She told Vernon she hadn’t been crying, it was just a touch of hayfever and then gave Dudley an extra bottle, apologising to him that he would never have grandparents to fuss over him on special occasions, but Mummy and Daddy would make sure he never missed out for the lack of them.
And then, she found a baby on the doorstep. Lily was dead.
Had anyone told her parents? For a time, Petunia and Vernon worked on autopilot- getting the baby in, wrapping him up against a chill, putting a nappy on him- lucky she still had some of Dudley’s old size, as the little thing could wriggle out of the ones she normally put Dudley in.
That afternoon, Petunia poured herself the strongest cup of coffee imaginable, doctored with a touch of the brandy usually reserved for Christmas cakes, and made the hardest phone call she had made in her life.
“Mum? It’s…it’s me, it’s Petunia.”