The problem with having grown up with a mad mother is that we’d grown accustomed to behaviour which might have seemed bizarre to other people. We just shrugged our shoulders and filed another mishap in the family archive. That’s why we didn’t brood over the incident on the Symphony when Daniel and I were invited to give a presentation to the guests on the voyage between Cape Town and Durban. It seemed no worse than forgetting to shut the door to keep the dogs out of the traffic.
We’d become semi-celebrities, thanks to Daniel and Hannah. Daniel was a marketable brand but the invitations still had to include me because my name was in the title of the show. We persuaded my mother to join us on the cruise. We thought she would be able to cope with both of us around to keep an eye on her. We made our way up the gangplank to shake hands with the crew waiting to welcome us aboard. We threw streamers from the deck and sipped glasses of sparkling wine as the Symphony set sail from Cape Town harbour. The sea was an impossible shade of blue beneath the mountain, which was tinged in shades of pink by the dipping sun. Cruising was a new experience for all three of us.
‘Where’s your mom?’ asked Daniel as he opened the well-stocked fridge in our suite on the evening following our presentation. She was scheduled to join us in her glad rags before we made our way to the captain’s table.
‘She was having tea on Deck Four. She said she knew where the cabin was. Maybe she fell overboard on her way back,’ I answered as I took the offered drink. I started to feel anxious. I shouldn’t have left her but sometimes she seemed just like her old self. And our cabin was so close to the tea room . . .
‘She’ll be here in a minute,’ said Daniel reassuringly as we settled ourselves on our deckchairs to admire the sun as it slipped below the horizon. We made desultory conversation, pretending we weren’t really afraid that she had somehow leaped into the sea while our backs were turned.
Daniel looked at his watch. ‘Phone her. Maybe she is overboard after all. Listen for the sound of waves in the background.’
‘This is probably a futile exercise,’ I said as I dialled her number. ‘The chances of her having her phone switched on are close to zero.’ But I underestimated her. She answered on the second ring.
‘Where the hell are you?’ she demanded when she heard my voice. ‘We were supposed to meet here at six.’
‘But we’re here,’ I protested. ‘Where are you? We’ve been shouting, “Man overboard!” down all the corridors.’
‘You are not here,’ she protested indignantly. ‘And it’s half past six already.’
‘But we are here, Mom! We’ve been here for half an hour. You’re the one who’s missing.’
‘Don’t be ridiculous,’ said my mother, beginning to snarl. ‘There’s no one else here.’
‘Where are you?’ I asked with a sense of foreboding.
‘Where am I? I’m in the cabin, of course. I’m on the balcony having a Scotch. There’s no one else here. Unless you’re both under the bed, you’re in the wrong cabin.’
‘We are not in the wrong cabin, Mom,’ I assured her. ‘Our clothes are lying all over the bed. What cabin are you in, for God’s sake?’
‘I’m in your cabin. Number . . . number . . . oh, I can’t remember the fucking number. But it’s definitely your cabin. I recognise the furniture.’
‘They’re all furnished the same,’ I told her. ‘Open a cupboard! Look at the clothes. Look at the luggage. Can you see anything you recognise?’
I heard her wrench open a drawer. There was a moment’s silence.
‘Oh Christ!’ she wailed. ‘These aren’t your clothes! They’d fit a midget! You should see this underwear! I think I must be in the honeymoon suite.’
‘Get out, for God’s sake!’ I told her. ‘How did you get in?’
‘The maid was here.’ she said. ‘I told her I’d forgotten my key. I had a long chat to her. She’s from Eastern Europe. The poor girl will probably be fired! I’ve helped myself to a couple of those expensive little Scotches they stock the fridge with. And some pretzels too. They’ll think she stole them!’
‘What’s the cabin number?’ I asked her.
‘I don’t know the fucking number,’ she protested. ‘I don’t even know my own number! How do you expect me to know the number of the honeymoon suite?’
‘Look on the phone,’ I advised.
‘Ah ha!’ she cried after what seemed like an inordinate pause. She obviously couldn’t find the phone. ‘It’s seven six three.’ She wanted me to fetch her. With money. ‘I must pay for the Scotch and the pretzels. I’m worried about my little Romanian!’ she pleaded. She’d written an apologetic note on the notepad when I burst into the cabin.