Jane GardamUKWriting2000

Immediately outside the gates was scrub and a winding dirt track towards a main road. On the scrub oddments of farm buildings and shacks stood about with coloured washing hanging out, people sitting or leaning against whitewashed walls. Inside the electric fence Allie Vigne sat on the tiled verandah waiting for her breakfast, dabbing at the palms of her hands with a handkerchief. She was frowning at her hands. On the lawns the bad-tempered African ibises were strutting and shrieking and plunging their scythed beaks into the grass. Two polished racehorses in a white-railed paddock tossed their tails and shook their heads about, hot already under the trees. Flower-beds and swimming pool dazzled. The black girl, Lily, with her baby under her arm, watched Allie from round the mesh of the verandah door,
  ‘You goin’ to have your breakfast now, Mrs Vigne, or wait for Mr Vigne?’
  ‘Oh. Thanks. Yes please, I’ll have it now.’
‘You reading your palms, Mrs Vigne? You know how to read palms?’
  Allie folded her arms on the table and said, ‘No. Oh, no, not at all. I don’t know anything about it. Just what I’ve read in magazines. Like anybody.’   Lily and the baby went away and Allie dropped her hands to her lap. Are you goin’ to read Friedrich’s palm?’ Friedrich was the baby.
  ‘No, no.’ But Lily took Friedrich’s hand and held it in front of Allies eyes. The heart-line, head-line and life-line were all in place, long and certain.
‘Oh, how lovely,’ said Allie, and stroked the tiny palm with her finger. The baby laughed.
  ‘Is he goin’ to live a long time, Mrs Vigne? Am I goin’ to live a long time?’ and she held out her own sweet, plump hand, the smallest adult hand Allie had ever seen. And with the shortest lifeline. A life-line that stopped abruptly, hardly more than one inch long.
  ‘Well, it’s all nonsense,’ thought Allie.   ‘Yes,’ she said, ‘It looks as if you’re both going to live for ever.’
  ‘How many babies will I have, Mrs Vigne?’ Allie took the hand, folded in the fingers, turned it on its side as a fist and counted the creases below the little finger.
She said, ‘Three.’   ‘Only three? Then Friedrich is my last child.’    ‘But you look much too young to have three already. Where are they?’
  ‘The two big ones are with my mother. Like I was with her mother. Soon Friedrich will go to my mother, too,’
  ‘That seems rather sad.’
  ‘Yes. But you can’t have running-about babies in a hotel.’
  ‘But he’s not standing yet. Not even sitting up.’
  ‘No. But I shall have more babies if I can, Mrs. Vigne. Yes, I am young. And I am also very strong. Your hands are strong, Mrs. Vigne, but mine are stronger. Look. Look here now.’
  She swung the baby from under her arm and flattened out the palm of her hand, stood his tiny parcels of feet on it, side by side, let go of him entirely and raised him up (on ramrod legs) high in the air. As he went up both his arms swung out wide in the air like a tight-rope walker and he shouted for joy. Allie screamed.
  ‘He’ll fall, he’ll fall! Stop - oh, he’ll fall on the tiles.’
     Lily laughed, gazing up at the baby who was standing almost on tiptoe, arms graceful, as if he were about to fly.
  ‘Oh, Lily! Stop!’
  ‘It’s OK. OK.’ How she laughed. ‘Babies can do it. Always they can do it. In my family always. Look how he likes it. My mother used to do it with me and her mother with her, and her mother’s mother. Look. Do you see? We are all learning to fly,’ and she danced on the tiles, bounced the baby off her hand, caught him as he came down and they spun round together embraced and laughing.