In the first draft of Jelly, there was a scene in Chapter 19 just after the picnic in which Jelly and her mum went to stay with Aunt Maggi. It was cut from the second draft because it didn’t advance the plot in any way and we felt that it was maybe too ‘grown up’ for the story. I was a bit sorry to lose Aunt Maggi because she was a very vibrant character! And I also thought she helped to show a different side of Jelly’s mum. But in the end, this story isn’t about Mum, it’s about Jelly, and so this particular scene had to go.
Below is the original scene in its entirety.
On the next weekend we go to stay with my aunt Maggi, Mum’s older sister. Aunt Maggi lives on her own since she got divorced from her second husband. I was bridesmaid at their wedding but they were only married for about two years before she threw him out. No one’s ever really told me why, so I only know what I heard Mum say in hushed tones on the phone. Aunt Maggi has bipolar disorder which, as far as I can tell, makes you alternately really madly happy and then horribly sad, like a rocking horse you can’t get off. She has tablets from the doctor that help her stay OK most of the time.
When she’s not depressed, Aunt Maggi is the best aunt anyone could have. It takes us about two and a half hours to get there because we have to take a bus and a train (Mum doesn’t have a car) and then another bus. We stagger up the steps to the ground floor flat and press the buzzer. ‘Come in!’ shouts an excited voice; the door clicks for us, and we drag our bags in. Maggi’s door swings open and there she is, grinning at us.
I always have to prepare myself for Aunt Maggi because I never know what she’s going to look like. In face and body she’s really similar to Mum (though not as thin) but she’s always, always changing her hair and her style, and her lipstick. I sometimes wonder if I would recognise her if I saw her on the street, because she can look so completely different.
Today she’s got blue hair that looks like it’s been dip-dyed brown at the ends. It’s shoulder-length but the sides are pulled back into clips, and a small fabric flower perches over one ear. She has on a navy tunic with pink edging, and grey leggings with flip-flops. Her toenails are painted blue. Most startling of all, she’s wearing blue lipstick.
I hope when I’m grown up, I never think blue lipstick is a good idea.
‘Gorgeous girls!’ cries Aunt Maggi, pulling Mum and me into a big tight awkward hug. She smells of something fruity. ‘Come in, come in! Make yourselves at home; just dump your stuff anywhere. Drink?’
‘Er…’ says Mum, but Aunt Maggi is rushing to the fridge.
‘White? Rosé? They’re both open. Or I’ve got some beer somewhere.’
‘It’s eleven o’clock in the morning,’ says Mum, glancing at me.
‘So?’ asks Aunt Maggi. Then she looks at me too. ‘Oh, sweetie, I haven’t forgotten about you. Lemonade? Ginger beer? I got all kinds of things in because I wasn’t sure what you’d like.’ She gestures to the fridge.
I take a few steps towards it and gasp a bit. The top shelf is full of drinks cans. ‘Wow,’ I say. I mean, Mum buys a bottle of Diet Coke every week, but this is like paradise. I choose a fizzy cherry drink.
‘Do you have any Coke Zero?’ Mum asks.
‘Yep.’ Aunt Maggi pulls it out. ‘Want it mixed? Rum and Coke?’
‘No, I’ll stick with the Coke,’ Mum says. ‘Maggi, do you seriously drink rum at eleven o’clock in the morning?’
Maggi strikes a pose. ‘Only on the weekend, dahling. Mustn’t alarm the clients, must one?’
I’m never quite sure exactly what Aunt Maggi does as her job. It’s something to do with PR, which as far as I can tell, involves ‘coming up with ideas’ for people, and being paid for it. She told us once about a ‘campaign’ she’d been working on. It seemed to involve lots of phrases like ‘mental kaleidoscope’ and ‘thought telescoping’ and ‘bringing the outside inside’. I listened and it all sounded amazing, and then afterwards I realised I hadn’t actually understood any of it. I think it was something to do with perfume.
Because she’s in PR, Aunt Maggi gets loads of freebies from events she goes to – ‘I’m positively drowning in goodie bags, dahling’ – and she never seems to want any of them, so I always come home with loads of stuff. This weekend is no different. ‘Oh, I saved a whole bunch of bags,’ she says, waving her hand towards her bedroom; the other hand holding a large wine glass. ‘They’re all in a heap under the window. Take them all if you like – they’re just in the way. I have to climb on them to open and close my curtains!’
I go into the bedroom. When she was married, Aunt Maggi had a three-bedroom semi, but when they split up, she had to sell the house and buy something smaller. I love her flat but it is kind of cluttered. It’s almost like she couldn’t bear to part with anything, so she squashed it all into spaces that were really too small. Her bedroom is untidier than mine, which I find kind of reassuring and also alarming at the same time. Mum moans about the state of mine, but look at Aunt Maggi’s! There are clothes all over the floor and the chair in the corner; the chest of drawers is so overstuffed that the drawers don’t shut properly. A string of fairy lights tangles round the white ironwork headboard, and the white duvet is all crumpled in a heap in the middle of the bed. The white wardrobe, with its full-length mirror doors, takes up fully half of one wall, and leaves less than a metre between it and the bed. Suitcases and boxes are stuffed under the bed, sticking out like an obstacle course of trip hazards.
I pick my way over to the area beneath the window. Aunt Maggi has certainly been piling these up for a while! There must be at least thirty paper or canvas tote bags and several boxes made from shiny card. Brand names are plastered over everything. I fill my arms, trying to keep my balance, and totter back into the living room.
Mum and Maggi are now sitting on the sofa, deep in conversation, and don’t even notice me. Well, I say ‘conversation’ but actually Aunt Maggi is talking very fast about a date she went on recently, and Mum is just sipping her Coke Zero and nodding and saying, ‘Mmhmm’ every now and then.
Aunt Maggi dates a lot. She doesn’t really have boyfriends, she just goes on dates. I think maybe she gets bored easily. Maybe she got bored of her husband? Humans should come up with an alternative version of marriage, where you could swap your partner for someone new every year. Not for everyone, but for people who got bored easily, like Aunt Maggi.
I spend a blissful couple of hours going through the goodie bags on the floor. I can’t believe Aunt Maggi doesn’t want any of this stuff. There’s perfume, makeup, t-shirts, even underwear! (I make a pile of that to give to Mum because it’s not the sort of thing I’d wear…) There are cool gadgets that do clever things, like whizz around the floor or make noises. There’s a cookery book and a set of measuring spoons. There’s a miniature puzzle that makes a picture of the Eiffel Tower. There’s a pack of modelling balloons, an instruction booklet and balloon pump. I spend half an hour trying to make a swan before Mum and Aunt Maggi tell me to ‘stop with that awful squeaking noise.’
I think when I grow up, I’ll go into PR too. I can’t imagine Aunt Maggi ever needs to buy anything; she just gets given it for free.
At some point, Aunt Maggi brings out a huge bowl of crisps, and I take great handfuls because I’m starving and I guess this is lunch. Aunt Maggi doesn’t eat a lot, and Mum will happily miss lunch, but my stomach is growling, so I get through most of the bowl while the two of them are still nattering.
Then I hear Aunt Maggi say, ‘A new man?’ in that kind of nosy/impressed voice, and I prick up my ears.
‘Well, you know,’ Mum says. ‘It’s been a while.’
‘Where did you meet him?’ asks Aunt Maggi, sipping from her glass.
‘Down the pub. No, don’t look like that! He’s a musician. He was playing with his band.’
‘A musician,’ groans Aunt Maggi. ‘Even worse!’
‘He’s not like that,’ Mum says. ‘He’s different.’
‘They’re all different,’ says Aunt Maggi, draining her glass and getting up. ‘I need more wine.’
‘He is different,’ I say as she passes me. ‘He’s lovely.’
‘They all start out that way,’ Aunt Maggi tells me. ‘It’ll wear off. You’ll see.’ She calls back over her shoulder to Mum, ‘Enjoy it while it lasts!’ When she’s refilled her glass, she glances down at me and the pile of goodies. ‘Having fun?’ she asks.
I beam. ‘Can I definitely have all this stuff?’
‘You’re doing me a favour, taking it off my hands,’ she says, crouching down on the floor next to me. She picks up a pair of lacy knickers. ‘Ha! I remember this party. You wouldn’t believe what they did for the entertainment…’ And then she tells me, and my eyes almost pop out of my head, and even though we then go out for a walk and to a café and come back through the park and do a bit of sunbathing…even later, when my bed is made up on the sofa and Mum and Aunt Maggi are sitting giggling in the kitchen area…even then, I still can’t get the words out of my head and the pictures they make.
Sometimes adults tell children things they really, really shouldn’t.
We all sleep in late the next morning, and the thing that wakes me is Mum and Aunt Maggi arguing. For a confused moment, I think I’m back at home and Mum is arguing with Chris, but then my hearing swims into focus and I realise they’re talking about Nan and Grandad. ‘You should give him another chance,’ Mum is saying.
‘Why should I?’ Maggi retorts. ‘He didn’t give me a chance. He never did. He didn’t want to let me grow up – he made my teenage years hell.’
‘You went off the rails,’ Mum says. ‘Staying out all hours; not telling them where you were. It’s no wonder they didn’t trust you.’
‘Yeah, and why did I want to be out of the house?’ insists Maggi. ‘Because he was there. Domineering, stuffed-up know-it-all, gross…’
I lie on the sofa and pull the duvet around me more tightly. I’ve heard all this before. Maggi doesn’t see Nan and Grandad any more. I don’t know exactly what happened but there was a massive argument years ago, when I was really little, and Grandad basically told Aunt Maggi she was no daughter of his and he never wanted to see her again. Mum told me years later that Nan was still secretly in touch with Aunt Maggi but I must promise never ever to tell Grandad that.
On the train on the way home, I find it hard to stay awake. Mum sighs and says, ‘I wish she’d get herself sorted out.’
Aunt Maggi seems pretty sorted to me. She’s got her own place; she goes to loads of glamorous events and gets free stuff; she’s even got a whole shelf of fizzy drinks in her fridge! And she doesn’t have to tidy up her bedroom or spend time with Grandad!
I don’t say it to Mum, but I think Aunt Maggi might be my role model.