Unconditional Dependence by Sarah Salway

The New Government announce that all categories of love now need to be evidence-based in order to guarantee full citizen rights. Parental love is top of the list.

My mother starts searching through old photographs on her computer.

‘There,’ she points to one of us at the zoo. ‘I’m protecting you from wild animals.’

I say she was just doing her duty to a vulnerable child. ‘It needs to be science-based,’ I explain. ‘Experiments, bunsen burners, that kind of thing.’

‘Bunsen burners?’ my mother repeats. ‘There was that time I took you to the hospital when you burned your arm on my coffee.’

I give her a long stare, and she scrolls back to the zoo photograph. ‘Diversity,’ she says. ‘There’ll be points there.’

I stare over her shoulder. ‘How do you work that out?’ I ask.

‘You’re wearing trousers.’ She taps the screen. ‘Couldn’t we claim you were transgender, and I saved you?’

There are so many times when I wish no more words would come out of my mother’s mouth. Instead I stare closer at the photograph.

She’s tut-tutting. ‘Back in those days,’ she waves at the screen, ‘we may have been riddled with so-called entitlement, but I didn’t need to prove I loved you.’

I press her shoulder.

‘Besides,’ she continues, ‘why is it all down to me? Can you tell me why there’s no word for the love a child is supposed to feel for their mother?’

It’s only when I click the mouse to zoom in on the photograph that I notice it’s her who looks vulnerable, not me. I crop the screenshot to focus on her tear-stained cheek until, finally, when she turns to me, I feel my heart turn over.

Sarah Salway is the author of six books: three novels (Something Beginning With, Tell Me Everything, Getting the Picture), two collections of poetry (You Do Not Need Another Self-Help Book, Digging Up Paradise), and one short story collection (Leading the Dance). She is a former Canterbury Laureate and RLF Fellow at both the London School of Economics and the University of Kent. She writes about gardens at www.writerinthegarden.com, and tweets @sarahsalway. Her website is www.sarahsalway.co.uk.

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