The poo rolled under the clawfoot bath. Three-year-old Nancy McCarthy gasped

Ooooh, mummy will be mad, she thought. 

She hadn’t been able to open the lavatory door. It was stuck shut. What could she do?  The poo had just come. She couldn’t stop it and now, in the bathroom trying to get her knickers off, the poo had rolled away.

Nancy knew not to wake her mother when she was resting. But waken, she did, and it wasn’t long before she was calling her name.

“Nancy, Nancy, where are you?” 

Nancy was frozen with apprehension. She’d thought that taking her knickers off would be a good idea. She couldn’t sit down with them still on, and it was uncomfortable to walk as well. But she hadn’t thought about what she’d do beyond discarding the pants and poo.

Her mother found her in the bathroom.

“What on earth are you doing? Why have you taken your knickers off?”

Mrs McCarthy saw the poo marks on them and checked Nancy’s bottom for further evidence. 

“What on earth are you doing pooing your pants at your age? Where is the poo, Nancy?”

“Under there,” Nancy pointed to the bath.

“Oh, for goodness sake.” The mother went to the kitchen to fetch a broom, then to the lavvy for some toilet paper. 

‘Oh, this blessed door, I’ll have to get Owen to fix it,’ she thought as she gave it a shove to open it. 

She returned to the bathroom, knelt on the floor and pushed the stool forward with the broom-handle.  She picked it up in the toilet paper, returned with it to the lavvy and flushed it away.

To Nancy, her mother’s frustration and annoyance appeared as anger. The child began to cry.

“What are you bawling for? You can have an early bath and stay inside,” the mother said.

It was a lonely existence for the little girl. No siblings. Her daddy was a shift worker and out working all hours. And her mummy was often angry. She wasn’t nasty or cruel. And she did provide all life’s physical necessities, wholesome meals, hand knits and home-sewn clothes but she was frequently short-tempered and sad. Sometimes, when her mother was crying, Nancy would try to cuddle her. But her mummy would push her away. 

“Go and find something to do,” she’d say.

When Nancy was five, a whole new world opened to her. She went to school and she loved it. She quickly mastered reading and writing and devoured the Dick and Jane readers. Then she made up her own stories on mummy’s writing pad. 

One day Mrs McCarthy was called to the school to meet with the teacher. Nancy had ripped two pictures from the Little Red Riding Hood book. One illustration was of the smiling mother giving Red Riding Hood a basket of food and the other was of the father waving at Red Riding Hood when he went off to work.

“It’s not a major misdemeanour, Mrs McCarthy,” said the teacher, “but I wouldn’t like to see this behaviour continue. If it did, I would need to ask you to replace the books.”

Mrs McCarthy hid her embarrassment and told the teacher she would deal with Nancy at home.

The teacher continued, “I’m sure Nancy has read every word in this year’s primers, but I also think she loves the colourful illustrations. She’s a bright girl who has grasped reading quickly. I believe she covets the pictures because they bring her joy and I imagine she loves to look at them later. Do you have books for her at home?”

“We have some,” said Mrs McCarthy.  ‘But money doesn’t grow on trees you know,’ she thought

The meeting ended with Mummy in a sullen mood. Mother and child walked home. Nothing was said until they reached the house. 

“Nancy, you don’t steal anything from anybody, ever, not even pictures from a book, do you understand?”

“Yes, Mummy.”

Nancy was sent to bed straight after dinner.

Mrs McCarthy related the story to her husband that night when the child was asleep.

“We’ll have to buy her some books,” Owen McCarthy said.

“She doesn’t deserve books when she’s stolen pictures from books at school,” said Dorothy McCarthy.

“She’s a good kid, Dorothy, and clever too. We’ll get her some books for her birthday.”

“Yes, well,” said Dorothy, “she’d better not rip up those books. She won’t get presents for future birthdays if she does.”

“She won’t have to rip out the pictures will she, because the books will be hers,” said Owen.

Books were bought for her birthday and every subsequent birthday and Nancy, forever reading and writing was never again a troublesome child.

When Nancy was ten, Dorothy found a job in a dress shop. With the increase in household income, she was able to spend more readily than ever before. Though she still sewed for Nancy and herself, she occasionally purchased garments from the shop she worked in. Nancy loved the nighties, blouses, frocks, and trousers her mother wrapped up for her at Christmas.  

Dorothy seemed to brighten in the company of her colleagues and even went to the social gatherings arranged by their employer.  One Christmas, when leaving the shop party, Dorothy dropped a cake tin in the gutter. It rolled clattering and banging down the slope in the road at 10’oclock at night.  Dorothy gasped and put her hand to her mouth, worried about waking nearby residents.  She snickered and giggled at first and her friends, infected by Dorothy’s giggles, burst into laughter. Then Dorothy laughed too. Unreservedly and heartily. Nancy and her father were waiting in the car. Owen McCarthy was amused to see his wife tiddly. Nancy had never heard her mother laugh so joyfully. She wished she would do it more. 

“Blackberry Nip, was it?” Owen asked as Dorothy scrambled into the car.

“Oh, yes,” she said still giggling. “We drank two-thirds of a bottle between the three of us.”

Dorothy woke up the next day feeling a little unwell. She had wanted to see a doctor anyway, so she made an appointment for later that day. Nancy stayed home.

Mrs Dorothy McCarthy told the doctor that everything got on her nerves. The physician prescribed Valium. Dorothy took a few doses as instructed but felt dizzy and drowsy and no happier or better at all. She went outside to the lavatory and flushed the rest away. Everything stayed the same.

Dorothy was usually reasonably happy at work and often short-tempered at home, except when she was sewing. 

Nancy continued to flourish at school and went on to the Rangitikei College where she excelled in English. She had wanted to enrol in the academic stream to study Latin and literature and eventually go on to university, but her mother insisted she enrol in the commercial stream.

“Girls don’t need an education,” Dorothy said. “You’ll get married and it will all have gone to waste,” she concluded. 

Nancy thought she might be able to persuade her mother to allow her to continue her education. She worked hard. She won an external writing competition and topped the commercial stream in English. She achieved third in the Commercial Course overall the year she turned fifteen.

Proud of his daughter, her father bought her a typewriter so that she could write at home.

“You’ve done what?” Dorothy said. “What on earth did you waste money on a typewriter for?”

“She’s a good writer, Dorothy. Have you read her stories?” asked her husband.

“She needs a job, not a typewriter,” Dorothy said.

Nancy’s mother insisted she leave school at the end of 1970 to find work. Nancy was miserable working in an office, but she was conscientious by nature, so she worked efficiently and tried not to watch the clock. At home, she wrote.

When Nancy left home, her relationship with her mother was much the same. She wished she could make her mother happy, but by the time she reached her thirties, she suspected it was never going to happen.  Whilst working, Nancy continued to enter writing competitions and achieved publication in several magazines. However, nothing she accomplished ever seemed to please her mother.

One year when Nancy was going out with a pleasant young man, they jointly bought Dorothy a new sewing machine with several attachments and exciting capabilities. Nancy was thrilled to be able to buy her mother such an expensive gift; one that she knew would bring Dorothy joy. Nancy and her boyfriend decided it would be a wonderful surprise for Dorothy on Christmas morning. The boyfriend’s mother, who’d asked for satin sheets for Christmas, was jealous of Dorothy’s gift and the week before Christmas, she asked Dorothy what she thought of her new sewing machine. Nancy was crestfallen. With her boyfriend’s help, she’d been able to afford to do something valuable and worthwhile for her mother and that nasty woman had spoiled it.

“Never mind,” said Dorothy. “I still like it. Thank you both, it’s lovely,” she said.

It was some years later, when Nancy’s father had passed away, that Dorothy McCarthy went to live with her only daughter. Nancy hadn’t married but she’d continued to write and had many short stories published in literary magazines and three successful novels on bookshop shelves.  

Dorothy’s friend and old work colleague had bought one of Nancy’s novels.  

“I’ve read Nancy’s book, Dorothy. The one with the cathedral on the cover. I loved it, especially when the nasty witch of a wife got her comeuppance. You must be immensely proud of your girl,” the friend said.

That left Dorothy wondering. 

‘Maybe Nancy has based the nasty witch on me,’ she thought.

She purchased the novel her friend had read. It was historical and took place in Salisbury, England. No, the nasty woman did not resemble her. But it did prompt her to think about her relationship with her only child. 

Dorothy wished she hadn’t been so short-tempered with Nancy. Her daughter had grown into a fine woman, respected and successful.

‘I do love her, and I am proud of her,’ she thought, but she had no idea how to tell her that.

Prior to Dorothy’s arrival at Nancy’s home, the daughter visited her general practitioner. 

“My mother is coming to live with me, doctor. I believe she has suffered depression, certainly all my life, maybe even prior to my birth as well. I wonder when she comes to you for her blood pressure medication, if you could engage with her to determine if she may benefit, as I think she would, from an antidepressant.”

“Does she feel ‘down’ or negative? Is she fatigued and difficult to motivate?” asked the doctor

Nancy disclosed her mother’s story and the sadness she herself felt that Dorothy enjoyed little in life and was often frustrated and short-tempered. The doctor assured Nancy he would assess her mother thoroughly and prescribe appropriately if required when she came to see him.

Nancy had a substantial home in a leafy street in Feilding in New Zealand’s Manawatu. She set about turning a spacious and sunny room into a welcoming space for her mother. She bought a large table for cutting, set up an ironing board and a sewing table and made the living and sleeping areas cosy with curtains and rugs in Dorothy’s favourite blue. She drove to Marton to collect her mother the morning after she had prepared the room. 

“Oh, Nancy, this is lovely, Dorothy said to her daughter when she saw the room. Oh, and the table is big enough to draft and cut patterns on.”

“I thought you’d like it,” Nancy replied. “And mother, I’ve put the sewing machine table by the window, but if you want it elsewhere, you move it to wherever you want, won’t you. Do you need help unpacking?”

Dorothy didn’t require help. She unpacked in the afternoon, did some baking, swept the porch and generally settled in nicely.  

“You have a lovely home, Nancy. I’m so glad you asked me to stay,” Dorothy said.

“I’m happy you’re here too, Mum. By the way, I have an idea,” she said. “How about you and I hire a table at the craft market. You could sell your sewing and I could transport you, help you set up and disassemble everything afterwards and put my books on the stall as well.”

“Oh, no, that sounds like a lot of trouble. We don’t know how much a stall would cost. And who’d buy my sewing anyway?” Dorothy said.

“Mum, your sewing is first class. Your baby quilts and lap blankets are beautiful. And your table runners and placemats are made with such fabulous fabrics. They’ll sell for sure.”

It took a bit more persuading over the following week, but eventually, Dorothy agreed.

“Well, I suppose we could try it – just once,” Dorothy said.

Nancy spoke with the craft market organiser, paid the nominal sum for the stall, and woke her mum early on the market day morning. They were set up by the time the public began to wander through. Dorothy was astonished at the wonderful response for her work from market patrons. She parted with four lap quilts, two cot covers and several runners and sets of placemats and pocketed $236.00. She went home over the moon.

Nancy had never seen her mother so positive. It didn’t last though. Several Pukeko continually pulled seedlings out of the vegetable garden.

“They don’t even eat them; they just leave them lying on the ground,” whinged Dorothy. 

A neighbour wouldn’t address his barking dog, and Dorothy was disappointed that Nancy was always at her typewriter. Nancy was gratified when her mother needed to see the doctor. 

The doctor conversed with Dorothy at length and kindly suggested she’d benefit from an antidepressant.

Considering all that you’ve told me, I suggest that you’re experiencing some depression, Mrs McCarthy. I’m certain you’ll pick up in a short time with these tablets. Citalopram is an antidepressant with fewer side effects than the drugs doctors used to prescribe.”

Dorothy didn’t argue with authoritative professionals and immediately agreed to take the medication.

‘Oh, my goodness, how brilliant is that,’ thought Nancy.

Within months, Dorothy was happier than Nancy had ever known her. She was less negative, adding to her repertoire of stock items for her stall and able to voice her gratitude to her daughter for giving her such a wonderful new life.

Nancy thought about the little girl she, herself, had been. The one who had often felt unloved and alone. What a journey she’d had. To see her mother happy and buoyant was a joy. To have grown herself from her hard work and subsequent successes meant that she understood how to, and was able to afford to, give her mother a sense of satisfaction and self-worth she’d never previously known. And on Christmas day 1995, Dorothy McCarthy was so happy with the recliner chair that Nancy bought her, she hugged her child, touched her cheek and said, “I’m so happy, Nancy, thank you for my lovely chair and my new life. I do love you; you know.”

Rhonda Valentine Dixon

25 May 2020 - Word Count 2525


Pukeko – a non-indigenous swamp hen and a general pest to gardeners in New Zealand.

Manawatu – a region of the North Island of New Zealand in which Feilding and Marton are substantial towns.

Rangitikei – A high-school in Marton, in the Rangitikei district of the Manawatu.

May 25, 2020 22:55

You must sign up or log in to submit a comment.


Abigail Mitchell
01:35 Jun 03, 2020

"The poo rolled under the clawfoot bath." That's how you start a story! Haha. I enjoyed reading about this mother-daughter relationship. Nancy is such an optimistic creature considering the strained lifelong interactions between her and Dorothy. You succeeded in crafting a character that readers can root for. Also, I must say I appreciate the effort that went into editing this bad boy. I can tell you took the time to think things through, and I wasn't distracted by any typos or grammatical errors. Great work. :)


13:23 Jun 29, 2020

Dear Abigail, thank you for such lovely comments. :-) Rhonda


Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
RBE | Illustration — We made a writing app for you | 2023-02

We made a writing app for you

Yes, you! Write. Format. Export for ebook and print. 100% free, always.