Fifty Years From Now by Maisie Bishop

Richmond, London, 20 August 1980 

Coco was twelve when her parents told her she was adopted. They told her on her birthday, 20th August, one of those hot, tired, end of summer days, when the school holidays were just starting to drag. In a matter-of-fact tone, they informed her that her birth parents had been killed in a car crash, that they had both been drinking, and the car had veered off the road at speed. Nobody else had been hurt or killed. Coco, aged 2 months, had been at home with the babysitter. As for her grandparents, they had wanted nothing to do with the baby girl, who was too strong a reminder of the children they had lost in such a wasteful, needless way. And by the way, her birth name was Sophie. 

Coco, speechless, ran to her bedroom. What did they expect? Some nice, cosy, ‘family’ chat? She slammed the door, turned Duran Duran on full blast, and safely surrounded by her New Romantic posters, let her emotions take over. Nothing, absolutely nothing, had prepared her for this, and yet, through her tears, she recognised the uneasy mismatch which existed between herself and her ‘parents’. Her ridiculous name for a start. Why had these people chosen to adopt a baby? Their life had no room for a child. They were too caught up with their high octane jobs in the fashion industry. And how could her grandparents betray her like that? The betrayal was almost more painful than learning that this brittle, glamorous couple were not her true parents. 

Later Coco turned, as at the end of every day, to her diary. On her birthday each year, she always wrote an extra entry, imagining her life fifty years in the future. Today she wrote: 

In 2030 I will be 62. I will live in a comfortable, messy house, with a husband who loves me. Our three children will have grown up and left home. All of them will have serious, worthwhile jobs. None of them will work in the fashion industry. I will be an adoring grandmother. I will have two grandchildren; a toddler and a baby, and another one will be on the way. I will never betray these children like I have been betrayed. 

Stockwell, London, 20 August 1990 

Nirvana was playing loudly in the grubby basement flat which Coco shared with three others. She had graduated that summer, and simultaneously split up from her student boyfriend Paul. After graduation, Paul had gone on tour with his student band, while Coco, drained of energy and funds, had stayed on in the flat, miserable and directionless, living on her meagre unemployment benefit. Today she was twenty two, and her diary entry read: 

In 2040 I will be 72. I will be living alone after a failed marriage. My children won’t want to come near me. My hair will be thin and white, and my body old and tired. I will have had no career to speak of, just a series of dead end jobs. 

Dwelling on this miserable image of herself, Coco poured herself another glass of wine and turned the music up. Above the music, she heard the key turn in the lock, and to her amazement, in walked Paul, carrying a bunch of garish flowers. 

‘What d’you think you’re doing here? How dare you walk in just like that?’ ‘You gave me a key, remember?’ 

‘Give it back. You’ve got no right to it now.’ 

‘Sure, no worries. I just came by to wish you happy birthday.’ 

‘Well, you can get out! I never want to see you again.’ 

‘OK. See you around. ‘Paul flung the flowers and key down on the floor and left. Coco sobbed herself to sleep, her open diary by her side. 

Eight months later, Coco gave birth to a daughter, Miranda. She never told Paul, and certainly not her parents, from whom she was now totally estranged. 

Balham, London, 20 August 2010 

Coco was at home. The local college where she taught was closed for the summer. She was looking after her two year old granddaughter, Jade. Miranda, Jade’s mother, was at work in a vintage clothes store. 

Coco thought back to the arguments they had had when Miranda got pregnant at the age of 16. Miranda had thrown everything back at her mother. 

‘How can you tell me what to do? You’re not exactly a role model of good parenthood! You never talk to your own parents! They’re not even your real parents – you’re adopted, and you hate them. You won’t even tell me who my father is! What makes you think I’m going to listen to you?’ 

‘All, I’m trying to say is that you should consider all the options....’ 

‘Yeah, yeah, whatever. Heard it all before.’ 

And she would storm out, slamming doors behind her. 

Back to this sunny August day in 2010. Coco’s husband Dan was out working, and their ten-year old daughter, Juliet, was playing at a friend’s house. Jade was taking a nap. Coco turned on some Bach (a taste she had acquired from Dan and a welcome change from Miranda’s insistent dubstep), reached for her diary, and wrote. 

If I live until 2060, I will be 92. I very much expect to be dead. Dan has always taken care of himself, so maybe he will still be around. 

And what of my girls? Miranda will be 69, still feisty and energetic no doubt. I can see her running an off-beat art gallery. She will have had a life well-lived, with a string of lovers, but never committed. Might she even be reconciled with her father, Paul? 

Jade will be 52. How can I imagine what this little toddler will be like? She’s already headstrong and determined, so I guess she will make some hard mistakes along the way, but eventually she will arrange life to suit her. 

Juliet will be 60, and she’s the one I worry about. She’s so sensitive, and introspective, rather like I was at her age. She will have been hurt, and might be afraid to follow her own path. She’s unlike Miranda and Jade, who will never be followers. She’s fragile, and needs to find a loving man or woman to protect her. 

Jade woke up crying and Coco left her future imaginings to return to the here and now. 


Balham, London, autumn 2059 

Coco died peacefully, aged 91. She outlived Dan by two years. Miranda, Juliet and Jade were at the family house in Balham, sorting through Coco’s possessions. They had always known about the diaries, but never read them. Now they were engrossed, finding a deeper understanding of their mother and grandmother, reading about significant events which shaped her life, her relationships, and her emotions. 

‘Well, she never got her three children and three grandchildren, did she?’ said Miranda. ‘And if only I was running an off-beat art gallery instead of working for the council. Seriously though, do you think I should try and find Paul, now Mum’s passed? I didn’t want to upset her while she was alive?’ 

‘Tough one, Mum.’ replied Jade. ‘I’ve never felt the need to find my dad.’ ‘Don’t bother’, said Miranda. ‘He was a total waste of space then, and probably still is.’ Only Juliet was quiet, and it was a while before the others noticed. 

‘Hey, sis, what’s up?’ asked Miranda. 

‘I’m looking for the 2000 diary. You know, that’s the year I was born, so I’d like to know how Mum felt.’ 

‘OK. Let’s look for it’, said Jade, and the three women started searching with a new sense of purpose. 

Finally, Jade found the diary tucked away at the back of a drawer full of old gloves, scarves and other discarded accessories. 

‘There you go, Aunty,’ she said, handing it to Juliet. 

Juliet opened it carefully. Some papers fell out. Juliet unfolded them and for a moment fell silent. Then she handed them to her sister Miranda. 

‘I don’t believe it’, Miranda exclaimed. ‘These are adoption papers. Not Mum’s, but yours, Juliet. Did you know?’ 

Juliet shook her head sadly, and the tears started to fall. 

Published in Issue #16

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