‘Now, I heard you’ve applied to the Guinness Book of Records?’ the chat show host said, as the photo appeared on the big screen behind him. ‘Yes Pat,’ Sheila said, rearranging her scarf. ‘This was taken the day Effie was born—the same day as her great-great-great-great granny Aggie’s 111th birthday,’ she said, counting out the ‘greats’ on her fingers. The audience burst into applause. The baby, Effie, stirred in her carry-tot.
‘Isn’t that amazing! Seven generations of girls. And talk us through each of the women in the photo.’
‘Well, that’s Carole, her mother. Effie was only a few hours old when the photo was taken. She’s wrapped in an antique linen shawl that’s been in the family since 1910…’ ‘She fed me Indian curry and cod-liver oil to make sure I went into labour that day,’ Carole said, lifting Effie out of the carry-tot, all rosy-cheeked and scratching for a feed. The audience laughed but Sheila didn’t.
‘So, let’s count the generations,’ Pat said. ‘Effie would be the 7th generation, Carole the 6th, then you must be the 5th.’
‘Oh Pat, you’re flattering me. The 5th generation is my daughter Mary, a proud granny at only 36.’ Mary looked uncomfortable as the audience applauded.
‘I’m the 4th generation,’ Sheila said. ‘And the 3rd generation is Kathleen.’ Kathleen looked shell-shocked as the camera moved towards her.
‘Now we thought Josephine wouldn’t be able to make it tonight,’ Pat said, ‘but the staff at the nursing home postponed the bingo so she could make it.’ Josephine, beaming through her false teeth and waving like the queen, was wheeled outand parked beside Pat.
‘I’m 93,’ she said, her voice clear, her eyes bright. The audience clapped, then stopped, as Pat turned to the camera with a solemn expression. ‘So that just leaves the birthday lady, Aggie.’ The camera zoomed in on the white-haired lady in the photo, her pale face barely visible under the blankets in the hospital bed. ‘The bitter-sweet news is that Aggie died that same day.’
‘She was already dead in the photo,’ Josephine said, breaking the reverent pause. ‘Aggie died a few hours before Effie was born and we didn’t tell the nurse.’
The camera leapt from Josephine to the photo to Sheila.
‘I’m sorry, Josephine, what’s that?’ Pat said.
Sheila leaned over and gave baby Effie a pinch and the baby roared, drowning out Josephine’s reply.
The TV screen went blank.