Part 2 of a longer short story about a teenager still learning how to navigate tricky situations, the price of loyalty to the unworthy, and the demands of any relationship. (Part 1 here)
As always constructive criticism, feedback or even a note to say hi is welcomed!
3:30am, almost asleep on my feet but trying to be quiet. Mum’s job at the Senior Village has an early, early shift Saturday mornings and she sleeps lightly, like she’s expecting an emergency. Like she’s waiting for it.
But she won’t be waiting for me. Sometimes, when our paths cross she’ll say something like: What time did you come home last night? and I’m never really sure if it’s a typical parent rhetorical question, or a genuine one. The conversation never continues to the point of asking me to stay home.
My homework however always got a lot of attention, and an efficient input/output system had developed, requiring only what interaction came at the end of a red pencil.
Edging open the unlocked glass back door and creeping through the clutter of the dining room, I ducked instinctively so not to dislodge the large crucifix hanging above. His image was dotted throughout the house, including the small, wooden cross my grandparents brought from Malta amongst the suitcases that, otherwise, held only clothes. Despite surviving the trip they seemed to have felt one was not enough. I hadn’t been to church since Grandma’s funeral, and the crosses remained only to remind me of her, the way they reminded her of Malta.
A creature of habit, I turned to clean my teeth. Watching my blurry 0300 reflection, I practised doing light, smiley faces through the toothpaste, which always vanished back into my normal, pensive expression. The mirror was too low for my face, though thankfully I don’t wear make-up, or I would be in danger of developing a stoop. Mum and I are abnormally tall amongst the Maltese women we know, and it bugs her. She says she hates looming so much, wears flat shoes and hunches sympathetically near short men.
She was awake and making toast by the time I finished brushing my teeth.
“Morning. Or evening. What time did you get home tonight? “
“Just now. “
“Oh. Hope you’ll be right for school today. “ She looked significantly at the neat pile of books on the table, and I wondered how many red circles and ??? marks I’d received.
She began to eat. I hesitated then sat in a plastic kitchen chair. One of us had to keep pretending.
“I hung out with Sara until she went crazy and beat up some chick.”
“Sara did that?“ She kept munching, and began to flick through some papers.
Does teenage violence not shock you at all?
“Your graduation party is coming up soon, I got some letter from the school. “ She turned to make some coffee, “Going with anyone?“
Her shoulders, which I only just noticed were held tense, relaxed, and she nodded at something while pouring the water. “You need money for a dress or anything?“
“No. I’m making my own.“
“You sew?“ Her blatant shock was funny and painful at the same time.
“Grandma taught me, I’m using her old machine and gear in the spare room.“
“I’m really not happy with you messing around with her stuff, it’s all we have left of her. “
“I’m not messing around. Want to see the dress? It’s finished.“
“Ok.“ She glanced at her watch, “But quickly. I have to go soon.“
I brought it out. I had always loved Grandma’s faded pattern envelope collection, scrawled with hand-drawn beauties in old-fashioned finery. After many practise attempts I had mastered their style and my formal dress would have suited a late 40’s jazz club. Its plump skirts rippled down from a cinched in waist, while a tight bodice and sleeveless, V-shaped neckline would emphasise my wide shoulders. Deep blue taffeta, that fine 40s fabric, rustled under her hand.
“It’s good.“ She said finally, turning it over in her hands.
“You think so? I was thinking… uh, about doing it more seriously. Professionally.“
Why am I telling her this now… or ever?
She dropped the dress onto the lino and focused on me fully for the first time that morning. “What about uni? What about studying for a real job for your real life? “
“I’m not saying no to uni, Mum, I just have no idea what I’d study yet. At the moment I know I can sew, and I like sewing… ” I took the slimmest chance, “Since I don’t need money for a dress, could I have some for a new machine-”
“Oh no! Not some stupid, chicken brained plan like your father. Oh, it’s impossible? Let’s try it anyway! Unrealistic? Who cares? And he always, always failed! No! I won’t pay another dollar towards stupid, family schemes.“
“This is my first stupid scheme, what’s to say it won’t work! “
“It’s just the way things are. Look at me, Rachel! If you want your life to be easier than mine you need to get ahead early. And never marry an idiot dreamer. Grandma and I made that mistake, though you’re avoiding it by being an idiot yourself!“ She’s working herself into a fine fighting fit, throwing her keys across the room at her bag. “At least my father hung around to fix the problems he created. “
“Maybe Dad left because there was no hope left. You were never, ever going to forgive him! “ I reach down and rescue the dress, convinced if she gets any angrier she will begin stamping on it.
“Just grow up, Rachel, grow up! Life isn’t your oyster, you can’t do anything you want, there’s no fairy godmother. I really thought you were smarter. Next thing I’ll be getting another paddy wagon pulling up outside my house. “
“Maybe if you had noticed that Mark had dodgy mates coming round a lot, or checked in his room once in a while, like any normal parent, he wouldn’t be in jail now!“
I’ve never blamed her directly before. Shocked at myself, I waited for the fight to dial up another notch.
It does the opposite. She stills, scarf and jacket thrown on with angry carelessness, and glances at the cross.
“I couldn’t change Mark. It’s the way he was made.“ No note of responsibility or guilt colours her tone.
Is this why life is so frustrating for you? Life is nothing you can control, just pure, Calvinistic fate, driving Mark, and us all towards our eventual, miserable, futures.
We didn’t speak another word, but it wasn’t until the door slammed closed that the house was finally peaceful.