“I’m sorry it had to end this way.”
“Me too. “
We turned in opposite directions. I trudged, and skipped faster in turns, blood pounding in my ears, making me dizzy. I knew that difference existed in the world, but I hadn’t realised it was as close as my street, as close as my best friend before.
All the dogs, in all the white houses with their well kept lawns, barked and growled as I passed, some even trying to attack me through the fence. I could hear the dogs in the distance barking at her too.
At least in this we are the same. I thought, kicking a stone towards one of the fences.
Mum looked up from her washing, surprised to see me home so early. She frowned as I told her I’d had a disagreement with Marie.
“I thought you two had so much in common.”
“So did I! We both like maths, both play goal defender for our team… she bought me those long pencils for my birthday and we shared the pack. I can’t understand how we can think so differently!”
“It’s an unfortunate fact of life, love. Why do you think we’ve moved so many times? Do you remember all the crazy neighbours we’ve had?”
“I remember when we left the town with all the cat people.”
“Yes! What an awful, smelly place that was. We really needed to find other like minded dog-owners. I just love walking around this neighbourhood! Knowing that every dog nearby is capable of crushing a human skull in its jaws makes me feel so secure. Do you remember the town where it was unpatriotic not to grow vegetables? You couldn’t play soccer because they didn’t believe in grass.”
I remembered eating roast pumpkin slices with olive oil, liking the taste of fresh tomatoes for the first time, and learning how to catch fireflies in early summer. I felt disloyal reminding Mum of that though.
“They taught us the nutrients in different animals’ manure.”
She shuddered appreciatively at my contribution. “Oh yes! Somewhat of an analogy for our attempts to plant ourselves. So many variations, but all of them… hmmmm, bit blue for this time of the afternoon.” She turned back to her dish-washing. “In any case, you just can’t argue that lawn isn’t the best frontage for a neat home. It was honestly easier to move. Once you compromise on one thing, the end is Sharia Law enforced Communism – and we don’t want that!”
“I wonder if we will have to move? Or Marie?”
Mum put her cup down with a clank. “Marie, I should think, love. What was the issue?”
My heart began to pound again, my eyes straying to the freezer. I realised suddenly that the whole basis of my disagreement that afternoon had been based off a decision made alone, a few moves ago.
“Whatever it is, I’m sure it’s something we will agree on. You know this family’s values.” Despite her words, Mum’s face had become more grim as she followed my gaze.
“Well… we were going to the store. Marie wanted to buy some ice-cream. I asked what flavour.”
“She said chocolate but…”
Mum had opened the freezer. From deep in the back, covered in ice-crystals, she uncovered a small tub of chocolate ice-cream.
“It’s never seemed that important to me before.” She said, looking at the ice-cream rather than me, “But, I never thought I would raise a non-chocolate eater. Where did I go wrong?”
I stood up slowly, as she finally raised her red-rimmed eyes to mine.
“Melly, I want you to go out for a bit, and think on this choice you’ve made. I want you to think if this decision you’ve made is something you really want to drive us apart. Your father and I will be having a long talk about whether we can accept such a perversion of our beliefs in this house, once he gets home from work.”
“But… Mum.” I struggled to speak through my panic, struggled to craft some alibi, a defence, building up to a flat out renouncement of the difference that had suddenly appeared between us.
I lost the moment though, as another fear muddied my thoughts and pushed itself out my mouth: “… How will you find me?”
“Brutus will find you.” There was an answering snuff from the screen-door as Mum’s pet pressed his giant head against the steel, causing tortured squeaks and covering everything in a slime of drool. I had always been afraid of that dog, and the idea of him let loose to seek me out filled me with almost as much dread as the idea that he might never come.
She made me some sandwiches with more tears than words, and clicked the lock behind me as I stepped back out onto the lawn.
My body felt weak. All I wanted to do was sink down into the freshly mown grass. Making it to the end of the driveway was the most difficult, but each successive house with its white fence and snarling dog was so similar, I could trick my mind into believing I was still by my own.
Marie stood in front of me, plastic bags in hand.
“Um… I’m really sorry I brought up food. My parents always say, “It’s easier to ignore what you don’t know exists, so never talk about politics, religion, sports, television, personal routines or what you want to be when you grow up.” I should have guessed really that food would be part of that list.”
She held out one of the bags. Inside was a small tub of vanilla ice-cream. My favourite.
She had chocolate. My family’s favourite. We sat down on the curb together, cracked open our different tubs, wrapped in their bags so no one else could see, and began to eat in silence. Growls, and squeaks from the dogs around us teased my hopes that Brutus was already on his way. Just wait until I finish. I thought, eating quickly.
The vanilla was so good though I wanted to linger. It was just like I remembered, even if I couldn’t recall exactly the place where I tried it. Just a park, a few dollars in my pocket, and a cart selling only that one flavour of ice-cream.
“I’ve never tried chocolate.” I admit. “What’s it like?”
She shrugs. “Mmm, I don’t know how to describe it. Sweet? I love it, though.”
“Can… can I try some?”
“…sure, if I can I try your vanilla?”
We swapped, both hesitating at the first taste. Chocolate was really good. Almost as good as vanilla.
“Is it possible to like two things?” I asked Marie in a low voice.
She looked around, then leaned in. “I actually like cats… as well as dogs.”
We share a wide-eyed look of shock at ourselves as I admitted, “And small, non-dangerous dogs, too. Mum hates them though. We’ve moved at least twice because of pet issues.” My ears physically twitched at a sudden spate of barking, but it was a postal worker, delivering brown-wrapped boxes.
Marie sighed, “Actually, that’s another reason I came tonight. We might have to go again soon. There was a disagreement at Dad’s work. They found out he says grace after eating, instead of before it. When do you guys do it?”
“Oh… we don’t.”
“Really? I didn’t even know that was an option. Mum said we might have to leave the country for somewhere like Australia where they say grace right.”
Silence fell again, and we swapped back to our original flavours. Soon, the tubs were empty, the guilty contents consumed. My neck was becoming sore from constant scanning of the empty street.
“I hope you can stay. I don’t even care about our disagreement any more. And all the other stuff we probably don’t agree on too.”
“Yeah, we totally should practice disagreeing but staying friends more.”
I jumped at the sound of dogs howling in the distance, but the seemed to receding in the opposite direction. Another false alarm. The sun had sunk to the point that our shadows stretched long down the street, back towards my house to those I hoped even now were leaving the house in search of me.
I would welcome even Brutus right now.
“Melly? You ok? We don’t have to do anything, if you don’t want to.”
“I know. I do want to, though. I want to disagree and stay friends. I want to try stuff, even if I think I might hate it.” The sun began to slip behind the tree-line. My neck hurt, but I couldn’t tear my gaze from the distant end of the road, and the house I had decided was probably, had probably been, my own. “I just don’t know if people can live like that.”