I Don’t Need All Your Good Advice Part 7

Part 7 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. (Go to the beginning: Part 1 )

Some swearing.

As always constructive criticism, feedback or even a note to say hi in the comments is welcomed!

Give her this.”

Dad had passed me a photo as I was climbing out of his van. Over the last few days, I had studied it closely, but even so, again held it close to my face, trying to spot a detail about the people within it that I might have missed before.

They were a student pair of the 70s. A laughing, flirtatious girl in a high cut, dusty orange dress, no stockings and big sunglasses, grabbing the broad arm of a young, man in matching shades, khaki short sleeves and a mullet he no doubt now regrets.

My parents.

Back before bitterness, before disappointment, before anything deeper than looking stylish in a photo. Would the promise of a memory be enough to convince her to take Dad’s call? Was I right to even ask her to? Mum wasn’t this girl any more. If she had the chance, perhaps she would walk into this photo and yank off those glasses, and make her younger self see the world in all its current, regret-coloured greyness.

Jesus stared down at me from every wall. The memory associated with them of my Grandma, cleaning, straightening, proudly hanging new ones she found at garage sales, calmed me. I remembered her forcing us all to eat together, an increasingly difficult task as we grew into moody teenagers; secretly calling Mum’s work to organise a shift change or day off so she could come to a school event; and not so secretly agitating for Dad to come home, in huge fights with Mum. The thought of those fights, usually in Maltese, and accompanied by lots of tea-towel throwing, made me nervous again.

I heard the car drive in, and the engine switch off, the clang of keys against the door frame. Mum was home already! Lost in the photo, my sewing jumble was still on the table, with all three dresses hanging behind it.

I took my place in front of the table, shielding them with my body in case she went into a rage again. As Mum came in she looked at me, then at the dresses, then back at my face, probably seeing there a mixture of white fear and defiance.

She burst into tears.

“I really don’t need this now, Rachel.” She said, disappearing into her room.

I sat heavily in the pool of kitchen light, with a weird, mixed, burn of relief and bewilderment in my chest.

That was unexpected.

It took half an hour, and a cup of tea, to build up the courage to slip into her room.

Despite the heat, she had pillows and blankets bunched around protectively. At least it was soft to cuddle into.

We lay in silence for a while. It had been a long time since I had come in here. Her room, and her bed, were where we met at times of family crisis. When Dad had left, or been asked to leave, Mark and I had come in to sleep in a big, comforting family jumble. After she came back from visiting Mark in the police cell, we slept a week in this room together. With Grandma gone by then, the house and all its previously occupied rooms had become a wound.

“Mum?”

“I’m not a monster.” Her voice was hard to hear through the blanket. She threw out an arm and pulled me in under.

“I know that uni is a big step when you’re not sure what your interest is. But the world doesn’t care, doesn’t wait, and you’ll lose all those opportunities that come when you’re young. You need to be ready to catch them or they’re gone forever. Uni, work, these are things you have to do, not because they’re fun, but because they’re what you need to get security. A home sewing business will never give you security. I’m not saying this to be mean, just realistic, cos you have no training other than Grandma. Who will want a teenage seamstress apart from other teenagers, maybe? Find some job at least as a parachute. Y’know, I talked to my supervisor for you, and she’s happy if you wanted to come in, do some work experience, maybe even get some paid hours. That’s a good compromise, if you don’t want to go to uni yet.”

The heat and blankets were becoming oppressive. I flipped them open a bit, to allow in cool, fresh air.

“Mum, do you even like working there? I remember how you wanted to be a librarian. What happened to that?”

“Because things didn’t work out. All of your Dad’s business failures left us too broke for me to do a Library Science course, or to volunteer in the library until a job came up. Nerry’s is at least stable. Pays your school bills, buys your food!” I can feel her body tensing up, her arm withdrawing and a pillow getting wedged in between us. “Why can’t I have one kid following my lead? Mark and his idiocy proved that he’s your father’s son. I was hoping when I saw your good grades that you would enjoy the chances I missed, but lately I’m beginning to wonder if you aren’t also his daughter!”

The blankets were being pulled off me. I let them go and sat up, “It took two people to make me, Mum, I’m not your clone, and couldn’t be if I tried.”

“Then you’re just going to leave me too.” Her voice was flat, and I couldn’t see her expression in the dark, but the words gave me hopes that helped control the anger and resentment our budding fight had produced.

“They want to come home, Mum. Mark’s been training as a baker at-”

“When did you see your brother?” She sat up.

“The other-”

“I’m not happy with you interacting him, Rachel, he’s a criminal now, and people don’t change.”

“Mum!” The angst roared back and my hands itched for one of Grandma’s tea towels to hurl. “He’s your son! My brother! You wonder why you’re alone? It’s because you pushing us all away! Always remembering our mistakes! Sometimes people fail Mum, why don’t you get that?”

“Rachel-”

You told Dad to leave.”

It was out there now. Time to test which one had been telling the truth. The proverbial gloves were off, and her counters could be the finishing blow to the boys’, and my, hopes of us ever being together again.

“You said he ran away, but you kicked him out! There’s a pattern here! Mark fucks up once and he’s broken beyond repair? Now I’m not following the plan, what will you do? Change the locks when I’m out? I bet you’ll love being all alone, except when you’re at a job that you fucking hate!“

“Move out then! Move out! Maybe you might finally understand what it’s like to struggle. Even then you won’t have to support an ungrateful family, always knocking you on your back! Get out Rachel, out of my room!”

I stood, stumbling a little as the blankets tangled. We glared at each other, even as my anger began to subside into a cold ball of regret in my gut.

Well, I’ve fucked it all up now.

Hands shaking, I took Dad’s photo out of my pocket and placed it on the bed.

“They want a second chance, Mum. To – I don’t know – show you they made good.”

Her voice was less angry, but guttural like she was pushing the words out through clenched teeth. “Your Dad made life really difficult, Rachel. I know you don’t remember, but I do. I don’t know if I could ever forget enough to forgive him. Either of them.”

“Just talk then. Maybe it’ll help, you know.”

She picked up the photo, gently, though she shook her head. “It’s impossible to go back. I just can’t let all these years go so easily.”

“Dad’s going to call. Just talk. Don’t even talk, just listen.”

She shook her head again. Placing the photo, face down, on the nightstand, she turned her body away, but didn’t protest when I climbed back in and curled around her back.

Lacking the energy to speak any more, sleep came quickly, and so heavily that I didn’t wake even when she left for work in the morning. When I did rise groggily to drag myself to school, I noticed the photo was gone.

Part 8

I Don’t Need All Your Good Advice Part 4

Part 4 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 , Part 2 and Part 3)

Some swearing.

As always constructive criticism, feedback or even a note to say hi in the comments is welcomed!

Something had happened. Sara was listless around school, cold to her favourite teachers, and unresponsive to her group on the bus. It was a surprise to open the door and find her there, staring down at the steps, without a word, only cracked, hesitant breathing.

“Um, are you ok? “

“Fuck them both. I don’t even fucking care any more. “ She pushed past me into the house, only to call back in a different voice, “What’s all this, Rach?”

“I’m trying to set up a dress-making business. “ I would work from arriving home designing, drawing and covering the kitchen in cut out paper patterns, until the hour before Mum came back, when it would all get stored back in Grandma’s room as if I had never touched it. “What’s wrong, Sara? “

She, with somewhat more care than my other visitor, moved some clutter from a chair before climbing into it, her knees pulled up under her chin.

“Mum and Dad. It’s all finally over. The divorce went through. I stupidly thought that it’s taken so long, maybe they weren’t really serious and he’d come back… but whatever. I got a C last week. That’s how much I care any more. “

“I’m sorry. I know it can be hard… “

“Yeah, that’s why I wanted to talk when I called, but, “ She rubbed her reddening face,” I’m just so over it now. Tell me more about your business. “

“Well, it’s only one customer so far. I’m making her a dress for grad. “

“It’s next month, you know. “

“I finished mine in two weeks, this one hopefully will take less time.“ I pointed to my beautiful dress where hung on the wall, as inspiration and company, as I worked.

“Wow, it’s great. Could… could you make me one too?“

Is the risk worth it?

Sara’s eyebrows drew together as she began to take offence at my pause.

“Sure, sure. I’m half way through this one, so I should have the time. Let’s get some measurements then… “

There is something about the relationship between a customer who has to sit and wait, and the person working on them, that one becomes that captive audience of the other. Hairdressers must feel this way.

“I’ve been thinking about the other night. “ Sara began almost as soon as I had the tape running along her arm. “You must think I overreacted. “

“Well…”

“You have no idea what she’s done to me though. She lies all the time, to get what she wants, and she wants what other people have. “

“Like your friends at Grammar? “

“Like, everything. She has seriously ruined my life. Seriously. “

You sound seriously crazy. “Stop moving so much or your dress will be too tight.“

“After today, I just don’t know if I can handle seeing her ever again without freaking the fuck out. “

“That depends on how frequently you think you might see her though. Could be kind of awkward in future if you went to the same cafe, or like a funeral, or something. “ What was meant as a joke only made her face more pensive.

Sara’s body was much finer and more angular than Jo’s. She would be very tall when she finished growing, and probably, especially in a pair of sharp heels, become even more intimidating than now. Finished measuring, I straightened up. “Maybe you should talk to her. “

“You just have no idea, Rachel. I don’t need your advice, I just want you to agree with me that she’s a crazy bitch, and maybe hold her arms back for me when the time is right. “ She smiled, finally, but I couldn’t return it.

Part 5

I Don’t Need All Your Good Advice Part 2

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!

Home.

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?“

“Nope.“

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.

Part 3