As I’ve mentioned recently, I have been suffering from writer’s block. Today has been the first time something resembling a story has broken through the wall. Let me know what you think…
It was the type of day the wrinkled your skin like a dry, old tomato forgotten at the back of the veggie basket. A thirsty breeze crinkled the curtains, pushing the heat into the room, adding to the stench of sweat and despair already lingering in the air. She breathed in the heat and exhaled a steady stream of cigarette smoke. Her breath hissed at the next intake, summing up her attitude to the situation confronting her. Bethany stood near the door watching her. Her youthful limbs twisted and contorted into folded arms and crossed legs as she fidgeted under her mother’s hard stare.
“So. You’re moving out.” It wasn’t so much a question – more an affirmation of the information she had just been given.
The young woman squirmed a little more. Her mouth worked itself up into uttering a low “Uh-huh!” in reply. Dark curls hung in droopy loops around her pear-shaped face. She wasn’t a pretty girl but everything on her face had an attractive symmetry that gave the impression of still beauty, which irritated her mother. Her daughter resembled her father both in looks and attitude – a constant reminder of the past.
“How do you plan on surviving with your little friend?” Smoke curled and whispered past Charlotte’s surly face. She squinted her eyes, enjoying her daughter’s uncomfortable stance. She knew that Bethany would need her help but would not give it to her without letting the insufferable child beg, just as she had suffered and begged for the past eighteen years without the little shit’s father. He was lording it with his new family in Belvedere whilst they struggled in a rundown town house in Arcadia, the poorer side of Norton.
Bethany lifted her rounded chin and looked down at her mother in defiance. Sweat crawled down her scalp making her want to scratch her head but she resisted the urge, stilling her fumbling hands and legs as she faced off her mother. “I’ve been offered a job at dad’s firm, mother. He supports my move out of here and has offered to pay our rent for the first six months until we find out feet.” Her chin wobbled a little. She knew how much this information would hurt her mother. This wasn’t the way she had planned to break the news to her. Why did it always have to be this way between them; a constant tug of war with Bethany as the rope between her parents?
Charlotte’s breath hissed again. Maybe the brat didn’t need her after all if he had decided to step up and pretend to be a dad…well, maybe that wasn’t such a bad thing. Better late than never. She softened her face, focusing on stubbing out her cigarette in the crystal ashtray on the coffee table next to her armchair. As she looked up, her eyes caught a glimpse of the photograph on the mantle: the last picture of them as a family. Bright eyes beamed at her. Cheeky smiles broadcast a happiness she hadn’t felt since he had walked out the door and never returned, leaving her with a broken-hearted child who had blamed her for daddy leaving.
“I know you gave up a lot for me and I’m sorry for blaming you all these years. I…” Bethany gulped down the lump in her throat and swiped at the sweat dropping down her cheeks. “…I don’t want to leave you like this.” There. She said it. She left herself open. Unconsciously, her hands slipped back into a knot at the front of her body and her legs wrapped themselves around each other – a totem pole of torture scored into her very existence.
Her mother watched her. Time ticked away in the heat and the stifling silence. Even the curtains had stilled, waiting. Charlotte’s mouth chewed on bits on tobacco that had escaped the cheap filter, chewing and swirling. Bethany shifted position, winding and knotting her arms again and again in the compressed air between them. It was past uncomfortable now. Their eyes locked in an epic battle of insecurity caused by a man they had both loved and lost to another family. Sorrow and pain made a heady cocktail in the only home they had known since Bethany had been born. Familiarity and mortality surrounded them as they waited for Charlotte too break the silence.
At last, she spoke. “Bethany, I hate you. You know that and I’m not going to deny it any more. If it hadn’t been for you, your father wouldn’t have left.” She breathed in, feeling the catch in her dried lungs. “I hope he will be there for you now, but I honestly wouldn’t hold my breath.”
The words hung in condemnation around the young girl’s hurt expression. All her life, she had blamed her mother for her daddy leaving. Her mother had insisted that it was because he didn’t love them enough to stay, but she knew better. Her daddy loved her. He told her so the few times he had been allowed to visit. It was this broken-down hag that had kept him at bay. He admitted as much when he had met her for lunch the other day and she had asked for his help to escape this mad woman. His eyes had spoken volumes as he explained that he couldn’t offer her a place in his new home with the new baby on the way. Instead, he had offered her a beautiful place near the river with her best friend, Macy. Together, they could get jobs and look after themselves with his help. He would come visit as often as he could; he promised. Mother was just being her normal bitchy self. After all, what did she know about love? She had tortured Bethany her whole life, smothering her when other parents let their children go out to play; keeping her in doing extra lessons in ridiculous subjects like Latin when she was supposed to go on play dates. She hated her mother’s incessant cleanliness and constant nagging. No-one could live like that and survive. She couldn’t wait to escape her.
“Well, mother. If that’s the way you feel, you don’t need to know my forwarding address. I’ll leave the front door key in the tray.” She unfurled her twisted body and stood tall and strong. It was time to go.
“Don’t leave anything behind.”
The words echoed through the house and stuck to the walls. Dying footsteps were the last thing Charlotte heard of her daughter as she walked down the narrow hall to the front door, only stopping long enough to drop the keys in the tray and pick up her suitcase on the way out. She sighed again and lit another cigarette. “She’ll be back,” she muttered. “We all fall and return.”