I’m still waiting for an idea for the next serial and so I’ve been trawling through my files, looking for inspiration. I did find one little thing about a bus crash but I think it might be a bit too gory, I’ll have a look and see if I can do anything with it though. In the meantime I thought I’d post this. It was a competition entry on Shortbread quite a while ago now. It did make it into the winning list in fourth place so I hope you enjoy it.
No Daughter of Mine
The sound of the door slamming echoed through the years, as if it were yesterday. The ugly words, vicious, searing, in the tiny living room, tearing at each other, out of control, animal in the ferocity of the argument.
She pushed the innocent block of wood. She’d imagined the locks would have been changed. Thought she’d need to knock and wait, a visitor, a stranger.
As the door swung inwards the scent of the house billowed around her. Sweet, like pastry, dusty like the carpet and the old couch. A living entity and so much a part of what happened. It engulfed her, reignited the history. Coming home from school or church, then there would be the aroma of the roast, of Mum’s perfume, saved just for Sunday.
“Hello.” Her tongue adhered to the roof of her mouth. She gulped, tried again “Hello, anyone here.”
She was scared, hating that she was scared.
She took a step into the hallway. “It’s me. Anyone here?” The thudding on the stairs caused another twinge of nerves. She looked up and saw a pair of heavy, black shoes, sturdy legs.
“Hello. Are you Kinsey?”
She jerked her head, a small nod, glancing down, playing for time. “Yes, I’m Kinsey.”
“I’m Margaret, the nurse, well.” The woman swept her hand over the front of her body, indicating the uniform.
“They’ve been waiting. Well, your mum has, your dad…” the words hung in the warm, sweet, dusty air. She nodded again, this was so much more difficult than she had imagined. Full of herself, he’d always said, but now the bravado, cockiness, all dissipating, drifting away leaving her helpless…
When she’d read the letter to Dave he’d simply looked at her, his head on one side, waiting, wondering, testing her.
“Will you go?” Typically, when he did speak it was stark, bald.”
“No, I won’t go.” She’d turned from him, gone to stare out through the window.
“Should I, d’you think I should go?”
“It’s your dad. You should decide. It could be the last chance. Can you live with it, if you don’t go? Will it bother you?”
“No, why should it, It’s been eight years, more. Why should I go now? Anyway what good would it do?” She’d known though, even then, understood she would have to make the journey. Dave had known as well and made it easy, not mentioning it again until her declaration.
“I think I’ll go, you know, back home.” Home, still home after all this time. She hadn’t thought about it until the letter from Aunt Gin, telling her Barry had suffered a stroke and if she wanted to make her peace with him she should come…
She hung her coat on the hat stand, still standing sentinel in the hall. Just Mum’s coat on it now and dad’s hat at a jaunty angle on the top, tipped and cheeky looking, it made her want to cry.
With a deep inhalation she started the climb. There was new wallpaper on the landing and the paints had been redone, apart from that there didn’t seem to be much difference. Mum and Dad’s bedroom door was ajar, the edge of the dresser visible, and the floral carpet.
She heard, in her mind, the laughter of Sundays and the turmoil of early mornings, everyone getting ready. Reality receded; the hand pushing at the edge of the door could have been her teenage hand. It could have been that night, going in to preen in front of the mirror, before the storm, all unsuspecting.
Her mum was sitting holding his hand, he immobile under the covers. He didn’t have his teeth in, his cheeks were sunken. His hair was ruffled, completely grey and wispy in a way it had never been. He looked ancient.
“Kinsey.” Mum looked uncertain, she twitched on the seat, wanted to rush over, to embrace her but unsure.
She looked at the dear face, haggard with worry but still Mum, she held out her arms.
They clung to each other for long minutes. Kinsey was shocked to find she was taller now than her mum, sounder, somehow more real. They sobbed, gulping and sniffing and then dragged apart. “Oh Mum.” It was all she could manage.
“Here, sit down, sit down.” The wicker chair at the side of the bed. It was all as it had been and yet now, like a film, like old home movies.
“He’s not well Kinsey; I don’t think he’ll get over it.” The truth and the bravery of the words blew her away. She turned and leaned down to where he was, his breath was sour, his breathing shallow.
“Does he wake up; does he know what’s happening?”
“Sometimes, now and again.”
“Can he talk?”
“A bit, it’s hard to understand, but now and again.” She shrugged. “He’s only just gone to sleep; I think it’ll be a while before he wakes. Come on I’ll make you a cup of tea.”
The kitchen was a surprise, the old cabinets replaced by modern units, a new cooker, a breakfast bar. It was easier to be here, fewer links dragging her back. They hugged again, it was alright, her mum was here, she’d always been here.
“How are you Kinsey, are you happy? How’s Dave, your life? Gin kept us updated. About your job and the promotion. We were so proud.”
“Both of you?”
“Of course, oh Kinsey we missed you, every single day. If he could have undone it he would have. We thought you’d come back, when you got over the upset. He looked for you, everywhere. He went to the police but they said you were old enough to go off, they wouldn’t do anything.”
“I’m sorry.” There was nothing else to be said, no other words would fill the space.
“You were wild, it was hard for him. He wanted to protect you. Every time you went through the door he worried and your clothes, more and more daring, more outrageous.”
“No, they weren’t, they were just modern. I wanted to be the same as everyone else. You sent me to grammar school when all my friends went to the local one, you wouldn’t let me wear trousers, no T shirts, always kilts, blouses and cardigans. I didn’t fit in.”
“I know, I know. Look at you though, so smart, so beautiful.”
“I’m just me Mum, I always was and the clothes were just clothes, but when you’re young you want to belong.”
“Yes, I know. I know.”
“That night, the last night, he was like a man possessed. He dragged at the blouse, tore the skirt. He called me a slut.”
“I know. Later, he could have bitten off his tongue but he couldn’t bear it, seeing you so grown up.
Will you stay? Could you?”
“I’ve got a week from work. I didn’t know how it’d be so I didn’t book anywhere.”
“Stay here, please.”
Barry didn’t wake and they ate in the kitchen, fish and chips. A rare treat from Kinsey’s childhood, reduced to tasteless convenience fuel.
Her room was unchanged. The narrow bed strange after so many years, sleeping in hostels, squats and then bedsits with Dave and now their nice flat…
“Oh tea, Mum you shouldn’t have.”
“Don’t be silly, it was no trouble. I was up anyway. Can’t sleep, you know with all of this.”
“How is he?”
“He’s awake, he doesn’t know you’re here.”
“Okay. Give me a few minutes.”
“Take your time, mornings are best for him anyway. You’ve probably got an hour or two.”
She opened the wardrobe door. School skirts, blouses and blazers. She flicked the hangers, releasing a stale, closed up smell, the scent of lost years.
It was hanging at the back. Filmy fabric, pink and orange, skimpy, yes she acknowledged that, but sluttish – no. Girly and modern at the time, now rather sad. The torn seam had been mended with tiny stitches, they made her cry.
She dragged it out, pulled it over her head. She knew she was a different shape but still slim. It fitted better than it had then, she filled it differently, it hung better. It was pretty, always had been, just a pretty top that would help her to fit in.
She swivelled in front of the mirror. She looked good, in spite of the years it still held its charm. She crossed the landing, as all those years ago, into Mum and Dad’s room. He was propped in a mountain of pillows, his teeth were in today, his hair combed. He looked stronger, maybe he’d be alright, maybe there’d be time. She smiled at him.
“Hello Dad.” His eyes overflowed, Mum wiped them with a tissue. He held out his hand, wavering and quaking.
It was an effort, she saw him struggle, his mouth fighting with the words but they were surprisingly strong in the end.
“Kinsey, Look at you, so beautiful, just lovely.” She fell into his arms.