I was staring one evening. Staring at the wall, which was white and blank—staring at my homework sheet, which was equally white and equally blank. Just staring and mulling and meandering my way through my thoughts.
Someday I’d emerge on the other side, I told myself half-consciously, and realisation of my idle state would return. Perhaps I would even get on with drawing that blessed line graph. But for the present, I thought, I’m quite content right here, dreaming of scenes I never saw and days I never passed.
There was a place in my mind, a round grey place, which was ever-still and ever-smooth, and it was there where I could hang and stare till eternity met its end. That evening, I found my place.
A bubble of frustration drifted into my cavern of revelations, and I, distracted by its curious intrusion, reached out to cradle it in the palm of my indulgence. At my touch the irritant bubble burst, and with it the walls of my still place shattered with a heart-rending smash.
I turned from my desk, ripe with petty annoyances. “What?”
“Tea,” said Jean, the woman whom I had always supposed to be my mother.
“Oh,” I said, with as much interest as was remaining, after I had banished all that I could. Having been interrupted by a call for a such a commonplace event, tea—the cursed daughter of a poor weak human being’s physiological needs--I was not feeling in a mood of either obligation or pacification.
“You heard what I said!” snapped Jean, as if I had asked her a question. Well, I thought resentfully, I’m allowed to be annoyed, am I not?
With a very poor grace that shames me horribly as I remember, I slammed my books closed, glared at the wall, the dullness of which had led me into my happy reverie in the first place, and followed my mother from the room.
“Well, turn the light off,” she barked from halfway down the stairs.
Moodily I ignored both the light switch and her words, and doubled the weight of my feet for the purpose of walking down the stairs.
“The train has been booked for Friday fortnight,” said Elspeth in her peculiarly sharp voice. I’ve always thought that if Jean has a hot temper, Elspeth has a cold one—and I have learned to fear that cool undercurrent to her voice far more than the dangerously explosive rages of my mother.
I eyed her ladle as it dipped into the cauldron of tomato soup—smooth on the surface, like an orange ice rink, but there always seems to be a monster within, ready and waiting to rise up out of the viscous liquid and take form as a grisly orange beast.
“Can I meet Bridie this time?” I said, wrinkling my nose and focussing my attention on my spoon rather than on the slimy orange liquid filling my dish.
“No,” said Elspeth, her clipping accent becoming more pronounced in her earnestness.
“Will I never meet her?” I said.
Jean grunted as she chomped on a hunk of dry bread. Elspeth merely glowered at me, her icy blue eyes, dark mane and deeply creviced face making her look more witchlike than ever. For people who always wanted children, they’re not exactly accomodating of their 'own'.
“So, why do you not let me meet her?” I said.
I could feel the furious heat radiating off Jean’s face as her skin crimsoned and her nostrils began to flare, though I did not look up. And, equally, I could feel Elspeth’s bitter presence beside Jean, her agonisingly bony body and oppressively upright posture, frozen in one still moment of passive disapproval, and cracking with wordless condemnation.
“Why?” I continued, still spooning the retchworthy soup into my hanging trap. “I know what she looks like. I know who our parents are. What is there to hide?”
“Do you know who your parents are?” said Elspeth, her frozen orbs trapping me in the frosty confines of her challenge.
“Yeah,” I replied with more confidence than I felt. “What girl gets to fourteen years old without knowing who her parents are, unless the mum’s been raped?”
Jean awarded my suggestion with a savage glare, reminding me of the devilish glare of an irate bull pacing to charge. Reflecting on my words, I hadn’t meant them to be so crude—but they were said, and they couldn’t be unsaid.
“So, who are your parents?” said Elspeth, a despicable relish on her lips.
“Jean and Colton,” I said.
My ‘mothers’ exchanged glances. I could not read their thoughts, being not a natural nor a practised psycho-analyst.
The meal concluded in silence.