After about a week mother started complaining again.
“I never see you now, you spend all your time at work, and you never call me to let me know how you’re doing. I’m worried about you Lila”
“Ma you don’t need to worry, everything it going fine, I like my new job. It’s really very relaxing.”
“Oh but you’re getting so pale! I don’t think you’re spending nearly enough time in the sun. You could get rickets you know…”
“Ma, really it’s fine. Yes I’m pale, of course I am. You are as well, that’s part of having our colouring. If I ever get really tanned you can start to worry okay?”
“I know you don’t want me to worry, but I’m your mother, that’s what I do. You know I don’t think you’re eating properly at that place, you look very slim. Not unhealthy slim, and it’s not like you were big before, but you’re definitely losing some weight from your face. That might not be a good thing.”
“Ma, relax okay? If I get any problems I’ll call you and ask for help. You know that. I’m growing up finally, and doing something that I like. But I’m always going to stay your daughter. You can’t get rid of me that easily.”
“Well alright, but you know you can come back to work for me any time you like, if it starts going wrong.”
“I know Ma. I know…” Always back to the shop.
She really did want me back as staff, I’m fairly sure of that. She called it ‘proper work’ I called it tiresome. It was hard at the shop, trying not to lose my temper with customers while trying to figure out what on earth they wanted. Not that I was against hard work, it’s just that there are some things that people should not have to put up with. It was no place for me; mother knew that deep down. I think part of her really did miss me, more than I missed her in many ways. I was growing up; she wanted me to stay with her for always, her baby. She had always been very protective; I was the little mirror of her, with the same red hair and green eyes, and the same horribly short temper. She wanted me to grow up to be her, follow in her footsteps. It wasn’t happening. There was no way I would be able to live like she does. Sure I was a little paler than I had been, though being a red head my skin has always been pale, I guess the lack of sunlight may have made me even paler, and I was taking Vitamins to stop anything really nasty happening. I was still eating regular meals and yes I got a little thinner, but only because I had stopped eating junk to keep myself busy in the evenings. I was happier.
I suppose she might have worried that one day I would go to work and never come home, that’s what my father apparently did. She told me that he had left everything but his wallet and his passport, none of his clothes were gone and there was no note. She reported him missing of course but nothing ever came of it. I’m not sure if she wanted to have to accept that he had left her, assuming that something terrible had happened. We will never know. It’s never made a lot of difference to me, not having him around, but it made a big difference to mother. For years she looked out the window every morning just to make sure he wasn’t out there, walking towards the house with his jacket slung over his shoulder and his tie loosened like he apparently always used to. In her heart she knew he never would be but that never seemed to stop her. She doesn’t bother looking now; I guess she’s finally got over the fact that he didn’t want her or her disabled baby, though it took her a good five or six years to fully accept it. I was happy enough with him being gone even as a child, why should we need him if he didn’t need us?
Over the weeks at work I learned quite a lot about the many works that called the gallery home. It turned out that I was quite interested in art, something I had never known about myself. I spent quite a lot of time just walking around looking at the paintings; I especially liked large landscapes. I think I most appreciated the peace in them, the stunning endlessness mixed with the fine detail in every single brushstroke. I wasn’t so much a fan of the more modern, abstract works, they just seemed too random, unorganised, it was like the artist didn’t care so much about them. Part of me considered learning to paint during my long hours, to take in a little piece of the world around me. Even if I was never any good at it, it would give me something to do other than wander about and avoid the cellar. I didn’t much like the idea of being down in the storage; it seemed very dark at the bottom of the stairs even with a strong torch, and it was probably dank and musty. Exactly how I had always imagined an old tomb to be. I only went down to check the door was locked. Something in that room gave me a strange feeling, though I put it down to the darkness at the time. I always knew that I didn’t like it down there. I stayed in the bright, airy main gallery admiring the portraits and images that I never even knew existed.
I think in the first month I must have stared at about a hundred sketches and canvases, and there were still more to look at! An oil painting here, a vast watercolour there, each and every one caught my interest and each one had its own story to tell. I found myself seeing pieces of the artist within the work, a stroke of passion on one work, a hint of fear or anger in another. They were all unique. I loved my job; it was the only place I had ever been that made me feel even slightly normal. I didn’t need to be able to hear; the paintings spoke to me without using any words at all. Sure it wasn’t conversation but it was certainly thought invoking. I spent a lot of time doing a fair amount of deep thinking about the meaning of the paintings, and by extension the meaning of life. I was able to be myself for the first time, it sounds corny but being in the gallery was somehow freeing. Sure I didn’t see many people, but I was happier with the paintings than I had ever been with my so-called friends. I didn’t need to change for them as I tried to for friends; who should have loved me for me. They should have accepted me like the pictures do. Accept my deafness, my reflective nature, my silence.