It was the next morning.
Victoria was standing in front of her wardrobe mirror straightening her tie. She had only had a week off school and starting back on a Friday did seem a little pointless but she had to get out of this house. No one would blame her for taking another couple of weeks off or even a couple of months. Or if she didn’t come back at all.
She had spent most of last night and this morning in tears. It seemed that the numbness came and went. She hoped that she was spent enough with crying now though that she wouldn’t have some sort of a breaking down at school. There would be enough staring and whispering directed at her without that. She had made up her mind, somewhere among the sobs, to try and help her dad, or failing that at least get someone who could help him where she couldn’t. She had absolutely no idea how she would go about doing either of those things, but she had to try.
At least it gave her something to focus on. Something other than her own self pity. It gave her something to do, a purpose. She hadn’t felt like she had a purpose in a long time. Maybe she wouldn’t hate herself so much if she could just do this one thing.
She tightened her ponytail and flattened down the pleats in her skirt. Normally the skirt was thrown in the back of her wardrobe until the sun was splitting rocks but she had worn her black school trousers – the only black piece if clothing she owned – to the funeral and that’s what they reminded her of now. She made a mental note to buy new ones.
Last thing to do was put on her make up. She had been giving her eyes a chance to maybe lose a little of their puffiness, but she hadn’t noticed any improvement. But she didn’t have anymore time, not if she didn’t want to be late. And she certainly didn’t want that – to have to execute the walk of shame into a class that had already started with puffy eyes and a dead mother. Maybe she was glad it was a Friday and she would have the weekend to recover from her first day back. She turned her back on the mirror.
I look nothing like her.
She went to the chest at the foot of her bed and pulled it open. She stopped breathing.
There were her answers.
She used the chest for storing spare pillows and blankets and a few raggedy stuffed toys that she had clung onto from her childhood. She normally threw her make up bag in on top of everything out of convenience and laziness; because it was just a small stretch away when she sat to look in the mirror. Now though, sitting neatly on top of all her carelessly thrown in possessions, was a book. It was her mother’s diary.
She had never seen it before, but it wasn’t hard to tell. For every year of her life since she was twelve years old, her mother had kept a diary. And despite being a hoarder, she threw every single one away when the year was up, no matter how little she had written in it. She had tried to explain to Victoria at a young age that books were made to be read, so it was naïve of anyone to think they could keep a book full of secrets and no one would ever read it. Diaries and journals were shrouded in mystery, no matter how mundane the writer seemed. It made it an even better read sometimes, she had carried on, the more boring the person seemed.
All Victoria thought was that it was such a pity to have to throw away such pretty books.
“She was so right?” Victoria said to herself as she picked up the small A5 sized hardback. She had worried last night that maybe her mother had thrown her current diary out, not wanting anyone to read it when she was gone, but she had burned this thought quickly, refusing to take it seriously. F that was the case then maybe she had been planning her….. her….departure…. and Victoria couldn’t accept this. He couldn’t accept that she had sat beside her own mother at the dinner table, grumpy and sullen and thinking of the best way to piss her off, while she had been chopping up her vegetables and considering the best way to take her own life. It had been a rash decision, an impulse action. It had to be.
It was a small book but a thick one. At least three hundred pages. It was adorned in a luxurious white fabric with large leaf print stretching front to back. She sat down on her bed and ran her fingertips over it, her make up for gotten for the moment.
She felt a little queasy. Up until this point she had refused to make any judgement concerning her mother’s death. Her suicide. It was difficult to even think of it as that, though that’s what it was. She could admit without too much trouble that she missed her, that she wished she was still here, but was she angry with her? Did she feel betrayed? Did she pity her? She hadn’t decided yet what she felt and she wasn’t sure what she should feel, but she was certain that after reading this book she would know exactly how she felt.
As she raised her hand to open the cover, it began to tremble. An unconscious warning that she might not like what she found in there. She clenched it into a fist and took a deep breath. She wanted the answers but she was afraid of them too. She was so fucking sick of being afraid! She unclenched her fist and pulled open the cover in one swift movement. The first page was almost blank, only one word written in the centre of the clean white, lined paper in neat flowing script.
Victoria gasped and felt a lump rise in her throat to choke her. She slammed the book closed and threw it back into her chest. She couldn’t do this right now. There was no way she could do this now. Not before she had to face school. She sat still for a minute to compose herself and swallow the lump. Then she closed the lid on the chest. She didn’t have time to put on make up now, nor did she really want to.
She grabbed her bag and walked out into the hall where she could just hear her father’s snores coming from the spare bedroom. She tip-toed to the door and slowly eased it open. Her hand immediately rose to cover her mouth and nose. The smell of stale alcohol and sweat almost overwhelmed her. She could only see one side of the room, but that was enough for her.
Her father lay sprawled across the double bed on his stomach, his face turned away from her, still clothed it that was the right word and on top of the covers. The ground was peppered with empty bottles of rum and vodka. There were a few empty and scrunched up beer cans peeking out from under the bed. She wondered when he had last eaten. That was when the realisation hit her like a freight train. That was her responsibility now. She would have to replace her mother in doing the shopping and the cleaning. She would have to pay bills and keep her father going. This was her house now. How long had she yearned to be an adult, to be free? And now she had to grow up before her time. There was nothing freeing about being an adult. She still felt like a kid.
She closed the door and put her hand to her forehead. It came away clammy and covered in a sheen of sweat. It was time to leave or she would miss the chance to see her friends before classes started, and right now she needed them more than oxygen. She needed trivial chatter and easy laughter. She had last seen her girlfriends at her mother’s funeral but she hadn’t spoken to them. They were giving her space. But she didn’t want space anymore. She needed people. She needed to take her mind off things.
She closed her front door behind her and stepped out into the crisp cold morning. The ground glistened, the puddles reflecting the drab grey blanket that completely obscured every inch of the sky above. She hugged her arms around herself and started walking.
The estate that she lived on was only ten minutes walk from her school if she took the shortcut. It opened out onto the main road that led into town and just across this road was the old bakery. It had shut down years previous. The old bakery was surrounded by chain link fence, broken in many places and missing in others, and muddy ground. The empty space behind it that led down to the river was riddled with tyre marks. It was a favourite spot of the petrol heads around to meet up and compare the size of their exhaust pipes. Overcompensation, Victoria thought dryly, skirting a particularly deep doughnut. Her side stepping brought her closer to the river bank that was carpeted in beer cans and other waste items that Victoria didn’t wish to dwell on too much.
She now came to the end of the bakery boundary and paused for a minute to watch the main road where small groups of her peers were also making their way to school. She slipped into the tickling stream of bodies from her short cut and kept her head down. It didn’t stop her noticing the moment of silence though, or the barely concealed whispers start.
“Is that who I think it is….”
“It is her. What’s she doing back?....”
“I didn’t expect to see her for another month. She looks fucking awful….”
“Well what do you expect? Her mother just died?....”
“I took three weeks off when my dog died. This is just ridiculous….”
“Imagine finding your mother lying dead on your bathroom floor….”
She put on a burst of speed and overtook the group in front of her, concentrating only on the pounding of her feet on the wet tarmac. Through the school gate, past the double doors. Past reception and down the main corridor, ignoring whatever stares she was receiving. Up the stairs on her right, first floor corridor, third block on the left, locker number B52, middle row. She searched through the bottom of her bag for her key, one lone key ring attached. It was golden star her friend Amy had given her. She opened her locker and perused the laminated timetable taped to the inside of the door. First thing on a Friday morning was double English. On any other Friday this information would have been accompanied by a groan and possibly some creative cursing, but this was good. It was a class where she was expected to nothing more than listen. She could listen. And Eva was in that class too. Eva was probably her closest friend and would be sure to have more than one way to pass the time and keep her mind off of home.
Victoria started pulling her books out of her locker and ordering them carefully in her bag. She never did this and the only reason she was doing it now was to stop her from turning round and catching someone staring at her or whispering about her. About her mother. A sudden flash of anger rose in her chest. This is all her fault. This wouldn’t be happening to me if she hadn’t done what she did. The thought surprised her. Maybe she had made up her mind already without realising it. She was just closing her locker door when she heard a familiar laugh echoing up the stairwell and her heart lightened ever so slightly.
She turned towards it eagerly just as Eva stepped through the doors. She didn’t see Victoria at first; she was busy playfully pushing the boy that she was with, obviously the boy who had made some sort of joke to make her laugh. They both saw Victoria at the same time, and neither had the reaction that she expected them to have. Eva’s eyes narrowed as though she barely recognised her, and then her expression turned to incredulity and almost…. Was that guilt that she saw in her eyes? Guilt for what? Ryan, the boy that Eva was with had much the same reaction except that he looked almost scared, like he wanted to turn tail and run. Victoria’s momentary light heartedness dissipated. Ryan was the guy that she had had a major crush on all year. She had been making pretty good progress with him up until….. Well, anyway, judging by the way he was looking at her now, that progress had dissipated too.
“Victoria! What are you doing here? I didn’t know you were coming in today.” Eva had recovered herself and stepped forward to embrace Victoria, who hugged her back after just a moment of hesitation, avoiding Ryan’s gaze as much as he was avoiding hers. Ryan was tall, blonde, broad shouldered, a football player. She had thought so much of him. Now he stood with his hands stuffed in his pockets and staring at his shoes, like a little boy who had been caught outside the school gate. Her heart used to jump when she saw him. Now it didn’t even register him.
The two girls pulled apart. “I know. Just got really bored of hanging around the house. There’s fuck all to do there.” She tried to smile jokingly, but she could tell that it came out more like a grimace. Eva smiled back at her, but her eyes were a little too wide. She was studying Victoria’s face like it was her life’s work. “What?” Victoria asked
“I’m gonna go. Good to see you Victoria.” Ryan had finally had enough. He stalked off back down the stairs before either of them could answer him.
“Have you had a chance to look in the mirror today Vick?” Eva asked. Victoria felt irritation at her patronising tone and that stupid pet nick name that she was well aware was unwanted.
“I kind of have an excuse for looking like crap today.” She answered tersely.
“Come on.” Eva grabbed her by the arm and led her down the corridor to the girls’ bathrooms. There was no one in there now, but at lunch time they would be swarming with girls touching up their make up and restyling their hair and even, for some of the more adventurous ones, smoking. Eva stood her in front of the mirror and set her bag up on the sink to fish out her make up bag. Unlike Victoria’s, Eva’s never left her side and was twice as big.
“I know you might not feel like wearing make up, but that’s normally when you need it the most.” She chided as she unzipped it and spilled its contents out. Victoria watched her rather than her reflection as she selected what she needed and put the rest back in the bag.
I look nothing like her.
“Everyone keeps staring at me.” She said quietly as Eva started rubbing foundation on her cheeks.
“Yeah well, you do look like death warmed up.” Eva said flippantly, then froze. “Sorry.” She said, continuing with her circular motions.
“That’s not why they’re staring at me.” Victoria corrected her ignoring her tactless remark.
Eva shrugged. “Just ignore them.”
Victoria just sighed. She didn’t know what to say. When was there ever a situation where you didn’t know what to say to your best friend? When did they ever have to tread carefully about what they said to you? None of this felt right. It was like a bad dream. Except she couldn’t wake up. She would be stuck in this dream for the rest of her pitiful life.
“Oh, you won’t believe what I heard about Tracey the other day….” And she was off. Gossip was Eva’s forte and Victoria was sure this was what she needed, that this would would take her mind of things. But she couldn’t listen to it. Tracey’s scandal with one of the special needs helpers was nothing. Who honestly cared? It was clear that Eva cared very much as she feverishly added eye shadow and lip gloss to Victoria’s face, lips moving endlessly as she did so. Victoria watched the excitement glow in her eyes, the outrage. She didn’t care that Victoria wasn’t listening. Why hasn’t she asked how I am? Doesn't she care at all?
“There. A billion times better.” Eva finished with a sigh and returned her make to her school bag. Victoria allowed herself to look in the mirror. A little too much blusher for her taste but other than that she looked like her old self. Caked in make up and fake. Did she really look like this all the time? Is this the way people saw her? She had gotten so used to being bare faced; she felt claustrophobic in this mask, suffocated.
Nothing like her at all.
Victoria left the bathroom before Eva and was confronted with a hallway packed with students on their way to morning classes. She now realised that she was famous almost. She had rarely been the talk of the school before, and when she had been, it had been something she had been perversely proud of; caught smoking round the back of the science block with the girls, caught with a boy in the art supply closet. This was different. She didn’t like this.