Growing [Michelle]

I remember when I was about seven and my parents finally lost their patience with me. It was just a few weeks after Mam realised at last that I was still a freak.

We were sitting at the kitchen table. I was staring at my food, not eating it. "I don't want it," I told Mam. That was a lie. I did. But they were telling me not to touch it, and I knew they were right. I was already planning to leave, you know, even then. And they warned me that every mouthful would make it harder.

"You will eat the food I have cooked and you will not say a word," she said firmly. But I didn't. I just stared at it.

"I can't," I whispered. I choked on the word. I was finally admitting my failure to keep control of my own mind. I wanted it and I couldn't have it. I knew, even as a child, that I was losing it. I was going crazy. They were all right about me.

"It's not the voices again, is it?" Mam was growing angry. Dad's head shot up.

"For goodness sake, Sophie, don't remind her of them! You know she'd stopped all that nonsense!" Of course, he hadn't been there for our earlier conversation.

"They've been there all along," Mam told him. "She stopped mentioning them because it alarmed us. But they've been there all along. Nick, what're we going to do?"

He stared at me. "Is this true?"

"Yes..." I looked up at him fearfully. "Don't hate me, Dad. It's not my fault."

"It blooming well is your fault!" He exploded, grabbing my shoulders and shaking me. "Can't you just ignore them? You're a blooming headcase, that's what you are! You ought to have been sent to an institution when you were born! What did we do to deserve this?"

"Nick!" said Mam. I honestly believed she was saying it for my benefit, but a minute later she too betrayed me. "You can't go saying that out loud! What if the neighbours heard you? We'd never live it down!"

So that was all she cared about. Their reputation. Not the feelings of their youngest daughter, not how she was broken inside by their harsh words ... just their reputation. I looked away.

"Don't hate me," I whispered again.

"I could never love you," said Dad. From that moment he ceased to be my father. From that moment I ceased to register him as my family. He hated me, and that was the end of it all.

The End

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