Chapter 1 June 2005 - One Step Further and My Back Will Break
I SUPPOSE the catalyst was the day I made her a cake. It was her sixteenth birthday. I didn’t particularly want to make her a cake, she didn’t deserve it, but, as her loving mother, I felt duty bound to do something to mark the occasion. If she had just left me alone to get on with it, we would never have rowed and maybe things wouldn’t have turned out the way they did.
Maybe I should thank her for it.
I was just finishing off the mixture when she sidled into the kitchen, coy as a kitten. She smiled sweetly at me, gave me a small hug and sighed so contentedly that she set alarm bells jangling in my head. She was never so affectionate unless she wanted something and I wondered what it was this time.
“Mum,” she said, twirling a lock of long blond hair with one hand.
“Yes, Alex?” I plopped the cake mixture into a greased tin.
“Can I ask you something?” Her big brown eyes were full of Bambi innocence.
I slid the tins slid into the oven. Half an hour and they’d be ready. “Yes, of course you can, honey.” I was a bit preoccupied otherwise I might have been quicker on the uptake. I should have heeded those bells.
“Can you give me some money?”
Ah, here we go.
“Money? What for?”
“School books,” she replied looking demurely at me through her long, mascara-ed eyelashes.
We’d been here before, many, many times. I couldn’t believe she was trying this one on again.
“What’s it really for?” I asked wiping my floury hands with a dishtowel.
“What do you mean?” She was sharp with the questions and there was a hint of anger in her voice, but she kept her cool. Her eyes glinted in the soft morning light.
“Well I’m not fuelling your drugs habit. No way.” I put the towel down and faced her. My hands went instinctively to my hips. We stood there staring at each other for a moment waiting for the other to crack. She reapplied her habitual scowl.
“I don’t do drugs,” she snapped, her lips twisting round the words. “I told you that hundreds of times! It’s to buy books for school, okay?”
She hesitated. I could almost hear the ticking of her mind as she weighed up the situation. She changed tack. Her features softened and, in that little girl lost voice I hate, she continued: “It’s to buy The Catcher in the Rye. We’re studying it just now and there’s not enough books to go around. I really need it mum if you want me to pass my exams.”
‘She must think I’m stupid’, I thought. I folded my arms across my chest. “Fine, then that’s no problem,” I said.
She smiled a little too triumphantly.
“I’ll get it for you. I’m going into town tomorrow anyway. Okay?”
“Oh, there’s no need for that,” she replied too hastily. “No need at all.” Her voice became placating. “I can get it myself. Don’t want to put you to any bother. I know you’re really busy with your housework and things.” She smiled. Honey dripping from her ruby red lips like venom. “Just give me the money and I’ll get it.” She put her hand out, waiting.
I thought about it for a moment. I couldn’t be bothered arguing with her. “I’ll want to see it,” I warned.
She blinked. “Sure.” The hand was held higher.
I grabbed my purse from the kitchen window ledge - kept there where I could see she wasn’t dipping into it - and opened it. “How much is it?”
“Thirty,” she said.
“Pounds? What do you need £30 for?” Jesus, she was only buying a book. “What are you buying? A jewel encrusted edition? Something with sapphires or emeralds?”
“No,” that sullen voice was back. “I need a few other things as well.”
“What things?” My purse was closed again. I held it protectively against my body.
“Just...stuff,” she shrugged.
“Cigarettes?” I asked. I could always smell them off her, the sharp nastiness clung to her like smog. She had stopped trying to hide it with perfume and mints.
“What then?” I held my purse in a death grip. The knuckles on my hand were going white. She was beginning to irritate me.
“Toiletries,” she smiled. “I really need deodorant and shit.” Her big soft eyes were back on, trying to capture me in their pleading beam. I hesitated. She had used this ruse before. She had extracted money from me for (she had assured me) tights and underwear but had instead bought vodka for a wild party she and her friends had at another girl’s house. The girl ended up in hospital getting her stomach pumped. Her parents blamed Alex, claimed she was the ringleader. That painful memory made my mind up.
“Just give me your list and I’ll get them next time I’m in ASDA,” I gave her a tight smile.
“But I need that stuff now!” she barked. The attempt at soliciting the money out of me through coyness had failed, so she returned to her charming real self: Alex the bitch. She should have known better than to change tactics again.
“Don’t you use that tone of voice with me,” I warned in a low growl. I placed the purse back on the windowsill, moved my body in between her and it, protecting it from her.
“Why the fuck not? It’s the only way I can get through your deaf old lady ears into your thick old lady head,” she snarled, thrusting an angry finger at me.
“You little...!” I hissed batting her hand away. “If you think I’m giving you money now, you can forget it.”
Her face contorted with the vile nastiness of her nature. “Aw, away and fuck yourself then, you dried up old lesbian! I’m going to ask dad.”
She dismissed me with a wave of her hand and a tsk, and stomped out of the kitchen and into the hallway.
You know how when you think about a situation later, you wish you had acted differently? Well, I sort of feel that way about this. I wish I had been calmer, thought more about it before I did what I did, was sneakier – like her. But I wasn’t and I couldn’t stop myself from storming in after her. I wasn’t about to let her get away with that. Not this time. I had had enough of being dismissed in this downright rude and nasty way. I was her mother and I demanded respect. I had taken enough shit off her over the years and I deserved much better. So, I followed her. Closely. Caught up with her in the hallway just as we reached the living room door. She didn’t go in, but turned on me, a wildcat with claws out.
“What are you following me for, you bitch?” she hissed. “D’you fancy me? Is that it? You’re fucking sick!” She kept her voice low, knowing full well her father was sitting in the living room reading the Sunday papers. She never swore in front of him; he held the real purse strings after all and she didn’t want Daddy thinking his little princess was naughty.
“Don’t you speak to me like that, I’m your mother!” I snapped. “I deserve BETTER!”
“You deserve nothing!” she taunted. “And what’s this ‘mother’ shite? You’ve never been a mother to me!” Her voice dripped with malice. “I mean look at you! You’re dull, dowdy and you don’t even have a career. I can’t hold my head up in school. Everyone else’s mother is a someone. You’re a nobody. You just sponge off dad all the time.”
“I sponge? I don’t see you bringing any money into this house!” I exploded. “I’ll have you know I work really hard to keep this house nice.”
“Yeah, right. Tell it to someone who cares. What are you? A common housewife, that’s all, with the emphasis on common. There’s nothing special about you. Poor dad, imagine having a wife that’s such a drudge. At least I can bring a bit of glamour into his life.”
She flicked her hair with one hand, stood there, glaring at me, challenging me to do something about it. Flicked the hair again. She was really proud of that hair, spent a lot of time getting it all shiny and bouncy. But, for me, it acted like a matador’s cape to a bull, teasing me, taunting me. I could lie and say that I acted with dignity at that insult. I could say I let the nasty words wash over me. But I didn’t. What actually happened was that a thick haze of red mist descended over me, my mind went into overdrive and I lost it. Big time.
“Let’s just see...” I said grabbing her by the hair. “...how glamorous you look...” I dragged her back down the hallway. “Bald!”
She fought hard, scratching and twisting, trying to break free, but I gripped her hair tightly. The more she jerked and pulled, the tighter I held on. She squealed as I yanked her backwards down the hall. It was loud enough to rouse John from his newspaper slumber and his frowning face appeared at the living room door.
“What’s going on?” he demanded. “What are you doing to our daughter?” He stared at me, open mouthed, as if he couldn’t believe his bespeckled eyes.
“Teaching her a lesson!” I snarled. I was still absorbed by the red fury, lost to the intense boiling within.
“She’s gone mad, dad!” Alex wailed tripping backwards as I pulled. “She’s flipped. She’s a looney...ow!” I yanked again.
“Don’t you speak!” I growled resuming my mission. I kicked open the kitchen door, lugged her in behind me.
“Let me go! Ow! Dad! Stop her!” Alex twisted, turned, but could not break my grip on her hair. John seemed then to come suddenly to his senses. He waded in between us, grabbed my hand and prised open my fist. He threw me from her in disgust. The force bounced me off the wall, brought me back to my senses. I stared at him then looked down at the few long blond hairs still trapped in my hand.
“What are you doing?” he demanded. “What are you doing?” His lips were tight, white, as he waited for an answer. He breathed heavily through his nose reminding me of a snorting bull. I looked at him for a moment, not comprehending at first what he’d said. My chest heaved from the effort of controlling my breathing, calming down. The anger slowly subsided and I was drained.
“She pushed me to it,” I said weakly. “She finally pushed me to it.”
“Pushed you to what? Violence?” He was incredulous. He didn’t like violence, was always avoiding any rough stuff at school. Claimed he was too cool to be involved in boyish scuffles. It wasn’t until years later that I realised he was just a big scared pansy. “How could you do that to your own daughter?” he asked, scolding me like I was a small child. “What do you think you were doing?” He folded his arms over his chest.
“My daughter...” I spat, “…is just getting a little too big for her boots.” I raged. “My daughter thinks her mother is just there to hand out money and when she doesn’t get it, she thinks it’s okay to shout obscenities at me.”
“So, then you think it’s okay to grab her by the hair and threaten to cut it off?”
I suddenly felt ashamed of myself. I could feel my face burning with it.
His face told me he was waiting for a damned good explanation. “Answer me!” John snapped making me jump. I didn’t like his tone. His eyes narrowed to slits as if he was trying to really see who I was. I roused myself out of my shame to answer.
“I suppose not,” I sighed. “But I’ve had enough of the way she treats me. She’s rude, she’s nasty and I’m not going to keep putting up with it.”
“When is she rude? When is she nasty? I’ve never seen her be anything but civil to you,” he asked looking towards Alex who was standing beside the cooker, quietly sniffing and giving him teary-eyed looks. I knew she was putting it on.
“All the time, John. You know she is,” I appealed. He had to believe me. “I spoke to you about it before. She treats me like a skivvy and this house like a hotel to be abused and trashed. I’m sick of it.” It was my turn to fold my arms.
He turned to Alex: “That’s not true is it?”
“No, dad, of course it isn’t,” she cried. Great big tears welled and spilled from her eyes. “Honest. She’s the one that’s nasty, not me. She’s the one that’s always being horrible.”
“Liar,” I hissed.
“No, you’re the liar!” Her face twisted into a snarl. She wiped her eyes with the sleeves of her Prada cardigan and sobbed. “You’re the one that treats me like dirt.” She turned to her dad, all sweetness. “Dad, honest, it’s not me, it’s her. I think she must be going through the menopause or something cos she’s gone a bit loopy. She might have some mental problem, because she’s making all this up.”
He looked from her to me and then back to her.
“Okay, darling,” he said to her, doffing her chin affectionately. He opened his arms, took her in for a hug. “I’ll sort this out.” From the safe folds of his arms she gave me a triumphant look. I glowered at her. Bitch. He released her. “Here,” he said sticking his hands in his trouser pocket and pulling out a wad of tenners. He gave her five and ruffled her hair. “Off you go now, I need to speak to mum.” Joyously, she trotted away. We watched her go in silence before John rounded on me.
“So,” he began.
But he never got to finish. I was furious. I had never raised my voice to him before, but now I was bellowing.
“You’ll sort this out, will you?” I began. My whole body felt hot with the fury within. I could not control my temper. I felt strong. I was invincible.
He smiled benevolently at me. “Susan, look, you’re obviously experiencing some sort of women’s problems right now.” That was his excuse for everything, for any behaviour I displayed that he didn’t like or couldn’t understand. “Let’s book you into the doctor’s and get you sorted out.”
“I don’t need sorted out!” I yelled. “I’m only 35. The only women’s problems I’ve got are a bitch of a daughter and an idiot of a husband.”
“Now, now, let’s not get personal,” he said. “Let’s calm you down and we can talk about it.” He moved closer, his hands making placating downward motions.
“I don’t want to talk about it,” I replied. “I don’t want to be near you at all. I’m sick of being a drudge to you two. I’m sick of my life, I’m sick of this house and I’m sick of you.” I yelled. I suddenly didn’t want to be anywhere near him. “Get out of the way. I want by,” I said roughly pushing past him. He stepped back in alarm.
“Where are you going?” he asked, eyes full of disbelief at my outburst.
“Out and I might not ever come back!” I snapped. I made for the stairs and started climbing. I was going for my shoes and coat upstairs. I was getting out of there. I needed some space between me and them.
“Where will you go?” His tone was mocking. The cold quietness of his voice was enough to stop me in my tracks. I turned to look at him. He was leaning against a wall, arms folded. “You’ve got no money, no job and no place to stay.”
Shit. He was right. Worse still, she was right. I did rely on him for everything. Everything. While he was busy making a career for himself as a lawyer, I’d been content as a sow with staying at home to bring up his child. I had no skills, no career and no way of making money. While he was out building up his skills base, networking and making the contacts, I had stopped in the house thinking that everything would be okay forever, that John would always be there to provide. It never crossed my mind that there might be a time when I would grow tired of him and want to leave. But I couldn’t do it right then, I didn’t have the means to leave. I hadn’t even had the savvy to stash away any emergency money for myself from the household budget. I had nothing. I couldn’t believe I had gotten myself into this situation. I needed to think. I needed to get out of that house.
“I’m going to Martha’s,” I said quietly, turning about and making for the front door. I tried to keep calm as I walked passed him. I kept my head down, couldn’t look at him. He’d won again. “I just need to get away from you,” I whispered as I pulled our front door open. I skipped outside before he could answer, quickly negotiated my way over our gravel path in my old slippers and walked to my friend’s house next door.