Tell Her It Means Love
Play your tapes at full blast. If you still hear them yelling, feel your heart punch your chest. Count the punches, to ten. Open the box where you hide your mum’s cig butts and then wish you hadn’t. Open the bedroom window and try to waft the smell of ashtray towards the summer evening. Wonder if the neighbours will call the police again, if this time they’ll put you in care. Sing ‘Take On Me’ in an operatic voice that would make your mum laugh, in the right circumstances. Remember what she said about reading the room. Close the window.
Focus on listening to the music and get excited by A-ha's frantic synths. Above Morten Harket’s high notes, hear your dad shout, “Liar!” then slam the front door. Wait in your room for ten minutes, an hour, a week. Wonder where your sister is. Wonder where your mum is. Wonder why no-one is wondering where you are.
Panic-grab peace offerings and leave your room. Tiptoe down the corridor to your parent’s bedroom. Listen to your mum crying. Knock on the door until she answers – could be ten minutes, could be half an hour, could be not at all. If she opens the door, offer her whatever childish treasure you’ve stuffed in your pockets; an unscratched protractor, a fistful of marbles, a fortune teller fish, shiny and unspoiled. If she cries harder tell her it’s not her fault. Wait for her to say something. If she doesn’t say anything say, “I’m sorry, Mum.” Then she will tell you that she is sorry, that it’s not your fault either, that they are the grown-ups. Then she will be able to look at you. Fold yourself into her hug.
Hold hands on the way downstairs, her walking ahead of you like she did when you were a toddler. Notice how she trusts you to hold on to the banister, how she no longer looks back. Jump when the phone in the hall starts ringing. If your mum ignores it, answer it. If it’s your sister calling to ask if she can stay out longer, say yes. If it’s your dad calling to ask if your mum is there, say no. Unplug the phone. Ask her when he’s coming back. Ten minutes? Two hours? A year? Hope she will say never but never say that out loud.
Beg your mum to make instant hot chocolate. Feel yourself cheering up, instantly. While the kettle is boiling make her sit on the couch, then dry your mum’s tears like you’ve seen on the telly, except instead of a hanky use a hastily torn shred of kitchen roll – dab, dab, dab. Ask her to close her eyes and put her hand out. Be patient and persistent. Say, “It’s not going to hurt, I promise.” Take the fortune teller fish from your pocket and place it in her palm. Tell her to open her eyes. Watch together as the flimsy red plastic trembles, then curls up entirely. Tell her it means jealousy. Tell her it means passion. Tell her it means love.
Monica Dickson is a short fiction writer from Leeds, UK. Her work has appeared in Splonk, jmww, Anti-Heroin Chic, X-R-A-Y and elsewhere. She has been longlisted and shortlisted for various competitions and won the 2019 Northern Short Story Festival Flash Fiction Slam. Her story 'Receipts' was selected for the inaugural Best of British and Irish Flash Fiction list (BIFFY50). She is a 2021 graduate of the Northern Short Story Festival Academy. More at writingandthelike.wordpress.com and on Twitter @Mon_Dickson