Matriphagy

She had considered suicide on more than one occasion.

What put her off was the effect on her kids. She did not wish to burden them with a legacy of guilt, although she was unsure if they would harbour such feelings. She could imagine anger, frustration, disappointment. They treated her with such contempt it was hard to know what impact her demise would have.

And then there was her husband. He treated her well and she knew that she was useful to him. She cooked and cleaned even if not with the skills he could admire. Sex was another chore. He was still handsome enough and solvent in a world filled with debt. He could easily find a replacement although not perhaps one as compliant as she. He may relish the change but, as ever, she worried about the impact on their kids.

The aches and pains she felt, the blood she passed, it was probably just her age. If not then death by illness would be so much more acceptable to those left behind. There would be no public shaming even if her choices could be surreptitiously blamed by the spiteful. She knew that she drank more than was good for her but cared little for the effects on her body. If it shortened her life then so be it, at least she would have lived.

It had been a good life. She loved her husband even after all these years of marriage. She was proud of their kids whose lives stretched out before them, filled with such potential. They seemed normal, happy, ready to spread their wings. Didn’t their desire for independence, their strong but considered views, show that she had done her job well? She felt accomplished that they no longer needed her. It hurt that they did not want her.

She considered going to her doctor but saw little point. She was overweight for her age and height, obese by the helpful charts she consulted on line. Both her mother-in-law and her sister opined that the obese did not deserve free healthcare, that they should help themselves by losing the weight. She had been trying to lose weight since she was fourteen years old. Only occasionally did she succeed.

She did not agree with their point of view believing that these issues were often an outward sign of more complex problems. She wondered if she suffered a mental health disorder then berated herself for indulging in such thoughts. Her husband considered depression to be a first world problem, a sign of weakness. He had no interest in such nonsense.

They rarely talked about how they felt. They rarely talked of much at all. When the children discussed politics or the economy she would try to engage but her oratory skills failed her. They became exasperated, running rings around her stumbled opinions before dismissing them. Their father, when he joined in, always sounded so sure, so knowledgeable. She felt a failure for her inability to counter his neoliberal perspective with the same conviction.

She felt a failure in most things: as a wife, a mother, a worthwhile member of society. She sat upon this earth consuming resources and giving little back. If her body was now failing her then she would allow it to wane. The costly treatments that could be offered would channel finite resources away from those who deserved it, those who wished to live.

What is it her son had said when she had told him she did not expect to achieve old age? ‘At least you won’t get dementia.’ This had always been her fear, that she would become a burden to those she loved.

Some days she did not wish to die. Some days she felt the warm glow of happiness, a momentary sunbeam, breaking through the shadows that threatened to engulf her waking hours. Some days life still felt good.

And it had been a good life; she had no regrets. She had achieved so much even if her family did not now hold any of it in regard. She had not made any sacrifices but had offered her all willingly and with infinite love.

This then would be her first, selfish act.

 

 

The wedding

‘It’s pink, Nina, fucking pink! If I didn’t know her better I’d think she was doing this to get at me, but she’s not even that aware. Thinks I don’t notice clothes, that I just chuck it all together without thought. I mean, I know it’s her wedding, but pink! ‘

‘Ellie, you didn’t really expect your mom to let you wear torn black chiffon and deep purple did you? That dress was seriously awesome but you would have upstaged the bride.’

‘So why do I have to be bridesmaid anyway? For Christ’s sake, it’s her fourth wedding. Who has bridesmaids at a fourth wedding? She’s done just fine having all the others at the town hall.’

‘She wants to dress up, have a party. You told me David’s loaded so why not?’

‘Oh God Nina, what am I going to do? I thought she might let me at least get a black underskirt, drape black cobwebs over it, but she just bursts into tears when I try to suggest a compromise.’

‘Is she still trying to get you to go back to being blonde?’

‘And she insists on professional make-up. That, of course, is just a ploy to keep me away from my eye liner. She wants a different daughter, a Barbie doll daughter like David’s, who sips cocktails and goes moony when some idiot boy tells her how beautiful she is. She’s never let me forget the night I kneed Eddie Crawford in the groin when he tried that one. I still reckon he was being sarcastic.’

‘She probably just wants you to match the little ones, they’ll love pink.’

‘So why do I have to be there at all? Let them all look cutesy together and do their thing without me.’

‘What does David say?’

‘Not a lot. Made some comment about having to wear a matching cravat. I think he just wants it over with, but he’d do anything for mom.’

‘Have you met his daughter yet?’

‘She’s flying in tomorrow, big family dinner with dress fittings the next day. If I don’t get it sorted then I’m the sugar plum fairy, and given David’s profile the photos will not stay hidden in the family album. It doesn’t bear thinking about.’

*

‘So, Darrio says that this sort of exposure is just what I need. In the right dress I can be like that British girl, you know, the one with the bum who wore white to her sister’s wedding and the press fell in love with her? I mean, they loved her sister too, they will just adore you Sally, how could they not? But my dress must have that Wow! factor, especially from the back.’

‘Cressida, the dresses have already been chosen. You and Ellie are in pink, Lottie and Beth are in white with pink sashes, and your dad and Ben have pink cravats.’

‘Sally, Dad, this is my future, this is my chance to make an impression!’

‘Darling, try to remember, this is our wedding.’

‘But it can be both! Just let me choose a different dress, one that accentuates all my best features. Just do this for me.’

*

‘What do you think I should do?’

‘See what she chooses and take it from there. This may just be a storm in a tea cup.’

*

‘Whose idea was it in the end?’

‘David’s, thank God. Oh Nina, you should have seen Cressida’s face when she saw the photos. Her attempts to pose made her look as if she needed the loo, and that dress she chose just merged with the background beside Mum, who looked absolutely fabulous and so happy. Ben loved his top hat and tails and kept dancing with Lottie and Beth. It was actually a pretty good day.’

‘You made a very handsome man you know, and that top hat set your hair off perfectly.’

‘Why thank you sweetheart. Mum reckons she should have had me giving her away, it was the only thing she regretted. I told her, no regrets. She’s waved three husbands off to war and none came back, nobody should have to deal with that. She deserves all the happiness she can get.’

 

Under the stars

This piece was written for the Tipsy Lit Prompted Challenge: Family Games Night.

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Dear Lottie,

This is worse than we ever imagined. Not only am I expected to sleep on the ground next to Snotface, but there is no phone signal anywhere in this god forsaken shit hole. I mean that literally, the place stinks of shit. Mom reckons it’s the heat, and being downwind of the toilet block.

I was assured of hot showers, I was promised at least that. Well, I guess they exist, but they are so hot they would burn my skin off if I dared stand under the jet. So now I stink too. I am not stripping off at a tiny sink in front of strangers.

My clothes are covered in dust and juice, yes juice. Snotface set her sippy cup sideways on my open bag, can you believe that? She could wake the dead with her screams if I dare go near her stupid toys, and then I’m told not to fuss when everything I have is smeared with her sticky goo.

And every evening, every god damn evening after supper they think it’s ‘fun’ to play board games. This is not fun guys. Fun would be driving down town to catch a movie, or eating out once in a while. But no, Snotface needs her beddy byes, Snotface has allergies. Why the hell did they bring her camping if she might die if she ingests anything that tastes halfway decent? I refuse to eat the slop they concoct each night, and then I’m told that I’m the one being difficult! Jeez.

So I’m sitting here writing a letter while they play games and moan that I’m not getting in the spirit of things. Listen up you lovestruck ninnies, this is not a spirit that I want anything to do with. It’s not as if they play properly anyway. They let Snotface cheat and tell her she’s won to stop her whining, although she whines plenty whatever we do. She’s already run off with half the playing pieces and lost them god knows where.

Can you believe that I am writing an actual letter? I haven’t done this since sixth grade. Snotface was so not going to let me take a sheet of her precious scribble pad, but the boyfriend bribed her with my cookie. He then had the nerve to ask if I would babysit one evening so that he and Mom could go down town! I made it quite clear that if anyone was going down town then I was going too, which made Mom yell. She thinks I’m selfish? Woman, go look in a mirror.

Family games night used to be fun when it was Dad and Andy instead of this loser and his leaky sprog. There is no way I am going to play along with their little charade of happy families. If they want to remind me how much I miss Dad then this is how to do it.

Anyways, if I can’t persuade them to pack up early then we’ll be home a week Thursday. Could I come over to yours for a sleepover?

I miss you guys.

Cass. xx

 

 

Primogeniture


Carl lay back on the lumpy sofa, booted feet up, head on a frayed cushion, and took a long drag on the spliff he had just rolled and lit. The hit was languorous and delicious as the messy room swam and then drifted into blinkered focus. The cobwebbed cornices looked beautiful under the dappled light in which the colours on the painting above the fireplace grew vivid. Delightful details, previously unnoticed, caught Carl’s attention. Two young hares, rump to rump like duelling pistols, crouched by the gate. The birds flying overhead became menacing predators as the horseman galloped across the field, escaping a danger that could only be guessed at. ‘Damn this is good shit’ thought Carl as he sucked hungrily on the shrinking reefer.

His reverie was broken by the sound of a car carrying thumping music up the gravelled drive. As it drew to a halt outside the long windows, Carl’s finely tuned senses recognised a band whose music he now disliked intensely. Portishead reminded him of London, clubs and Susie; of a different time, when simple drugs energised his nights and water was his drink of choice.

Clambering from his cocoon he burst out into the sunlight, his body instantly galvanized and ready for action. Mark remained sitting in the driver’s seat, observing the manic movements of his erstwhile friend. The ubiquitous sunglasses barely masked his contempt.

‘Jeez Carl, it’s nine-thirty in the morning and you’re shit faced already?’

‘Wound up and ready to go’ came the reply. ‘Let’s do this thing!’

As the car swept along the quiet country lanes, the fast moving scenery and tight corners churned Carl’s empty stomach. Drawing deeply from a hip flask, he closed his eyes and reminded himself of the plans they had hatched on the previous evening. Mark had assured him that Susie was out of the country; revenge would be sweet.

‘Did you remember the keys?’ Mark asked as they reached the outskirts of town and joined the slow moving traffic on the bypass.

‘No need’ replied Carl, ‘She leaves a set for the cleaner in a rock by the back door.’

Carl made his way along the familiar alleyways, reminded of the many nights when he had sneaked out alone. The fake rock was where it had always been, the key hidden inside. Removing it, Carl descended the steep steps and let himself in to the basement flat. As his eyes adjusted to the dim light he smiled and set to work.

Susie put down the phone and sighed. Since her parents had died she had known she would need to deal with Carl. Explaining to her secretary that she would be gone for a few hours, she left the office and made her way home on foot. The shuttered town house looked empty, like so many in the desirable street. At least she made use of a few of the rooms, even if she did hold on to the rest as the investment her absent neighbours sought.

Carl was as inept at destruction as he was at anything else he had ever tried. There was mess and confusion but little lasting damage. His shock when she walked in the door froze him to the spot.

‘What were you trying to achieve?’ she quietly enquired as she stepped carefully over an upturned drawer.

‘Mark said you had papers, that you were trying to get the estate because you are eldest’ he answered, reminding her of a rabbit caught in headlights, terrified but unable to move.

‘Did you think that taking the papers would stop me? Did you think that trashing my home would scare me?’

‘Mark said there was money abroad, property deeds if I could find them.’

‘And you thought I would keep them here? You really are an idiot little brother.’

The familiar, smooth tone of her voice made Carl shake with anger. Grabbing the cricket bat he had been swinging around he lunged at her across the broken table and scattered magazines. Deftly she stepped aside, grabbed the bat and swung it hard at his head. The crack on impact echoed around the room.

When the police arrived Susie was hysterical, shaking and in tears. She explained how she had come home unexpectedly and been attacked by an intruder, not realising who it actually was.

She would need to stay elsewhere until investigations were complete. Susie gave them the address of her fiancé; Mark was already on his way to pick her up.

 

 

 

 

Inheritance

Short fiction (500 words) written for Prompted: Sneaky | Tipsy Lit.

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There are some things I would rather not know, such as that my mom killed my dad. I mean, he was a bastard, but still. What was I supposed to do with that knowledge? She shouldn’t have told me.

I don’t remember him clearly, but I do remember the fights. He would come home drunk and start yelling, crashing around the house, throwing things and hitting out at anyone who got in his way. I mostly stayed in my room when he was around. Maybe that’s why I can’t picture him now.

Mom told me he’d left us and all I felt was relief. She had to go out to work, and then we moved states. I wasn’t sorry to go. I didn’t know how to make friends back then and school sucked. Mom said it was a fresh start, I wish she’d let us move on.

I liked the anonymity of the city, the bustle and life and nobody knowing who I was. I thought mom was happier but turns out she brought her demons with her. We never talked much until that night, especially not about him. What was there to say?

I’d been hanging out with some guys and we pikeyed a load of beers, sat and drank them in the parking lot before throwing up and heading home. Mom lost it when she saw the state of me, I’d never seen her so mad.

She sat me down and started talking about getting pregnant and family shame and being pressured into marrying; how being a drunk could be inherited and she wouldn’t live with that again. I must have dropped off because she started yelling, hitting me round the head. I didn’t mean to push her over.

I was scared the way she looked at me, all that hate bubbling out. She told me if I ever laid a finger on her again she’d kill me, like she had my old man. I said ‘What do you mean?’ but only because I was fuddled and it made no sense. She shouldn’t have answered.

Once she started talking it was as if she couldn’t stop, so I left; wandered around until it got dark, then crashed in the doorway of a store. Some cops moved me on, but where was I supposed to go?

I caught a bus to the freeway and hitched a ride with a trucker. The people here don’t ask many questions if you’re offering labour on the cheap. I pay my bed and board, put the rest towards learning a trade. I never saw a reason to try until she showed me what I could become; I guess she gave me that at least.

Two things I know for sure: I’m not a drunk and I’m not a killer. I’ll walk my own path from here.

 

Stayin’ Alive

Carla disliked parties and themed ones were the worst of all. For years she had made excuses when invited along to such events. If the hosts took offence then that was regrettable, but her true friends accepted her quirks even if they did not understand. She was past caring what the wider world thought. Words still had the power to hurt, but she had moved on from the young woman she had once been, learning the hard way that there are those who would never be pleased or impressed unless she became a lesser version of them. Such a price was not worth paying.

The invitation sat on her crowded bookshelf mocking her resolve and hard won sense of self. Ashley knew how Carla felt but had declared that it was her birthday and she would do what she wanted on her special day. She had made sure that Carla knew how much effort the rest of the family were making. Mark was flying over from Australia with his new partner; their attendance would be part of a carefully planned tour of Europe. Craig could only get a few days off work but was flying in from Canada just for the weekend.

Carla had started to remind Ashley how much she struggled with these events only to be cut off in mid sentence. ‘You have to be there’ she had exclaimed, ‘You are my twin sister and you live less than three miles from the venue. For one night, just one night, try to act as if you are normal!’

So now Carla was putting together a hideous outfit that would make her look like a cast member from Saturday Night Fever. She had never liked that film. Discos had been her first experience of girls in a cattle market, expected to cosy up to drunk, sweaty Lotharios who thought that they were God’s gift. Ashley, of course, had loved them. Their mother had insisted that Carla go along to keep her sister company, not that Ashley was ever short of company.

Her sister fitted their mother’s idea of how a girl should be. Interested in fashion, boys and parties they gossiped and giggled together, flicking through magazines or sizing up the young actors from television shows. Carla was berated for not making an effort with her looks, for spending too much time reading in her bedroom. ‘How are you ever going to find a husband?’ her mother fretted. To her, this was the pinnacle of achievement for a good girl.

Mother would be at the party of course; costumed, coiffed and in her element. If Ashley was a challenge to cope with then she was an amateur compared to their mother who, even after all these years, could never give up trying to makeover Carla in her own image. The party had probably been a joint venture, a way to force Carla to act the way the family thought she should. The closer it came the more Carla was struggling to cope.

It would be so easy to agree to everything and then not turn up, claim illness, not answer the door if they tried to fetch her on the day. It would also be a pretence, and Carla would no longer live her life that way. She would attend as was expected and then leave early. She hated herself for not being stronger, for allowing herself to be sucked in yet again.

On the night, feeling nauseous and foolish, Carla filled her hair with spray and glitter, donned a floaty red dress, and waited for the hired limousine that would take the family to the venue. It didn’t arrive. An hour later Craig phoned from the hospital to inform her that their mother was on life support. They had been drinking all afternoon before Ashley and their mother had argued over the suitability of costumes, mutton dressed as lamb. Mother had attempted a dramatic departure, tripping over her feet as she left and falling down the steep front steps. She had banged her head at the bottom, hard. The doctors told them that she was unlikely to regain conciousness.

It was not the family reunion that Carla had expected and dreaded. For the first time in her life she was in charge, the only one amongst them who felt calm. As she held her mother’s hand and gave the doctors permission to turn the machines off, she silently wished herself a Happy Birthday.