Authors: Suki Fleet
When I took out my phone, I saw I had four missed calls. Three were from Thomas. He’d called me not long ago. One was from Corinne. I put my phone back in my pocket and lay down. I stretched my arms and legs right out and let the dampness and the summer rain seep into me.
Around 2:00 p.m. I headed back. I was trying to pretend I wasn’t hungry, because I wasn’t sure if I was going to go back to the flat yet. But as I got closer, I saw Corinne striding across the car park at the bottom of our block. Her expression was grim, and a little flare of bitter satisfaction blossomed in my chest. Corinne hadn’t taken the whole day off work, and she looked as angry as I was. I had an ally. Against what, though?
I ran after her.
The rain had soaked through the blue of her uniform in uneven patches, and the fabric clung to her skin. She smiled briefly when she saw me. Maybe she saw an ally in me too. We needed one another.
“Have you seen Mum yet?” I asked.
“Yes, I popped back earlier. I told her I’d come again on my lunch hour. I couldn’t just drop everything.” Corinne glanced at her watch. “I can’t be late, though.”
We walked together. In the stairwell she hugged me tightly before she called the lift.
“Let’s go see how the land lies, Sasha. We’ll sort it out. Race you,” she said stepping into the lift and giving me a wink that told me she was going to try her damnedest to make this okay.
I could never beat the lift, no matter how quickly I ran. Instead I watched her until the steel lift doors had fully closed. She was pretty, my sister, curvaceous and slightly exotic-looking. She had a nice smile when she relaxed and wasn’t plain exhausted with just getting through each day. I wished she had someone in her life who could appreciate everything about her. I knew she wanted that too. I knew she was looking. And I hadn’t been. And now I had Thomas, and she still had no one.
I thought about that all the way up the stairs. It was better than thinking about other things, like Mum and what the fuck she was doing here. On our floor I paused, listening apprehensively for any raised voices, any argument. If I’d heard either, I probably would have run.
in the kitchen. Corinne was boiling the kettle. Mum was sitting at the tiny square kitchen table. There were only two seats at the table, because there were only two of us, and we only needed two seats. I moved into the doorway, not quite making my presence known, but not quite hiding it either.
Even with the flickering light on, the kitchen seemed as dull and gray as the rainy sky.
Mum glanced over at me and looked away, a half-finished cigarette at her lips.
She was pissed off that I’d bolted, no doubt. Ironic, that. I glared, my arms folded in front of my chest.
The room already stank of stale smoke, and she’d only been here a few hours.
Once the kettle had boiled, Corinne poured the tea and caught my arm, pulling me gently out of the kitchen and into the living room.
“I just got a call from school, Sasha. They said you’ve not been in today
.” She searched my face as if she was looking for some sort of answer or reason. I thought it was obvious enough. The reason was sitting at the kitchen table, making herself at home. But this was
home, Corinne’s and now mine—I hoped.
It was the first time I’d skipped school in nearly two weeks. It must have been a new record for me.
Corinne stroked my arms and sighed.
“I understand, you know. But don’t let this throw you off track, all right? It’s just a blip. She’ll be out of here in no time.”
I wasn’t so sure. The huge black suitcase was probably in Corinne’s bedroom setting down roots.
I stood and stared out the living room window at the dreary rooftops of the estate sprawled below us while Corinne finished making tea. Her chair scraped across the floor as she sat down. I listened to her spoon clinking against the sides of her mug as she stirred the sugar in. She asked Mum what was going on, but Mum was speaking so quietly I couldn’t hear her replies, so I stepped back into the doorway.
“He took off with our car and left me with nothing.”
“Was it an argument?”
“Believe it or not, I wanted to come back and see my kids. And he didn’t want to waste the money on my airfare.”
Mum flicked the ash off her cigarette so forcefully it scattered across the cheap plastic tablecloth. When she looked up, it was only to grimace in a superdefensive fashion, as if she was waiting to be challenged on this reason.
She didn’t look at me. Maybe she couldn’t bear to, or maybe she just didn’t care. Whatever it was, my anger sparked.
“We’re not your kids. You fucked off to Spain, and you didn’t look back. You don’t get to play
,” I snapped.
I was as shocked as Corinne and Mum that those words had come out of my mouth. I’d meant them, oh God, I’d meant them, but usually everything stayed bottled up tight inside me.
But perhaps the bottle was broken now. Like everything else.
“You’ve got your whole life ahead of you, Sasha.” Mum waved her arms at me dismissively. “What have I got? Nothing. I’ve got to take the chances that come along to me, or I’ll end some sad lonely woman with nothing.”
“It’s always about you and fuck everything else. Fuck everyone else’s chances. You left me in Brighton with fucking
!” I shouted the last word and shot out of there.
I slammed the door to my bedroom, but I didn’t lock it. I kind of hoped Corinne would come after me and was silently thankful when I heard a gentle tap on my door telling me she had.
“Sasha?” She leaned into my room.
I was peeking out of the circle I’d made with my arms, my head on my knees. I was still shaking with the force of my anger.
“You’re going to let her stay, aren’t you?” I mumbled.
“She says it’s only going to be for a few days.”
I shook my head. Deep down I could see she couldn’t just chuck Mum out, but I wished she would. Because maybe then Mum would know what it felt like to be unwanted and abandoned. Maybe then she’d know what she’d done to me. And to Corinne.
But Corinne wasn’t like that. She felt the weight of
responsibility much more than Mum ever had.
“Come back when you’ve calmed down. You need to have it out with her. You’ll feel better when you do. Clear the air.”
“I can’t forgive her.”
Corinne nodded understandingly. “Talk to her,” she said gently.
I wasn’t sure I could, though. Talking wasn’t something I was great at, at the best of times, never mind when I was so fucking angry I could feel myself trembling.
“Tell her to stop smoking in here.”
“Already done. I pointed her in the direction of the fire escape down the corridor. She’s there now. Think your outburst shook her up a bit.”
“Don’t see how. It’s not like she has a heart or anything.”
Corinne smiled, but it was rueful and sad. “But you do.”
I looked away.
She disappeared and came back with a glass of water for me. I sipped it slowly. When I finished I felt less shaky. I went back into the kitchen. Mum was still out on the fire escape.
Mum didn’t look at me at all when she came back in. I pulled a face at her back, and Corinne raised an eyebrow. Well, at least I wasn’t shouting.
Corinne asked her about her life in Spain, and I shut off a little, refusing to hear it. I couldn’t imagine
not being angry with her. I couldn’t imagine forgiving her.
“Trent is coming up later in the week, and we’ll be looking for a place. So this is just for a few days until we can sort out a flat of our own.”
She was turned toward Corinne. I hadn’t really been listening, so I thought at first I must have misheard her. I stumbled slightly against the kitchen table and righted myself.
“Trent Blake?” I croaked.
Mum didn’t even look in my direction. “Yeah, I know it was a bit volatile sometimes between us, but we’ve really missed one another. He’s changed, and he’s been very sweet and wants to make a go of it. And after that bastard deserted me in Spain, I need a bit of sweetness.”
I stuck my hand over my mouth and threw up into it before I made it to the bathroom. I kicked the bathroom door shut and vomited into the toilet until I had nothing left inside me. Until I felt empty. Sometimes I needed to feel empty, so empty it was as though nothing could touch the blank space inside me. Feeling nothing was better than giving in to the agony that threatened to rip me to pieces.
Even saying his name was like swallowing glass. Everything had just gotten about a million times worse. Mum being here I could perhaps live through, but if Trent Blake was here too? I shook my head.
“Sasha? You okay?” Corinne’s voice was muffled by the extractor fan I had rattling away. The bathroom suite was brown porcelain. I was curled on the floor, my head resting against the cold base of the freestanding sink. Brown porcelain was all I could see.
Not okay. Not okay. Not okay.
“Want me to ring Thomas?”
I nodded, though I knew she couldn’t see me. I didn’t have the strength to speak.
These past few weeks I’d felt happy for the first time in so long, and now a wrecking ball with my mother’s face on it had come and fucking obliterated it all in a few short hours. I was glass, destroyed, shattered, smashed apart. No fucking sculptor in the world could collect every shard and stick them together to remake something beautiful out of all the pieces. I was broken, and I always would be.
a while later. Corinne must have called him
anyway. I heard them speaking quietly in the hall. She said
something about the bathroom, and I heard their footsteps drawing closer.
She didn’t introduce him to Mum, and for that I was so grateful.
“Thomas, I have to go back to work. Look after Sasha, yeah? But call me if you need to,” I heard her say.
“Hey, Sash, can you open the door? I won’t make you come out or anything. I just want to come in,” Thomas said softly.
My bones were made of some heavy substance, iron filings or liquid lead. It took all my energy to just sit up and unlock the bathroom door. Thomas squeezed through the gap and knelt down next to me. He looked me over like he was checking for injuries, like Corinne had the day of his asthma attack, and then he lay down on the floor and curled his body right around mine. No questions, no solutions, just him, just me, just safe.
I might have sobbed in his arms, but if I did, it wasn’t for long. Bizarrely I think I fell asleep.
I awoke to Thomas brushing his lips against my ear. I blinked trying to work out where I was and rolled onto my back, trying to push away the feelings when I remembered why I’d shut myself in here.
“Your mum’s back, huh?” Thomas murmured, flicking his eyes toward the door. “Want to get out of here? You could come over to mine. We can forget it all for a while.”
Staring up at the water-marked ceiling, I nodded. But it wasn’t just Mum I wanted to forget.
“Won’t your parents mind?” I asked, not looking at him.
“They left last night.”
You didn’t tell me
, I thought. It hurt more than I imagined.
“It was all a bit last-minute. I think they thought I’d cope better with my exams if they weren’t here. They’ll be back sometime in September.”
I searched his eyes. Sometimes I got the sense he didn’t tell me everything. I didn’t think he kept quiet about anything big, but I couldn’t explain it. I just got the sense there were some
he didn’t say. But then I hadn’t told him straightaway about Mum, had I, because I knew he needed to be at school.
“I’m okay,” he said. He gave me a lopsided smile that was more sad than anything. He was probably doing that noble thing of thinking the shit I was going through was worse than what he was dealing with. I kind of loved and hated that about him.
“Let’s get out of here,” I agreed.
hugged me like always as soon as we walked through the door. I was slowly getting used to it, to being accepted as though I was part of Thomas’s family. We watched mindless TV in the living room while she cooked us dinner. She went all-out with a roast. It was for Thomas, I knew. And I also knew she thought I was here because Thomas was feeling low about his parents leaving. But the reason didn’t matter—being at Thomas’s house was saving my fucking sanity.
“Stay over tonight?” Thomas asked hopefully as we cleared away the dishes after dinner.
Maybe Thomas needed my comfort too. Maybe we could comfort one another. I liked that idea.
I stepped out of the backdoor to call Corinne. The rain had stopped—the sky was deep, rainwashed blue, and the air smelled clear and sharp. All the way down the lawn, the blades of grass were flattened under the weight of raindrops.
“I’m going to stay at Thomas’s,” I said when Corinne answered.
“Okay.” She didn’t sound surprised. “Do you need anything for school tomorrow?”
“No, I should be okay, thanks.”
“Come back tomorrow and we’ll talk it over with Mum some more, yeah?”
“Yeah, all right,” I agreed absently.
I wasn’t even considering it, really. I couldn’t think about the situation without feeling like I wanted to sink to the ground with my head on my knees. I had no idea what I was going to do tomorrow.
Thomas’s gran we were going to bed early, and all evening we lay curled up together on his bed watching all the comedy films he had on DVD in his room. We kissed a little, but it was just gentle, just slow.
What I needed most was Thomas’s arms wrapped around my chest and stomach, his lips to my ear, the gentle sound of his breathing. I switched off and let the pictures and the sounds on the television screen flow over me like warm water.