NaNoWriMo Thurs 10 Nov 2011: Part 10

The blood has left my hands where they press against the table: the skin is very pale. In a moment I am going to lift my hands off the table. They will peel away from it and the release of pressure will make my hands zing. The fridge changes the tone of its hum to a quieter drone. I sit. We are all sitting. Quietly. A sneeze shakes me and I turn my head to the left as it exits my body. Sniffing deeply, I notice a tingle in my shoulders and chest.
“I haven’t seen my mum for years. When we did used to see each other it was strained. I think it’s one of the most difficult relationships for a lot of people.” Rebecca states this matter of factly, as if she were talking about the weather. “We never argued. Not when I got out of my teenage years anyway. We kind of got stuck in this unsaid agreement that we should be pleasant to each other and never speak of the underlying hurt that really needed to be addressed if we were to have any kind of meaningful relationship. I think what you guys are doing is… well, beautiful.” We all breathe in deeply. “I wish I had the guts to tell my mum some of the stuff I felt at her actions. But any time I get in that vicinity it’s like she can tell something’s coming that’s going to ruffle her feathers and she manoeuvres around it. Ends the conversation. Needs the loo. She’s happy to put her beliefs out there, like a mum manifesto, and I get a bit overawed by the task of disagreeing with them. So I stopped phoning her. And she doesn’t phone me. I haven’t got a phone here any more anyway.” She shrugs. “I got rid of my phone three years ago. I hardly used it. It seemed pointless. I like books. You can have a conversation with books, in your imagination – you know. And you’re free to imagine things. A few written details and you’ve got a whole scene playing in your head. It’s how I escaped as a child. My imagination. How did you escape?” She looks at me. I gaze at the table; there are no indentations at all.
“I think, mostly, by looking at things. At the details. You know. While things were happening that I didn’t want to happen I could be the wood grain or whatever I was looking at. So I guess, yeah, my imagination helped me too. But after… I needed to not think at all. So I had to do something repetitive. I had a favourite tree. A silver birch. I used to peel its bark. But the peel had to be the same length and width and I would try to peel three pieces in the same direction at once. So, I’d peel one a tiny a bit, then the next, then the next. It rarely worked so I’d have to start over again and it really helped. It occupied my mind so I didn’t – couldn’t – think about what just happened. I did it until it felt safe to stop. If I couldn’t get to the tree I’d pick at things. The fluff on my jumper. Make a neat pile of fluff. Or the loose strands of velour on the sofa. I’d pick off as many as I could. Mostly in winter time.”
“I used to tell you off for that.”
“I know.”
“I didn’t know why you did it. It used to annoy the hell out of me.”
“I know.”
“I thought you were being deliberately annoying.”
“I know.”
“God. I’m sorry.” Emotion makes her voice heavy and quavery.
“It’s okay. You didn’t know.” I give her a wonky smile.
“My mum used to tell me off for always having my head in a book. Well, not tell me off but comment on it. Yeah, she used to comment on it every time I read. It did my head in. I used to think, ‘why do you have to point out what I’m doing to me? I know I’m doing it. I’m doing it to get away.'”
“What were you getting away from, Rebecca?” I’m curious now.
“Oh, nothing as bad as what happened to you.” She laughs incongruously.
“Maybe so. But bad enough for you to want to escape?”
“Um… just. My dad was a bit… wrong sometimes. Nothing too bad. Yeah. But, I mean. Well. He was really quiet mostly but sometimes he’d come home from work in a strange mood. I’d feel on edge. Mum would be extra sarcastic towards him and I’d keep in mind where he was in the room. I didn’t know why. I just felt like I might need a fast exit.” She nods quickly. “He scared me. Intrinsically. I never felt comfortable with him. He always tickled too hard.” Her brow furrows. She scratches the back of her head. “And too long. Mum always had to intervene and tell him to leave us alone. I had a sister. I have a sister. We email occasionally.” She nods again. “We don’t talk about this stuff though. Best not to. Makes me feel…”
“Do you think it’s good to get this stuff out?” I ask the room. The fridge doesn’t change tone.
“I do.” Mum is looking at me. “It feels shit to hear it but it connects us. It clears the way. Let’s us see more clearly.” She looks at Rebecca, “don’t you think?”
“I don’t know. I haven’t talked about this stuff, my stuff, to anyone. It feels a bit private. Raw. And I feel ugly now I’ve said what I’ve said. I admire you, Steve, for being so honest-”
“But I haven’t said that much. I haven’t said the details-”
“No. But you named what he did. I – I can’t do that.” She lowers her head and her hair hangs down covering each side of her face. All I see is the fringe and a pale nose flanked by parts of cheeks.
“You don’t have to. It sounds like it’s worse than you said before. You know…” I feel like a clumsy idiot. I don’t know what else to say. I look at Mum. She leans into the palm of one of her hands, covering her mouth, watching Rebecca.
“I guess I’ve been lucky.” She moves her hand and unmuffles her words. “During my time outside of Party life I’ve had the good chance of meeting some great people who have listened and helped me unpick certain aspects of my life. But some things remained hidden until now. I guess some things stay hidden until they’re ready – you’re ready to face them. And that’s what’s happening now. Rebecca, if you’re ready, you’ll start remembering. I know it’s hard but try not to resist – that’s the stuff that makes nightmares and flashbacks. That’s where the noticing comes in. That’s what these people taught me. It’s hard to remember when a great deal of stress is present but if you can and you come back to noticing, everything is bearable.” Rebecca nods a tiny bit and sniffs. Her shoulders shake and I see a tear fall. I stand and fill the kettle with water. The sound is loud. I turn the kettle on, collect cups, rinse them out. Busy. Doing.
“Your dad was molested as a child.” Mum’s voice is like a long tendril that creeps across the room and touches me on the chest. I stare at the sink; it is stainless steel and has a large drain hole. There is a wire cup sitting in the drain hole that catches things, bits of food. It’s like a tea strainer; minute holes. I wonder if you can use it as a tea strainer if you need to. I lift it. No. It has a long metal stalk that fits into the drain hole. That would get in the way. Unless you hold it at a degree that allows the stalk to remain outside of the mug and you’re careful as you pour the tea. You’d probably need to give it a really good scrubbing. I don’t like the idea of touching the stalk. I know where it’s been. I look up and take a deep breath. Dad was molested as a child. Is that why he killed himself?
“Is that why he killed himself?” My voice is steady but it doesn’t feel like my voice. It feels like someone else is operating me and I’m watching from the viewing box deep inside. Perhaps I’m a visitor from another planet seeing how things are done on Earth. Mum’s voice penetrates my thoughts. “I don’t think it’s as simple as that. I think it was a factor. Did he… Did he-”
“No!” I can’t believe she’s asking me this. Dad never touched me! He wouldn’t. He used to show me how things worked. In the garage. We built things. We built a radio. And we had deckchairs. We had hot cups of tea and listened to the radio we built. He was my Dad. I clutch the sink. It is cold. The kettle has boiled. A cloud of steam drifts away from it. I make the tea and take it to the table. Three mugs. In the middle of the table. I draw one to me and wrap my hands around it. The heat disperses into my palms. A tiny string of steam rises and I place my nose above it. I used to do this with my Dad. He told me what he did at work while I let the steam drift up my nose and the radio twinkled away in the background. He worked at the chemical factory. He was the man who fixed things. A door. A desk. A light. Wherever things needed fixing he went and fixed them. He liked fixing things. I liked hearing about it. He told me about the people he fixed things for. Some of them were nice and some of them were rude but he didn’t mind. He said they were just busy and couldn’t help it.


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