She knew they loved her very much, and so none of these things should really matter. It shouldn’t matter that the second she walks through that front door, the overwhelming pressure of the house causes her chest to heave and breathing to turn laboured. She feels her body heat up immensely, the tightness in her throat making her eyes water, as they mechanically brought her bags through to her long-empty room. Their shoulders knocked past her, sending her stumbling into the clumsily positioned coat rack, decade’s old moth-eaten coats falling onto the beige carpet. A mildly annoyed grunt is directed at her, and she hastily put the coats back in place. She has to remember to act quickly and efficiently here, it doesn’t take much for things here to turn sour. She must remain the perfect trophy daughter, silent and submissive, doing no wrong.
The bags are all moved inside, and the door closes behind her with a monotonous creak. She utters a shaky breath. Stooping down to get briskly to work, she sifts through her belongings. She immediately sees multiple items she wouldn’t be permitted to have on display here, items which would need hiding, which would need long, well-thought out explanations as to why she would ever dare have one casual bottle of wine with her, bought as a simple gift from her friend saying goodbye, or the tops which were ever so slightly low-cut, but just enough to create a unwanted level of tension at the dinner table. Her nose twitches absentmindedly as she tries to think of something other than the past arguments held at the table, but it was inevitably unsuccessful.
It would always start with the one, blunt comment directed at something ever so slightly controversial. In the few seconds of silence after it was said, everyone around the table would sit silently, hearts racing, wondering ‘Is that it? Please, say that that is it. Not another problem, not tonight.’ But it would never end so easily.
‘I don’t spend every last penny of my hard-earned cash on your education for you to be a dirty whore, parading around the town making a fool out of me.’
It would not be a quiet night tonight. It would be a night of staring down at her dinner plate of gristly, lukewarm beef and cold potatoes intently, so intently, as if keeping your eyes permanently fixed to that one, limp leaf of soggy cabbage would somehow keep you safe, so when the raised voices got louder and louder and the arguing got worse and worse, she was somehow magically exempt from the inevitable first rule of the house, that you should not and would not make a fool of him in his house. And the girl knew all too well what came next after this.
So no, for all who were wondering, staring intently at that one, limp leaf of soggy cabbage and choking back the nervous squeals in her throat was not a successful way to avoid the fist that came speeding towards her cheek in the upcoming few seconds. If she were especially unlucky, (and she was) then the shock and force would hurtle her head downwards, smacking her quivering nose into the very leaf of soggy cabbage she had been so dearly watching. The food would slide down her cheeks and the smooth, cheap plastic of the plate would scrape against her teeth as she opened her mouth in an exclamation of shock. The girls head lies there for several seconds, taking in what has just happened, whilst her parents continue to argue over what a waste of good food that all was.
‘Those potatoes were a good £3 from Lidl!’
‘Well then teach your daughter not to be such a god damn disrespectful bitch! I get no respect in this house.’
Then the moment would be over as soon as it had begun. He would climb out of his chair, not as quickly as he used to do in his younger years, and leave the room. The slamming of the door echoed through the tiny house for several seconds, the moth-eaten coats once again inevitably falling of their flimsy rack, and the remaining members at the table would listen to the heavy footfalls ascending the creaky staircase.
No words were exchanged between them. The younger brother nervously traced his fork along the edge of his plate, the scrape of the cheap metal against the porcelain ringing in the empty room. The china figures spilling from the mantelpiece stole accusing looks at the three. The mother would take one woollen mouthful, then sit there with it in her mouth, as if afraid the swallowing noise would awaken him once more. They sat there in silence, and in that moment the young girl knew she would never be freed of this place, for she would always come back to this moment.
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Copyright © 2017 Rebecca Sherratt