Human Alarm Clock
‘Could you just leave me alone for an hour please? I need some sleep before school.’ I say and I close the bolt on my door. I jump into bed fully clothed. Know I won’t get any sleep and she won’t leave but I pull the blanket over my face regardless.
‘For God’s sake April, you know I’m not asking for no reason.’ Mam says, through the door.
‘I don’t have any money.’
‘You went to the school dance yesterday.’
‘Martin bought me drinks.’
‘So you didn’t buy any of it yourself?’
‘So what if I did, you’re meant to pay for me to go, not whinge about your smack money.’
‘Don’t be like that about it.’ She says, her voice quietening. I shouldn’t have mentioned any complaints. Any reminder of how she is brings one of two responses, sadness or anger. I hear her back sliding down the door. Heavy and irregular breathing, ‘You know I have to have it.’
‘What do you want me to do?’
‘Get some of your savings and-’
‘I do not have any savings.’ I sit up and throw the blanket towards the door, ‘Why aren’t you listening to me?’
‘I know I’m a terrible mother.’ She says and the ramble begins. Shouldn’t have ever touched the stuff again. Was clean for years before I met Graham. I don’t know why I do it but my brain just forces me, you know it just forces me. She howls for a few seconds, then continues.
Most of it’s true, can’t argue with it. I’d never say that to her face or she’d probably kill herself. Don’t want to say it anyway, don’t want to see mam crying. She knows how much it is affecting me and I think that makes it worse. She doesn’t want to do it, she feels like she can’t stop. Doesn’t mean I won’t resent her for making me feel this way.
‘If you don’t have any money,’ she says and cries further, ‘I’ll have to go and get some.’
‘For fuck’s sake.’
I stomp from the bed and to the door, unbolt it. She falls into my room like a bleached skeleton wearing a black wig except she’s shaking and sweating and crying. I kneel, hold her by the armpits and drag her halfway to my bed. Breathe hard a few times while she complains about being itchy. Stinks of piss but I ignore that and pull her to the bed, rest her shoulders against it. I jump to the other side and reach across, grab her again. I jam my knees under the bed and pull with my body as my knees push against the bedframe. Takes a while but I pull her torso onto the bed and once that’s done, her legs come up easy.
‘Thank you. You’re such a good daughter.’
‘Whatever mam.’ I say and grab her phone from her trousers, ‘What else am I meant to do?’
‘Don’t listen to what anyone else says, you’re amazing.’
‘Not even listening, are you?’
‘What a daughter, someone to be proud of.’
‘Not even here. No point talking to you.’
She continues to mumble, delirious from exhaustion. I sit with my back against the bed and try a few passwords in the phone. I enter my birthday and it unlocks the phone. Mam mumbles something about how she could go if I need her to and I tell her to shut up. Whenever she says that, it’s always the final part of our argument. I know how mam gets her money. She knows I won’t let that happen. She doesn’t plan it, just happens. I’m destined to lose every argument until the day I let her self-destruct.
I’ve done this before, it’s pretty easy. All I need’s her phone and some goodwill. Plus the ability to forget everything she has said, none of it’s real. I open her contacts, text Sassy asking for a few bags, say it’s me.
She replies and says forty will do.
Got nothing. Credit?
Can’t do any credit. Grace owes me fifty.
My credit. Only 40 sas. Please.
Fine, 50 credit for 40 in bags.
Good, see you in an hour.
You busy like?
Gotta get the bus.
Okay, an hour, sure April.
I close the phone and pocket it. Tell my mam she’s a fuck and that she needs to wait a few hours and that I love her. Kiss her sweaty forehead and leave.
I shake nervously as I walk down the aisle. Bus’s busier than I was expecting and I’ve caught myself in the window reflections. Still wearing my dress from the school ball and carrying my tiny handbag. Both quite nice, dress’s a shimmering gold and shows my legs arms and chest, got these wavy frills around my waist. Bag matches. Real problem’s the mess that’s inside it.
Hair was curled and tight but now its wavy and thick with sweat, sticks to my face like hair gel and looks black though it’s fair. Sounds strange to say it, but I can see that I stink. Don’t know if it’s my hair or my dark eyes or that general bedraggled look that a girl gets when she’s been drinking. Not my usual sweet summer angel look.
Could be that which says I stink, or it could be that everyone retreats from me like I’m a walking turd.
I’m looking to the ground, trying to avoid anyone’s stare. I glance up to look for seats and there’s a few. I grab the railing and swing into the nearest seat. Beside some very old man who shuffles away from me. The thought comes, God fella I only wanted to give you the experience of not being the smelly one on the bus for a change, then I feel like a knob. Guy’s old, guy can’t help it. Still though, doesn’t make me feel more confident.
I can’t look at anyone, if I see their eyes then I guess I’ll see their thoughts. Scowl on their faces, the odd disapproving glance, probably some sympathetic middle-aged woman, a few girls older than me laughing at the mistakes they presume I’ve made, sneaking off to some guy’s after a decent night. There’ll be nothing to raise my confidence, nothing to make me feel better. That’s the best you can expect from people now. Just don’t cause me too much damage.
Most of the time I’d rather not leave the house at all. Get nagged out by Martin or kicked out by mam’s insufferable nature or her foot. When I have to go to Martin’s or somewhere nice, makes me feel even worse. Don’t even know how I would start the conversation about my family with him or his parents. Guess it’d have to go; ‘Hi my name’s April and my mam is a heroin addict, I spend most of my time with her in the living room and she is very funny when she’s on it. The other times, like now, I either spend outside my house or in my bedroom with the door locked or looking after her. I fitted a large bolt onto my door not because she’ll be trying to kill me like some axe wielding psychopath, but because it’s the only way I can get any peace from her when she’s losing it. Other times I’m trying to convince her to stay still, whatever shit she’s taken is giving her hallucinations and she wants to stumble down the street. The worst times are when I think she is dead.’ Then I’d ask them how their day was at work and if they could pass me the mint sauce.
Shame, really. That’s what it is. Can’t even be around decent people because I know they’re pitying me and I know how much worse my life is, like the cruelty of making a bronze medallist stand on the same podium as the gold. Reminds you of how far behind you are.
I am angry about all this. Not like I don’t tell her sometimes, especially when she won’t remember in the morning. Have to keep reminding myself that the addiction is her fault and it isn’t. In a perfect world she could choose not to, but she has never lived in a perfect world and she needs the stuff now, because there’re many things in her past that she won’t talk about. There’s no one for me to blame, not really.
Can’t talk about it to anyone either, except her sometimes. Mention it to the wrong person and the social worker’ll be in the house. Checking on things, telling my mam that she’s not doing well and maybe she should consider removing some responsibility from her shoulders, then I’ll be in some foster home with people I’ve never met. She can’t go to the doctor’s either, or the same thing’ll happen.
I thought about leaving once or getting fostered. Same thing, basically.
Think I’m too loyal. Too much about looking after my family. See some people who never talk to their brother or whatever because they had an argument ten years ago and that ended the relationship. See that kind of thing all around though, probably easier to be that way. Better like that, isn’t it? When you’ve some word that they can utter, some action they can do, makes you deem them unworthy in your mind? One word and your suffering’s irrelevant. Fuck you, guy who was raised in a barn and beaten every day of his life, now you’ve said something offensive you’re not worthy of my time.
I definitely see a lot of that around.
It’s not the way I am. Can’t think of what my mam would have to do for me to leave. Guess I’ll stick to complaining about her. Not fair to have me on the bus like this, going to get her drugs while she shivers around the living room floor like a vibrating phone. Never been the brightest woman either, she once asked me if Moscow was in Germany. Shouldn’t really go at her like this, but it’s in my mind, so who cares?
Who the fuck calls their kid April anyway? My birthday’s in June.
She passes me the tab box and I take it. I hold the tabs and open the lid. There’s three rollies inside and I take them. I stuff the rollies into my bag’s side pockets and take tabs, hand one to Sass and put one in my mouth. I hand her the box. She gently lowers it into her handbag like it’s a precious diamond.
Sassy looks like she was beautiful, once. Long and black hair that has been destroyed by dye. Good features that are ruined by her sunken face, making her cheekbones stick out inches from her face. Skin with those sunbed wrinkles, combined with those smoking wrinkles. Scars she got from her nickname, Sassy, because she’s got this loud voice and opinions to match, an unwillingness to keep quiet.
She looks me up and down a few times. ‘Boy get lucky last night then?’
‘Got lucky? Poor fucker’s dating me.’ I say, we laugh then, ‘Nah, had to come home early, emergency.’
She lights her tab and smokes, ‘Your mam doing okay?’ She says, lights my tab, ‘She can’t come herself?’
‘Rattling, meth ran out completely six hours ago. Emergency started before then.’
‘Not had a good night then?’
‘Not much sleep.’
‘Didn’t hit you or nothing?’
‘Nah, still a cunt though.’ I say and we laugh, cough then smoke, ‘You alright?’
‘Got enough to last me at least a month.’
‘Not what I meant.’
She nods and she glances to Tesco, back to me, ‘Bit better, cut down on the smoking, trying to eat better.’
‘Lots of greens?’
‘Good on you. Can’t say I manage that, been eating like a pig. Had a full birthday cake for tea yesterday.’
‘That’s what happens when a kid makes all their meal, what else you gunna do? Make pasta with pesto?’
‘Like a sauce but oil and basil, some other shit.’
‘Yeah, anything with leaves, I’m out.’
‘It’ll catch up to you one day.’
‘I could always start on the gear myself, if needs be.’
She smirks. She smiles and finishes her tab, throws it into the tray, ‘Shouldn’t be doing this, you know?’
‘Done it before.’
‘My-’ her phone rings and she checks it, looks to me, ‘I gotta go. Some more things to sell.’
‘Have to keep working right?’
She nods, shuffles her feet. Needs to move and wants to speak. ‘Your mam’s a lucky one, you tell her that once she’s sorted.’
‘I dunno, I can be an arse.’
‘Still got you though, hasn’t she? Better than some girls I know.’
‘Yeah.’ I say and press my palm against her arm, ‘She’s lucky that way.’
‘You owe me twenty, forget about the thirty part.’
She walks away and I step towards her, ‘Mates rates?’ I shout.
‘Call it a student loan.’ She says, still walking. I smile.
She’s a weird one but the nicest. Only one I’ll deal with. Most of them are normal, like most people, but I can never tell with the guys. Some of them would try to fuck me or at least get a blowjob and I get the impression that saying no has consequences. I never ask my mam about it. Sassy wouldn’t do anything like that, she’s like my mam, only a bastard when the bags run out. Doesn’t mean she’s good at her job though. It’d shock the world to know that Sassy has been caught dealing a few times and this is her best cover yet. Tesco smoking shed, in full vision of the car park security cameras.
The criminal element is less impressive in person.
Eight Hour Mam
My phone’s clock says it’s half five and I’ve slept for six hours. My bedsheets and quilt stink of sweat and I remove the blanket, sit in my underwear. I remove my bra and pants, throw them into the washing basket. Grab a towel and before I walk to the bathroom, I send Martin a message saying I’ll see him tomorrow and that I was ill so I had to miss school.
I throw the towel onto the radiator, step into the bathtub and draw the shower curtain. I start the shower and wash myself. The stink falls away from my skin as my mind clears. The emergency’s over and I don’t have to worry. Tomorrow will be a different story but for now, until I sleep tonight, I can relax, I can sit with my mam and watch America’s Got Talent, maybe something better if we can find it.
I finish and dry myself. Grab some pyjamas from the cupboard and wear them, walk downstairs. The living room’s semi-clean, all the trash has been removed and the room hasn’t been hoovered, everything has nothing major on it and still has a bunch of crumbs, dust, and stains. I walk to the sofa and sit. Lift my feet onto the coffee table and stare to the television.
‘Oh,’ she says, standing by the kitchen door and looking better, ‘You’re awake, I hoped you’d get up about now.’
‘Wanted to see how you were.’
‘I’m good now, thanks for that.’
‘Don’t worry about it.’
She nods and stares for a little. She does look better, face isn’t as sunken and skin isn’t as white. Still doesn’t look how she used to, still looks like she has had a rough time. Looks like my mam though, at least, ‘I wanted to get a takeaway or something but-’
‘We couldn’t afford it. I know.’
‘But I thought I could make you some dinner.’
‘You thought what?’ I say and start to smile.
‘Thought I would make you some dinner.’ She says and looks confused, then annoyed, ‘Something funny about it?’
‘Yeah.’ I smile fully at her, ‘How’d it go then?’
‘Not as well as I’d planned.’
‘You burn the pot noodle then?’
‘It wasn’t a pot noodle.’ She says, smiles and looks around the room, a little embarrassed.
‘Come on, what’d you make?’
‘Bring in the noodles. Let’s feast.’ She nods and brings two bowls with noodles in them and a large bar of cheap chocolate, a large tub of cheap ice cream. She carries the bowls in her hands and places them on the coffee table, carries the rest with her elbows and drops them into my lap, ‘Got any idea on what we should watch?’
I put the television on, some talent show starts. I pick up my bowl and start eating, ‘Thanks for the dinner mam. Effort’s appreciated.’
‘Wanted to say sorry, for yesterday and today.’
‘You don’t need to say sorry.’
‘Yes, I do.’
‘No, you don’t.’ I say and put my left arm over her shoulder, pull her towards me, but it doesn’t work. Now she’s started, she can’t stop saying sorry.
Sorry for giving me all this responsibility, for being a burden. Sorry for dragging me away from our school dance and my boyfriend. Sorry for trashing the house and throwing our speakers against the wall, for shouting at me and calling me a selfish cunt and saying that I should let her die if that’s how little I cared. Sorry for the drugs and for not being able to deal with everything, for messing up both our lives.
‘Honestly, just don’t talk about it.’ I look away from her and stare at the television, ‘Let’s forget about it for a while. Everything’s okay until it isn’t.’
‘But it isn’t right. It isn’t.’
‘Just pretend that it is. That yesterday and today aren’t our lives. Now is.’ I pull her close to me, ‘No drama tonight. Let’s pretend that everything’s okay.’
Image – Pixabay.com