Angel 13 (mum and Mattie)
The living room door was open. ‘Can I have a word, m’lady?’ Karen leaned sideways in her armchair, almost knocking over an overflowing glass ashtray shaped like a fish perched on the torn armrest.
Angel was flustered and red faced and in a hurry, just in from work that Monday night. ‘Maybe later,’ she said, waving a hand. ‘I’m going oot.’
But her mum’s narrowed eyes were cloudy. A cigarette was glued to her lower lip, her bony indrawn cheeks breathing in smoke. But she wore her fawn trouser suit and a clean blouse and was almost sober. Angel poked her head in the door. She knew it was something serious and her mum had big reinforcements.
Auntie Mattie also had a fag in her gob, a glass of cider in her hand – a lady’s drink, she’d once told Angel, as it didn’t get you too pissed – and a cloud of smoke hung between her and her mum and up over the couch and telly and the unit near the window and lay low on the old wooden coffee table in front of the couch, with a pile of magazines on it, one with a torn corner with the outline of Mattie’s blotted red lips on it, curled around an ornate vase with long-stemmed plastic tulips, which added a dash of colour, and it soaked into the walls and carpet, with a missing pattern of whorls in the rat-runs between the doors. So much smoke that Angel concluded that they’d been sitting for some time or somebody had flung a smoke bomb between each of their saggy armchairs and between their legs.
‘Here’s my girl!’ Mattie leaned forward so Angel could kiss her powdered cheek.
It was a ritual, much like calling Mattie her Auntie. She was one of her mum’s pals that claimed to be agoraphobic and got a taxi to her mum’s house to drink. Mattie wore her hair big with a fringe straight across her eyes, which she blinked away and seemed permanently surprised there was a world floating beyond her face. Everything about Mattie was big. She shrunk herself into a shiny black costume that matched her dyed hair and her boobs were so enormous they lapped her belly.
Angel squeezed by the table and in beside her and, dutifully, pecked her Auntie’s cheek.
‘We hear you’ve been seeing a boy,’ said her mum, in a shrill voice.
Angel sat on the couch with her bag between her legs and momentarily closed her eyes.
‘We know who it is.’ Mattie picked up her empty glass and shook it, bent down and lifted a can of White Lightening and shook it too and then poured lightening into her glass and sipped it.
‘How could you,’ said her mum. ‘All the boys in the world…’
Mattie cut in ‘…I mean, I used to be quite attractive when I was your age. I’d the pick of all the men. They queued around the block. Begging to take me out. On their hands and knees, begging.’
‘And you m’lady.’ Her mum’ s head dropped and she seemed to ponder. ‘After everything I’ve done for you.’ Her elbow on the armrest, she waved a hand and a bony finger, pointing, declaring. ‘I did everything for her.’
‘Aye, you’ve been a great mother,’ said Mattie. ‘Nobody can deny that.’
Karen took a deep breath and leant forward in her chair, addressing Mattie, as if in private conversation.
‘She goin oot wae Jaz’s da,’ said Karen. ‘After everything Jaz done to me.’
‘Jaz’s da’s deid,’ said Angel, sitting stiffly. ‘He’s been deid for years. It’s his younger brother I’m going oot wae.’
‘For God sake, somebody gie me a cigarette,’ shouted her mum.
Mattie wheezed as she bent down as she bent down searching the floor. Then finding a carton of cigarettes wedged into the cushion she was sitting on, opened the pack and tossed one across.
Karen took a drink of coke before she lit the cigarette. She squinted through the rising plume of smoke at Angel. ‘Well, at least that’s something,’ she sighed. ‘At least he was a very well-mannered wee boy,’ she explained to Mattie.
‘That’s Tony you’re thinking of mum. It’s Graham, not Tony.’
Karen shuddered. ‘Oh, no, he’s a horror.’
Angela wasn’t sure if she meant in terms of appearance or behaviour, but she suspected probably both. Her mum soon put her right.
Karen brushed a lock of hair away and a finger against her cheek. ‘Didn’t he have that big wart thing on his face?’
‘No mum, he didn’t. He’d a birthmark on his cheek. That didn’t go away, but it has got a wee bit smaller. And it’s a bit less noticeable.’
‘Well, I’m disappointed in you,’ said Mattie. ‘You’re quite a good looking girl. And when I was your age, or even younger than you, I can tell you this, I’d quite a few guys on the go – didn’t I Karen?’
‘Aye,’ mutter Karen, without raising her head, or looking at her.
Mattie cleared her throat. ‘And I can tell you this, none of them had anything wrang wae them.’
‘He’s got a birthmark on his face,’ said Angel, deadpan. ‘Not a wooden leg.’
‘Aye,’ Mattie’s orange plastic bangles clattered together as she flounced and waved her arm. ‘But you know whit I mean.’
‘He was a wee nyaff,’ spat out Karen.
‘Well, he’s no changed much,’ said Angel, trying to lighten the tone. ‘That’s for sure.’
‘After whit his brother put me through,’ Karen sighed. ‘I just cannae believe it.’
‘I mean,’ said Mattie. ‘There’s plenty more fish in the sea.’
‘I’m thinking about moving in with him,’ said Angel.
‘Jesus,’ said Karen. ‘That’s the worst thing you can do. Remember, Jaz was all sweetness and light before he moved in.’
Angel snapped back at her, even before she finished speaking. ‘Jaz was never sweetness and light.’ She bit her lips, tears coming into her eyes. ‘Mum, he’s no like that.’
‘Och,’ snorted Mattie. ‘Men are all the same. Did I tell you I was married at sixteen, to such a nice boy, he was twenty-five or twenty six. Then he started hitting me. Finding fault with everything I done. I’d two wains to him and naewhere to go. I admit it wasnae all his fault. I’d put on a good bit of weight. But he’d lock me and the wains in and take the key to work with him…’
‘Jaz was much worse than that,’ Angel glared at her mum. ‘Much worse.’
Karen foutered with a box of matches and stared into the fireplace, wallpapered to resemble brick.
‘Ah, well,’ Mattie sipped at her cider and wiped her mouth with the back of her hand. ‘We’ve all got our crosses to bear.’ Her bangles clattered together as she elaborated on what she was saying. ‘Now my third husband, he was a very nice man. In the civil service, you know. High up. He wore a shirt and tie to work. Very particular about it, he was too.’ She massaged the thrapple of her throat. ‘Well, we got on well enough, but he didn’t really like women, if you know what I mean?’
‘He was a poof,’ cackled Karen.
‘Well, he had his foibles,’ said Mattie, correcting her.
‘Jaz had his foibles too,’ said Angel. ‘He liked little girls. And perhaps little boys too.’
‘My fourth husband. You wouldn’t believe…’ Mattie batted straight on as if she hadn’t heard her.
‘You never told me that,’ Karen’s voice croaked. She waved the plumes of smoke away so she could look across at Angel.
Angel jumped up, but emerald eyes glinting with a cool gaze. ‘Shut up Mum. You were there Mum. You saw him doing it. You heard him doing it. And you did nothing.’ She edged towards her mum’s armchair. Crouching over, in the same way she had kissed Auntie Mattie’s powdered cheek, she sucked in the smell of fags and sour flesh and spat what she was saying into her ear. ‘You did nothing. And I used to pray that you’d die.’
‘Well, that’s that then,’ said Karen, rubbing her hands underneath her small breasts and staring straight ahead.
Mattie wiggled her hips and shifted in her chair. ‘You should apologise to yer mum. It’s no nice. I never spoke to my mum like that in my whole life.’
Angela’s head whipped around. ‘My mother,’ she spoke deliberately. ‘If you could call her that, should apologise to me. But she’s never said a word. The only one that ever listened to me was Tony. And he was just a wee boy. The only one that ever did anything about it, was Tony.’
‘She’s just an ungrateful wee bitch,’ Mattie struggling to get up from the chair to comfort Karen who howled and cried. ‘Just like all the rest of them. Never know they’ve been born.’
‘I need to go and get changed, Mother,’ said Angel. ‘I’m goin oot. And I’ll be late back. Don’t wait up.’