“I could’ve been big, I could’ve.”
She took a drag on her cigarette which had almost burnt out.
“I chose you lot instead, I did. I had potential and I picked you ungrateful lot instead.”
Her words were thick with smoke and spite, not too dissimilar from her eyes. It’s not her fault though. These days she refuses to take her pills that make her a little more subdued. She gets like this every couple of months; she thinks that the doctors giving her the pills are trying to kill her so she stops taking them.
“Are you listening to your mother, Lillian?” I could feel her glare on the back of my neck; although I flinched, I did not meet her stare.
“Shut up, you stupid old woman.”
Dad’s the only one that can stop her from taking out her ‘moments’ on us. We know she doesn’t mean it, it’s the voices talking but her words cut through me as easily as a knife through butter. I wish I could be nonchalant like Ben. The words roll off of him, but then everything does. I don’t know how he can prevent our mother’s words from swathing him in guilt, because I sure can’t, but he manages it and I admire him for that.
She took one final puff of her cigarette and ground it into the glass ashtray, her steely gaze not once breaking my father’s. She blew a steady stream of carbon monoxide poisoning into the room, immediately lit another cigarette and proceeded to wander through the French doors onto the porch.
“Mom doesn’t love us, does she?” It was a question we both knew the answer to but for the peace of mind of his only daughter, my father insisted that, “Of course she does, she’s just going through a difficult period at the moment.” I kept my head down, focusing on the remaining cornflakes in my bowl, hoping to find some kind of solace or reassurance in the milky remnants.
My father sighed, “Lillian, for fuck’s sake, stop playing with your food and take the dog out.” He poured himself another Jack Daniel’s and retreated back to his dark, secluded office where he is not normally seen for the rest of the day. Pixie, our chocolate Labrador, danced around my feet as I attempted to leave the house, stopped only by my mother’s silhouette in the doorway.
“What are you doing with that?” She was leaning with one arm on either side of the door frame, completely sealing off the exit. Her question was aimed at Pixie.
“I’m taking her out for a walk. Dad said to.” I felt protective over Pixie. We’d had her since she was a puppy, when we found her abandoned in the field opposite our house, four years ago. Neither of my parents were keen on animals but Ben and I had pissed them off so much with our begging that they allowed us to keep her. After a few weeks, Ben grew bored of Pixie but I fell more in love with her. She was the only one in the house who loved me unconditionally.
“Forget about that bloody dog for two seconds, Lillian, you’re not going anywhere, you’re staying here.”
“Don’t you ask questions! I’m your bloody mother and you’ll stay here and keep me company if I damn well ask you to! I’ve done enough for you in my godforsaken life, you can do something for me for once in your life!”
Pixie, having realised she wasn’t going anywhere fast, curled up in a ball, creating a barrier between the both of us. My mother promptly stepped over her, wanting to avoid any contact with her at all.
“So what do you want me to do for you then?”
“Did I say I wanted anything? I’d just appreciate it if you could stay put in one place for a change, rather than gallivanting off in the fields with that bloody animal all the time!” She spoke to me with a Camel perched between her ripe red pout. She sank into the sofa, one hand clutching the newspaper, her firm grip wielding it like a baton, and the other flicking her lighter, causing the flame to spark into action in time with her words. When my mother was in this state of mind, it was hard not to fear her. Her personality was indecipherable. She alternated between so many dispositions, it was impossible to consider any feature of any of her personalities, a ‘characteristic’. I’d never observed a maternal side from her and therefore never felt any connection or bond with her; we simply lived with each other and accepted it.
“I don’t see why you need me to stay here if I’m not doing anything in particular…” I realised as soon as I started uttering the words that I was wasting my breath. There was no reasoning with her. She wanted everyone to feel her misery.
“Lillian, I am your mother, which means that you don’t get to question my authority, now go away and annoy your father or brother with your presence.” That was another classic line that she always used. She always asserted her dominance in the form of her role as my ‘mother’ but she has never once benefited me by being my mother. As far back as I can remember, I used to rely on Ben, who is five years my senior, for everything from food to entertaining me and since I’ve managed to do everything for myself, we’re not as close as we used to be.
Not wanting to escalate her mood any further, I did as she suggested and went to ‘annoy’ Ben in the living room with Pixie trailing behind me. Not out of the ordinary, he was lounging across our worn, tan leather couch, his limbs spread across each surface. Pixie wagged her tail and licked his hand which was hanging by the floor next to the remote control.
“Get off!” He playfully pushed her face away but his eyes didn’t move away from the current baseball game being reported on the TV. I pushed his lanky legs off and curled up on one end with Pixie nestled in between the arm of the couch and my body.
“Hey, kiddo, aren’t you supposed to be in class?”
“You know that Mom and Dad don’t care whether I attend school or not so why should I bother?”
“It’s your senior year, the most important year of your life!”
“Yeah, so important that even though you graduated with flying colors, you’ve still remained unemployed since.”
He shrugged and shovelled a handful of chips into his mouth.
“God will send me an opportunity for my perfect career path when he wants me to excel. But what, you don’t want to go to college or get a good job and earn a ton of money?”
I’d thought about it plenty of times, and although my parents had never had well-paid jobs, I had decided that I would be perfectly happy with a small apartment, a small dog and a job as a waitress at a local café. I think I would be fine on my own. I’d never relied on anyone else as a source of happiness, so why would I start now? I just needed a dog to share my thoughts with, a few bookcases to keep all my literature and journals in, and enough money to cover the cost of living and rent and that would do me fine.
“No, I’m happy simply existing and not exceeding.”
I felt him glance over at me but that was the last thing that was said by either of us on the subject.