Christmas came and went without any big surprises or upsets. Brian’s party was decent, but nothing to write home about. It turns out Brian dipped his fingers inside Penny’s panties before I even managed to make a move. Linda, my other choice of the evening came to the party with a date and I simply didn’t feel like hitting on any other girl that particular evening, even though there were plenty to choose from.
I got drunk and chatted with people present, after a few hours unable to keep up with any sort of intelligent conversation, eventually passing out on the sofa and awakening in the morning, caked drool on the side of my face and a head of an unknown sleeping girl in my lap. At first I freaked out, unable to tell whether anything more than just sleeping occurred, but all my clothes were still on, the zipper up, the stud button in its place and I sighed in relief. Although, I have to admit the girl looked cute and normally I wouldn’t mind chatting her up, this particular day I just didn’t feel like it.
Throughout the evening my thoughts continuously went back to Emma, and inevitably my dad. I couldn’t shake the picture out of my head. The thoughts lingered when I was driving home and the fact that I would have to sit down to a Christmas breakfast filled me with dread. I didn’t feel like another pile of lies, mainly at the expense of my mum.
When I pulled up in front of my home, I noticed Emma exiting the house on the other side of the street, wrapped up in a shawl that was clearly too big for her and too thick even for this cold weather spell that enveloped the Midlands. Her hair was a mess and she appeared to have lacked rest. Her little Chihuahua dog wore a red-checkered coat and I rolled my eyes in annoyance. She probably spent more money on the mutt than she did on herself; she had never struck me as a good dresser. Her beauty alone made her appealing; everything else were just eclectic bits and pieces that she put on, from clothing to jewelry, usually desperately clashing rather than matching.
She spotted me stepping out of the car and waved. “Merry Christmas, Milo!” she chimed and I mumbled the same in return. To my surprise she didn’t simply turn around and walk away as she normally did, but began crossing the street towards me.
“Milo?” she asked in a tone of voice that heavily smelled of ‘would you do me a favor’.
I paused, annoyed as I could hardly wait to get the familial niceties out of the way and crawl into my bed. “Milo?” she repeated and picked up Angelique, the little dog obviously not in the mood for walks in this cold weather. “Do you think you could come over later and maybe help me with…”
I didn’t let her finish. My temper was very short this morning and I couldn’t be bothered with politeness. “I can’t, Emma.” I said and by the expression on her face, she didn’t expect that kind of an answer. “Whatever it is, I can’t do it. Not today.”
She blinked and smiled awkwardly. “It’s alright. Maybe later, eh?”
I shrugged and shook my head. I still couldn’t believe what I had encountered a day ago and the audacity of it was simply too much. My mum was always very kind to Emma. I knew for a fact that her and dad allowed Emma to be late with her rent from time to time and mum had nothing but sympathy for her. “Oh, poor girl. Her mother is not well, you see. And there’s never any mention of a father.” She would explain to me carefully as if I really cared. “Emma works in the evenings to pay her way through school, poor love.”
That much was true, but then, most of us students worked in our spare time to pay our way through something. A car. A holiday. A sassy, overpriced leather jacket that one didn’t really need, but had desperately wanted. And some worked for school fees. I never felt particularly sorry for Emma because of it.
What struck me as odd was that my dad never kicked up a fuss when the rent was short or late. Of course, now it had become clear why. She was paying her way in a different manner; only my poor mum didn’t know it. I wouldn’t have been surprised to find out she paid no money at all. Dad was in charge of family finances and why he even told mum about Emma’s inability to pay for her board from time to time, I’ve no clue.
Once I found out about their little affair, I began believing that it was just his arrogance and the feeling of invincibility that drove him to it. He was discussing his mistress with his own wife and in some sick way it had made him feel good. I wondered how thick the web of lies really was and I had been oblivious to it, at least until now. I would make sure I didn’t miss much of anything anymore, I decided.
“Maybe you could ask uncle Peter?” I said nonchalantly. I couldn’t help myself. I wanted them both to know that I was no dummy and they couldn’t run circles around me like they were doing with my mother. For a long time I believed I was angry because of mum alone, nowadays I realize it was simply that my pride was hurt. I detested my father’s ability to get istanbul escort Emma by whatever means he did, while me niceties led me nowhere.
Emma gasped and took a step back, pressing her little dog to her chest. “What?” she asked, her eyes as big as teacup saucers.
“What?” I echoed sleepily, playing dumb.
“What did you just say?” she repeated herself.
I wasn’t falling for that bait. “Nothing. I just said you could ask my dad if you need something done around the house. I’m sure he could help you out.”
“It was you!” she hissed quietly, but audibly enough for me to hear.
“Pardon?” I cocked my head towards her as if trying to hear better.
“It was you in the house yesterday, wasn’t it?”
I shrugged and walked away. “See you later, Emma!” I threw over my shoulder at her. “That pooch of yours looks very cold.”
I walked away smiling. It didn’t feel as good as I’d hoped it would have, though. After all, she had been the girl of my dreams for quite a while and even though she and my dad were doing something they shouldn’t have been, that didn’t mean I was supposed to turn into a brat. Still, I felt that she had it coming and I wouldn’t give up until I was satisfied.
As I opened the door to enter the house, I turned around and found Emma still standing where I had left her, looking lost and very fragile. The wind had blown her long ponytail over her shoulder and she looked like a lost little girl. She had never looked prettier.
I walked into the kitchen and to my surprise there was no breakfast on the table, not even the smell of it in the air. No dirty pots and pans on the stove or the counters, no food on the table, the place looked like a ghost town.
A shuffle of somebody’s feet startled me and my mum appeared in the door. She looked like hell. Her eyes were swollen with crying and she was still wearing the dress she had put on for the party the night before.
“Mum?” I was appalled.
“Good morning, love.” She said in her kind voice and visibly made an effort to appear more cheerful than she must have felt. “Merry Christmas, Milo.” She walked over to the coffee maker. “Breakfast?”
“No, mum, I’m not hungry.” I said and still concerned walked over to her. “What’s wrong mum?”
Her chest heaved and the heavy sigh that she let out made my stomach knot in fear.
“It’s nothing, really. Your father and I had had a row, but it’s okay now.” She fiddled with the coffee machine and pulled two cups out of a cupboard. She turned around and seeing that I wasn’t convinced, she tried cracking another warm smile. “Really, Milo, nothing to worry about now. Your father is sleeping, so you’d better go about quietly. I should go and catch some sleep, too. I just wanted to wait for you and make you breakfast if you wanted.”
I tried to make her tell me what had happened and even though she adamantly refused to explain everything in great detail, I understood that they had argued in a car on their way to the party they were to attend. Harsh words were spoken and my dad had left her at the party and was gone for some four hours before he returned. “He went down the pub,” she said and I knew exactly where he had been. “I got upset over nothing and we made up afterwards. As I said, it’s alright now, Milo, so please don’t worry yourself, love.”
We sat at the table, drinking coffee and chatting. Mum went into a monologue, which she fed all by herself without me having to ask any questions. She told me about the party, how auntie Myrna, her sister, who had returned from Australia for Christmas had put on an enormous amount of weight. She talked about the new living room set of her friend’s where they had attended the party. She explained the decorations that were in abundance, and to her mind a bit of an arrogant display of kitsch. She talked about her friends’ children who were all roughly my age, but whom I hardly knew and didn’t care about to begin with. She talked and talked and talked some more.
I sat quietly through her entire conversation, or rather a soliloquy, mentally pitying dad for taking in the avalanche of words on daily basis. Still, it didn’t give him the right to treat her the way he did. I waited for the inevitable topic to turn up and finally it did.
Mum began telling me how they had a small row at home before they left for the party and they were both in a bad mood to start with. The entire thing simply snowballed and by the time they pulled up in front of her friend’s house, dad was screaming at her and she tried to calm him down, which only seemed to have upset him more. She went into the house and he drove off, returning to pick up her up some four hours later.
“Where do you think he went?” I asked carefully.
“I told you, he was at the pub. I knew he’d be there. I hardly think he’d want to sit at home alone.” She sighed and got up to get some more coffee.
I knew very well that he would have been more than happy to be alone kabataş escort in the house, watching TV or snoring on his favorite sofa. But I’d bet anything that’s not where he was. Nor was he at the pub like he had told her.
“And you really think he was at the pub, mum?” I asked innocently, carefully patting my way through the unknown.
“Well, where d’you think he would be, love? At his mistress’ house?” she asked and bellowed out a laugh, obviously amusing herself. I caught my breath. “Don’t be daft, Milo. Your father is not like that, you know.” She sat back down at the table and poured us both another cup of deliciously smelling coffee. “I admit it!” she waved a teaspoon in the air like a conductor. “We have our problems, all married couples do, you know. But no, Milo, I wouldn’t have thought for a moment that’s what is on his mind.”
I noticed that she kept adding spoon after spoon of sugar into her coffee, much more than her normal amount of two. “After all, he’s at home all the time if he’s not at work, isn’t he?” she said and stirred her coffee, adding another spoon of sugar. “Every once in a while he’ll be called back to work in the evening for a few hours and he goes down the pub with the lads, but that’s it. I’m not happy with you even suggesting the possibility of an affair.”
It had struck me that was exactly what she had been thinking of all along. She was so distracted by the thoughts of it; she didn’t even know what she was doing. I also realized that I never mentioned any sort of affair to her. I asked her a simple question, and she ran with it. Not just ran, she sprinted, unable to stop the flow of her thoughts, which if calm, she would never have discussed with me in the first place.
Dad worked at the post office that closed at five. What sort of an excuse he came up with when he wanted to get out of the house on account of his job I have no idea, but whatever it had been, she obviously stopped believing it a long time ago. My heart bled for her, and I couldn’t bring myself up to hurt her even more. Not yet. It seemed to me that she would be ready for the revelation soon, but not at this very moment. Not on a Christmas morning, after she had already been through a night of hell.
We sat there for a few more minutes, mum not touching her coffee. I would have thought it was so sweet by then, that if she did sip it, she’d be able to chew it.
“Well, I’d better turn in, love.” She looked at me properly for the first time since I entered the kitchen. “You look exhausted, Milo. You’d better go to bed, too.”
I agreed, realizing that I was knackered to the bone. As I got up to leave, she jumped off her chair and hugged me so hard, she took my breath away. It had been years since she had last shown any physical motherly affection towards me, mainly because I always fought it off like a lion. She pressed a soft kiss on my cheek and smiled. “All’s well, eh?” she asked and without waiting for a reply walked out, heading for the staircase and into the bedroom where according to her, dad had been sleeping since they returned from the party.
Ever since I was a little kid, my parents have gone by traditions of their own parents and instead of Christmas gifts, we would go through the process exchanging presents on New Year’s Day. As much as that had pissed me off when I was younger, this year I was grateful for it. My mood was far from celebratory and all I wanted was to get some sleep, without the interruption of faked niceties.
Hours later, sometime in the early afternoon, I was finally awoken by determined knocking on my bedroom door and my mother’s voice calling me to lunch. I murmured something into the pillow, but knowing my mother, skipping a meal is an absolute impossibility. I put on a pair of jeans and a sweater, and dragged myself down the stairs into the dining room, hoping that the lunch would be uneventful. I was too drained of any stamina, including the challenging kind, with which at any other time I would have loved to pepper my dad’s temper.
I was annoyed to realize that lunch was not quite finished yet. I could have used another hour of sleep and having noticed a bunch of Tupperware containing food and neatly stacked on the table, I closed my eyes and made a world-on-my-shoulders gesture, bringing a smile to my mum’s, still puffed up face.
“Mum…” I said tiredly. “Please, mum…”
Tupperware full of food usually meant this would be an errand for me. She has either cooked for Mr. Piper at the end of the street who had no living relatives left. His wife had passed away years ago and my mother made sure he had home cooked food for holidays. Or worse, she was about to send me to the Orthodox church that she visited several times a week, where underprivileged were welcome to a warm meal and presents every Christmas. Never mind the fact that orthodox Christmas was another two weeks away. I could never understand the logic of serving the celebratory dinner on the day when it wasn’t kadıköy escort your true holiday.
“No, mum, please…” I tried again and dragged myself across the room as if my legs were made of rubber.
“Oh, Milo, really!” mum would have none of it, of course. “You know not everybody is lucky enough to be with their family at the time when that is where they should be.”
Hmmm. Interesting. I thought to myself, wishing I were unlucky that particular day. Dad was nowhere in sight.
“I made some lunch for Emma.” She said and without moving I rolled my eyes in her direction to see if she was being sarcastic and the jig was up. Unfortunately, it appeared my mother was completely oblivious to the events of the previous day and her kindness hurt me beyond words. She stopped fiddling with napkins and gave me a stern look. “You know, Emma across the street?”
“Yes, mum.” I sighed. “I know Emma across the street.”
“Well.” she concluded happily. “Take this over to the big house,” as she had called it, “and then hurry back. Our lunch will be ready in twenty minutes.”
“How is it going to take me twenty minutes?” I asked jokingly, although my voice must have betrayed my annoyance.
“Milo!” said mum annoyingly. “Don’t be Mr. Smarty. Not today.”
“A smart ass, mum.” I said and walked out to find my shoes and jacket. “It’s a smart ass.” I hated to be used as an errand boy. It could have easily been my full time job. Mum was always looking after the needy in our neighborhood. If I was not delivering food to Mr. Piper, I was grocery shopping for Ms. Dunne next door to us, moving lawns for half of our neighborhood and even feeding the squirrels and birds that my mum absolutely adored, even though they ruined all of her plants in the garden.
“Come on, Milo!” said mum, appearing in the little hall, urging me to hurry up. She held a huge bag in her hand, filled with Tupperware, napkins and even a few cans of fizzy drinks.
“How many are you feeding?” I asked unable to hide my annoyance.
“Just Emma, love. This should be enough for a couple of days, I hope.”
With a heavy sigh I took the bag out of her hand. “I don’t know why you keep taking care of everybody like that, mum.” And without waiting for a response walked out the door.
It seemed the weather had turned for the better. It was still cold, but there was no wind and that in itself had made it more bearable. I peeped inside the bag and noticed a small gift, carefully wrapped in a red and green paper with a small golden bow on top. I shook my head in dismay. This would have to stop soon. Mum was making a fool of herself even though she didn’t know it. I was aware, however and it pissed me off as well as hurt me.
As a young boy I had nightmares of one or both of my parents dying. Brian’s dad was killed in an accident when we were about ten and he took it very hard, I remembered. Unconscious of my own fears, I was terrified the same would happen to me. I would rush home from school, unable to relax until I walked into the kitchen and my mum was there, fixing a meal or washing the dishes. When dad was late from work, I would sit by the window waiting on him to return home safely. It only lasted a few months and then I forgot about those fears. Now, I felt that same burning inside my stomach, a knot of terror over the unexpected that had hovered over our heads. It frightened me even more since I believed mum had no idea of the oncoming disaster and I felt responsible for not telling her about it.
I walked over to the student house and tried the front door. It was locked. Dad had obviously had a talk with Emma about keeping herself safe. I knocked and waited for a minute. She didn’t come to let me in, but I could hear the soft music inside and after another powerful knock on the door, I pulled out my own key, letting myself in.
“Emma?” I yelled up the staircase and headed for the kitchen. For a moment I considered emptying the bag on the kitchen table and then thought the better of it. I’ve done enough for her. The haunting voice of Tracy Chapman was filling the almost deserted house.
“Emma?” I yelled again, anger rising in my stomach. I felt reluctant to simply go upstairs. The sour taste that was left in my mouth from the previous unwelcome surprise made me think twice about it.
“I’m in here!” she yelled suddenly, her voice coming from the floor above.
“My mum fixed lunch for you!” I said and was about to leave when something stopped me. My reactions to Emma had always been an enigma to me. Even though I was raging mad at her, I still wanted to be close to her, see her and hear her voice. It was as if she held a spell over me and no matter what she did, somehow, deep in my heart I forgave her.
“I’m here, Milo!” her voice reached me again and I convinced myself that there was a plea in it.
I grabbed the present mum had added to the bag and slowly climbed the staircase. The door to the bathroom, which was next to Emma’s bedroom, was open and a rich smell of fruity shampoo lingered in the air. I paused on the landing, uncertain whether her yell had been an invitation for me to come any farther or wait in the hall. As I walked past her bedroom a movement and then realization that she was in her room startled me.