I am so sorry I am late putting this up! I agreed to take part in the Summer Blog-a-day 2018, courtesy of the lovely Kay Macleod and today is my day! I’ve decided to post the first chapter of my upcoming release Elliot Pie’s Guide To Human Nature, which will be coming out with Pict Publishing in October. I hope you like it!
I think the men started it all. My mother going downhill.
She didn’t have much luck with the men, and this was a fact. According to my Nan and Uncle Liam, she kept picking bad ones.
She used to be able to laugh it off.
You live and you learn, she would say, got to kiss a few frogs before you find a Prince.
The more I thought about it, the more I wondered if it had all started with the men. There had been quite a few bad ones in a row, the first being my father, who had not hung around to see me be born.
I scribbled the men into a notebook to help me remember;
-the one who beat her up downstairs when I was in bed
-the one who came home with her from the pub
-the one who stole her purse
-the one who cheated on her with three other women
I didn’t really know any of them. I hadn’t even seen the one who beat her up. He’d just been a voice in the hallway, murmuring while she giggled.
Then one night, his voice changed. Light and fun turned into husky snarling. High pitched at the end of his sentences, like his voice was snapping into pieces. There were thumps and bumps, gasping and scrabbling. The man spoke to her in a low, mean voice and then slammed the front door behind him. I got out of bed and started across the landing but she called out; No! I’m okay! Don’t come.
The second one wobbled home with her one night after closing time. I’d sat with my back against my bedroom door to listen.
Seen you about. Liked you for ages.
Didn’t think you’d look at me twice!
You’re lovely, you are. All woman!
She broke down on him not long after the glasses clinked.
So bloody fat, aren’t I?
No, no, you’re all right, you’re…
Who am I kidding? Probably had a bet with your mates, didn’t you? Taking the piss out of me!
She went on for a while, having a go at him and accusing him of things. And then he left, quietly.
Next was the one who stole her purse. Apparently, she’d given him her number the night before, so he turned up on the doorstep to try his luck. She came running up the stairs after he’d left. She woke me up shrieking; he’s robbed me! He’s robbed me! That shitting little bastard! She sat with me on my bed, red-eyed and shaking.
‘God, I can’t believe what a bloody idiot I am, Elliot! What a pushover! Robbed my purse! My bloody purse! Jesus Christ, what is wrong with people? Why do they go out with the sole purpose of hurting someone else?’
She left it a few months before she latched onto the next disaster. It went well for a few weeks, until she got a phone call from a woman claiming to be his girlfriend. It all kicked off after that. There was screaming and shouting and things getting smashed. That was the same night I started watching the house opposite ours. The one with the old lady and the two striped cats. It was the cats that caught my attention. Crying and mewling to be let in, day and night. Why didn’t the old lady let them in?
The next morning my mother had come to a decision.
‘I’m giving up men,’ she announced over breakfast. ‘That’s it. That’s final. They’re all the bloody same. I was right all along, wasn’t I? That’s it. No more.’
‘Have you seen that old lady across the street recently?’
Me changing the subject pissed her right off. No, she hadn’t seen the lady, what bloody old lady? Hadn’t I listened to a word she said?
But I couldn’t stop thinking about the cats. That night I could still see them sat on the doorstep waiting to be let in. I watched them for a while before lying back down and picking up my notebook to hold open on my chest.
My bed was under the window and I liked to sleep with the curtains apart and the window wide open. I liked to lie there like that until the cold night air had completely numbed the tip of my nose. I could never fall asleep until the outdoors had drenched me in cold. Once I was cold enough, I got under the duvet, pulled it over my head and fell asleep.
Just then, there was a tap on my door and my mother came in. She shuffled in, tugging the sleeves of her pale blue jumper down over her hands one at a time. I always felt a slight sinking in my belly when I looked at my mother and realised that we were complete opposites.
I was tall for my age, with a shock of thick black hair, and deep brown eyes. My mother was five-foot two and apple shaped. Her hair was pale yellow and when loose, hung limply over both shoulders, where she would often reach up to tug at the ends. I thought she was pretty. Her face was round and flat, her eyes pale blue and framed by blonde eyelashes. Her lips were like a small pink flower. I longed for the smack of them against my cheek, but she had never been a kissy sort of person.
I wished we looked alike. I wished that people would say how like my mum I was, instead of wondering if my dark skin meant I was adopted. I’d never heard anyone say that I had my mother’s eyes, or nose, or lips. It made me sigh when she walked into the room, and as her shoulders slumped with her own sigh, I wondered if she felt the same disappointment and sense of disorientation whenever she looked at me.
Perhaps if I had looked like her just a little bit, then the differences in our personalities would not have felt so obvious either. I forced a smile as she approached my bed, wringing her hands and frowning as if everything perplexed her. I couldn’t help glancing at her short legs, before gazing down at the long ones that emerged from below my barrel chest. My Nan told me I was still growing into myself, and that I was not a finished product yet. I hoped she was right. My long thin arms and legs made my chunky middle look out of place. You’re a beautiful boy, Nan was always telling me, but that’s not what the kids at school said.
My mother spotted the open window and scowled.
‘Close your bloody window! You’ll catch your death!’
‘Mum,’ I sat up. ‘The house across the close has had its lights on for weeks now.’
‘So, what? What are you spying for?
‘Mum, she hasn’t let her cats in either.’
‘What are you on about? What bloody cats?’ She came to the window, crossing her arms over her chest.
I leaned forward on my knees and pointed. ‘There. Look. She hasn’t let them in and her light has been on for two weeks. Maybe longer.’
She shook her head, distracted. ‘Look, I had a phone call…’
‘Do you think something has happened to her?’
‘Elliot, listen to me a minute. I need to talk to you about something.’
But she didn’t sit down, and she didn’t touch me, so I continued to stare at the cats and suddenly I didn’t want to look at my mother at all. She had the same look on her face that she’d had when she told me Uncle Liam’s baby had died. I didn’t want anyone to have died, so I just concentrated on the cats.
‘I’ll go and knock in the morning,’ I said with certainty. ‘Make sure she’s okay. Maybe she went on holiday and someone is supposed to be feeding them but they forgot!’
‘Can’t you even listen to me?’ she snapped then, stalking briskly away from the window. ‘Is it too much to ask? I came up here to talk to you! Do you even care?’
She didn’t give me a chance to answer before she flounced off. I felt bad after that, but at least I could be sure that no one had died. She would have said so, wouldn’t she?
When she was back downstairs, I tried again to put my finger on what was different about her. The red eyes, for instance. She never used to cry as much as she did now. The stalking about and walking away and starting conversations but not finishing them. That was another thing. I gazed at the list in my notebook. Five bad men.
Did it start with the men? Or was there something before that? Maybe I had just not been paying enough attention. And now I needed to help her. I needed to do something. I felt like it was just on the tip of my tongue, at the back of my brain, teasing me.
I wished Uncle Liam was still around to ask for advice. Uncle Liam had moved in with us six months ago, but he’d gone off recently to clear his head. He would be back soon, because we still had his car and his dog Tizer. I decided to embrace the fact that it was going to be up to me alone to work out how to save my mum.