Saturday, 15 September 2018

Seriously

Seriously

by Hannah Retallick

tea 

 My brother is dead.
My brother is dead.
My brother is…
Mother won’t move. She’s in the doorway, waiting for something. She’s crying. Face like that woman in Four Weddings and a Funeral, all pensive in the rain – except the rain is coming from Mother’s eyes. She’s catching nose drips on the back of her hand.
Motorbike.
Don’t get one, Steven, seriously. That’s what Father said to him last year. He’s always serious our father. Seriously, don’t get a tattoo, Jennifer. Seriously, if you don’t sort yourself out, you’ll have to move out. Seriously, you need to cheer up.
Where are you now, Father? At the office, being serious, of course. Do you not know yet? Lorry came out of the junction without looking. BAM!
Your son is dead.
Your son is dead.
Your son is…
‘Jenny.’ Mother holds the phone in her hand. ‘Please, please, say something.’
What does she want from me? I can’t feel the sofa beneath, I could be floating. Do I exist? Do I need to exist? Does it make any difference?
I need a cup of tea.
She is dialling, dialling, dialling. If Father could stop being serious for a moment perhaps he’d answer, perhaps he’d come and wrap his arms around us. No, his arms are too stubby for us both. I’m surplus.
I wasn’t surplus to baby Steven. I watched him have his first bath, long limbs thrashing, eyes red and horrified. They latched onto me and he gurgled, flopped his head back onto Mother’s hands, quietened. I was only three. Father says I can’t remember it. Father says a lot of things.
‘Jenny, are you okay?’
‘I’m fine.’
Mother shakes her head. ‘Do you understand what this means?’
How stupid does she think I am? After nineteen years of this hell, I understand what it means.
‘I’m going to make a cup of tea.’ Blood rushes to my legs as I stand, nearly toppling.
I remember Steven’s first wobbly walk. Seriously, Father, I do – no, it’s not the photos I’m remembering. Scrunchy face as he hung onto Father’s chair, and then across the carpet he surged, with that same determination he would use to save for a motorbike. I cleared him a path through the Lego.
‘Jenny, please.’
In the kitchen, I take the blue-cap milk from the fridge – Waitrose Duchy Original, unhomogenised, cream floating to the top. I usually shake it up before I pour, but Steven never does. Never did.
The kettle grumbles forever. I put in too much water – why do I get everything wrong? Tea used to be the only certainty, I knew how to do it right. Fairtrade teabag, leave to brew for two minutes exactly, give a gentle squeeze before removing, then pour milk up to the centre of the rose on the inside of my mug.
No, no, I’ve filled it too full. Surplus.
I rest one arm on the work surface and pick up the mug. Submerged pink rose. The edges blur.
My baby brother is gone.
My baby brother is gone.
My baby brother is…
I open my eyes. Mother is here, pulling me up from the floor. My eyes adjust to the light. She is wailing. Be quiet, please be quiet.
Why am I soggy? There’s a murky puddle on the tiles – oh great, I peed over the floor. No, I can’t have peed crockery, pink crockery, all smashed up. Steven gave me that mug. Fallen through my useless fingers.
‘I can’t deal with this now.’ Mother looks at her watch. ‘I need to…’
He’s dead. What’s the hurry? A fly is going crazy, smashing into things. BAM!
My little Steven is dead.
My little Steven is dead.
My little Steven is…
Mother wipes her eyes with the bobbled grey sleeve of her cardigan. That cardigan’s seen it all. She should get a tissue. ‘I can’t deal with any more drama. I need to find your father.’
Before she leaves, she tells me she loves me, squeezes my scarred arm. And then she’s gone, leaving the mess on the floor. It’s my mess anyway.
It’s a seriously beautiful day out there. The perfect day for a ride, that’s what he said. Jen? The Graham Norton Show blared. I should have paused, should have said goodbye.
Father will be here soon. He will tell me to be strong – for once, don’t make this about you, Jennifer. Mother will still be crying enough tears for both of us.
My pain will kill her eventually, just like it killed Steven, just like it kills everyone. He wanted to get away from me, wanted to be well rid, I know it. Here I am, still taking up space, while he’s…
I hope he’s happy. Out of everyone, he really deserves to be happy.
And then there’s me in our messed-up kitchen. I’m like that fly, bashing against the window, never getting through.
It wasn’t the lorry’s fault. If it hadn’t been today, this way, it would still have happened in the end. I break everything I love.
Seriously.

About the author

Hannah Retallick is a twenty-four-year-old from Anglesey, North Wales. She is working on her second novel, writes short stories and a blog, and would love to be a professional writer. She studied with the Open University, graduating with a First-class honours degree, BA in Humanities with Creative Writing and Music, and is halfway through an MA in Creative Writing.

 

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