Friday 18 August 2023

Why Would You Say That? by James Marshall, black americano,

My teenage daughter slammed the cupboard door and whammed the cereal box on the counter, rattling its dried contents. She followed with a bowl, a spoon and a milk carton, each time opening and shutting and slamming.

‘Good morning, Josie,’ I said, cowering in the corner, tucked behind the sturdy barrier of the kitchen table.

'Ugh,' she grunted. She was wearing her grey pyjama bottoms and an orange Nike crop-top bra. Her hair was plaited into two tidy strands. She had been awake for an hour: 56 minutes of which was spent facetiming her friends as they live-streamed their morning routines.

Josie sat down at the table and hunched over her bowl. She lifted each spoon of milky cereal into her mouth with the effort of Sisyphus pushing that boulder up the hill.

‘I like your hair this morning, Munchkin,’ I said.

She slams down the spoon, 'Why would you say that?' Milk runs down her chin, ‘Stop making judgements about my appearance.'

‘But you look lovely,’ I said.

 She glared at me. ‘Don’t you know that you shouldn’t make comments about how people look?’

I glanced at the analogue clock on the wall. It was five past seven and I was already on the back foot, even though I was sitting down. I sipped my coffee to regroup.

‘I was just paying you a compliment,’ I said.

‘Well don’t.’ She stared at me with half-closed eyes and then resumed her toil. The spoon seemed to weigh more with each mouthful. Life must be hard for a teenager when even eating her favourite cereal is such an effort.

I thought about my day ahead: dropping Josie off at school, then wearing out the clutch as I sit on Barrack Road in the queue of fumes before finally making it to the sweaty office and rearranging spreadsheets for people who won’t, or can’t, read them.

Tori Amos comes onto the radio, I tapped my feet and nodded my head to the familiar tune.

‘What are you listening to?’ The monster that I helped create said. I half expected her forehead to elongate and a bolt to appear on the side of her neck.

‘This is Tori Amos.’ I said, ‘It’s a classic.’

‘Have you listened to the words, Dad?’ She said. “Bring it closer to my lips.” ‘You know what that means, don’t you?’

I shook my head. I remembered a time when I had hair and danced carefree in warehouses or under old railway arches, too cool for nightclubs.

‘It’s oral sex,’ she said. ‘She’s singing about oral sex. God.’

How does she know this stuff?

            ‘Idiot,’ she mumbled the last word.

In a desperate attempt to regain some credibility, I tried again, ‘The DJ thinks it’s a classic, too.’

'Fool,' she said, 'No one calls them DJs any more.' She sighed as if regathering her strength before pushing the boulder up the hill once more, 'They are called on-air personalities.’


About the author 

James is a sports coach who lives in Devon. He has won the Pen to Print Short Story Award and is shortlisted for the 2024 Book of the Year award. 

Substack: James Marshall's writing journey | Substack 

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