Hello everyone, Chapter 8 is ready for your ears and eyes and, gosh it was a tough one to write and record! I won’t go into detail for fear of spoilers but I feel the need to warn you to brace yourselves – and do feel free to vent in the comments if you are so moved (if I done my job right, you will be!)
Chapter 8 finds Mia hoping she can keep the school counselor from prying into what happened at her last school but, as always, the real danger is at home.
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Mia was awake long before her 6:45 alarm was due to ring and not just because she kept rolling onto her back and being woken by Sunday night’s, now flourishing bruises. It was Thursday and she wasn’t going to be able to talk her way out of the counselling session Vice Principal Kostopoulos had rescheduled. If she was lucky, she’d be able to keep Mrs. Paige focused on catching up on the extra work changing schools had created, rather than discussing why she’d moved. Mia had a plan. She’d been up till 1 a.m. filling in and colour-coding a study timetable. She was quite proud of it. Every fifteen minutes from 8a.m. to 11p.m. of the next month was jammed full of enough work to make any counselor worth their salt want to spend a full session discussing taking breaks and the benefits of extra-curricular activities and exercise.
She worried a little that she might have overdone it. If Mrs. Paige was too kind hearted she might want to reach out to Mia’s mother. The last thing Mia needed was for Patricia to find out she was seeing the counselor but she was pretty sure that as long as she could convince Mrs. Paige that she accepted her advice, it should be fine.
Movement in the hall. A muffled voice… A raised voice. “I don’t care what your records say! I had a long conversation with a perfectly lovely but evidently incompetent young lady only a week ago.”
Oh no. Not again.
“Well, yes,” her mother shouted. “I’ll thank you to check again!”
Knowing what she’d find but hoping she was wrong, Mia reached a hand out of the warmth under her doona and reached for the lamp switch hanging over the edge of her desk, beside the bed. Squeezing her eyes closed in case it did turn on, she pressed the switch. Raising one eyelid ever so slightly confirmed her fears. The room remained in pre-dawn grey.
Anger fizzed from her chest to her gritted teeth. Every single time they moved house, her mother would wait to transfer the electricity to their name until it was cut off by the last tenant and then call the electricity company and shout and cajole and lie until they agreed to put it on without penalising her for not transferring it in time. Sometimes Patricia managed to get them to give her a credit for her trouble.
Mia understood that her mother was trying to save money because they had so little, but she also understood that her mother could have been working full time, not just during the Uni holidays, if she wanted to. Patricia had been offered a permanent position at the temp job she’d taken just these last holidays, as she had the holidays before and before that, but being “just an employee” was beneath her. What Patricia Delaney wanted was what she’d had before Mia had been born: to be a rich man’s wife. And nothing – not even being twenty years older than her classmates – could sway her from the belief that the place to meet a rich husband was the same place she’d met Mia’s father. University. Not that she was entirely wrong. She’d fallen in love with several rich husbands over the last eight years – just not her own.
Mia pulled her arm back into the warm and listened to her mother’s familiar fight with some poor customer service officer at the electricity company.
“Do I need to speak with a supervisor? Electricity is an essential service and I’m a single mother with a young child freezing in her bedroom in the middle of winter!… Yes, I’ll hold.”
Ah, the seventeen-year-old young child thought, the killer blow. If it didn’t work it meant at least twenty-four hours, sometimes seventy-two, without heating and light. At least in this flat they had gas cooking and hot water. It would also mean an angry morning. Come on, Mia prayed to the anonymous customer service officer, just give in.
“Yes…Six hours?” Patricia’s tone softened. “Well, I suppose that’s the best I can expect. Thank you.”
A clatter of hard plastic on a surface. The flick-and-suck of a cigarette being lit. A low, satisfied chuckle. Mia let out her own breath. It fogged before it dispersed. That would make the morning easier. As would pretending she hadn’t heard the phone call. She closed her eyes at the sound of her mother’s footsteps approaching her bedroom door.
“Mia? Sweetie? Time to wake up.”
Mia opened her eyes and blinked at a spot of light that quickly resolved into a dull candle flame.
“The electricity company’s been stupid again but isn’t this fun?” Her mother grinned at the candle she was carrying in a glass that was too short and wide. The candle rocked against the rim of the glass throwing shadows that turned Patricia’s grin into something from a horror film. It helped Mia manage the smile her mother expected.
“Come on,” Patricia went on. “Get dressed and we’ll have breakfast by candlelight. We can pretend to be the Bennet girls till the sun comes up.”
Mia was fairly certain the Bennet girls’ servants would have set a fire the night before and tended it so that it was still warm when they woke but she wasn’t going to ruin her mother’s good mood. If Mia went along with it, it could actually be almost fun. If Mia pierced the illusion and hinted, even slightly, that she was aware that her mother had, in fact, caused the situation they were now in- well, it wasn’t worth it. Especially four days after the last time.
For the same reason, after Mia had showered and dressed in the dark and made her way to the flickering kitchen, she resisted getting the emergency lantern out from under the sink. Her mother was sitting on the living room side of the kitchen island, lighting another cigarette from the candle she’d placed in the middle. Mia went to the cupboard and began to pull out cereal bowls.
“Hang on,” her mother said. “You’re not getting into the spirit of this. The Bennet girls wouldn’t have had cereal. What would they have had?”
“Um,” Mia hoped her expression was hidden by the shadows. She pushed as much enthusiasm as she could muster at this hour into her voice. “Smoked kippers?”
Her mother took a long, angry drag on her cigarette. “We don’t have kippers do we?” she said, smoke billowing through her clenched teeth as she spoke.
“Um.” Mia forced a chuckle. “I’m trying to think what’s English.”
“Pancakes!” Patricia blurted, her voice suddenly bright. “Let’s have pancakes! We can get the birthday candles out and put them on like a birthday cake!”
“Okay!” Mia said, trying to match her mother’s sudden excitement. She put the cereal bowls back into the cupboard and reached for a mixing bowl. She wasn’t sure how she was going to know when the pancakes were cooked in this light but her mother’s mood swings wouldn’t tolerate the slightest question or doubt. “Lemon and sugar or jam?”
“Lemon and sugar sounds much more English to me.”
Mia nodded and pulled out the white sugar with the flour. She startled, almost dropping the packages as a jangling noise went off in her bedroom. She’d forgotten to stop her alarm clock.
Again the moment of anticipation, preparation for her mother’s response.
“Up before the alarm,” Patricia said. “Aren’t we good?”
Breathing free again, Mia nodded then pointed toward the bedroom as she ran around the bench and headed in to stop the racket. She lifted the old-fashioned, faux-chrome, electricity-cut-proof alarm clock from the side of her desk and pushed the lever on the top to stop the clanging. The sun was rising now, so she went to the windows and tilted the metal blinds to let some light in.
“A counselling session?”
“Do you want to tell me what this text is about?”
Her heart already racing, Mia turned to see her mother standing in the doorway, bathed in orange light, holding up her mobile phone.
“Um. It’s…” Mia’s eye fell on the timetable still on her desk. She pointed. “It’s about that.”
Patricia stalked to the desk and snatched up the stack of meticulously drawn pages. “A study timetable?”
“They want to help me catch up.”
“Who’s ‘they’? How many counselors do they have at that school?”
“Just one. Mr. Kostopoulos thought it would help.”
“Did he? When did he say this?” She slapped the precious pages back on to the desk and folded her arms.
“On Monday. When I started.”
“You had a meeting with him on Monday?”
“I see. Why didn’t you tell him to call me when he brought up the counselor? You know I wouldn’t have given permission for that.”
“Well, yes, but-” Mia stopped before the sentence could take them exactly where she didn’t want to go.
“‘But’ what, Mia?” Patricia bit out each word. “Come on. You took it upon yourself to make a parent’s decision, you should be able to tell me your adult reasoning.”
“What?” Patricia said. “You just what?”
“Oh you thought! There you go again. Come on. What did you think?”
“I thought if you refused permission it would make too big deal out of it-”
“Oh you think it’s not a big deal?”
“No – I -”
“You think other people prying into our lives isn’t a big deal? Invading my privacy isn’t a big deal? Forcing my child to do something without my permission?”
“No. It is a big deal but he said it was just about catching up on work.”
“And you believed him?”
“Well. Yes. I- I thought it might help.”
“I see.” Patricia paused. Considering. Wide-eyed anger softened into a frown Mia had long ago learned to fear. “Then why didn’t you tell me? Did you think I wouldn’t listen if you explained that?”
“I- I don’t know.”
“You don’t know?” Patricia’s eyes sparkled in the now yellow sunrise. Her lower lip quivered. Her voice caught. “You think I would I have denied permission for something that might have helped you?”
Mia could only stare, her chest heaving, her own lower lip beginning to quiver. She willed them to stop before her mother noticed.
“Well?” Patricia said, almost sobbing. “Is that what you think? That I don’t want what’s best for you?”
Mia was trembling now. Her mind blank. “Sorry,” was all she could manage.
“‘Sorry’? That’s not an answer-” Patricia stopped, giving Mia a long look up and down. “Look at you. You’re terrified. Why are you terrified? I don’t understand why you’re like this! You act as though I’m violent when all I ever want is the best for you!”
“Stop saying that!” Patricia screamed through gritted teeth. “Do you want me to hit you? Is that why you’re like this? You want me to hit you so you can go to your counselor and lie about me?”
Mia’s rebellious brain whispered that saying her mother hit her after her mother had hit her wouldn’t be lying. She pushed the dangerous thought away but somehow her mother had seen it cross her face.
“What are you thinking?” she demanded.
“Yes you are. You’re thinking it wouldn’t be a lie aren’t you? You’re thinking that if I had hit you it wouldn’t be a lie!”
Mia blocked the first blow with her left forearm.
“There!” Patricia screamed, bringing her other hand down on Mia’s shoulder. “Are you happy?! Is this how you see me?!”
Her hands balled into fists, Patricia flailed at Mia. Instinctively, Mia crouched and turned her back to the onslaught. As the first blow landed on her already bruised flesh she screamed and twisted away, swinging her face into the path of her mother’s hand and it’s bulbous, silver ring.
Pain. Searing from her nose, through her skull and down her spine. Mia’s legs gave out. Her hands flew to her nose as she landed on her right arm, her head bouncing off the carpet.
“Oh god! Oh god!” Her mother’s voice was barely audible over the wet slurping noises Mia made as she tried to breathe through the blood pouring through her fingers. “What have I done? What did you make me do?!”
Mia spat and wiped at her lips, trying to clear her mouth so she could breathe.
“I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry.” Her mother’s hands on her shoulders. Mia recoiled. “Okay. Okay. I won’t touch you. Oh god. There’s so much blood.”
Mia watched her mother’s bare feet leave the room and took the chance to push herself up but gravity pulled at her nose so she stayed down. Her mother’s feet returned and a towel dropped to the floor. Mia grabbed it and held it above her mouth so that she could breathe blood-free.
Sobbing, her mother retreated to Mia’s bed at the other side of the room. “It’s just- You make me so angry. You- You just won’t accept how much I love you!”
The words shocked Mia almost enough to numb her throbbing nose. She stared at her mother over the blood-soaked towel.
“I wanted you for so long, Mia. For ten years I tried to have you and then you finally came. Finally!” Patricia looked directly into Mia’s fast-bruising eyes and went on. “You were the first thing I ever had that was completely and utterly mine. I called you ‘Mia’ because it means ‘mine’ – that’s how much I love you! But you just never give me credit for it.”
Mia watched tears stream down her mother’s cheeks, wondering exactly what her mother was seeing as she looked at her. How could she possibly be seeing her daughter curled on the floor, blood pouring from her face and call that love?
“You act as though I’m demanding the world, Mia but all I want is for you to behave. To just be normal. But maybe that is too much. Maybe I just need to face it. You’re not normal. You were three years old the first time you lied to me – standing there with chocolate all over your mouth denying you ate it.
I just didn’t know how to handle the lying, Mia. Normal children don’t lie! That’s why I don’t want you to go to a counselor – not because I don’t want you to get help because I know that anyone with any psychology training will just look at you and know that there’s something wrong with you.”
Acute pain blossomed in Mia’s jaw and traced its way up her cheeks into her eyes, stabbing as tears welled. She wanted to be angry. She wanted to shout that every child lied about not eating chocolate and far worse besides. She wanted to scream that she wasn’t the crazy one, her mother was. But she couldn’t. Because her mother was right. Mia was insane. How else could she explain the shimmering, pot-bellied creature staring at her with lidless yellow eyes as it floated near the ceiling above her mother’s head?