Contemporary Fiction

The car is covered in plastic but the driver doesn’t address my masklessness. He reapplies his own, cordially, and through the rear-view mirror, asks me with smiling eyes where I want to go.

I try to recall the address but the familiar sights of the oak-lined avenues and feeling of stiffness after a four-hour journey generate an automated answer.

“Home,” I say.

“Ah,” his brightness is muted by his facemask. He glances at my luggage contaminating his plastic sheets with dried mud and probably the COVID virus; must be nice to be back?

“Hmm,” I reply and snatch away my weary eyes to stare out of the window at the rustling trees.

The ride is silent. The driver tries to ask me about my day and my plans but my mouth is dry from the journey.

We roll past the primary school and he takes a left instead of a right at the Merchant. I don’t have any energy left to redirect him but I don’t worry – this road is a loop and will take us back in half a mile.

I raise my eyes a little higher over the suburban houses' roofs, to catch sight of the old candy-striped Ferris wheel on The Green – a noisy eyesore gracing the city with its garish presence for over thirty years.

But to my surprise, it is not there. The Green has been cleared, dug out, industrialised. The wheel is gone.

I feel my heart both flutter and stutter. How I hated the sight of that contraption! No one had bothered to paint it in three decades, it cheapened the beautiful skyline. And yet, the wheel had provided me weekends of fun throughout my childhood. I rode it for hours, giddy when it lifted me high, sending my spirits soaring into the stratosphere, never tiring of its endless but predictable loop. Too easily pleased...

I wipe the corner of my eye quickly when I sense the driver watching as we turn finally towards the brook, the sat nav announcing that we have reached our destination.

I insist that he drops me a few metres away.

He slows, looking puzzled.

“But you have bags, I can take you further“

“No. Here is fine”

He tries to help me roll the duffels out of the car. The whole thing is embarrassing. I feel hot despite the English chill. I swing luggage over my back and across my shoulder. I look ridiculous but I’m too fatigued to care.

“Well,” the driver says courteously “Have a great day.” I can’t even mutter a “cheers”. I just want to go, face the exchange I’ve been dreading and sleep off my misery.

"Oh, and welcome home” He adds.

He is too polite, too happy. He even waves at me as he drives off, loudly humming to his radio. Without a care in the world.

I wonder, as I take a shaky breath and step towards the brook, how my present life can be any worse than that of an underpaid unappreciated taxi driver.


The doorstep has been swept, there’s not a sight of fallen foliage. Even the wisteria looks pruned. I recall how much the scent of the summer flowers gave me migraines as I stagger to a stop at the front door.

Well. This is it.

Father God, I groan as the straps bite into my armpits and knock on the door; help me.

But why should he? I suddenly remember I haven’t spoken to Him all year…

Honestly, you need to start answering your phone, I can never reach you…" she starts to say, but then trails off when she sees me. “Oh.” Her lips fall apart “Oh…it’s you” She looks down quickly and shakes her head at the doormat as though spotting an imperfection and rebuking it.

It’s you, she mouths again, inaudibly. And then unmistakably; not again.


My mum presses her hands into her back and tuts repetitively. Glancing over the luggage, I allow her to figure it out. The best thing to do, I decide, is to say as little as possible. Especially since I am still standing outside, like a dirty vagrant rather than a daughter.

She blows out a hard breath – an exaggerated sigh – so loud the entire neighbourhood now knows my mother has a visitor. An unexpected, probably unwanted one, at that.

I feel an urge to dissipate the storm clouds brewing over us by saying something silly like “Surprise!” – Mum used to like surprises. But her sad stare sucks any pretence of bravado clean out of me and we proceed to linger in discomfort.

The air feels icy. I wonder if she is waiting for me to break it.

My shoulders give out finally and the bags fall to the path. I’m freezing, in my linen shirt.

“Well,” Mum folds her arms and swivels sharply in her slippers, “Hurry up inside. Leave that junk out here. And close the door behind you, you’re letting all the cold into my house.”


The house is sweaty. The heating is on full whack despite it being September.

Mum marches into the kitchen and loudly stirs coffee granules into a china mug, the clink-clink sounds like an alarm in the morning. I find a seat in the lounge propped up by an old Christmas gift from my brother – cushions imprinted with the faces of his bratty kids.

Eight long minutes pass before Mum joins me. She is slurping her coffee without breathing. She chooses the opposite sofa but not before scorning me for leaning on her beloved cushions.

Mum fixes her eyes on the TV screen and flicks through the channels without blinking.

I’m nervous. My abdomen squeezes and the pressure in my bladder increases.

“I would’ve called” I start.

But Mum keeps flicking and slurping.

Why is there never anything to watch? She grunts, I pay my TV license and for what?

I realise I am sweating when I tuck my hands between my thighs to stop me from wetting myself. But I don’t dare to get up, I feel like a stranger in this house.

“He wouldn’t even give me the weekend” I continue, “I’ve been trying to find a solution. But he just wasn’t having it. I even tried some guys from the office, you know, to see if they had a spare room. But everyone’s away. No one’s around during summer holidays-”

“Nope” Mum cuts in abruptly, sarcastic and still attentive to the TV screen, “The holidays ended last month, the kids are back in school. It’s September, no responsible parent would still be away” She pauses, sips for effect and then adds “But I don’t know much about those colleagues of yours, your generation, I don’t know what they do”

I clench my butt cheeks and fists between my thighs.

She’s spiting me. She’s frustrated. She has a right to be frustrated.

But I didn’t ask for it. I don’t take any pleasure in this. The whole thing is embarrassing.

Because here I am, again. Back in this house. After I guaranteed I would never be back.

My glossy new career had assured me I would never again need my parents’ provisions.

You’ll be free; they said. You’ll be our partner. And you’ll be loaded.

And yet here I am, again. The prodigal daughter. Crawling back, tail between her legs, all the way home. Like an absolute fool.

Mum suddenly flips the remote and finally takes in my pitiful stance.

“Why are you here?” she snaps, blinking fast.

I desperately want to tear off my leggings and relieve myself, the train toilets were blocked up even before Hemel Hempstead.

“Mum, they kicked me out. Left all my stuff on the doorstep…in the rain…everybody saw it” I recall my luggage outside now and sense nausea at the coincidence, “I just needed time to get some money…I didn’t want to, well, bother you, because you know…”

“Yes I know” Mum interrupts. She crosses her legs, her mouth a hard line. “Because you were wrong.”

I bite the inside of my cheek, willing myself to not explode.

“Give me strength” Mum rolls her eyes and stabs the TV off. The room is cast in momentary darkness, the shock almost triggers my bladder. A lamp stutters on and Mum reappears, a dark figurine in the shadows.

“You didn’t want to bother me because you didn’t want to admit that you were wrong. Because you fully well know, Elisha Jean, that you’ve acted so shamelessly towards me this past year. Am I telling the truth? Or will you deny it?”

Damn. I fidget. She’s right.

My eyes descend to the rug. I notice flecks of mud on my socks. Contaminating her carpet.

“You marched right out of this house last year, bragging about your ridiculously immoral job with its company car Mercedes and the private yacht trip with the rich and famous and God knows who else and yet… yet I told you, I told you, Elisha, it was illegitimate…”

“But that’s just the way it is now” I somehow fight back, defence rising in my chest “Everybody hustles nowadays. There’s no security in anything anymore. We have to take chances. If we don’t, we lose”

Mum chuckles darkly.

Clearly; she replies, lips pursed.

Her attitude is surprising. I expected my return would be uncomfortable, but I didn’t anticipate this. Not from her, of all people.

Which is why I chose to bypass my opinionated siblings and estranged father and come back to her, to the place that’s been my safe house many times over.

Mum watches me fail to disguise my urge to pee as I glance around avoidant. She used to rebuke me for suppressing bodily movements when I was little. It’s a habit of mine that has remained even after therapy.

“Elisha,” Mum touches her pulsing temple, sighing “I’m tired. I’m just- so tired.”

I swallow, guiltily

“I know.”

“You never called me back-“

“I know”

“Do you know how many messages I left? How many times I asked God to keep you safe? I didn’t have a clue where you were, what you were doing…”

“I know”

“No!” Mum yells, holding up her hand to me “No, you don’t know.” And then anguished, she claps her hands together syllabically “You have no idea what it was like. To watch you leave and disappear completely from our lives. I was worried sick. It’s been-“she grabs her mobile from her gown and thumbs the screen. “It’s been over ten months Elisha.”

“Last time it was eighteen.” I blurt out without thought. It’s unconscious word vomit to distract myself from the urge. Another bad habit I’ve been unable to shift.

But I immediately regret it when I see the anger flash in my mother’s eyes.

“You have a cheek” she leaps up, pointing a finger at me “I should throw you out on the street, lock the door and God help me, renounce you. I have been nothing but patient and loving to you all your life and this is how you repay me?”

She looms over me and I cower, wincing from the tension in the air and my body.

She’s hurting but I can’t process anything. All I can think about is my bladder. A trickle tests my nerves. Mum starts to shout again but I can’t stand it anymore.

“Wait” I burst and it’s my turn to jump to my feet.

Mum’s hardened mouth suddenly snaps to softness. A glint of her motherly warmth peeks through her hardened exterior. “What?” she probes, searching my queasy expression “What is it?”

“I’m so sorry” I gasp, gazing longingly at the bannister, the twenty steps standing between me and sweet relief “But can I use your toilet?”


Mum is waiting outside for me.

I feel like that constipated kid again waiting for my mother’s praise as I gingerly step out to meet her.

“You okay?” Her tone is of genuine concern.

I nod, anxious but relieved.

“It was a long journey” I shrug to the sound of the cistern gurgling.

“I’ve always told you about that Elisha. It’s not good for you”

We blink at each other, though a foot apart, I imagine us both sharing a memory of our doctors’ visits, the reward charts and my mother’s determined patience.

“You know I hate public transport facilities” I crinkle my nose.

“I guess some things never change”

We both stifle laughs.

I feel suddenly exhausted and all I want to do is fall against her and lay my head on her shoulder like I used to. But it’s been too long, we’re not there anymore. So instead I lean against the bannister.

“What happened to the Ferris wheel?”

Mum keeps her distance but follows my lead to support herself.

“The Ferris wheel?”

“You know, the one on the Green?

Mum scoffs. She was never a fan of the fairground rides. She called it Satan’s playground. “Why? It got demolished years ago.”

No, I disagree, but Mum ensures me she's right.

“That’s not possible, I would have noticed. I haven’t been gone that long…”

Mum cocks her head at me.

“No,” a look of hurt returns to her eyes “Maybe not physically, but mentally you have. Don’t you see? You’ve been living in your own self-absorbed world, Elisha. From the moment you left for university, everything else ceased to exist. The only thing that mattered to you was you. You and your success. You stopped caring, you stopped noticing”

My chin wobbles but I pretend to look bewildered at her accusation.

Am I telling the truth? Or will you deny it?” her previous words echo in my mind.

I cannot deny it. I am guilty. But only of being like every other Millennial – a product of the glamorised hustle culture. A culture that promises to take you so far, only to bring you right back round to where you started. An endless loop of exhilarating highs and devastating lows. I don’t expect my mother to understand the addiction - the inflated hope that everything will be different or better the next time around, even when you know, you just know, deep down, it won’t be.

Life is like a fairground ride – glittery until it isn’t anymore.


I haul my luggage up the stairs, while Mum furiously fusses about its obstructing presence. She makes a beeline to the office to make up a temporary bed for me, but I instinctively push open the door of my old bedroom and wander inside without her consent.

The yellow walls are green. The bed is new. This doesn’t belong to me anymore but I can’t help standing back to mourn the transformation.

Mum dashes over, hand on the doorknob and tries to usher me out. Not in here; she tugs at my shirt; not this room.

She dares me to ask why. To exercise my supposed privilege as her daughter or at least, play the part for as long as I’m under her roof.

But we’re not there anymore. And I gave up my rights the day I stopped returning her calls.

"Okay," I complie, realising that I don’t want to abuse her kindness and grace again.

As I turn, I catch sight of my old dresser, restored to its original brilliant wood stain. My dusty trinkets, candles and photos have been replaced with new artefacts.

A single bottle of cologne I’ve never seen before stands proudly beside one of my old photo frames.

I recognise my mother’s face in a candid shot pressed against another, who I’ve also never seen before. He is not my estranged father. He looks young. And they look happy.

As I follow Mum to my new lodging space for an undisclosed amount of time, I wonder if she could ever love him or anyone else for that matter, as unconditionally, as endlessly, as she loved me.

June 24, 2022 22:32

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