A kitten in a basket. News there was a murder in the next town over. An advert for weight loss. Some influencer looking happy eating salad. Scroll. Scroll. Scroll. Where. Was. The dopamine?
“Why are you always on your phone? You’re going to hurt your eyes.” Mother said, teasingly, swishing past me in her soft pink blouse. I felt her words stab me in the back of the head. I put my phone into my jeans pocket, shrugging.
She turned her from me, her dyed hair falling purposefully from a styled bun, and asked me if the laundry was out yet. It wasn’t. She continued looking out of the window, holding back her reply. There was no audible sound coming from her to tell me of her feelings about the laundry, no discernible way to see or hear how she felt about the fact 5 minutes ago the washing machine had stopped and beeped three times to alert me to the fact that it was done. She didn’t have to make any noise. I could hear her disappointment.
I pulled myself from my second-hand sofa and left the small living room, heading to open the washing machine door. From the other room she asked me if I was going to use a laundry basket. I said I didn’t have one. She asked why. I called back that I hadn’t got round to buying a fold down one to fit into the cupboard. She breathed and nodded. I couldn’t say for certain she had nodded- I couldn’t see her- I just knew. This time, the stabbing was in my guts.
I took the laundry out to the balcony and hooked up the washing line. The smell of her flowery perfume alerted me she had casually came outside to watch. In the same breath she informed me that my laundry pegs were too flimsy and that the weather was lovely that day. I replied to neither statement.
I hung up a black towel, first one corner then the next. I liked these towels. I bought them to match the tiles in the bathroom. I picked up another towel, orange, and went to peg that too. She said I could get more laundry onto my line if I used one peg between the 2 towels and that my laundry detergent smelled nice. I replied to neither statement.
“Are you ok? You are really quiet. Shall I just do it? Here, let me.” Mother brisked, taking the towel from my hands, and rehanging the first towel for good measure. Her wrinkled hands moved quickly, flexing the red plastic peg to confirm how flimsy it was and breathing hard to show her disgust at it.
I moved inside to put the kettle on. It had been about 40 minutes since our last cup of tea. Mother came inside as the kettle popped. I asked her if she wanted a cup of tea. She huffed I could have at least passed her the towels and that a cup of tea sounds lovely, thanking me for asking.
“Shall we have a little biscuit with this? Sit outside a bit, that sounds nice. A nice memory.” She cooed, flicking my hair in a playful manner. Her painted nails scratched at my skin. I told her I had no biscuits. “Oh, that’s a shame. I really could have gone with a biscuit. What else do you have?”
Mother bent down, her knees clicking, as she raided through my cupboards. I said I didn’t keep sweet things in the house. She commended me, saying that was great for my diet. I said I wasn’t on a diet. She said she didn’t mean it like that. She mused that us women should just always try and aim to be the most beautiful that we could be. When was my next haircut booked for?
She buttered up some slices of bread and cut them into little triangles, taking them outside to the balcony. I brought out 2 navy ceramic mugs and rested them onto the little table I had bought recently. She took a sharp breath in. I asked what was wrong, wondering if her back was hurting again.
“It’s nothing.” She reassured me but her tone had turned cold, nasty, and aggressive. She looked me in the eyes, narrowing her own, and nodded her head down towards the mug in disgust. “It just that is too milky. No one drinks it like that. Oh look. It’s not even a clean mug. Dark mugs are always gathering dirt. Why don’t you have nice white ones?”
I looked into the mug, not sure what fault I was supposed to be looking at. The mug had been clean out the cupboard. The liquid still looked brown. I said I would go make another one to which I was told no, what a waste. It was fine. It was fine. She picked up the mug, pursed her lips, and nestled her cold, wrinkled hands around it. The stabbing coursed through my stomach, my hands, my arms. I took a deep breath to calm myself.
“Aww, don’t do…” She clicked her tongue at me, angry I was sighing. “You trying to make out this is my fault?”
I wasn’t. I hadn’t said anything. I didn’t know if it was wiser to reply of to stay silent. I put down my mug and said I needed to pee. I walked to the bathroom in silence. Behind me I could hear that I was always like this, always taking the huff. Why couldn’t I just grow up and have an adult conversation?
I sat on the toilet, appreciative of the privacy relieving myself afforded me. I pulled out my phone to mindlessly scroll- a life hack involving a glue gun, a picture of someone’s smiling baby, a new story about a wildfire in Australia killing thousands of species, a seasonal bouquet. I reached for the toilet paper (single ply, no doubt another disappointment) and realised it was not where I had left it. I turned around the room realising the sanctuary of the place I wiped my backside had been violated completely. Toiletries around the shower had been moved into a height descending line, the scented candles had been stacked into a pile near the bin, the toilet paper had been moved behind the toilet- the last sheet with a tiny, folded triangle. I sat there staring at it. I hated it. My stomach simmered with rage that surged up my windpipe and lumped in the back of my throat. I didn’t scream. I didn’t say anything. A solitary tear burned down my cheek as the air around my nostrils felt hot. I sniffed, pulling at the tiny triangle, and smearing it with snot.
Mother noticed my puffy eyes, raising an eyebrow knowingly. I told her I had allergies and conspicuously popped the small white antihistamine I had brought through as a cover story. Unconvinced, she turned her head towards the noises coming from the street.
Three kids were out playing a game of hopscotch, pausing every so often to doodle another circle to hop in. The tallest kid was trying to enforce some sort of rules and the two smaller ones screamed with joy at the complexity of the game. They would mess it up and start again, every hop a new and exciting adventure. Mother clicked her tongue.
“They shouldn’t be drawing on a public pavement, can’t they go back to their own bit?” She peered through the balcony railings, looking for a suitable site for the kid’s chalk. Dissatisfied with the lack of other pavements she looked towards the sky. “Well, hopefully it will wash away in the rain. That reminds me, your sister had a great time in Spain last week. Lovely resort, full of couples which suited them just fine, and had a great pool. But it rained for three of the days, isn’t that rubbish? Couldn’t get the use of it, money wasted. She had bought all these beautiful bikinis as well! Probably for the best, she hadn’t really stuck to her pre-holiday diet- still carrying that Christmas pudge. Remember when she ate two puddings that day?” Mother blew out her checks and mimicked a balloon.
I shifted in my seat, thinking about the animals in the wildfire. Did they run? Did they just accept their home was on fire? Did it hurt to burn? I tapped my toes as I thought.
I was asked to stop. Tapping was irritating. Stab. Mother was restless. She didn’t like just sitting around as it was a waste of the day. Wasn’t it a shame we had blocked out the sunlight with those big black towels? Stab. Black towels never look clean, they probably have hidden stains. Did I want white ones for Christmas? There were white ones on sale in the big department store nearby, we could go and do that today. I would need to change if we were going out. Stab. Stab. She would go and get me a change; I should finish eating. Mother picked up the plate and told me to take the last buttered triangle, it wasn’t right to waste food. I took it, saying thank you.
“Did you see they opened that gym down the street?” She asked as I bit into the bread. “That would be good. You could both go- you and your sister. She’s doing great in the city with Ian. Oh, he’s such a nice man, not sure if I want him in the family though. He’s so quiet, you just know he’s sitting judging you. I have no time for that. Still, makes her happy. Is there no one in your life?” She asked me, looking at my draining board where evidence of single life lay air drying.
Maybe the koala’s tried to submerge themselves in water to stay alive. They can’t be all that fast, I thought, with stubby legs. I had once read they were high on eucalyptus a lot, maybe drugs helped numb the pain.
I pulled out my phone to search koala’s legs, trying to figure out how fast they would run.
Her tongue clicked. Why was I always on my phone?