I’ve been attending my new school for one month now. It was my 14th birthday two weeks ago and no one in my class knew, so the day was just like any other although I did have salad sandwiches for lunch, my favourite. When one has a dad who has a breakdown after his wife dies and then buys a riverboat to live the life of a hermit, one has absolutely no say in the matter other than what the authorities tell one. That one is I, one and I are one and one is a pretty lonely number when you’re 14 and hitting puberty. I’m not allowed to have a breakdown because I legally have to go to school and I’m always being told that kids are resilient creatures. I didn’t know I was a creature but then I didn’t know a tomato was a fruit so it seems I have a lot to learn.
If I were to view my life through a practical lens, it would be more convenient if my mum had died after my 18th birthday. Then I wouldn’t have to live with Aunt G. I could have moved to France or married a vegan farmer who lives in Cumbria, just like my mum would have liked. If vegan farmers don’t exist then I could plant potatoes and sell home-made jam. The landscapes of London would be projector slides in my memory. I’d never have to walk through concrete fields again. Actually, it would have been convenient if my mum hadn’t died at all and we’d made home-made jam together but I can’t think about that because I’m a resilient creature.
I often look at the Eucalyptus tree in the communal garden at the back of the house. It’s really magnificent… you would have loved it. I look at the bark and try to guess what colour it would stain the silk dress you wore to my birthday last year (you remember, the white one I wasn’t allowed to touch as I had sugar coated fingers after eating too many cola bottles). I remember the colour of the wildflowers boiling in the large pot that was too hot to put on the front of the stove. The home made tie-dye trousers you made me wear when you’re friends came over for coffee just to show off your new creative hobby, even though I couldn’t do up the zip. The discussions you had with dad about cutting down on his meat consumption, to which he’d just nod and say, “I hear you”. He’d still buy the reduced chicken curry on a Monday night and beef cutlets on a Friday but you didn’t say anything because you loved him. I didn’t realise how much you loved us all. Now that you’re gone, I feel it was endless. You made loving dad look so easy but I see now how difficult that must have been as the more I need him, the further away he seems to travel. The day you died your top was bright yellow to show off the turquoise necklace you’d found at a jumble sale, it was your favourite. You died wearing your best clothes, like you knew that day was your last. Maybe you did know and you were dressing up for God. I think I’d rather be there with you. I’m wondering why God took you and kept me here because it’s shit but then he knows how shit it is because he’s God.
I have a long list of questions.
P.S. Dad always looked like a rusty pipe but mum, you shone like a ruby.
Dad and I clash; I guess that’s why he chose France over me. I can’t fathom the impulsive decision he made, his moving to France. He’s never even been to France! They do eat lots of meat so maybe that’s why. Mama J told me, “sometimes life throws ya the queen of spades and ya gotta take the hit until the next hand of cards is dealt”. That’s rather nonsensical to me. Mama J loves to play cards and tells me that in the game of Hearts, you’re screwed if you get the queen of spades. She creates gems of wisdom, snippets of advice each day that must float to her mind as she engages in conversations with herself. The best conversations are the ones she has with herself, apparently. There are no limits to the randomness that comes out of her mouth but mum was exactly the same. Every girl needs a hippie in her life. The only card game I can play is rummy, Mama J taught me three days after I moved in with Aunt G. It was a good distraction although I never win. Mama J is a card shark! I don’t mind losing because I like the homemade rosehip tea she brews, she tells me its good for concentration so we drink it each time she gets the pack of cards out. I love her rosehip tea, losing tastes so much better when you wash it down with pink petals and dried lavender.
I have a Jon Bon Jovi poster on my wall next to my bed. I didn’t bring much from my old house, my old life. We didn’t have much anyway and what we did have didn’t match. The sofa was taken from a skip when a neighbour was having their downstairs renovated. The kitchen table was bought at a car boot sale and it took dad two months to find four odd chairs that comfortably fit around it. The table was more of a coat collector than a place to sit. Dad never hung up his jacket in rightful place of the closet under the stairs. Mum got fed up with the role of husband-tidier-upper so the table housed unused placemats, dad’s worn jackets and lots of woodworm. I kiss my Bon Jovi picture before I go to bed, thanking him for protection as I sleep. He seems like a good bet. He’s got muscles and he writes songs about heartbreak. Who doesn’t trust a man who expresses their vulnerability and wears cowboy boots! I reckon if I could call on any living spirit, his would be most suited and he’d fly to my aid like a bee to a blossom tree.
So thinking about my birthday, there was this one kid at school who sat next to me during lunch break. He was enquiring as to why I didn’t have any cheese in my salad sandwich. Salad sandwiches are my favourite so Aunt G said I could buy an extra packet of mixed leaf salad as a birthday present. That was the only present I got. She never stops giving.
“What’s the good of a salad sandwich with no cheese?”
His trousers were too short and he had a spot at the end of his nose. Now, I usually refrain from making judgements but this looked particularly painful, like his skin was sheltering an army of bacteria. I stared for longer than was comfortable, I knew he was staring back; maybe my pores were inviting an examination also. I had washed my face this morning but grease seems to ooze like molten lava these days. An uncontrollable eruption can occur at any moment, my pores have become incredibly uncooperative recently. My mum used to say I’m as stubborn as an ox so I wasn’t about to be the first to avert my gaze. He caved and grabbed my bag.
“What else you got for lunch?”
There was nothing else to eat in my bag.
“Are you an anorexic?”
“I watched a programme about anorexic girls who think the leaf of a lettuce is too fattening and they won’t look good in their boob tubes”.
This boy is weird.
“I’m not anorexic and I don’t have a boob tube”
“Then why do you only have salad in your sandwich?”
“Because it’s my birthday and salad and margarine in a sandwich tastes like heaven on earth.”
I could see this confused the hell out of him. He scrunched up his nose, causing his top lip to rise, showing off his discoloured braces.
“Margarine? I only have butter in my sandwiches.”
I could see this kid was going to be hard work.
He was waiting for me at the bus stop after school.
Before I could recognise his face amongst the herd of uniformed kids, he bellowed at me, “What year are you in?”
Everyone at the bus stop stared at me.
Fact: I don’t wear the most fashionable shoes, I don’t even know what store they’re from as the insole was worn down by whoever owned them before me. Mum got all my shoes from the charity shop. Waste not, want not and all that malarkey.
Needless to say, when you wear old, worn shoes to school and some weird kid shouts at you and then nearly everyone in your school stares at you and some girls laugh at you because you wear old shoes and no one knows who you are, those are the moments you want to die. I ignored the boy and walked straight past the bus stop. It was a nice evening so I decided the 30-minute walk home would do me good.
“I’ll walk with you!”
I went from wanting to die to wanting to kill.
“You can tell me more about salad sandwiches”.
“I don’t live near you”
“Yes I do, I’ve seen you walk into the corner shop at the end of my road”
God must hate me.
Even though I picked up my pace and made every effort to ignore his company, he skipped beside me and talked non-stop about genetically modified farming the whole 30-minute walk home.