Playlist: You Wouldn't Like Me by Tegan & Sarah : Ashes by Embrace : Eternal Flame by Joan as Policewoman : Flame Trees by Sarah Blasko
Her mother was always so good at pushing the right buttons; she always had been. Little Lilly wouldn't have gone to the store in the middle of the night if she hadn't. And now here she was, resplendent, acting the model mother with a man that Lilly would have been happier to see in her childhood. He didn't seem the sort to slap her mother around after a few drinks before giving Lilly a few hits herself. And that was before the leering; before her eyes filled with tears and theirs always with lust, as if this had been what they were hoping for, that the blonde girl would cry, look even more vulnerable. She'd find a hiding spot somewhere, sometimes inside, sometimes out, until they fell asleep in a state of drunkenness. She knew what they wanted from her; she wasn't even nearing her teens, when this kind of thing should be brought up but her mother had said it; they lived in some tough neighbourhoods. Neighbourhoods where kids, regardless of age, armed themselves with the ugly knowledge of what was out there, what kind of monsters they had to look out for so that, for most of them, they could grow up to become monsters themselves.
She was hoping she'd be too tipsy to notice; was trying to drink as fast as she could so she didn't have to see her mother, smiling and happy with a witless fool who may or may not last the year. They looked a picture of marital bliss and, if Lilly wished to forget a childhood spent without a father and with barely a mother, she might be able to fit herself into this life somewhere, this semblance of normalcy. Instead, it was her mother who brought up the greatest injustice Lilly had undergone in a childhood that had been hellish enough.
"Remember when you broke a jaw?" The questioning look. The brush off of responsibility. The very nerve she had to put the blame on Lilly; as if she'd wanted to be wandering Barrington Street at night, precious few dollars that should have been for food tucked into her hand, the liquor store around the block her destination. The store owner knew her now, would hand over the alcohol and stuff the important notes into his already-full cash register. In her neighbourhood, the bottle shop did better business than the greengrocer.
Then it was back home, the bottles in the paper bag weighing her down, her footsteps lonely on the pavement, ricocheting off graffiti claimed walls. Until those other footsteps had fallen into step behind her, the big shadow growing closer to her every broken or flickering streetlight they passed under, until she could feel his breath down the back of her neck, prickling her skin. It was at that point she started to run, having quickened her gait before. She knew a starved ten year old's legs were no match for a fully grown man, and he'd caught her by the hair before she'd gone five steps. The bag fell out of her hands, bottles slipping to the ground, fumes immediately rising from the broken glass. Lilly spun, eyes wide, screaming, knowing, in this neighbourhood, no one would come. Her sudden movement had jerked her hair out of his hands and she was backing away from him, eyes darting for an escape route, voice starting to crack.
"You're not going anywhere, little bitch." His voice renewed her energy, and she tried to dart away from him but his fist somehow found her face and she dropped like a stone, voice dying, blood dripping out of her mouth. Her jaw felt wrong and she was lifting a hand to touch it but his hands came down to her first. She tried to push him away, to stop him taking what he found out of her pockets but he was insistent and could hold both her wrists in one hand so that she was defenceless. She kicked her feet out at him, would have tried to bite him except she couldn't move her mouth to bare her teeth. She could feel the blood frothing at her lips, could taste crimson and feel the bruise starting to spread outwards from the point of impact. If only there had been that singular bruise, that one purple mark, rather than the colours that had stained her inner thighs, her wrists, the places inside her she couldn't see inside her but that had hurt for weeks afterwards.
He'd dragged her further into the shadows, her legs kicking uselessly at him, the heels of her shoes catching in the dirt. She still couldn't breathe enough to scream, couldn't stop fear slithering through her stomach, freezing her limbs as she felt his hands, rough and calloused, inside her shirt, down her pants. She'd arched her back, writhed under him, but it seemed to make him more intent to do what he was going to do. Eventually, after he'd hit her again, after he'd prised open her legs and managed to invade a part of her that should have been kept for someone she loved, or at least knew, she'd become so still that he'd slapped her, asked her if she was still alive. Her head had rolled to the side, the blood that had backed up in her throat coming out.
Right now, she was feeling the alcohol moving back up her throat, bringing back memories of the endless blood she'd coughed up on the pavement once he'd left her there. She swallowed hard, let the surroundings wash over her; a cheap, smoky bar, rather than the ditch under the tree on the empty lot. Liquor in her mouth, not blood. A mother sitting, sober, in front of her, not waiting to abuse her when she arrived home with a bloodied face and sans alcohol.
"You dating anyone?" The subject change was a welcome distraction from having to watch her mother and Jacky utilise various table implements in an impromptu game born out of boredom. Questions before this had been mainly from Jacky, to fill the uncomfortable silence; questions about where Lilly lived, what her job was like. More idle chit chat, but Lil knew she was drinking far too fast; talking might slow her down. She thought for a moment, smiled.
"Ray came through town." It was a sore subject with her mother, and she felt cheap bringing it up, but she felt a certain kind of self-satisfaction at Ellen's grimace, almost smiled. Ray had been a neighbourhood bad boy, who hadn't let Ellen treat Lilly like dirt when he was around. She'd known him four weeks when he asked her to leave with him, run away from everything. She'd been a teenager still, foolish, wanting an escape. And the back of his Harley had proved to be more comfortable than she'd expected.
Not surprisingly, Jacky noted her mother's change of expression and uttered a short uh oh, inquired about the stranger who had been Lilly's first love. Sometimes, she thought he might be her only love. Always keeping up appearances, Ellen made a play at being the concerned mother.
"I want better for you is all."
"There was this DA. Kite. He was a good one, but…" Lilly didn't feel like getting into it; that he'd broken up with her because strangers calling at midnight right before he was going to get some wasn't the way he wanted to live.
"But he was too good, right?" Her mother saw straight to the heart of it, as she had the uncanny tendency to on the slight occasion when she wasn't drinking. Despite seeming straight laced now, Lilly knew her mother could still see back to the teenager who had smoked behind the back fence when she was twelve, gotten friendly with the wrong crown when she was fifteen and fallen in love with an older guy on a Harley when she was nineteen. Lilly elected not to answer, called for another drink. With any luck, she wouldn't remember this in the morning. Instead of the memory of an overly awkward dinner there'd be just a dull headache, reminding her why she didn't drink.
Her mother declined a drink; and from her comment, Lilly knew she was at it again. Same old smoke and mirrors. Claiming she was a light weight so that Jacky wouldn't think he was marrying an alcoholic train wreck. She wondered what else she kept from him.
Then it was onto the question. The very thoughtlessness of it shocked Lilly, and she managed to get Jacky to leave the table with her retaliation. She wondered whether he'd been sensing the tension the whole meal and was hoping that, him with absent, they'd either sort it out or Lilly would leave to let her mother and future father-in-law to eat in peace. As soon as he was gone, she started in.
"That look on your face all night, what?"
"Like he doesn't even know you're an alcoholic."
"Was!" Her mother was indignant, as if she was a newly reformed woman, never to find herself dependant on alcohol again. Going through the academy, Lilly had seen her mother try and dry out, but she'd always returned to the spirits with renewed vigour.
"You could try being polite to him, this is my new husband."
"For the next month." Again, a cheap dig Lilly couldn't help but allow herself. The longest her mother had been married was to her father, and even that was a debateable union. She wasn't sure the wedding had been completely legal, since a divorce never seemed to have been finalised. Blissfully, her drink arrived at the table, and she moved it closer to herself.
"Oh stop it. Maybe I failed but I try-."
"It's more than failed. When you bring home guys who hit you, who steal from you." Ellen's selective memory was obviously switched on at the moment. If life had been a string of Jacky's, maybe Lilly wouldn't have a scar on her hip from where she was thrown against a wall, or a legacy of malnutrition in her youth because there wasn't enough money to buy groceries once Ellen and her latest boyfriend had bought their cigarettes, their alcohol, their drugs.
"Well, I try, okay. I find happiness, if only for a little while. That's more than you can say. Least I'm not alone." She'd wondered how long it would be before her mother would turn the focus away from herself. She never was one to be able to take blame in any form. Everything was always someone else's fault, and Lilly had been shouldering her share of the blame all her life. Ever since she'd turned thirteen and sprouted breasts that summer, her mother had been convinced she was coming on to the men that were brought home. The truth was, Lilly had no interest in them, and the reverse was true. Of course Ellen couldn't see that, couldn't see that the reason she wasn't able to hold onto men was because the alcohol had ravaged her figure, voided her personality, spent the child support money the men had found so attractive.
"I'd rather be alone than clinging to a man who doesn't even know me." As Lilly spoke, she questioned her words. She knew she wasn't the world's easiest person to love; there were too many secrets, wrapped up in too many years of holding them in. The truth was, towards the end of their relationship, she'd clung onto Kite even though he knew barely anything about her. She knew the names of his parents, his childhood pets, most of the amusing stories he had from his school years, and he knew she grew up in Philadelphia and that she preferred macadamia ice cream to lemon sorbet.
"As usual, you're so much better than me." Lilly knew she'd scored another point when her mother brought up the other bone of contention between them. Ever since Lilly had graduated, had visited her mother wearing her work clothes, she'd been hailed as too good for her, lofty and too ambitious. Most parents are meant to want more for their children; Lilly had the feeling her mother wanted her to end up alcoholic and living back in Kensington.
"Stop." While it wasn't true; Lilly accepted where she came from, and was just astonished sometimes still that she'd managed to get out, it was an old argument and she'd grown tired of it. Another reason she wasn't as good as Chris; Christina had stayed true to family form and had, while not being alcoholic, stayed on the wrong side of the law pursuing men who were too much like the boyfriend's their mother had brought home. Except for Scotty, a rare nice guy, like Patrick had been. Two conquests, added to the list just to get back at her sister for succeeding, leaving her with their mother alone for the few years before she, too, scraped together the money to get out.
"How long did you and the DA keep it together? More than a month?" Lilly hated herself for mentally counting. If you added up the time he'd pursued her, it had been more than a month. From when they'd first slept together, it was slightly under. She hated that her mother was right.
"I can't go to your wedding." Standing up and gathering her bag, Lilly let loose the last ammunition she had.
"Why? Work is so important?"
"Because I can't smile and… and pose for pictures and pretend that everything's fine when it's not." She could just imagine looking back on a photo twenty years on, forgetting Jacky's name and knowing the smiles were as fake as the poses they were all standing in.
"I just want one night of happiness, with you there. Is that so wrong? Have I done so badly that I can't have that?"
"Well, I can't give it to you." The child in her wanted revenge, pure and simple. She wanted to hurt her mother, as she'd been hurt all through her childhood. In some ways, the emotional scars went far deeper, and every time she saw her mother they itched, opened. Her mother's hand had captured hers, both locked on the glass of alcohol Lilly was planning on breaking the law and walking out of here with.
"You deserve it too, Lilly. Can't you just be happy?" The hand that had been covering hers was released and they stared a beat at each other; women related only by blood and not by common ideas or ideals or sense of humour or anything else that usually unites mother and daughter. Lilly looked into those eyes before turning away, taking her drink with her. She didn't want to show her mother just how far under the skin that last question had dug. Could she really be happy? Or was there only satisfaction left for her, vague stirrings of lust occasionally, rare moments of humour that she shared with her cats at the end of the day.
Passing Jacky on her way out, Lilly let out a shaky breath. She didn't want to be the person her mother thought she was. She didn't want to share funny occurrences with only Olivia and Tripod, who were good company but who couldn't laugh, couldn't kiss her in the snow or reassure her that things were going well and that, if they weren't, they'd get better some day. She'd never had anyone to tell her that things were going to be better for her. Sure there'd been Ray, his promises for their future together laced with the alcohol on his breath, leaving her wondering at the validity of his statements. And now, when he was absent except for the few occasions he'd come back into her life, he drank less but his promises for their future were more vague. So she'd only had herself to rely on for confirmation that life would improve, and some mornings, waking up alone, that didn't feel like enough.
Standing outside, enduring stares from people who probably pegged her as the same type of person as her mother, just better dressed, Lilly made a decision. She wasn't going to be her mother; presenting herself as a fictitious character for a slim shot at happiness. But she wasn't going to stay this way, either. She didn't want her mother to be reinvented yet again, inviting her to the wedding of her sixth or seventh husband, asking her who she was dating. She didn't want to only be able to name Ray, who would inevitably have ridden in again sometime. Making her decision, fuelled by too much alcohol and her mother's words ringing in her ears, Lilly flipped open her phone.
I don't know if it's the same in America as in Australia, but over here you're not allowed to take open alcohol out of the premises of the pub/club/bar you're in; Lilly breaking the law by taking her drink outside. Just in case you were wondering.
I've covered the drunken dial in chapter 3 of Under the Grey. I didn't want to rehash, and I wanted this fic to be primarily about the bar scene. The drunk dial kind of made everyone forget the proceeding scene I think, as we all went drunk dial, damn… Been there, done that, know how you're feeling. Feed the artist; review!