Lisa took the day off from the bookstore, claiming a migraine and getting the casual staff member Bruce to watch over the business for her in her absence. But in truth it was not a migraine that kept her away from work. Tonight was to be the night Damien joined her for dinner, and all the promise that entailed. After bustling Mandy out of the house to go on the overnight excursion with her classmates – and having stopped up her ears to her daughter’s pleas not to go given how horrible school was- she had felt exhausted and knew she needed time to relax and to prepare if the night was to fulfil its promise.
She hadn’t been sleeping well for weeks now, and that last nightmare where she ran from her own daughter was so horrible she couldn’t even bear to think about it in the daylight lest somehow the sun’s rays shed too much light on what it might be saying about her and her relationship with her child.
Normally she might have talked it out with Susan, but she refused to even see her for the moment. She had no tolerance for her friend’s selfish and derogatory obsession with Damien, and was in no mood to indulge her, even if it was simply for the opportunity of having someone to talk about Mandy with. Underneath, though, she was vexed and did feel bad for her daughter. She had almost given in and told Mandy to stay, that she would ring and say she was sick, and save her from the additional indignity of a night spent in the company of schoolmates who clearly rejected her.
But to do that would rob her of her dinner with Damien, or at the very least rob her of the opportunity for them to dine alone, and all that might entail. And how could she do that, she told herself, she had so little joy herself these days, and she suffered too. Everyone needed to find their happiness, Mandy included, and the one should not demand the sacrifice of the other.
There was that term again – sacrifice. Why did everything feel like that these days? Why did it always have to be one or the other, not both?
Still, her guilt robbed her of the rest she wanted, and more than once she almost rang the school to say she wanted her daughter home. She saw herself doing more, in fact, storming in to the principal’s office to tell the tales of the bullying her daughter endured and demand someone did something about it.
‘This is the sort of thing that causes tragedies,’ she saw herself saying in her mind’s eye. But equally she saw her daughter suffering even worse for her intervention. Parents never could save their children from bullying. She knew that, deep in her bones, and while she wanted to do something, anything, to stop feeling like the worst mother on earth right now, nothing rose beyond mere speculation and consideration. The afternoon passed into evening with little sleep or rest, but she remained alone and Mandy remained at school, and that was an end to it.
Finally, she busied herself with cooking. Something simple but elegant was in order: steak with trimmings, fine red wine, and a crème brulee for dessert. If they even got to dessert,she thought to herself, shivering in happy anticipation. And at that moment the doorbell rang, and she hurried to the door, checking her reflection briefly in the hallway mirror before opening the door to see Damien standing there.
‘Come in!’ she said, delighted.
He smiled, ‘Thank you, the last thing I wanted to be was just a dweller on the threshold.’
She smiled back at him, ignoring the strangeness of his words. Sometimes he spoke in a manner that made one think of an earlier era, a bygone one. My god, she thought, it’s a good thing Susan isn’t here or she’d be using it as proof he was the man in the old photos. An ageless man, with the manners of an earlier age.
She fussed over the cooking and he fussed over her. Their conversation came easily, almost too easily, and she felt giddy with the wine. Every sense in her body was alight and tingling, so that after the meal, as they brushed beside each other in the hallway as she came back from taking dishes to the kitchen, she melted within his embrace as he made his move. For long seconds she just felt sheltered, tender, in his embrace, then she raised her face to his and looked into his depthless eyes, and accepted his first kiss.
I am falling, she thought, I am falling like a star falls in the sky. Down to the limitless all.
Moments later he asked where the bedroom was, and she led him, hand in hand, deliriously happy, to the room. She didn’t even think to pull the blinds, for it was hardly likely anyone was out on Mercy Street tonight in any case, and even to do that would take her away from him for too long. She followed his lead, each caress and embrace travelling deeper, and somehow she found herself without cloths, without care, without inhibition, meeting flesh with flesh, a passion and a heat, till they were one.
And not once did Lisa look outside the window, and not once did she see they were not alone, not alone at all. In the darkness of the street, seeing them with total clarity from the lamplight in the bedroom, seeing every move of every embrace, every kiss, was a horrified and devastated witness. A witness who fell back with each move, shaking her head, tears streaming from her cheeks. And these were cheeks that had been tear-stained already this night, this night when the bullying continued apace, to the point that she had fled the auditorium at school where the school sleep over ‘study night’ was in full flight.
Mandy watched her mother with Damien, every last young dream of her pitiful, lost little life extinguished moment by moment. By the time she could no longer see them as they had fallen on the bed, out of sight from the window, Mandy was beyond thought, beyond feeling.
She turned and ran again, and ran and ran, till she was behind No 6 Mercy Lane, up the hill, just looking at the tree, the Hanged Girl tree. And when she looked up at the cloudy night, no stars were in sight. No stars at all.
(c) Helen M Valentina 2015, All Rights Reserved