A short story by Ivana Hrubá
I'll never forget the first time I took Billy home. He didn't know where to look, the poor thing, he was that surprised when he saw how young Mum was. My house freaked him out completely; especially Mum's shrunken head replica above the fireplace, which made him quite speechless for quite a while. Of course, Mum noticed his discomfort but chose to ignore it and kept up a banter as she served us hot chocolate on the porch. Mum was wearing a sari and her hair was out, and she looked so pretty I could tell it was messing with Billy's head. Then Danny showed up and kissed Mum fully on the lips in front of Billy, after which Mum asked Danny to give Billy a ride on his Harley. It was just the thing to seal Billy's fate. He told me I was really lucky to have such cool parents even though he knew Danny was not my dad and had only been Mum's boyfriend for a few months. Clearly, Billy was impressed.
Anyway, Billy started to come over all the time. He got used to Mum but still blushed every time he saw her. She knew he had this big crush on her and tried to stay out of his way because she noticed how it irritated me when he blushed. It really annoyed me how Billy acted around her. Once, when he bumped into her in the hallway, he bolted out the door as if he were on fire which, as Danny so wittily pointed out, he might have been because Mum had been wearing a bikini at the time. Of course, that idiot Danny joked about it, made fun of Billy to his face, which only made things worse. I told Billy to ignore him; even Mum said Danny was immature, but despite his idiotic ways she still loved him. She once told me she had loved him from the moment she clapped eyes on him. It made me feel all dreadful inside and I imagined she would one day marry him, but after Danny moved in with us, I realized he would never marry her, and felt a bit better. I only hoped he'd get tired of us soon.
But Danny stayed with us for a long and turbulent time. He liked to stir trouble at the pub where he played the trumpet with a bunch of freaks called The Exhausted. When got drunk he insulted the patrons, which led to all sorts of scuffles. He did some damage at the house as well, just through pure stupidity, but the absolutely worst thing was when Mum was at work and he and I were home alone. Sometimes he'd play his stupid trumpet for hours on end, which just obliged me to leave the house to preserve my sanity. I stayed out as late as I could but eventually I had to return home to cook dinner and feed Saffron, and do my homework. Danny was easily bored; if he wasn't practicing, he'd follow me around and tease me, mainly about my flat chest and boys. I knew he didn't mean any harm but he was thoroughly annoying with his puerile ways of passing the time.
To be fair, he wasn't always such an idiot. A few times we actually held a decent conversation. Once, when I was doing a project on the Milky Way, Danny joined in and helped me and we gradually sidetracked to contemplating life on other planets, and ended up talking about it until Mum got home at midnight. She was really pleased to see us getting along so well and hoped we were bonding. The same week Danny offered to come to a Career Planning Day at school. He arrived on his Harley, played the trumpet and told the class it was really hard to make a good living, then urged everyone to get on with their education. I was blown away to hear him speak in such a mature manner and was secretly pleased even though I didn't let on 'cause the other kids looked so disappointed. Like Billy, they all thought Danny led an interesting and adventurous life, but they didn't know him the way I did.
Danny stayed with us for the rest of that year. We had our ups and downs but I accepted the situation because Mum was so much in love. She was genuinely happy with that silly clown and did everything she could to make him stay. She was even pleased when he spent his pay on the road when he toured the coast with The Exhausted, instead of giving it to her or saving it. But Danny spent his money and always regretted it. He kept saying he could never get his shit together. Mum, on the other hand, was quite happy because to her getting his shit together meant he would have the option to leave. Danny was always saying he wanted to travel, to see the world, to learn about different cultures. Sometimes on Sunday afternoons he would make me watch a travel documentary with him. I confess I liked those afternoons because Danny would drop the clown façade and be serious. Talking about travel brought out Danny's good side and I didn't hate him that much for a bit. Of course, it was right the opposite with Mum. Whenever Danny talked about seeing the world she was moody and nervous, and she always put on sexy clothes to get Danny into bed early.
Eventually, what was bound to happen, did. Danny got so pissed one night that he brawled in the pub in such a way that the publican had no choice but to sack him and The Exhausted, and then Danny disappeared from the face of the earth. The three months he was gone was hell. Mum went to pieces. She stayed in her bedroom, crying or staring at the ceiling and I had to take care of everything. I coped as best I could but eventually we ran out of money. I knew I had to shake Mum out of her depression. She just had to go back to work. So I did the unthinkable - I called Danny. I called him but he didn't answer so I left a message. All I said was: Come home, Danny, we really miss you. Danny came back the very next day. He looked worn out and as handsome as ever. Mum was beside herself; she clung to his neck, kissing him for a long time and she cried, but you could see just how happy she was.
To explain his absence, Danny told us he'd been down south, touring with another band. He was thinking of us but just didn't have time to call. Of course, this was a massive lie but he put five hundred bucks on the table so Mum took the money and acted like everything was all right. Then she asked me to take Saffron out for a play, and she and Danny went to bed. Of course, the days that followed were all Mum ever wanted. The two of them hardly ever left the bedroom and I was obliged to turn up the volume on the tv or play music loud so as not to hear them. I never said anything about it because I didn't want to make Mum unhappy. But I began to hate Danny a bit more each day.
Danny then stayed with us for another eighteen months. Gradually, things went back to normal; Mum worked at the pub as before and Danny played his trumpet at the Tavern, a tavern across the road from the pub. At home, Danny behaved as usual. Most of the time he loafed about the house or tinkered with his Harley, and all of the time annoyed the crap out of me when Mum was at work. He annoyed me, but not in any weird way, even though I now wore a bra and was kissing Billy in the woods. Billy once asked me if Danny had ever made me feel uncomfortable or made a pass, and in all honesty I could tell him that he had not. Danny never even came to my room without knocking first so I was pretty sure he was not demented in that way. Still, having him around was tiresome. He did nothing at home so I had to do everything after school while he sat on the couch drinking beer.
Then one day, Danny left us for good. I came home from school and found the door wide open and a note on the table. It said: Phoenix, tell her I've gone to see the world. I am not a family man. I'm sorry. Danny xx oo. At first, I could not believe it was finally happening. I had dreamt of this moment since the day I clapped eyes on that loser but now, faced with the reality of it, I felt nothing beyond surprise until I realized I'd have to deal with Mum, and then I was worried. She was bound to take this badly.
She did. She was devastated, completely overwhelmed by her grief. She began drinking and drank a bit more each day and hardly ever went to work until we had no money left. Then Billy gave me the money he had saved up for a new skateboard so we could eat. After that there truly was nothing left and I was so desperate I called Danny again, but this time a girl answered the phone and I hung up without saying anything. The next time she answered I waited for a bit, and eventually she said: Stop bothering us, you silly bitch. It's over. Go fuck yourself, and hung up. So then I knew we had truly reached the end of the line.
_ _ _
For six months Mum moped after Danny but eventually got herself together and went back to work. Life at home was good even though Mum was sad and sometimes cried in her bedroom. Then one day she decided to make a clean break and took Danny's pictures off the fireplace and locked them in her drawer. She also took down the beads and the shawls from the windows and put up proper curtains and cleaned up the lounge. Finally, our house began to look like any other in the neighborhood. I wasn't quite sure how to take this new direction. Sometimes it made me feel as if Mum was trying to change who she was, and this was not a good thing.
_ _ _
Autumn came and Mum hooked up with Old Shawn. Folks around the neighborhood talked about this odd pairing at first but as time went on everyone got used to it and thought Mum and the old man were so well suited that no-one made an effort to tell Old Shawn when Danny came back to town. I guess they all thought it made no difference; what with Old Shawn so generous and Mum so obviously better off, everybody assumed she'd have to be completely stupid to take up with Danny again.
But Mum had always had that suicidal streak. She had a compulsion to live in the moment, to follow her heart and to hell with everything else. When Danny came back on the scene, you could see the change in her straight away. Mum blossomed like a flower. I knew she felt guilty about deceiving poor Old Shawn, and that's why she was so nice to him, at first. She spent time with him, and was generally very kind but I knew she wasn't really there. For a while it looked as if Old Shawn didn't notice the change that was taking place; he seemed to be genuinely happy even though Mum moved him out of the bedroom by then. I felt sorry for the guy; he just didn't want to admit that it was over and that there was nothing he could do about it.
Once again, Danny was back in our lives. Mum was ecstatic, I was worried and Old Shawn suffered. As time went by, Mum didn't bother keeping up the pretence. We weren't playing happy families any more. Mum came home after work or she didn't, it was entirely up to her and Old Shawn did not dare ask for explanations, thinking he still had a chance, thinking this was a phase which would pass, like a sickness or a storm, and if he just hung in there, everything would turn out all right in the end.
So he hung in there, living on borrowed time, hoping for a miracle. Meanwhile, he moped about the house, looking as sad as an abandoned dog. He wouldn't say a word; just sit and stare into the empty fireplace, and clear his throat from time to time. I didn't know what to say to him, and felt guilty for leaving things unsaid. So we trotted along, trying to keep things normal. Sometimes we even played a game of chess together, like we used to. But the old man's heart wasn't in it. Eventually, after about four weeks of this, I began to wish he wasn't around. It made me feel wretched because I knew this horrible situation was none of his doing.
Then one Sunday morning, it all came to a head. Mum had come home late after spending the night at Danny's. Old Shawn, exhausted after waiting all night for her to come home, was particularly vulnerable. When Mum eventually turned up he made her breakfast, and then told her that he understood how she felt and was prepared to make allowances, saying that she had nothing to reproach herself about.
That really was the end of everything. Mum just looked up from the paper she was reading and laughed, which just about killed the old man who stood in front of her looking all destroyed, wrinkly and dry like an old piece of fruit. He burst into tears. Then Mum asked him to leave. She did it nicely, gently I thought, seeing how upset Old Shawn was. The man cried like a baby, but it didn't change her mind. She gave him a day to move out and left for work.
Love © Ivana Hrubá 2013
All rights reserved
The novella Ether is available to download from Amazon, Smashwords and other online stores. Reviews posted online will be much appreciated. Cheers, Ivana
Young Phoenix lives with her mother in a small rural town, enduring a childhood filled with financial insecurity and emotional instability brought on by her mother's immature outlook and turbulent love life. Forced to frequently fend for herself, Phoenix is relieved when, after a particularly disastrous romance with Danny, a young itinerant musician, her mother takes up with the older and sensible Shawn, who brings order and financial stability into their lives, leaving Phoenix to concentrate on her developing relationship with her best friend Billy. However, the idyll doesn't last long and things spiral out of control when Danny comes back to town, setting in motion a chain of events which will forever change their lives.
Other titles by Ivana Hrubá are available to download on Smashwords, Amazon and other online stores.
Ether © Ivana Hrubá, 2012
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, copied or used in any form or manner whatsoever without written permission, except in the case of brief quotations in reviews and critical articles.
Disclaimer: This is a work of fiction. All events described herein are imaginary, including settings and characters. Any similarity to real persons, entities, or companies is purely coincidental and not intended to represent real living persons. Real brand names, company names, names of public personalities or real people may be employed for credibility because they are part of our culture and everyday lives. Regardless of context, their use is meant neither as endorsement nor criticism: such names are used fictitiously without intent to describe their actual conduct or value. All other names, products or brands are inventions of the author's imagination. The author and the publisher of this work, its distributors, retailers, wholesalers and assigns disclaims any liability or responsibility for how this work is interpreted by its readers. The author and the publisher assume no responsibility for factual errors, inaccuracies, or omissions.