Her mum was out again, probably at a class practicing all that new agey crap. April never understood how her own mother could get so wrapped up in image and superficiality when her job entailed embracing the mind's inner sanctum.
The bookcase proposition had been closed so April resigned herself to the fact that her books were going to remain as furniture. She decided to reorganise so they weren't so hard to obtain. Perhaps they should be stacked long ways, or maybe they should be scattered around the room in categories.
That was when she had an idea; it was an idea conjured in spite.
She grabbed an armful of books and heaved them out into the lounge room. She decided the non-fiction lot would now live on the far wall by the TV. That way, if one of those ridiculous programs came on that her mum lived for, she could suggest a book in its place. She knew her mum wouldn't read any of them but it might bug her enough to eventually give in.
April continued hauling groups of books until every wall of the lounge was lined with them. She left her favourite genre, mystery and thriller, in her room so they were at hand when she wanted them. At least now she had more space and could walk from one end of her room to the other with ease.
She didn't even want to think about how her mum would react. There was probably going to be a furious encounter once she saw her newly rearranged lounge room and then some sort of punishment to follow, but April was tired of having to put aside what she loved just to make her mum happy. Sometimes her love seemed conditional; if April did something to make her mum happy, she was rewarded, if she did something to make herself happy, she was punished. Somehow it didn't seem very fair.
It only seemed like a few minutes after her redecoration that April heard her mum pull up in the driveway. She closed her door a little way and braced herself. She felt a little excitement well up inside of her at the same time, although she really didn't know what to expect.
The front door squeaked upon its opening and Leonie stepped inside sighing in exhaustion. She dropped her keys onto the kitchen table and placed her bags on the floor. April heard the tap running. She was messing around in the kitchen; it might be ages before she ventured into the lounge.
'April, you there?' Leonie's voice sailed through the house.
'What are you up to, baby?' Leonie soon appeared at April's door with a glass of water in hand. She didn't even seem to realise how sparse her room had suddenly become.
'Just reading,' April said, a grin appearing on her face.
'I might watch some telly. Want to join your old mum?'
April could tell she was clearly trying to suck up to her after their dispute about the bookcase earlier on.
'Maybe in a minute. Just want to finish the chapter.' April turned back to her book as her mum moved towards the lounge room. Her heart was smashing against her chest. She braced herself and waited but there was nothing; no yelling or cursing, nothing.
Perhaps she'd gone back to the kitchen first or she'd changed her mind. It was so typical of her mum to say she was going to do something and then do a complete one eighty and do something else entirely. It was like she could never fully make up her mind. April found that usually after her night classes she'd come home in a complete daze, not even really processing what was going on. It was like the lights were on but nobody was home. That was why April never wanted to attend her classes; she liked her mind alert and in tune.
Ten minutes soon passed and April hadn't heard a peep. She couldn't believe there was no shouting. Sure, her mum had been centering herself at her class, but for there to be no reaction at all was not in her mum's world.
April placed her book on her bedside table and crept cautiously down the corridor. She soon came face to face with a scene that made her stomach twist into knots. Her mum was sitting on the couch, feet folded beside her and a bottle in her hand. The TV was blaring and she had the paper rested on her lap. There was nothing strange about that, her mum always did it after a class, but what made April sick was that there were no books in the lounge room. Not one left.
'Where are they?' April had to hold the door frame to stop her hands from balling into fists.
Her mum didn't even turn to look at her which made April stomp over to her and block her view of the TV.
'You know what, Mum.'
Leonie lifted her head and sighed. 'I know you resent me for saying no to your request earlier but that was no reason to do such a silly thing.'
'That didn't answer my question.'
'Were you trying to make me mad, April? Did you want me to spin into a whirlwind of rage so you could have an excuse to say what a bad mother I was?' Leonie looked into her daughter's eyes. 'Don't play games with me kid, I've got twenty five years worth of experience on you.'
April couldn't bare to stay a minute longer. Her mum was playing the cool, calm and collected card. She didn't expect that. It was true; she had wanted her mum to spin out. What she failed to realise was that her mum wasn't stupid.
As April neared the front door she heard her mum call out after her. 'I told Brooke's mum at class tonight that you'd help them on the charity stall tomorrow. Ten am start, honey.'
At the mention of Brooke's name April felt her blood boil even more than it already was. She always tried to control her anger as she found it chewed away too much of her energy but this time it was getting too much to bare. There was only one place to go. It was her place of timeless solitude. She looked at her watch as her feet hurried along the path and she groaned. It was almost close-up time. Zoe would probably be slinging on her jacket and heading out the door any minute. This made her walk turn into a jog and soon her jog turned into a run.
'Zoe!' April approached the store just as the owner was closing the door behind her.
Zoe swung around to see a breathless, red-faced teenager running towards her and she stopped what she was doing.
'April, are you okay?'
April hadn't even realised tears were prickling her eyes until one managed an escape and trickled down her cheek.
'Hey...' Zoe slipped an arm around April's shoulders and led her inside. She offered her her usual couch spot down the back end of the shop and April let herself sink into its familiar contours. She closed her eyes for a minute while Zoe disappeared into the kitchen. This place was perfect. She felt so safe being surrounded by so many books; books of all different genres and decades. And the scent, oh the scent of the pages of a new book engaged her mind and her tears soon dissipated. It was hard to imagine being sad in a place like this.
And Zoe. Well, Zoe was her best friend. She was beautiful and kind and cared about her way more than her mum ever would. She let April make this place a place of her own. She could retreat here at any time and Zoe would let her stay as long as she wished, even if it was hours after closing time. Sometimes they'd spend so much time discussing literary topics like why Virginia Woolf really killed herself that they'd lose track of time. April warmed to Zoe purely for the way she appreciated her deep thoughts and love of books and learning new things. She wasn't scalded for picking up a book rather than going to a party, she was encouraged and it was the only time she felt able to truly let herself be who she wanted to be.
Zoe soon reappeared with a cup of coffee and April took it with a small smile. 'Thank you.'
There was no mention of why April was here and no questions were asked. April loved that about Zoe and about her book store; everything was left outside unless she needed a shoulder to cry on. Then she would spill and Zoe would listen. It was a system they'd both subconsciously developed.
'Now, where did we get up to last time?' Zoe sat beside April and gave her a comforting smile, pulling out The unabridged journals of Sylvia Plath and turning to the marked page.
'She's also very damaged.'
Zoe closed the book over her finger. 'Your mum might also be damaged.'
No matter how much April wanted to forget about the reason for coming here, she felt like she'd explode if she didn't vent. 'I don't want to hate her but sometimes I do.'
'You don't hate her, April. You don't have a mean bone in your body to even feel hatred.'
'I do hate her.'
'You don't, trust me. If you hated her you wouldn't be talking to me about it, you'd be keying her car or something.'
April placed her coffee cup on the table and folded her hands in her lap. 'I love her. I just wish she felt the same.'
'Hey...' Zoe turned her entire body to face April. 'Listen here young lady, your mum loves you more than words can say. Don't doubt that, ever. She just doesn't respect you. There's a difference.'
April got to her feet and strolled along the rows of books, fingering them as she went by and wishing her mum could come in and see the same beauty she saw. It wasn't that her mum was stupid or anything; she studied when she was younger and always knew so much about the world. It was just that she didn't embrace the kind of smarts April felt a desire to have. Her mum had never been close with her parents; they weren't in her life near as much as she knew her mum would've liked so she never got encouragement or support. She did it by herself and April knew deep down that her mum just wanted her to have the childhood she'd never had the chance to have. There was a fine line between wanting her to have her teenage years and allowing her space to choose her own paths.
'She doesn't even know who Pushkin is.' April stopped by a shelf and slid out a hard cover book.
'She doesn't need to know who Pushkin is.'
'I want her to know...' April's voice trembled a little. 'Sometimes I want her to know who Pushkin is. All I want to do is sit her down and tell her that Pushkin was smart. He was a smart guy and he didn't hide it. He wasn't ashamed of being smart. He didn't care if people thought he was from another planet. He just lived his life being smart and doing what he wanted to do and didn't put up with anyone telling him otherwise. He couldn't care less about conforming to the rest of his peers; he was his own person and because he knew that he wanted the people in his life to just accept that and leave him alone!'
April hit silence and then looked up to find a smile hitching its way up Zoe's face. 'Pushkin just wanted to be Pushkin, hey?'
Zoe got to her feet and began pacing around the room. She caught April's eye every now and then knowing that this young girl was fragile and delicate but was also well aware that her brain was like a sponge; anything she said now would impact her strongly.
'Can I offer you some advice?'
April placed the book back on the shelf and leaned against it, her mind ready and willing to receive.
'Do it her way for a bit.' Zoe stood in the centre of the room and folded her arms across her chest. 'Go to a party every now and then. Help out with her fundraisers. Chat with the kids at your school.'
April raised her eyebrows. Her and Zoe had always been on the same wavelength. They knew each other's ins and outs and didn't try to turn the other inside out. Now April feared that something was truly wrong with her; was she really so bogged down in books? Was that so bad?
Seeing April's terrified expression, Zoe scooted over to her and squeezed her hands. 'You're so young, sweetheart. You can read all the books you want but that's not going to stop the world from spinning around you. I'm not saying this to drive you away from what you love, I'm saying it because I care about you. I just want you to build up a resilience in the world. Find out what's good and what's bad, who matters and who doesn't. See things, do things. You can do anything you want, love, you're that clever. But don't block out what's around you; it'll only do you more harm than good.'
April unknotted her fingers from Zoe's clasp and turned back to the shelf of books. Twain, Hemingway, Austen, Salinger... She felt like these people knew her inside out. Her life revolved around their imaginary worlds and she enjoyed being carried into a place that wasn't her own. She knew she had been born in the wrong century but she wouldn't let that stop her from willing herself there. How was she supposed to separate herself from these people—these friends—and engage in the lives of people she didn't even respect?
'I'm not saying to change yourself and by all means don't,' Zoe said keeping a few feet distance between them both, 'I just want you to know what's out there. Humour your mum for a while. You have so much to offer April, it's too precious to keep it hidden.'
April felt like she was floundering out of a fish bowl. The last person in the world she actually trusted was now telling her to change; no, not change but broaden her life. Broaden being the key word. She thought she was broadened enough. She thought broadening her mind was all that mattered. Why would she want to get herself mixed up in all things she disagreed with? Maybe Zoe was just the same as everyone else. Maybe all that truly mattered to people was social security, the kind where you feel so in tune with the people around you that forget who you are and what you believe in. You become a clone of the world. You become one of those girls who stalk off to bars every night in their packs of three or four and you look at them and think how they just all look the same; you can't differentiate between Melanie and Tania and Jessica. You start to lose that unique aura (as much as April hated to use her mum's terms) and just become a shell of a person.
Perhaps that's all life was. Just a facade.
'I'm sorry if I upset you, April.'
April had been silent, her arms across her chest and her gaze on the floor. She didn't want to look up; she was afraid of looking up and finding Zoe's aura gone, having become too indistinguishable and passive.
'I don't think you get what I'm saying—'
'I get it. Thanks for the coffee.' April didn't hesitate. She bolted through the door and down the path. Halfway home she realised she didn't want to go home. She didn't want to face her mum or the reality of her books having disappeared.
She took a turn into the town centre and made her way to Central Park. It was a brisk night and it was probably edging on to nine o'clock. April knew she shouldn't be out alone but their town was pretty safe she figured. She kicked off her shoes and dug her toes into the sand surrounding the swing set. It was massaging. She closed her eyes and hugged herself, turning her face towards the night-covered sky. A cool breeze whisked her hair as it careened through and she shivered.
A car soon passed by the park, its headlights tormenting the dark. April moved over to a bench and lay down, not even bothering that the wooden slats pressed against her back. She wondered if the person in the car might be a serial killer. They might see her, pull over, and come and thrust a knife between her ribs. She sat up at this thought and watched as the car began to slow down. She was right. Alarm bells went off in her head and she realised she probably shouldn't be out alone at this hour. Especially in such an isolated spot. Who would hear her scream?
She was getting ready to grab her bag and bolt out the park when the car turned down a side street and the hum of its engine was swallowed by the silence of the night.
April lay back down. A few more minutes here and she'd be okay. She wondered whether the person in the car had been thrust unwillingly out into the world or whether they were, in fact, just another person whose purpose was to blend in. She closed her eyes and tried to forget. Right now she just wanted to be herself.
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