blog, Pat Aitcheson writes

New adults, old times

the nest is never quite empty

dennisflarsen via pixabay

 

My son is home for the summer from University. My daughter never left, since she chose a college five miles away. She’s working now in a job not worthy of her first class degree, but okay for a start.

It’s been good for her, but this isn’t how I planned it.

She was meant to do what I did; fly the nest at eighteen with never a backward glance. She is part of a modern trend, whereby more adults aged 18–34 live with their parents than ever before. She can’t afford even a tiny rented place of her own on her current salary. I bought my first house aged twenty-five, on a mortgage of twice my salary. I try not to think about how or when she will be able to do the same.

So we’re four, a nuclear family again. Just like old times, except not. They’re adults. They don’t have to tell me what time they’re coming home. But I do have to include them in dinner plans apparently, except for when I don’t because he’s been invited to Tom’s ad hoc barbecue and oh, can you give me a lift?

I’m struggling to calibrate my parenting. On a scale from ‘call social services’ to ‘paranoid mama bear’ should I be ‘kitchen’s stocked, clear up after yourself’ or ‘give me your schedule, I’ll make that chicken casserole you like.’ Or something else entirely?

Back to the future

There’s something about returning to your childhood home that unearths long-hidden behaviour patterns and dysfunction. I saw that with my own siblings. Despite having partners and jobs and adult stuff, we still somehow lined up in age order, complete with ancient resentments about favouritism. It was ridiculous and exhausting.

We all get on, mostly, and I’m grateful. The family unit is reformed differently each time he returns, a minefield of unspoken rules and covert expectations between generations and siblings. I slide reluctantly into a role whose restrictions I was all too glad to leave behind. The apron strings bind both sides. Maybe they think I chose my role. Perhaps, but it is well past its expiry date, for me anyway.

Spread your wings and fly?

Around my garden, birds are feeding their young. It’s full time work, but at least there is a clear contract. I feed you until you’re as big as me. Then you’re on your own.

My kidults are caught between dependence and freedom. It feels to me like they have the best of both, feeding my resentment. Some lessons, like the mechanics of being fully responsible for yourself, cannot be taught. Those lessons must be lived and learned.

No doubt we should sit down together and lay ground rules, and we will. Just as soon as she gets back from her night out and he gets out of bed.

Meantime… dinner at seven okay for everyone?

blog

Mother’s day, present

 

Pink rose by Miss_Orphelia via pixabay
Miss_Orphelia via pixabay

 

It’s not mothers’ day that gets to me, not now. The days of buying cards for my small children to give to grandmas are long behind me. There is only an old scar now at the place where I used to wonder where my card was coming from. Like running my tongue over the edge of a broken tooth that’s unexpectedly sharp, it’s best to avoid such things.

Eventually children are grown enough that they too are sucked into the consumerism that rewards a lifetime’s toil with over sweet chocolates and limp tulips from the supermarket. It’s a little late of course, but still welcome for what it is.

No, it’s the birthday card I don’t need to buy, the expectation I don’t have to meet that pricks at my chest today. The mother-daughter dynamic is a complicated, beautiful, terrible thing to negotiate. It feels impossible to make it completely right from either side, try as we might. But from this distance jagged edges are smoothed by time, and murky waters settle and clear.

She was not perfect. Yet with each passing year I see her somehow more clearly; younger, brighter, dancing in a striped sundress of lemon-yellow. It may exist only in my mind’s eye, but that is what my brain wants to remember.

No matter how stamped upon and twisted her roots might have been, no matter what secrets she held close like a gambler’s winning hand, she blooms in my memory on a still summer day. Birds sing and she pushes through the mud and dirt to flower, brilliant and defiant under a cloudless blue sky.

 

audio, blog, Pat Aitcheson writes, poetry

Judas

alone_AngeloMazzotta
AngeloMazzotti via pixabay

listen: 

I have only myself to blame. And you of course, but you’re not here, are you? I walk alone with my thoughts and self-recriminations.

You fell in step with me and we walked a path, uncertain but less perilous because we were together. I believed we were equals.

I should not have listened.

My history, yes, I thought that sack of stones was behind me, sorted and catalogued, stripped of hurt.

I should have remembered.

A pat on the back, a smile, a confidence shared. Comrades, or so I thought. A friend’s blow unseen until the final moment, sharp blade sliding into exposed skin.

I should not have dropped my guard.

(A gasp, not a scream, because this cannot be happening.)

Ruby drops pump from my scandalised heart onto stony ground. No pain, just numbing cold as you step away, carelessly wiping my blood from your hands.

Now you seek a safer harbour. Take your traitorous smile and self-serving machinations, go where you will.

I am the strength that protected you, but in the end you gave me nothing but a wound.

Another scar. I walk on alone.

One day, I will learn.

audio, blog, Pat Aitcheson writes, short story

Timeworn

 

padlock-hinge_KRiemer
KRiemer via pixabay

Listen: 

She checks the bedroom one last time, gaze sweeping around the walls, into each corner, over the floor. The desk is empty, bed stripped and bare, walls blank, almost like a prison cell.

She remembers watching some TV drama, the new inmate arriving in an ill-fitting orange jumpsuit with a small pile of possessions in her arms. There was fear in her eyes, anxiety for the future and regret for the past. But there was nowhere else to go. She had to enter, and face whatever lay ahead.

Now it is her turn to move on. She pulls the door close, without shutting it completely.

“You could stay, you know.” He stands by the window, staring out at the light rain pattering on the rose bushes outside. His hands are jammed in the pockets of his sweatpants. He never does that normally. Through the fabric she sees his fists, balled up and tense. Her stomach twists. Those hands, like that mouth with its thin upper and generous lower lip, are still capable of so many things.

“We could—”
“I’m all set to go.” She forces her mouth into a smile, huffs out a breath. She uncurls her own fist, nails dug into the soft flesh. “This is yours.”

The key sits on her palm, its gleam dulled by time and repetition. If she took her hand away, would it float there in the air between them, given but not taken?

His jaw tightens and he presses his lips together. She does not offer comfort. Her hand remains steady, not shaking as she feared it might. She looks away from his face and down at the key, examining the tiny nicks and scratches, an unwritten history.

New objects have crisp, sharp boundaries that separate them from their environment. But over time, a thing rubs and chafes against the outside and loses its shape. Eventually the edges are so worn that its original form is forgotten under the onslaught of a thousand tiny collisions with the world. Nothing survives life intact, and no-one knows where the lost pieces go.

She steps forward and sets the key on the kitchen table. He glances at it and then directly at her. She gazes back, breathing deliberately, consciously slowing her racing pulse. Nothing stops time. It runs fast or slow, but it wears everything down.

“I’m sorry,” he says finally. She notes with detachment that his eyes are still the startling blue of a summer sky that knows no grey.
“Me too,” she replies, nodding.

She slings her bag over her shoulder and walks out, away, closing the door softly behind her.

audio, blog, Pat Aitcheson writes, poetry

Imperceptible

a poem

sunset-orange_kordi-vahle
kordi-vahle via pixabay

Listen to this poem:  

A certain shade of vulnerability
Dark smudged beneath a weary, teary eye
Faint fingerprinted hip where passion turned angry
A shadowed brow, but not like this
The place where things slid from binary
Into uncertain gradations

When did day surrender, when did light flee?
Night now, but let your eye adapt
And catalogue dim fractions
Pupils stretched wide until all the darks are one
Swallowed ghostly whole entire by dusk
Obscuring every boundary and line

You think you’ll know when
You think you’ll see it
But the shift is imperceptible.


first published in Poets Unlimited on Medium, 10 January 2018

 

blog, Pat Aitcheson writes, short story

An ending

rose petal red_malubeng
malubeng via pixabay

 

I sat at a window table in the coffee shop waiting for my perennially tardy friend Clare. I’d come to expect the text saying she was running late two minutes before we were due to meet. I didn’t mind though. I got the first round in; a large latte for her, apple and elderflower tea for me, and millionaire’s shortbread to share. She’d be along, and I could people watch while I waited. Usually it was a chance to daydream with the hum of early Saturday morning as a soundtrack.

The slam of a car door outside rang through the entrance as a patron came in. The dark haired woman stormed off, pulling her shoulder strap over her head. Her blue bag bounced on her hip and she dodged other shoppers with grace and speed. As she approached the coffee shop her frown was obvious, dark brows lowered and jaw set.

Her companion caught up in a few long strides, grabbed her wrist. She spun round, shook her hand free. I sipped my tea and watched the back and forth. She waved her hands, stabbed a finger at his chest in accusation. He shook his head, clenched his fists at his sides. One or two passers-by glanced at them but they paid no attention, fully absorbed in their moment of drama.

My phone buzzed again. Clare was running really late, so I finished the shortbread. We could always get another. Meantime this silent altercation had drawn me in.

He opened his palms, placatory. Her shoulders slumped, eyes downcast. There was a brief pause. In movies, that would be the pivotal moment. He’d beg forgiveness, she’d realise what she’s losing, and they would fall into each other’s arms. Roll credits.

She walked away. He watched her go, then called out. She hesitated and stopped. I held my breath. She turned back and I saw her face clearly. She bit her bottom lip, nodded fractionally and walked up to him. The wind tugged at his light hair as she cupped his face between her hands and brought him down for a soft kiss. The tension in his shoulders relaxed and he reached for her at the exact moment she stepped away. She gave him a small, sad smile before leaving without looking back.

The man still stood rooted to the spot, touching his lips as if to hold on to her. He returned to his car and sat for a while before driving off.

I was still wondering about them even after Clare rushed in, describing her own little drama of lost keys and a broken heel. At least that could easily be fixed.

Maybe truth is stranger than fiction but life is not a fairytale. Sometimes it ends with a kiss.

blog, Pat Aitcheson writes, short story

Accidental soldier

helmet-armour_Baldr80
Baldr80 via pixabay

“The true soldier fights not because he hates what is in front of him, but because he loves what is behind him.”

— GK Chesterton

 

It starts with little things. Small things that one hardly notices, a slight curl of the lip, a condescending word, interruptions borne less patiently. The fond smile becomes an irritated grimace, and before you know it a full-blown sneer. It might seem passive but it’s really not, all that hidden aggression smoothed over by an insincere smile. It usually bounces off, but it stings sometimes.

Still, it’s you and me against the world, united front, shared territory.

Next comes a subtle thickening of my skin to ward off those tiny arrows, ticks sinking little sharp mouthparts into my flesh and drinking. Absent kisses, back turned, cold disdain becomes the norm.

One sip of blood at a time adds up. I don’t feel it as much, through my sturdy hide. But I don’t feel the caresses either. Meantime the criticisms latch on, so hard to remove even with help. I don’t have the knack. I did not think to defend against an enemy within the walls.

No time to learn because bombs start to fall. Accusations and lies, silences and screams. I shout at you across a growing divide. We need to talk but here comes another missile, armed with shrapnel made of the insecurities I shared with you. I’m hit, bleeding, a serious wound but not lethal. I stretch out my hand but you’re already gone, back behind your gun emplacement. You fraternise in plain sight, covert texts and open falsehoods a carpet bomb of betrayal.

I retreat into a foxhole, lick my wounds, gasp in pain. When did it begin, this unrelenting conflict? No man’s land stretches between entrenched positions. No white flags here, just an nasty duel to the death. I want to fight for us, not against you. But you keep launching bombs.

I craft my armour and bide my time.

If I am grotesque, maddened by bloated bloodsuckers and ugly in hastily patched tin plates and makeshift helmet, know that you made this monster from a soft-bodied creature, vulnerable and foolish. That creature deserved pain for her weakness.

This soldier will not make that mistake. Our hot and fiery love burns down to cold, hard ashes. When pain forces me to dig deeper, into the molten core of my fury, I find a lava lake of rage to power my assault.

I know where you live, and all your weak spots. What we had is far behind us, forgotten ruins. What lies ahead cannot be seen through the smoke and flames of this battlefield. I care nothing for the future. There is only one mission. I will destroy you because this is war.

I will burn down the world if I must.

*******

A response to Creative Challenge 51.5; first published in The Creative Cafe on Medium, 29 November 2017