What the Eyes Don’t See
by Linda Quinn
Abracadabra! Mum is walking to the pub with me. She said to Dad that I couldn’t walk on my own – it was too late. Fucking hell! I’m not really swearing. Not saying it out – just in my mind. I can’t help it. Fucking hell! It keeps shouting in my head, going on over and over. I’m not saying it! I’m not being too excited, or she’ll change her mind. Dad is watching me. I pretend I’m concentrating on reading, but I’m remembering catalogue numbers for when I have to get things to take to the moon.
Fucking hell. I just want to talk to mum. About anything… I have to be calm. Not a mad bint. If mum reckons that I want to talk to her she gets fed up about it. I’ve noticed it. But if I wait and see what happens, she laughs, sometimes, and then you can talk about all sorts.
Sometimes, when she is playing her records she likes it when we make up new words together – and sometimes she sings swear words out loud, and so do I, and she doesn’t mind. She laughs. We get so crackers. Other times, she doesn’t laugh much, and you can feel that she is busy inside her mind.
It’s kind of because of Dad she’s coming with me. He said I had to go and get fags and lemonade from the shop. But, mum said it’s too late and only the pubs are open, ‘She’s only fuckin’ ten!” That’s just what she said.
So he says, “Well, she can go to the fucking Offy at the fucking pub then.”
And she says, “It’s too fucking dark to go on her fucking own. Anyway they won’t serve her.”
I say it quick. “If mum comes with me, I’ll carry all the stuff.”
And she says, “OK! OK!” Then she sings, “A–a –a-a –pril, come-she-will…” and I feel nice, because I am April.
He says, ‘Taken your fucking pills have you! Fucking pair of mad slappers!” He’s screwing his finger against his head, and sticks his stupid fat tongue out.
I say, “Fucking tough shit dad!” In my mind.
Mum is putting on her blue raincoat and white shiny stilettos. She backcombs her hair a bit, and puts on her shiny pink lipstick. She sits in her chair with a compact mirror and she really concentrates. I sit on the arm of the chair and watch. She is rolling her lips inwards and outwards, and blows a kiss to me. She smiles at me… well, she is smiling her lipstick in the mirror, at my reflection.
She sits still for a minute when she’s finished. Just looking in her compact. Not smiling or looking at any one. It’s like she’s forgotten everything. She is far away. But I can see her. She is really pretty. Like a queen.
My mum looks like a lady off the telly who is in films, apart from her pointy tooth at the side when she smiles. It is yellow and black stripe – like a bee. She doesn’t like smiling very much. She looks like a Hollywood woman when she does, but then she puts the back of her hand by her mouth and taps her teeth with her wedding ring and she does a crazy stare. She said it’s a bad habit, but it helps. People get scared and leave you alone if they think you’re crazy.
I think mum gets embarrassed. She could be in films if she went to the dentist to fix it. She’s gets big soft brown curls like a doll when she does her rollers. One day when I get a job I want to save up and send her for a perm because she said she could do with one. A perm means permanent, which means for all time, I asked my teacher. So it’s worth it. Dad said she looks like a fucking slapper when she doesn’t do her rollers. I might write to the television place and tell them about my mum when she’s been to the dentist. That will shock Dad.
Tonight mum is laughing. She is laughing, then she stops; then she laughs again – and I don’t know what started it. I think she might be on the booze. She likes having booze before she works at the club. My dad gives her lift. Most of the time he stays until my Mum has finished her work, but sometimes he comes home and goes to pick her up in the morning. After. When it’s a long night.
I don’t care if he does. So what? I can watch TV until the end of it. I like watching some of the things about the moon and the stars. If it works out, when I am grown up, there will be cars that can travel to the pub quicker than me just saying it. ‘Let’s go to the pub’. There I am! Already there!
At least mum is happy and laughing, and almost as soon as we are out of the door she grabs my hand. My guts are churning up; I need to hold her hand. It’s like I am on the flipping moon or something.
But Mum makes me feel like she is trying to hurt me sometimes. “Pick your bloody feet up and stop dreaming!” she laughs. And she sneaks a look at me. I walk straight and fast as I can, but she squeezes my hand really tight and twisty. It really hurts.
“Sissy. It’s just playing!” I make my hand forget.
It’s nice and warm. Mum says it’s an Indian summer, and it won’t last for long. Everything is dying and there are clouds coming. We close the gate and walk on the soft grass bank, to the crossroads. We live on the top of a hill; Mum says it’s like we live on a hot cross bun.
Outside it’s sparkly in the dark. You can see the stars as they fall down from the sky, into the fields on the other side of the valley. You can see the lights from the houses and lampposts, and the car headlights make fast, flicking shadows as they drive along the valley roads. And, because of the moon you can see the river and the shapes at the end of the land. Actually, I can see the really big cloud coming. Mum was right! She let’s go of my hand and she is racing over the crossroads. Her metal on her spiky heels scratch and score the road, and I watch the sparks flying from behind, into the invisible. “Abracadabra!”
“Get a move on, slow coach!” she shouts.
There’re nine street lamps down the road before the pub. I just counted. They zigzag down the road, like monster teeth. I ask mum if she gets scared on her own, because I do. What crisp flavours have they got? Can I choose? Can we get red pop? Can we make a cake – I mean on another day? I wanted to tell you? I wanted to tell you… I don’t like staying with Dad. He says I ha-
“Will you shut the fuck up? When did he ever say anything good about anybody? Don’t be so bloody soft.” She stops under a light. She gets her fags and matches out of her pocket. She’s trying to strike a light, but the box is squashed and it won’t go. She’s pissed off with it.
“But, he wants … he puts …”, it bursts like a star in her hands, and her arm rises like a wing, and she breaths deep and quick, and puffs out smoke rings. Like windows into – BANG!
She slaps my ear hard. It hurts. I can’t think. I stand there. “Fuckin’ ’ell, now look what you made me do! Oh darlin’ don’t cry. I didn’t mean to. I just thought we’d have a nice walk out the house. Just me and you… Why do you have to go and spoil everything? Huh! Huh! Huh!” She is shouting. It’s really loud. Mrs Pearce looks out her window like we are on telly, watching from far away and then jerks the curtain jerks closed.
Mum tries to grab my hand, but I turn away, “Sorry mum. Sorry.” I want to show her good things I can do. Make her proud. Make her laugh. I do a cartwheel. I just learned cartwheels. I’m the best. She’s clapping! She’s got her fag in her mouth, and clapping. “Nice one – that’s my girl!” I do another one – and another – and – I’m feeling a bit sick, and the zigzag lights and stars are spinning a bit, but it’s alright, I can skip backwards. “Look! Look at me mum. I can run backwards.” She’s laughing again now. I’m running, using her eyes as my mark, a balance trick we learned in PE. She follows me, smiling and clapping, with her fag bouncing in her mouth, until it drops onto the road. She bends down to pick it up.
I can’t find the ground; I put out my hand out but my arm buckles and I am skidding and crashing. BANG! BANG!
My body is jumping like the ground is pushing me off; every time I open my eyes the sky is sick into my brain. “April. April … you all right.” I can feel her giant hand turning my head. I can hear a fast river in my head. Angry fishes swim in me.
“April! April! Get up now! You’re scaring me”. I open my eyes. Mum is crouching beside me on the road. I can see her knickers. She quickly takes a last drag of her fag, throws it to the ground. She stamps it under her foot.
“April! C’mon, get up! Let’s go and get a drink, you’ll feel better.” I sit up, but when I try to push up with my hand it really hurts. I stare at it; the skin is curled and bleeding, broken with dirt and grit. Mum pulls me up by the back of my jumper and starts brushing me down hard.
“Where’s your other shoe?” says Mum. My red jellybean sandals with silver buckles. My best thing in the world. I look round. We are by the top of Church Lane that goes down into pitch blackness. The street lamp shines down and her eyes are black shadows. I feel my fingers through the soft grass, ‘Mum, I can’t find it! Help me.’ The grass is dry and scratches my sore, and I try not to cry, but tears come out my nose.
“Oh for God’s sake April! We can’t go along the fucking pub without your shoe … and with all that bloody snivelling. STOP IT! Or I’ll give you something to cry about! If you didn’t spend all your time trying to show off, this wouldn’t have happened. Find your fucking shoe, before I get back – they don’t grow on trees!” I duck to avoid another swipe. Mum turns towards the pub, and I watch as she walks away, sparks fly behind her like dragon spit, until she turns the corner.
I can hear her shout, “Find it! I’m sick of it.”
I want to find my shoes. I’m sick of it too. I can’t see it under the light. There are bushes round the lamppost and in front of the wall. I pull the branches back, and then thump. It’s my shoe. Like God is helping me. And he is saying Mum got it wrong. I sit on the verge to put it on.
My hand is stiff with hurt. I am crying again. This time I can’t stop. I don’t want to stop. I don’t have to if I don’t want to. I crawl behind the bush into the porch. I sit at the top of Church Lane, hiding, and I cry until I don’t care, even when it starts to thunder. I’m glad I’m scared. I shout back, ‘CP87214 DX89465 FD52431. It’s the catalogue numbers of furniture for when I go to the moon: and I made a spell. And it’s a secret.
It’s raining. It’s raining harder. I stand up and push the branches to get out, and walk down the lane. Into the darkness. I shout the numbers and I am not scared. I hold out my hands, turn my face up and feel the water splashing on my eyes and chin, and rushing over my face, cleaning my blood and snot, and I rub my face with my hands and push my palms into my hand while I suck out the last bits of grit.
For a while, I just stand there with my eyes closed and the rain is drumming on me, sending me a secret message. I feel what it might be like if I could grow roots and never have to leave here. I could be part of the arch that walks everyone through to the church on Sundays when they are doing their best. I could sprinkle the sun blades on their hair and shoulders.
‘April! April! Where the fuck are you now?’’ I can hear my mum’s voice, slow and angry. More booze. I open my eyes and I can see my mum and a shadow of a man at the top of the lane. They’re both swaying about. They look stupid. “APRIL! April! C’mon darling. I’ve got some crisps for you.” I keep quiet.
They’re laughing. The man says, “C’mon love, give us a feel. She’s not here. Gone home when it started to rain.”
“Fuck off, I’m a married woman – and so are you! Married!” They start laughing. I need to go or Mum will get mad with me. The man’s voice sounds mean.
“C’mon – give us a feel, you dirty bitch. I bet you ain’t got any knickers on – ’ave ya”. She has. I see his hand go up my mum’s dress and then they fall onto grass with him wriggling on top.
“Get off me, you dirty bastard! You fuckin’ messed up me work clothes now.”
Mum is grabbing his legs, but she is too drunk “Gotcha!” I can hear Mum’s shouting. It’s raining harder and harder. Everything is a messy blur, and I’m running now.
I kick him. I kick him. He tries to grab me. I pull his arm. I stamp on his guts.
BANG! – BANG! BANG!
He’s laughing at me, and he’s dribbling “You little bastard. I’ll ‘ave you an all.” I shout the numbers. I’m not scared. I kick him in the eye. Kick him in the mouth. Pull his hair. Pull his ears and lips. “You shit head fucking bastard! You fucking – fucking – dirty bastard. I fucking hate you! I wish they would put you in the prison forever.” I laugh. I can hear my mum screaming the words. No. No. It’s not Mum. It’s me.
I kick him until my feet are sore in my wet, red sandals.
“STOP IT! April! Enough! What the fuck? He’s pissed. Just an asshole! THAT’S IT!”
The rain has stopped. It’s quiet. He stares up at me. I spit on him. My mum sorts her coat. Pulls down her dress. “I’ll get you back for this Hope, and that little bastard kid of yours.” I spit on him again.
“Oh yeah!” Mum laughed as she picks up the bag with the crisps and the lemonade. She looks at me like I’m a stranger, “They only had white,” she says, “You’ll have to make do.”
Mum grabs my hand and drags me off. The water in the drains sounds loud. The world is upside down on the wet road. And I look. No sparks in the rain. We walk back in silence. Mum holds my hand tightly, and it hurts. I’m glad.
“What the fuck happened to you two?” said Dad.
“We got caught in the storm. Summer is well and truly over,” Mum says. “I’d better go and get changed. We’ll be late.” Dad knows she’s pissed. She gives him a kiss on the way to the stairs.
He gives me a wink, “I’ll see you later.” Dad goes out to the car.
I am sitting in mum’s chair when she comes down. It’s all right. I can. When she goes out to work. She sits on the arm and rubs her my grazed hand between hers. It hurts. I don’t care anymore. “If your dad asks you about tonight, you say nothing right! Right!”
“Well, you know what he’s like … just, some things are best left unsaid! Now behave yourself. See you tomorrow!” The car doors slam and it revs as it pulls from the gully.
I can hear thumping floors. It’s the boys. I’m going out the back to have a bath before Dad gets back.
I like the sound of the bath running in the quiet of nighttime. I sit on the toilet and watch and wait for it to fill. I’ve put lots of fairy liquid in. I watch the mountains of bubbles grow, and keep swishing them to the other end, until the whole bath looks like a snowy mountain land where Polar bears live. When I get in my head pokes out – it’s like I am the Queen of the snow. I blow through the land and make commands with my arms for a road for my carriage.
When I get out I pull the plug and dry myself. The bath is still full of bubbles. I carry them out and stack them on the table in the kitchen. I make it look like a statue of my Mum’s head. I am trying, but it doesn’t look like her really. I blow a big hole right through the middle and blow her face away. I can see the mirror on the other side with my face doing it. It’s good. I look crazy like Mum. I just keep blowing bigger and faster breaths until all the bubbles are gone, except a few lumps that stick to the chairs and what’s landed on the floor. I can hear the quiet ripping sound as they disappear. I won’t get told off. There’s no proof anymore.
I jump up on the sofa and watch myself jump and dance in the mirror, dancing and smiling with my hair swinging. I know that I’m never going to tell Mum. Like Dad said, “What the eyes don’t see the heart don’t grieve for.”
About the author
Linda Quinn did most of her growing up in a caravan in West Country fields and byways. After working in the music industry, she trained as an actress and was the founder of Freefall Theatre Company. She worked in a variety of small television and film roles, worked scripting and editing from improvisations, and completed an MA in Creative Writing at Birkbeck in London. She now lives and works in London, teaching Creative Writing at City Lit. More recently, she is focusing on completing a novel and a series of short stories.