I’m out of town. That’s all I had to say. Sorry mum, it’s work, I’ll visit as soon as I’m home. Then book a one way ticket to Australia and change my name to Silvia.
She’d never know about the three pictures a day I post on Facebook which are clearly from my living room. She’d never know that I’m sitting in all day binge watching Orange Is The New Black, with my hair scrunched up into a bobble, a cup of tea in one hand and the other arm deep in a bag of Doritos, (the chili heatwave kind of course, because the cheesy ones leave your mouth tasting like a badgers armpit for hours), chili dust clinging to the hairs on my forearm. She’d never know I lied.
I’m out of town. It could have been so simple. Instead I open my big gob and now I have to have dinner with my parents.
“I’ll expect you for 6 o’clock sharp,” Mum says and hangs up before I can pretend I’m coming down with food poisoning.
The second she sees me there will be some type of insult, then maybe a ‘Hello’ and a ‘How are you’. But finally comes the interrogation. How’s Callum? Why didn’t you bring Callum? Where is he tonight? How are things with you two? Did he get that bottle of wine we sent him? Why hasn’t he proposed yet? Have you had a fertility test recently because you might want to make sure you’re able to give him a child before you marry him and ruin his life?
The one thing you need to know is my parents like Callum more than they like me. He’s someone successful. A surgeon. A healer. He has a profession. And apparently I don’t. It doesn’t help that my little brother is an ex druggy who now runs weekly sober meetings and lives in his childhood bedroom because he can’t afford his own place.
But besides my parents distaste for both their children’s life choices, there is something more crucial to worry about. How in the hell am I going to survive tonight?
I’m standing at my least favourite door in the entire world. I’m pretty sure hell’s door is more welcoming than my parents’. Behind this door I’d spent twenty three years listening to my mother. A chronic torture session with Lucifer himself would be less painful.
I stand here for a few minutes mentally preparing myself for whatever she’ll hit me with tonight and the realisation I’d have to tell her the very thing I’d been avoiding for three weeks straight. There’s no doubt it won’t go down well, but there’s no avoiding it either. She’ll probably suck out my soul with one glare. Disown me. Go to court and adopt Callum instead. Okay, maybe I’m being a little dramatic. But I have no doubt that if she could, it would cross her mind to do that.
I ring the bell and almost immediately the door swings open.
“Your skin is so pale it’s almost translucent.” And it begins. I step into the hallway. “You practically blend into the wall. You’re not getting enough sun.”
“It’s England Mum, what sun?” I leave out the part where I’ve pretended to be ill and spent the past three weeks in my pyjamas snuggled under a pink polka dot blanket.
“Sarcasm is the lowest form of wit Sarah,” she says and walks into the living room.
“For once I was serious,” I whisper to myself.
“How much are you regretting walking through that door?” I look over to see my brother Hunter leaning against the banister in the hall.
“So much so I wish I’d jabbed a fork into my eye so I would’ve had an excuse not to turn up,” I reply while giving him a hug. “And what are you wearing?” I ask, frowning at his suit. Hunter never wears suits.
“Don’t ask,” he rolls his eyes. “And it’s about to get worse. Their snobby friends are already here,” Hunter warns me.
Lord help me.
Mum is ten times more snobby when she’s around her friends. Everything has to be perfect and everybody has to be on their best behaviour. She can’t give her friends any reason to say something bad about her family behind her back. Gossip spreads like an STD, Mum would always say. Imagine a five year old sitting at the dinner table in a Ralph Lauren, black cotton dress sitting next to her three year old brother in a matching suit and tie asking ‘Mummy, what is an STD?’ Yes this is my life.
Before I could walk into the living room Dad walked out into the hall.
“I’m so glad you could make it Sarah. Your mother has just informed me she has laid out a dress for you to wear in your old bedroom,” Dad says.
“What’s wrong with what I’m wearing?” I ask him, looking down at my fitted black dress, tights and heels.
Not that I needed to ask the question. If your clothes aren’t Ralph Lauren, Armani, Prada or Burberry, then you’re not fit for socialising.
“Come on Sar, it can’t be that bad,” Hunter says and grabs my hand dragging me up the stairs to my childhood bedroom.
As soon as we walk inside Hunter falls to the floor in a fit of giggles while I just stare at the horrific dress in front of me. It is a three quarter length black, velvet dress with transparent arms and the design on the front can only be described as something from the inside of a computer monitor. I’m going to be the definition of a human robot. Who on earth would willingly wear something like that?
“Oh Sar,” Hunter gasps, sitting up from the floor. “You’re gonna look gorgeous.”
He grins like a five year old. I smack him.
“How much do you think that cost?” I ask.
Hunter leans over to pull the tag out of the neck line. In big black numbers it reads: £1,595.
“Oh my god, I think I just swallowed my oesophagus,” Hunter gasps, clutching his throat.
“You can’t swallow your oesophagus dipshit.”
“My car doesn’t cost as much as this dress,” Hunter almost screams. “I feel hot. And clammy. Am I sweating? Yep, I’ve got the money sweats,” he says, fanning himself with both hands.
I give him my trademark what the fuck look. “What are the money sweats?”
“Whenever Mum and Dad spend a ridiculous amount of money on something pointless-“
“So everything,” I cut him off.
He ignores me. “I start breathing all funny and sweating and thinking about all the things I could have done with that amount of money instead. Do you know what happened when I saw this suit on my bed this morning? I nearly had a heart attack. Seven hundred on a plain navy blue suit. You used to be able to get a daily dose of heroin for five times less than that.” Hunter starts taking deep breaths. “Okay, just go and put the dress on before I pass out.”
I take the dress into the bathroom with me. I step through the neckline and drag the dress up my body, but by the time it reaches my hips it is almost too tight to move. I manage to pull it high enough to slip my arms into the sleeves, but it is in no way a success. I feel like I’m wearing a corset three sizes too small for me.
“Hunter,” I gasp out stumbling back into the bedroom.
He is still sprawled out across the floor. He looks up as I enter.
“It’s too tight. It doesn’t fit,” I say.
He jumps up to his feet and turns me around trying to zip up the dress.
“Hold your stomach in,” he says, pressing one hand against my stomach to push it in.
“Well it’s not good enough. I know you’ve been depressed but seriously, how much have you been eating?” he accuses me, but manages to yank the zip up all the way. “Oh thank god, I thought it wasn’t going to budge.”
“This is not okay,” I whisper, one hand on my stomach.
“Alright. Just don’t move or breathe and you should be fine, okay?” he says seriously.
I glare at him. “You are not helping.”
“It’s either suffer through wearing this dress for a couple of hours, or you go downstairs and tell Mum she spent one-thousand six-hundred on a dress for nothing.”
He raises an eyebrow at me.
“Fine, let’s go,” I say and move slowly towards the door.
I feel like Elizabeth Swan in that pink dress at the beginning of Pirates of the Caribbean. I was almost certainly going to pass out at some point during dinner.
Hunter and I enter the living room to see Peter and Margaret, Mum and Dad’s best friends for as long as I can remember. When I was little I always used to assume they secretly lived with us they were over here that much.
“Oh Sarah, what a pleasure seeing you again. How have you been?” Margaret asks walking over to hug me.
“Pretty good thank you, and yourself?”
“Very well dear. Did you hear? Our Charlotte has just been promoted to chief of surgery over in New York.”
Just what I need to hear.
“And what have you been up to Sarah?” Peter chips in.
Suddenly, I felt as if I was in a job interview.
“Oh, well, I’ve been writing a lot of different articles lately…”
And clearly, I wouldn’t be getting the job.
“Well, my editor has got on researching some local news…you know, shoplifters in Birkenhead and such…” I trail off, wishing I hadn’t pretended to be sick for the past few weeks.
“Yes, well, how about a drink?” Dad interrupts, embarrassment plastered all over his face.
We are met with two whiskey tumblers from Mum in one hand and a bottle of ArKay whiskey in the other.
“It’s 0% alcohol, 0% carbs, 0% calories,” Mum smiles and pours us each a glass before returning to her friends to fill their glasses.
“0% fun,” I complain to Hunter and take a large sip.
Hunter dips his tongue in the liquid and almost immediately gags.
“It tastes like sewer water. It doesn’t even burn your throat as it goes down.”
“Please tell me you have some real whiskey,” I beg.
He just stares at me while pulling a flask out of his back pocket and dunking it into my glass before topping up his own.
“Did I ever tell you you’re my favourite brother?” I grin.
“How are you enjoying the ArKay?” Dad asks, walking over to us.
“It’s fantastic,” I lie.
“Top notch Dad,” Hunter smiles.
Dad stares knowingly for a moment then walks back over to his friends.
I eye Hunter. “Top notch?”
“I don’t know where that came from. I think I’m catching the snobbiness. Quick I need a vaccination.”
“Down the whisky. That should do it,” I tell him and down my own glass. “Pour me another.”
I’m going to bloody need it.
After what seems like a decade we sit down to dinner and it is during the main course when my mother’s compliments begin.
“Have you put on weight Sarah? You look…bigger,” Mum says looking at me from across the table.
“Yeah Sar, how many bags have you gone through now?” Hunter grins, referring to my binging sessions over the past few weeks.
I dig my elbow into his ribs and watch him squirm while I look at Mum.
“No Mum. I’ve been totally healthy. Only chicken and salads for me.”
Mum laughs. “Oh of course, Callum would never allow you to eat the sort of rubbish you used to. He has such a healthy body.”
I can practically see the drool from here. I know I can’t let this go on any longer. At this rate she’ll be planning our tenth wedding anniversary before dinners over.
“Well, Mum, I actually have something to tell you,” I begin to say, just as the room goes quiet and all attention is on me.
“Are you engaged? Did Callum propose?” She smiles.
“Dear girl, please tell us you’re not pregnant out of wedlock?” Peter speaks up.
“Surely not,” Margaret gulps.
“No, it’s not any of that. Actually…Callum and I…broke up,” I say and close my eyes waiting to be hit with her fork or something.
But nothing happens. I crack open an eye to see my mother staring at me, a look of anger and disappointment on her face. This is almost worse than being stabbed by a fork.
“Why did he end it?” Dad asks, seeming a little too calm for my liking.
“What makes you think he ended it?”
“Oh please Sarah, of course he ended it. He was a perfect gentleman, a fine surgeon, what more could you possibly want in a partner? And what he gets in return is a story writer,” Dad says shaking his head. “I always said it was a wasted career.”
“Journalist,” I correct him.
“Isn’t it all the same thing?” Margaret butts in.
“How could you have let this happen, Sarah? And how do you expect to meet anybody who can compare to a man like that? For once in your life I thought you’d made a good choice. If not for your career then your future husband but once again you’ve driven another man away.”
Mum sighs rubbing her temples.
“Mum, that’s not fair-” Hunter starts to say.
“No, what is not fair is your father and I having to watch you both throw your lives away. Everything we have done for our children and this is how you repay us, embarrassing us in front of our dearest friends…I need a moment,” Mum says, and quickly leaves the room.
“Oh June,” Margaret gasps and rushes after Mum.
I love Hunter with all my heart but we aren’t exactly in the same place in life. I have a successful job, my own flat and a nice car. I travel wherever the story takes me. But clearly being involved in the arts is the equivalent of being a druggy in my parent’s eyes. All their friends’ children are doctors or lawyers or politicians or whatever. Every single one of them has a doctorate and then there is me and Hunter. One ex druggy and one newspaper woman. Talk about disappointment. But then again, I never have thought anything we do would be good enough. They’ve had dreams about our career paths from birth. I swear I heard them mention Prime Minister once.
“I am dreadfully sorry you have had to witness this,” Dad says. “How about you join me for a drink on the deck.”
“Of course Leonard,” Peter mutters awkwardly and follows Dad outside so it is only Hunter and me left.
I lean back against my chair, sighing heavily and that is when I hear a loud ripping sound. I look around to see my dress has split right down my back. Hunter and I look at each other.
“I should have just fucking said I was out of town.”
Jennie Byrne is a poet and short story writer from Wirral, Merseyside. She obtained a first class Creative Writing degree in 2016 and is now studying a master’s at Edge Hill University. Her work has appeared in Under the Fable, MIR Online, and The Black Market Review. Recently, she was shortlisted for Jane Martin Poetry Prize 2017 and currently works for Edge Hill University Press in association with Arc Publications.