Richard Brautigan wanders into my flat wearing a cardigan the colour of deer. It’s one am, and a writer hasn’t visited for a while. Especially Richard Brautigan. I want to write but I’m alive. I think this may make it harder.
All night, I’ve been wishing I was funny, and thinking about the first time my mother tried to kill herself. I’ve studied photos of cats, but nothing’s happening. I cough and my mouth tastes of foil. This is how it feels to write about myself.
Richard Brautigan tells me to go fuck myself. He’s a lousy guest. He sits on the floor, lights a cigarette and says the more it rains, the more he smokes. I’m sure this is something only people from San Francisco can say.
The smoke swirls like a super-moon some kid’s dying to go outside and see. Except, her mother won’t stop discussing the priest she called asking whether suicides go to hell.
Richard stubs his cigarette out on the lino and asks about the priest. I tell him his lips were identical to my baby-doll that peed its pants, but I never attended church. The windows reminded me of closed eyes, I say. Richard nods.
I’m getting concerned about the lino and how it will look in the morning. Whether putty will fill the scorches. I’m not supposed to hang out with writers, I say, I should just write about my mother, stick to that room.
Richard asks if we had a pear tree she could crash into? We had no car. The office she worked in wasn’t pretty. Most people in there were unemployed, she assessed their benefit claims. Though, sometimes, I say, she brought the rubber stamps in from work. I had some the day I wanted to tell her about Dean Martin.
Dean Martin? Richard asks.
This kid at school. That was his name. Really. He looked like Miss Piggy, if she had a buzzcut and a Parker, I say. Anyway, I came home I found the door unlocked.
My grandmother and Aunty Val were in my house. I saw their fat handbags sat on the hall table like anvils. Val’s hands became day-old pink balloons when she started at the chicken factory, but she was scrubbing the lino.
Where’s my mother? I asked.
My aunt and gran reached for their purses, Clint Eastwood fast, both asking if I wanted sweets, wrestling coins. I’ll get it…No, I will… I bought Swizzlers at Happy Shopper and asked where my mother was again. She’s in hospital, they said. Has she broken a leg? Fallen in a ditch? I wanted to know. They offered me gum.
There’s been an accident they said.
Richard stubs out another cigarette. The scorches are a face now. A dark mouth and two eyes lined with black kohl on the floor. I have no urge to get up and fill the holes. They smell like my boyfriend at 21. Everyone in the nightclub was wearing rubber, and when he stubbed his cigarette on my wrist, people clapped. I thought this was healing, orange sparks flying in darkness. The more I let him do to me, the better he felt.
The disinfectant on the soapy floor smelled of Christmas. I breathed it all the way to my aunt’s. She made dinner while my cousins threw darts and drew horns on a picture of Samantha Fox. How do you want your toast? Val asked, Grilled on one side or both?
I’d never wondered this before. Never been asked just how golden I wanted it. I told her I wanted it like sunshine on a pond. She served it with a lazy pool of melting butter. I ate the lot and rinsed the yellow off my plate. That’s great, she said, great.
I let myself in the following day and my mother was home.
And? Richard asks.
The inkpads looked wounded in places—the scarlet cloth clotted by someone using black ink before. The rubber stamps had dates and words on. I stamped my age on my bruises. I sat on the plastic couch stamping the shins Dean Martin kicked and kicked while my mother told me where she’d been.
Told me all about her boyfriend coming back, sunflowers, and the wounds some people will give you and kiss at your bedside. It’s easier to love broken things, she said, the thing about men… She kept talking until daylight fidgeted with the curtains. I continued stamping -9- -9- -9-, SUSPENDED, DENIED all over my legs.
Richard offers me a cigarette. I light it just to hold. It’s raining outside and passing cars shush the street. We listen until the wet tyres sound like wind in an orchard.
© Angela Readman
[This piece was a finalist for the 2020 Forge Flash Fiction Competition, and was selected by Valerie O’Riordan]