-In the middle of writing, I caught sight of my reflection in the train window and though, ‘What is it like to be the person who is NOT the writer?’-
Swirling shades of blue slow-dance in my dad’s eyes while my mother talks. He’s watching, but not seeing, a chattering woman with jerking, waving hands.
They’re sitting on the lounge sofa, Dad reclining against the chord cushions, looking normal. My mother is sitting cross-legged, her knees bouncing against his thigh, her hands darting about. For a writer, she relies a lot on her hands acting out what she wants to say. I’ve seen her standing in a circle of people, squatting and twisting and putting on a voice when probably a sentence would have done. Those hands conduct her. Stopping and starting, jumping around like her thoughts, her voice, her everything.
Today she’s really happy because she’s thought of another big idea. Her eyes are alive and dancing, her hands forming invisible shapes in front of her face.
“Honey…” my mother’s tingling, wiggling fingers are stretching out to me, “you’ll have to help me to remember how to write in the past-participle again. It’s the standard tense, but it’s funny I’ve been writing in the present-tense for so long that I keep forgetting how to do it!”
Her hands cover my wrists and she pulls me over to her. Something she gets away with, just grabbing people and pulling them around. If it annoys anyone, they never say.
“Lots of writers have been complaining about people using the present-tense,” Dad says, “people like…”
“Snobs!” my mother cries, wringing my wrists in her hands. She takes one of my hands and rubs it between hers. “Literature is always developing. New styles are natural!”
The music my mother beats to is definitely Jazz. Dad is more classic piano. I’ve seen pictures of when my parents met. My mother, wearing hand-knitted hats over her waist-length hair, and Dad, who smiles quietly as he holds her waist. He was studying English while my mother was doing Creative Writing. Of course.
Her hair is boob-length now, which would be good if the ends didn’t keep catching in her bangles and being pulled about. Dad sometimes ties little plaits into it while she talks or writes or whatever. She almost never notices until ages afterwards. Usually when one hits her in the nose because she’s flying about. Only then does she say, “thank you, Richie.”
She jumps about so much that she misses a lot of things. When she’s bounding around she’s not thinking and when she’s still, her head is jumping around. Dashing out of reality and bringing back armfuls of stuff that go into her stories.
“Imagine back when the Modernists were first experimenting. The older writers would have damned their styles too, but where would we be without them?” My mother drops my hand and grabs one of her books on the theory of writing from the window-ledge behind the sofa.
She opens it and starts flicking through, frowning and murmuring into the pages. I sit on Dad’s knee. He glances at my mother’s furrowed face and gives me a wink.
Roomfuls of people can be held by my mother’s excitement. They’re happy to watch her act out an entire short story before bounding out of the circle and talking to other people. They smile, endeared, just like Dad is now.
If I even forget to ask to leave the table, Dad tells me off. Or people notice and think I’ve been a bit rude. That’s because I’m something my mother’s friends would call a ‘square’. I’m even, balanced and straight-forward. Normal. Your average Joe. The passer-by. The no one special. Since that’s the case, my mother is as round as can be. And you know what they say about a square peg and round hole.
“Samuel Richardson,” my mother snaps her book shut, “his novel, Pamela, was satired over and over because it did something different. It was one of the main novels to bring about the popularity of the epistolary form.”
“Very true,” Dad tugs one of the little plaits in my mother’s hair he tied the day before. Mum never really brushes her hair so usually he or I have to untie them before they become a knot.
She smiles at the plait and him and picks up three strands of my hair.
“Don’t,” I take them off her.
“I was going to braid it, you can see all the beautiful colours in your hair when it’s plaited.”
“Dad can do it,” I pull my hair around my shoulders.
My mother’s eyes widen slightly, but she’s smiling in the next second. Privately, inwardly. At someone inside her head.
Dad shrugs and starts to plait my hair.
I have to compete with my imaginary brothers and sisters in my mother’s head. A sibling rivalry between me and the characters in her stories. They hold her attention and chain her to the desk well after I get back home from school.
The truth is, there is no way to describe my mother. She never is just one way. She’s absent then she’s on you. She adores and forgets me. I’m the light of her life, but I have an off-switch.
Dad’s plaiting my hair behind my back, but he tugs each strand before weaving it into place.
“Be careful,” I say.
“Sorry,” he rubs my shoulder, “is that better?”
“No,” I flinch as a hair on my crown pings.
“Richie, you’re twisting the braid, that’s why it’s hurting,” my mother stays his hands.
“It’s because there’s so much, you’ve got too much kiddy,” Dad pinches my ear lobe so the blood rushes into it. He knows I hate-love that. “Your mother is better at this sort of thing. She used to do your hair in lovely little plaits for Primary School. Remember?”
“It’s easy, Richie, just…”
“I want Dad to do it,” I pull my hair out of her fingers.
“Why can’t your mother do it?” Dad rubs her arm, giving her his quiet smile.
“I just want you to do it,” I turn around.
My mother’s eyes are blinking at me, her lips slightly parted. She isn’t used to someone telling her no. It’s good for her to have someone who reels her in, reminds her to hold back sometimes. To stop her pulling them around, and dancing around them. Someone who won’t be dragged along by her whims. She needs to learn that she can’t always be the center of attention. I’m the teenager; I’m supposed to be the one riding the emotional rollercoaster. It’s time she gave up her seat. She should of when I was born.
She closes her lips and looks at Dad. He frowns at me, but she rubs his leg.
“Go on, Richie, I’ll tell you what to do.”
“He knows what to do, he does it in your hair all the time.”
“Stop being cheeky to your mother.”
“Take three strands,” my mother cuts across me, “now pretend they’re three children arguing over the middle seat in the car. So that one moves into the middle, but then the one on the other side pushes in, then that one next. Yep, yes you’re doing it!”
I look around again. Dad’s grinning as my mother talks. She’s got her hand on his leg, saying her instructions: “No, I want to be in the middle, no I want to be in the middle. I want to be in the middle.”
—Ms Always Write–