I’ve had enough of your attitude, you ungrateful little girl.
This entry is part 23 of 24 in the series The Amanda Chronicles

“The Honda has mid-engine drive.” says Josh.

“But the Merc has 9 gears. The Honda only has 6.” says Matt.

“The Honda has a naturally aspirated inline-4. You can’t beat that.” says James.

“Rubbish. Mercedes has variable valve timing.” says Dan.

“Which one are you getting?” says Nic.

“Well, the Honda does have a passenger-side vanity mirror.” says Mich.

The boys all stare at her.

“What? It’s important.”

Oh, good grief. Bloody Michelle has only brought in all the car brochures to help her pick one for her dad to buy for her eighteenth. She’s narrowed it down to either the Honda or Mercedes convertibles. And she’s already told us that it would have to be resprayed as they don’t come in ‘her colour’.

“What about the Audi?” says Ben.

“Nah. It has to be a convertible.” says Mich. “I want to be able to go cruising down the coast road with my girls with the top off.”

“You or the car?” says Mark, smirking.

“Both!” says Am.

Everyone looks at her.

“What? It’s been done.”

“What are you getting Am?” says Olivia.

“I’m getting Mum’s X5 when she gets Dad’s Series-3. And he’s getting a Series-7.” she says

“Your dad didn’t say anything about that when I was talking to him?” says Jordan looking puzzled.

“Oh, he doesn’t know yet.” says Am. “Mum and I are working on it. I’ve been dropping hints about a car. Mum’s been complaining about how hard the X5 is to park. And we’ve both been telling him that he needs a better car to go with the promotion. Mum has the dealers sending him brochures. It’s as good as done.”

I hope they don’t ask me. We can’t even afford an Uber.

“You’ll be looking forward to getting behind the wheel of that HiLux Jordan” says Nath.

“Nah. It’s already going to the 2IC.” says Jordan, shaking his head. “Mum’s getting a Mazda 3 and I’m getting her wagon.”

“That old piece of crap?” says Mark.

“Yeah. Put a mattress in the back and it will be perfect to go down the coast in.”

“You’ll never get a chick in the back of that.” says Ryan.

“I would!” I say.

Shit! I was trying to avoid attention.

“Me too!” says Am.

“Settle down.” says Ms Briggs entering the room. “Have your essays ready to collect as I come around.”

***

“Hi Gran.” we all say as we enter the Op Shop.

She was my grandmother, but Lisa and Simone had sort of adopted her.

“Hi girls.” says Gran. “How was school?”

We all roll our eyes.

“There’s a fresh load for you out the back, but I’m afraid some of it looks a bit ratty.”

The deal with Gran was that while we waited for Mum to pick us all up, we would help sort out the donations in exchange for first pick at what had come in.

“Some of this is all right.” says Simone holding up a summer dress.

There’s a sharp intake of breath and we both turn to Lisa.

“These are sass & bide!” she says holding up a pair of distressed denim jeans.

“I wonder if that’s what Gran meant when she said ‘ratty’?” says Simone.

Gran knows a bargain, but she hasn’t a clue about fashion.

“I could get at least $100 for these on Gumtree.” says Lisa excitedly, before going all forlorn. “Unless you want them Suze?”

“Nah. They’re yours.” I say as I know she’s short at the moment.

“Thanks Suze. You’re the best.” she says, giving me a hug.

We take our items up to the counter and there’s a moment of tension when Gran wants $10 for the jeans but Lisa only has $5. It’s sorted when Simone lends her the rest.

Mum’s later than expected.

“Sorry. The car wouldn’t start.”

“Again. I thought you were getting it fixed?”

She just glares at me.

The three of us pile in the back while we wait for Gran to lock up. Lisa is already on her phone updating her Gumtree listings.

***

“That car is a piece of shit.”

“Susanne! I’ve just about had it with you.” growls Mum.

“Julie, you don’t need to yell.” says Gran across the table.

“Stay out of this Mum” she says turning on Gran.

“Why don’t you get it fixed?”

“Because it needs a new battery. And we haven’t got the money!”

I sulk and stare down at my half-eaten dinner. I’m not hungry. I get up to leave.

“Where are you going?!” says Mum.

“Out.”

“No, you’re not. You come back here and finish your dinner.”

“Make me.”

“I’ve had enough of your attitude, you ungrateful little girl. You come back here, right now. I spend all day working my butt off at a shit job just so there is food on the table. The least you can do is eat it.”

“Whatever.”

“All I want is for you to have better opportunities than I got.”

“Well, at least I’m not going to get myself knocked up.”

Mum gasps, then turns and flees from the room.

“Susanne. You really shouldn’t have said that.” says Gran looking disapprovingly.

I think I might have gone too far this time.

Before I can say anything Mum’s back with a shoe box. I’ve seen it at the very back of her wardrobe. It has some stuff in it, but I don’t know what any of it means.

“Julie?” says Gran cautiously.

“It’s all right Mum.” she says to Gran, then turns to me. “You want to know about your Dad? Come here and I’ll tell you.”

I sit back down next to Mum. She takes a red ring box out of the shoe box and puts it in front of me.

“Open it.”

I pick it up and open it. It’s empty. I look at her puzzled.

“That’s all I have of your father. The bastard left us with nothing but an empty box.”

“Daniel was his name. Daniel Brown, but everyone called him Dan. He was charming and funny, and I was smitten from the moment I first saw him. We’d been going steady for a while when I fell pregnant with you. There weren’t a lot of options in those days, but he said that he would stand by me. That box was for my engagement ring.”

I wasn’t expecting any of this. Neither Mum nor Gran has ever spoken about it, though I’ve asked often enough.

“His family didn’t approve. They were quite open that they thought I wasn’t good enough for him. And that I’d deliberately got pregnant to trick him into marriage. Things were pretty tense. It didn’t help that I had nausea and pains throughout.”

She takes my hands in hers.

“I never had any doubts about having you. Not even when was I doubled up in pain all day. Not then, not now, not ever. And while sometimes you really try my patience, all I’ve ever wanted is to give you the best life possible. I’m sorry it’s not always been enough.”

There’s a tear in her eye. Mine too.

“So, what happened?”

She wipes her eyes and resumes the story.

“One day I realised that I hadn’t heard from him for a few days. Now you need to remember that in those days there was no internet, or mobile phones, only landlines. And photos were precious because there were so few of them. Cameras took film. You’d only get twelve shots, and then you would have to wait a week for them to come back from processing to even know if they were any good.”

“So I ring his home phone and there’s no answer. I keep ringing but still no answer. After a couple of days, I decided to go around and see him. I’m about eight months gone, in terrible pain, and I have to get the bus all the way over to Williamstown.”

“I wish you’d told us you were going.” says Gran. “Your father was looking everywhere for you. We didn’t know what had happened.”

Mum just glances at her and continues the story.

“As soon as I got there, I just knew the house was empty. You know how empty houses have this look about them? I knocked on the door anyway, but there was no answer. I managed to open the side gate and get around the back. One of the curtains wasn’t quite closed and I could see that it had been cleared out. I tried the neighbours – most didn’t want to know, but one of them told me that they had gone interstate, he didn’t know where.”

“I tried some of his friends. That was a mistake.”

She pauses, tears in her eyes.

“They were horrible. I won’t repeat the names they called me. One even told me to kill myself.”

She stops to wipe the tears from her eyes.

“I guess they blamed me for their friend moving away. But, still. That was really cruel.”

“When I finally got home, Mum and Dad were beside themselves with worry.” she says gesturing at Gran.

“Which wasn’t improved by what you had to tell us.” says Gran. “Your father was ready to punch him out.”

“I remember.”

“It was a few days later that I went looking for the ring. I’d had to take it off because my fingers were so swollen and I’d put it in my handbag so I could have it with me. But I couldn’t find it. I was so upset because I thought I’d lost it. Then I found that the only photo I had of him was also missing. It was in the special place for photos in my purse so it couldn’t have fallen out. I didn’t know what could have happened.”

“Then I remembered the last time I’d seen him. He’d taken me to a restaurant, which at the time I thought was very romantic, but later I realised that it was because their house was already packed to go. I was so pregnant then that I was constantly needing the loo. You remember?”

Gran nods.

“It must have been during one of my trips to the loo that he’s gone through my bag. The bastard knew he was going and he couldn’t even leave me with that.”

“I’ve not seen or heard from him since.”

She pauses for breath before continuing.

“Then you came early. It must have been the stress. And you were beautiful. Holding you in my arms, I couldn’t believe how much I wanted you.”

“But I was a mess. The doctors were really worried. It was weeks before we could go home.”

“Your Gran and Pa were great, but it was too much for him.”

“He’d had heart problems for years” says Gran. “With the worry of everything that had happened, his heart just gave out.”

“I don’t remember him. I’ve only seen the photos.” I say.

“You were only three months when he passed.” says Mum

“The life insurance paid off the house, but there was nothing else left, so I had to go back to work while your mother looked after you.” says Gran

“Once you were old enough, I went to work too.” says Mum. “It’s been a struggle. But I’ve always made sure you were warm, had a roof over your head, and food on the table.”

“I didn’t know.” I say as a tear runs down my face.

She opens her arms to me and we hug.

***

My phone buzzes. I reach over from the bed to get it off the charger.

T: U up?

His wife must be away. I text back and we arrange to meet later. I can use the money as I’m a bit short for the phone this month.

Looking at my phone I sigh contentedly.

It’s the latest iPhone, just like the other girls have, and my first that’s not ‘a bit warm’. I’ve almost got used to not having to bin it if I see a cop.

Mr Fisher gave it to me for ‘helping him’ at the Newsagents after school.

And the MacBook Pro for not telling Mrs Fisher about that.

Mum thinks that I got them ‘on special’. As if.

There’s a beep from the laptop for an email.

From: Jordan
To: Suze
Subject: What you were looking for

Don’t ask how I found this.

LinkedIn / Adrian Browne

Facebook / Isabella Browne

Jordan’s found him! That boy is amazing.

I’d got all of the details from Mum – it wasn’t much – and had given it to Jordan to track down, but I hadn’t expected to hear back so soon.

I open the LinkedIn profile and see a middle-aged suit. It says he’s a Senior Sales Executive at a property developer in Sydney.

The Facebook profile is for a girl a few years younger than me. I scroll through the posts and find a family selfie in front of the Eiffel Tower. There’s snow on the ground. He’s wearing a North Face jacket, but it’s the same guy as on LinkedIn.

The girl’s with a younger boy – who must be her brother – and there is a woman – who must be their mum. They all look relaxed and happy together.

The girl’s captioned the photo:

Paris is so much nicer in the Winter

Which implies that they have been there before.

The only holidays we ever got were day trips to Torquay – if Mum had the petrol money. And we all spent the way there and back mentally urging the car not to break down.

I grab the laptop and find Mum and Gran talking at the table.

“Is this him?” I say interrupting their conversation and thrusting the laptop in front of them.

Mum gasps and puts her hand to her mouth, staring but not saying anything.

Gran squints at it.

“He’s older, and put on a bit of weight, but it could be him.” she says. “And he’s changed his name.”

I show them the Paris photo and we all stare at it.

***

Jordan’s included an email address, so I write to him, explaining who I was, including photos of Mum, Gran and I.

I’m not expecting a reply.

***

All people, places and events depicted are real, just not in this universe.

© Paul Shipley

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