Almost a week later, Jenny was on her way to her parents’ house for dinner. Weekly Sunday dinners at the Sullivans’ were a family ritual that filled her with dread. She suspected it was almost as painful for Bridgette, who was often “working” lately and not able to make it, which usually meant she was either down at the pub or still in bed with whichever guy she had met the night before. Jenny, on the other hand, couldn’t seem to come up with a good enough excuse to get out of it. She often wished she had even a smidge of a social life, just to have the odd Sunday night off. Every week she sat grim-faced at the dinner table while her mother gave her the third degree about her life (or lack thereof), and her father looked at her like an exhibit in a freak show.
Pulling up outside her parents’ house, Jenny sighed heavily as she noticed Bridgette’s car was parked sideways across the driveway, leaving no space for her to pull up alongside. Jenny chewed her bottom lip angrily. It wasn’t that her parents lived in a bad area, her car wasn’t going to get broken into if it was parked on the street. But why should she have to? Typical Bridgette, didn’t give a toss about anyone but herself. For a very brief moment, Jenny considered ramming the side of her sister’s car.
After parking a couple of houses down and walking up the driveway to the two storeyed villa where she had grown up, Jenny noticed her father’s car was also parked in the garage. Similar to Bridgette, her father had often been “working” lately on a Sunday evening. A mean feat given he was retired. Looks like we’re all here tonight. This should be fun. Jenny rolled her neck, dreading the tension headache that would soon pay her a visit. Yeah, about as fun as getting my hands chain-sawed off. I reckon I could walk in the house with two bloody stumps, screaming my head off, and Dad probably wouldn’t even notice. He’d be too busy watching the sports channel. But if I HAD a chainsaw, and sawed the TV in half, now that’d get his attention. I may as well saw his germ-laden smelly old chair into pieces while I’m at it. Jenny looked over her shoulder at Bridgette’s car, and shook her head in exasperation. And I’d chainsaw that bloody thing in half too. I wonder what they’d all say. Probably just the usual “Tut tut, that Jenny’s crazy. Her poor mother, why couldn’t Jenny be more like her sister?”.
Jenny was still picturing the chainsaw massacre when Bridgette pulled the front door open.
‘Hey Mon,’ her sister said, peering at her closely. ‘You look weird. I mean, weirder than usual. Having those mental thoughts again?’
Jenny blinked slowly, trying to decide whether to admit it.
‘Thought so,’ Bridgette said breezily, before she turned around and walked back into the house. ‘Were you imagining vomiting all over the carpet again?’ Bridgette asked over her shoulder.
I’d rather vomit all over your face, Jenny thought to herself, refusing to answer her sister. One of her deepest regrets was telling Bridgette a few years ago about her weird worst-case scenario thoughts. And yet, I’ve just gone and admitted it to a whole room full of strangers, Jenny thought, remembering her support group meeting.
Bridgette had already disappeared down the hallway and Jenny followed her through to the TV lounge where their father was watching a re-run of an All Blacks test match – which he had most likely already watched live the night before. She could hear her mother bustling about in the kitchen next door.
Bridgette sat on the side of her father’s chair, and flung an arm around his shoulder as she lay her head against his. ‘Mon’s here,’ she said absently.
Without looking away from the television, Jenny’s father, Trevor, called out to her. ‘Hello Mon. Good day darling?’
‘Not my name Dad.’
Bridgette giggled and whispered ‘told ya’, and Jenny could hear her father trying to suppress his own laughter. ’Sorry, sorry Jennifer. How are you?’ He still hadn’t looked away from the TV.
‘Fine, Dad. Just fine.’ Jenny left the two of them entwined, happy in each other’s company. Walking into the kitchen she briefly wished that this was an alternative universe and her mother would at least be happy to see her.
‘Jennifer, you’re late. Help me set the table.’ Ona, Jenny’s mother, motioned to the stack of plates on the bench. Jenny hesitated. ‘Oh, for God’s sake.’ Jenny’s mother put down the casserole dish she was holding and put her hands on her hips. ‘The hand soap’s there on the sink.’
Jenny washed her hands thoroughly and tried not to look at the state of her mother’s bench. By normal standards, Jenny’s mother was quite particular, fastidious even. By Jenny’s standards, the whole house was teeming with germs, and from the moment she stepped inside she couldn’t wait to get back out again. It had been that way ever since she could remember, and was the main reason she had worked so hard through her teens and early twenties, to ensure she had enough money to buy her own place.
‘Honestly, when are you going to get over this germ-a-phobia nonsense? You’re a grown woman for goodness sake.’ Ona picked up the casserole dish again and carried it into the dining room, where she laid it on a placemat.
Jenny followed, carrying the stack of plates. ‘It’s not germ-a-phobia Mum, and it’s not nonsense. It’s just, it’s just me.’
’How can it just be you? You’ve got the same genes as your sister, and you don’t see her going crazy washing her hands red raw just because she has to carry a plate, do you?’
Jenny chose not to answer. Though she could have pointed out that Bridgette had never carried a plate or cleared the table regardless. This was just another form of the argument she and her mother had had on a regular basis almost her entire adult life, and tonight wasn’t going to be any different.
Setting the plates down on the table, Jenny went back into the kitchen to retrieve the cutlery. Laying knives and forks around the table, she stopped at her own place setting and got a small bottle of disinfectant and a tissue from a bag in her pocket. After spraying and wiping her own cutlery, she did the same with the salt and pepper shakers which her mother had just set down.
Ona eyed the bottle in her hand in exasperation. ‘This is a spotless house my girl, and my salt and pepper shakers are as clean as a whistle.’
‘I know Mum, I know,’ Jenny said, muttering under her breath that whistles were actually disgusting and harboured all sorts of germs. ‘Do you think I want to be like this?’
Her mother, as usual, ignored the insinuation that her daughter’s quirky cleaning obsession was anything but self-imposed. ‘Bridge, Trev – it’s time for dinner.’
Jenny went back into the kitchen to retrieve the napkins. When she returned, Bridgette was sitting in her place and had picked up her freshly disinfected knife and fork. ‘Bridge – what…’
Bridgette turned and smiled impishly at her. ‘Oh, sorry Mon, did I sit in your seat? You don’t mind swapping tonight do you?’
Jenny took a deep breath, and gritted her teeth. Where is a fucking chainsaw when I need one! ‘Well, actually I do Bridge, and it’s not very...’
‘Just kidding, you mad cow.’ Bridgette interrupted her. Jumping out of Jenny’s chair, she walked around the table to her own usual spot. ‘Don’t get all pissy with me now.’
Jenny didn’t answer, but walked around to her own chair again. Getting out her bottle of disinfectant and a fresh tissue she cleaned and wiped the cutlery that Bridgette had just picked up, and briefly debated whether to clean down the chair itself before she decided it was probably overkill and sat down gingerly on it. Looking up at her family, she noticed the looks and hidden smiles exchanged between Bridgette and her father, and wished not for the first time that she was actually in on the joke for once – rather than the butt of it.
Jenny glanced at her watch. 7.15pm. How many more minutes of these assholes am I going to have to endure?
Her mother caught the gesture. ‘Are you in a hurry dear?’
‘She’s got a hot date,’ Bridgette announced, then almost fell off her chair laughing at the shock and excitement on her parent’s faces. ‘Just kidding.’
‘Thanks Bridge, thanks a bunch,’ Jenny murmured with embarrassment.
‘Any time Mon, any time.’
Jenny’s mother caught the genuine hurt on her face, and relented. ‘Bridgette, stop teasing your sister.’
Bridgette shrugged, and helped herself to a large spoonful of the casserole sitting in the middle of the table.
‘Now, what has everyone been doing for the week then?’ Bridgette’s mother served up the casserole to Jenny and her father. Casseroles were a common Sunday dinner, a rare allowance for Jenny’s ‘special needs’, as her mother referred to them. Ona had tired of Jenny turning down every salad and cold dish she produced, on the grounds that it harboured all sorts of hidden bacteria and germs, and had instead stuck to piping hot dishes. Even Bridgette’s loud complaints that “everything’s had the shit cooked out of it” fell on deaf ears.
As Bridgette told her parents about the latest emergencies at the hospital, and a few of the dates she had been on, Jenny tuned her out and let her mind wander back to the support group meeting at the start of the week. She found she had been thinking about it a lot, actually, and though she was dreading the next meeting, she was also a teeny little bit excited. Her cheeks coloured as she remembered again how the young blonde, Suzanne, had glared at her.
‘Jenny? Jenny!’ Her mother’s sharp voice broke her reverie.
‘Your father had just finished telling us about his evening at the Club last night.’
‘Uh, ok.’ Jenny tried to read the faces around the table. Am I supposed to answer a question? Make a comment? Murmur my appreciation maybe?
Ona shook her head and tut-tutted loudly. ’SO, what have you done this week?’
Bridgette giggled across the table, making it quite clear that she knew there would be nothing of interest to report. Jenny glared across at her. Mean bitch. You’re lucky I don’t have a chainsaw, or you’d be losing your face any second now.
‘Well, actually, I had my first, um, support group meeting this week.’ Three pairs of eyes widened, as they looked at her.
‘Did you darling? That was this week just been?’ Jenny’s father asked. ‘You actually went and sat with a group of strangers?’ Jenny nodded at him. ‘How did it go?’
‘Oh, it was okay actually. There’s about eight of us in the group.’
‘Was there anyone else, with, with your problems?’ Jenny’s mother asked, a hopeful expression on her face.
‘Um, sort of. It was kind of humiliating, but interesting as well I guess. There was this…’
Bridgette, uncomfortable with the removal of the family spotlight, interrupted. ‘So, Mum, Dad, guess who came into the hospital the other day? Go on, guess. You’ll never believe it.’
Jenny sighed, and looked down at the congealing remains of her dinner.
Half an hour later, Jenny made her excuses and said goodbye to her family, almost breaking into a run as she reached the street outside. If her nearest and dearest, her actual blood, couldn’t even understand her or listen to her, what hope was there for strangers? Tonight’s dinner had been worse than usual for some reason; Bridgette had been pricklier, and more antagonistic. Most likely Bridgette had been dumped again, or was punishing Jenny for not showing enough sympathy when her workmate Luke had dumped her last week. Whatever the case, it had been a particularly exhausting hour or so of her life that she’d never get back again.
Driving home, Jenny stopped at a red light and found herself wondering, not for the first time, why she kept agreeing to come to these dinners. It’s not like her parents or her sister were ever actually happy to see her, at least not that they showed. It was more like a weekly opportunity for them to check that she was still fifty shades of crazy.
Bastards! Jenny punched a fist on her steering wheel, and inadvertently honked her horn. The driver of the car in front of her, assuming she was honking at them, waved an arm out their window. Something about the car looked familiar. Where have I seen it? Something about that big beefy arm hanging out the window looked familiar too. Then a blonde head and a chubby face poked out of the window to look back at her.
Oh my God, Jenny thought in a panic. This is mortifying.
The chubby face smiled, and the big beefy arm waved at her again. ‘Hi Jenny,’ a voice called out.
Jenny waved back as her face turned scarlet. ‘Sorry Phil, I didn’t meant to honk at you,’ she called out her window.
‘What? What? I can’t hear…’
Phil, the Overeater from her support group, was drowned out by the sound of cars honking behind Jenny. The lights had turned green and everyone behind them was waiting to move. Phil waved at the honkers behind her, winked at her before pulling his big head back into his car and then turned left at the intersection. Jenny made a split second decision to take the long way home, and quickly turned right, swearing under her breath as she hit a back-up of traffic streaming out of the Catholic Church on the corner.
By the time Jenny parked outside her apartment, it was after 9pm. Feeling completely frazzled she almost ran to her apartment door, practically weeping with relief as she opened it and entered her oasis of calm. Closing the door behind her, she made herself take a full minute of deep breathing before she hung her keys on their hooks, and placed her shoes on the stand.
May as well check my emails, she thought, as she walked around her apartment closing the curtains and then switched the kettle on in the kitchen to make a cup of tea.
Cup of tea in hand, Jenny scanned through her inbox. Just as she was about to reply to a work email from one of her clients, she heard her mobile beep. She looked at the screen. There was a Whatsapp message from Phil Sampson. Jenny winced in embarrassment when she thought about seeing him earlier in the evening.
Hi guys – & girls. I thought I’d be the 1st 2 break the ice, so 2 speak – no (fat) pun intended!!
Howz every1’s week goin?
I started my marathon training – 2 x 2km runs so far. It may not seem much 2 the average Joe, but that’s a bloody miracle for a fat git like me! I hate 2 admit it, but I sweated like a pig in the desert. I might have even cried a little.
Not doing so well on the eating front tho – just finished a bucket of hot wings. An actual bucket. Yes, I don’t even use a plate. Just a bucket.
How are every1 else’s goals coming along?
Yours, in fatness and soon-to-be fitness, Phil
Jenny clicked her tongue in disapproval at his use of ‘text English’, and was just laughing to herself about the bucket comment when she saw a second message arrive from Phil.
Jenny – that was u 2nite wasn’t it?
Jenny shook her head at her mobile, mortified, and took a sip of tea while she debated whether to reply. Before she had a chance to decide, another WhatsApp message appeared on her mobile. This time it was from Jonty. Jenny scanned her memory, trying to remember who he was. The pale blonde alcoholic? Somehow, she hadn’t imagined him having a smartphone, or anything technological really. She could picture him sending a fax, or using one of those beepity-beep things to tap out some morse code, but not a smartphone.
Congratulations on getting your training started Phil – the first few runs are bound to be the hardest (I don’t know myself, but I expect that’s true).
I was dreading our meeting, but I sort of enjoyed it. I’m looking forward to seeing everyone again.
Wow, he’s looking forward to seeing us again? His life must be even more empty than mine, Jenny thought to herself. Poor guy.. Her cheeks immediately coloured, when she remembered thinking the same thing at dinner earlier that evening.
Checking her watch, and realising that it was past 10pm, Jenny turned her mobile to silent, shut off her computer and headed to bed.