Lost in thought, I stared into the sink as the water tried to find its way into the drain and a small whirlpool was formed by the suction. Funny, I thought, as I turned the drain back on, how a small movement could lead to that. The water, previously silent and without any worries, suddenly whirled up, never to be seen again.
I never worried about where the water actually went, or –
“Amber!” My mother’s shrill voice echoed from the living room and tore me out of my thoughts.
I flushed through the steel basin once more before answering.
“Yeah?” The TV from the living room drowned out my answer, but she wasn’t waiting for one anyway. Her strawberry blonde hair, cut into a short bob, bounced up and down with every step. She smiled in my direction and pushed a letter to me over the counter, which separated the living room from the kitchen. “We’re invited to Doloris’ party.”
Disinterested, I opened the envelope and pretended to read the invitation, which was quite nicely designed. Unnecessary effort, I thought. But well, at least she cared. Didn’t happen often in this neighborhood.
“You’re coming, aren’t you? Six o’clock. Wear clothes for BBQs.”
Clothes for BBQs, I repeated in my mind and frowned.
I nodded because I had no choice anyway, my mother would bombard me with remorse until I finally gave up. Like my presence is going to change anything at the party.
She leaned over the counter with a smile, her long necklace strummed on the faux marble. “Heard Craig’s son is going to be there, too. You know, the one living in Japan?” She winked at me and I rolled my eyes.
At first, I had no idea who she was even talking about, but my mother was quick to explain that Craig was married a few years ago to a Japanese woman, who was the mother of his son; unfortunately, I was still little when said son lived with Craig in Algate for a few years and I could hardly remember him.
“Wasn’t he queer anyway, Marnie?” my father mumbled from the dining table at the other end of the room in a tone that was intended to silence her. My mother leaned back and waved her hand. She could not be silenced. Never.
“Where do you think you heard that again? Oh, you can’t be too sure at that age. Remember when Rhea said she was lesbian now?” She plopped onto a chair in front of my father.
“And guess what – two weeks later, she had another man.” My father folded down the newspaper and looked at her over his narrow glasses but kept silent. He was the best at judging when it was time to let her just do her monologues.
I stepped out from behind the counter and headed for my room to escape the conversation stinking of dangerous half-knowledge as quickly as possible.
“Not to mention, Mom, I’ve got better things to do than chasing after guys from Japan right now. You know the only reason I’m going tonight is you.” She made a dismissive gesture.
“If I had time to niggle like you do...”
I opened the door to my room and could immediately guess that she was back in here earlier; my bed was made, my laundry was folded, the clutter on my desk was put away. I turned back to her with a sharp look in my narrowed eyes, but declined to comment.
Ever since I went to Bradstone College, my mother treated me like a toddler again. More and more I noticed that she could not cope with the fact that I was slowly building up my own life, clinging onto every minute I was home.
On school days, I had a room on the college campus and only came home on some weekends; for reasons mentioned. I was of the opinion that, at the age of nineteen, I really did not need to have my mother make my bed anymore.
I was glad that by now I had eliminated most of the childish elements from the room, except for a few souvenirs here and there. The walls were still glowing in a pale pink, my dresser was decorated with various Pokémon stickers and glued-on postcards, while some plushies were watching from the little shelf above my bed. This room gave me the feeling of entering a different world every time. A world in which I always felt like being grabbed and held, with the thought that somehow, I would not be able to get out of the swamp of bittersweet nostalgia.
My black suitcase for the weekend stood like a foreign body in the corridor between my bed and the wall. I let myself plop down on the chair in front of my little desk, which squeaked reluctantly and rolled over to the suitcase. With a loud rattle I pulled the zipper to open the flaps to thoughtfully rummage through the clothes I had packed. I fished a light blue short summer dress out of the chaos, even though I felt that A, dresses did not fit me, and B, I should not wear figure-hugging clothes for dinner, I knew that I could satisfy my mother and I accepted it. For some reason, she always wanted to squeeze me into some kind of dress when we were going out, while she mostly wore jeans or her weird white pants with patterns on it.
I checked the time on my phone. “Almost four,” I murmured. Thanks for telling me early, Mom. I shook my head. She never understood that I usually needed at least an hour to get ready.
“Do you think anyone will notice?” her voice echoed through my head and I desperately wanted to answer her ridiculous question, but pressed my lips together instead. Fortunately, the Conerly’s lived only a few houses away, so I at least didn’t have to worry about any minute it took us to get there.
Without wasting any more time, I scurried into the bathroom, which was located between my room and the room of my brother Gregory. There were often arguments here, as he spent eternities in there and I sometimes had to get up at six on a Sunday just to start the day with a shower or brushed teeth.
The light flickered. They still haven’t replaced it, I thought and frowned when the lamp over the shower didn’t turn on at all, which was anything but cozy in the dark blue-tiled room with only one small window facing me, making it feel like getting ready in a prison cell.
My mother was currently on a pseudo-ecological trip and had exchanged many of her cosmetics and toiletries with ‘natural’ crap. I had pointed out to her several times that not everything is better just because there was no synthetic components in it, but she knew better anyway. Now everything in the bathroom smelled like roses, aloe and... kind of medicinal.
The warm water felt surprisingly well; I only now noticed how tense I actually was. Somehow, I was always exposed to such unnecessary, omnipresent stress at home which I probably caused myself. My father once pointed out that my Mom and I had too many similar traits but different opinions on virtually everything, which was why I always felt the need to protest in some kind of way. I drowned in my thoughts more and more, coming up with sentences I could say to her at a given moment until I heard an excited knock at the door.
“Amber! Amber! Come on, there are other people in this household!” my brother yelled through the keyhole.
I turned off the hairdryer I was holding and yelled back, laughing: “Shut up or I’ll go for a swim in the bathtub!” Gregory and I fortunately still had a good relationship with each other and I was always happy to see him. I always considered him to be the least insane one in my family and he held his optimism in everything he did up quite well, even though he was currently attending High School.
I opened the door and greeted my little brother, who promptly took a picture of me with his phone.
“Hey!” Blinded by the lightning, I rubbed my eyes and heard him laughing loudly. “Sorry,” he gurgled, “you just look like Chucky the Killer Doll! On coke! ”
He pointed to my red hair, which was fuzzy from the hairdryer, and to my eyes, not completely freed from mascara. You could never be angry at him with his broad smile and those bright blue eyes, battling with his slightly tanned skin. He and I could not look more different.
Me; my mother’s red hair, green eyes, always pale. Him; my father’s brown hair, blue eyes and tanned in summer. And the face of a mischievous angel.
I stuck out my tongue and disappeared into my room to slip into the light blue dress and to straighten my hair, burning my finger twice.
Now I had about half an hour left before my mother would get impatient. Secretly, I just wanted to eat and then return home as soon as possible.
While I got ready, I caught myself thinking about Craig’s son more than I wanted to.
Did I look overdone? What about that damn dress? I hated to admit it, but my mother really managed to plant him in my mind.
Goddamn it, Amber. Stop acting like a thirsty teenager.