‘And today’s sermon shall be on the value of chastity.’ The bitter thought swirls and sticks as I sit, eyes downcast, a penitent look fixed firmly on my face, listening to Mum berate me for missing my curfew, yet again. Why doesn’t she get it? Her rules were fine when I was a kid, but I’m almost an adult now, it’s time she came to terms with that.
I look up at her, eyes wide, brimming with tears. I’m getting really good at crying on demand. And she falls for it every time. Does she really believe that lecturing me like this will convince me? Besides, I’m pretty sure I remember hearing stories about what a tearaway she was at my age. What was it that Aunt Celia said? Something about Mum being a ‘real looker’ and a ‘party girl’? Not as innocent as she’s trying to make out now.
Oh, here we go. We’re onto the dangers of being out late at night, and how the world isn’t like it was when she was young, how it’s a much more dangerous place now, and I just have to realise that the streets aren’t safe anymore. ‘Sure, Mum. You’d know all about that, sitting in here in front of the telly, knitting on your lap, like an old grandma, every night.’
My contempt must be showing in the sneer of my lips, the tilt of my eyebrow, because her voice is going up an octave, her face is turning an interesting shade of crimson, and the finger’s out, waggling away at me. You know she’s serious when that finger comes waggling out. I really want to laugh in her face. Doesn’t she realise how cartoonish she looks?
How many times, and in how many ways can I tell her this same message? She just doesn’t see the kind of danger she puts herself in every night. Even if she makes it home safely, she doesn’t seem to understand that reputations stick like glue.
People have already started talking about her, what sort of a girl she is. I see them at the butcher’s, whispering in corners, suddenly stopping when I walk through the door. I hear the nasty rumours, mumbled to each other behind covering hands. Those things don’t go away in a small town. I should know.
Does she really think I don’t know what it feels like to be seventeen? To want so desperately to be free, to test out these new curves, this new magnetism that pulls all the boys in? Does she think I was always an old woman, content with my knitting and the telly?
If only she knew the lies I’ve had to spin into a cloak of respectability. If only she knew the truth of her own birth, the violence of it. If only she knew I’m 34, not 44.