Excerpt: 'Twenties Girl'

No one in my family looks good in black. Dad's wearing a suit made out of a dull black fabric which flattens all his features. He's actually quite handsome, my dad, in a kind of fine-boned, understated way. His hair is brown and wispy, whereas Mum's is fair and wispy like mine. They both look really great when they're relaxed and on their own territory-like, say, when we're all in Cornwall on Dad's rickety old boat, wearing fleeces and eating pasties. Or when Mum and Dad are playing in their local amateur orchestra, which is where they first met. But today, nobody's relaxed.

"So are you ready?" Mum glances at my stockinged feet. "Where are your shoes, darling?"

I slump down on the sofa. "Do I have to go?"

"Lara!" says Mum chidingly. "She was your great-aunt. She was one hundred and five, you know."

Mum has told me my great-aunt was 105 approximately 105 times. I'm pretty sure it's because that's the only fact she knows about her.

"So what? I didn't know her. None of us knew her. This is so stupid. Why are we schlepping to Potters Bar for some crumbly old woman we didn't even ever meet?" I hunch my shoulders up, feeling more like a sulky three-year-old than a mature twenty-seven-year-old with her own business.

"Uncle Bill and the others are going," says Dad. "And if they can make the effort . . ."

"It's a family occasion!" puts in Mum brightly.

My shoulders hunch even harder. I'm allergic to family occasions. Sometimes I think we'd do better as dandelion seeds-no family, no history, just floating off into the world, each on our own piece of fluff.

"It won't take long," Mum says coaxingly.

"It will." I stare at the carpet. "And everyone will ask me about . . . things."

"No, they won't!" says Mum at once, glancing at Dad for backup. "No one will even mention . . . things."

There's silence. The Subject is hovering in the air. It's as though we're all avoiding looking at it. At last Dad plunges in.

"So! Speaking of . . . things." He hesitates. "Are you generally . . . OK?"

I can see Mum listening on super-high-alert, even though she's pretending to be concentrating on combing her hair.

"Oh, you know," I say after a pause. "I'm fine. I mean, you can't expect me just to snap back into-"

"No, of course not!" Dad immediately backs off. Then he tries again. "But you're . . . in good spirits?"

I nod assent.

"Good!" says Mum, looking relieved. "I knew you'd get over . . . things."

My parents don't say "Josh" out loud anymore, because of the way I used to dissolve into heaving sobs whenever I heard his name. For a while, Mum referred to him as "He Who Must Not Be Named." Now he's just "Things."

"And you haven't . . . been in touch with him?" Dad is looking anywhere but at me, and Mum appears engrossed in her handbag.

That's another euphemism. What he means is, "Have you sent him any more obsessive texts?"

"No," I say, flushing. "I haven't, OK?"

It's so unfair of him to bring that up. In fact, the whole thing was totally blown out of proportion. I only sent Josh a few texts. Three a day, if that. Hardly any. And they weren't obsessive. They were just me being honest and open, which, by the way, you're supposed to be in a relationship.

I mean, you can't just switch off your feelings because the other person did, can you? You can't just say, "Oh right! So your plan is, we never see each other again, never make love again, never talk or communicate in any way. Fab idea, Josh, why didn't I think of that?"

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