I told her not to come back. I told her – this is exactly what I said – “You must never come back here.” That’s what I told her. I didn’t feel safe.
I was terrified. I changed the locks. I checked the windows each night and every morning, just to be on the safe side, you know? I barricaded myself in. I changed my schedule, stopped walking the same way to work. I made everything different. Or rather, I tried to make it that way.
You see, there were things I couldn’t change.
I couldn’t stop what she did, how she behaved. She used to tell me that, all the time. She would say it just like that – “You can’t control me Chloe. You can’t put me in a box. You can’t file me away.” That’s what she would say.
She wasn’t neat and tidy, not like me. She was too noisy, too messy, too untidy. She scent-marked everything, like a dog.
I like order. It’s how my life works, how it makes sense. I like the quietness of everything in place. It keeps me calm, makes me feel safe. I like things to be clean. I like peace.
I wasn’t safe when she was around. She was always here, in every room at once. Nowhere belonged any more.
I told her not to come back, do you understand. I told her, just like that – “You must never come back here.”
She didn’t listen. She insisted on doing what she wanted to do, just like she always had done. I was very, very clear.
Now, she’s made even more of a mess. She made me. She made me make a mess. Just look, everywhere. Broken glass, shattered plates, wine, pasta, in all the wrong places.
All that mess, all that noise, all that disorder, oh it hurts so badly, it makes me cry.
I was so afraid. So, so afraid.
It hurts. It makes me cry.
That’s what she said – yes, these are the words she said to me, and she was crying too – “Look. Chloe, you’ve hurt me, you’ve really, really hurt me. It hurts so badly. Make it stop.”
That’s what she said.
I did what I was told. I’m so good at following rules and orders. I made it stop.
I made it stop.
I like things to be neat and tidy. I washed it, put it back in the drawer, in just the right place.
Everything is silent now. I shut the door to the kitchen. If I can’t see it, it isn’t there, that’s right, isn’t it? That’s what she used to tell me, when I got really stressed, when she made another mess – “Shut the door. You can’t see it. It doesn’t matter if you can’t see it.”
I’ve shut the door. She was right.
I can’t see her any more.
She won’t come back.
It’s so quiet.
Now, I am safe.
This story isn’t very pleasant, so please be warned.
We’ve never had much money. Put it this way, I come from the sort of family where we don’t buy cream. Mum uses a syringe to syphon off the ‘top of the milk’ to drizzle over puddings, and it’s strictly doled out to make sure nobody has more than anybody else – even Dad.
We spend a lot of time at jumble sales, helping out as well as buying. Anyone who knows anything about jumbles will know that if you help set up the trestles, pile up the clothes, toys and bric-a-brac, sort out the tea urn and custard creams, you get first pick before the crowds surge through the doors. It’s amazing what people chuck out. We get some pretty good stuff, but not knickers though. Mum draws the line at underwear.
Anyway, that’s where my dress comes in. I see it, shoved under an old dressing gown, right before they open the doors and the old biddies elbow their way in. A bright red sundress, hardly worn. Mine. It’s cotton, broderie anglaise Mum calls it, and fitted at the bust and waist. Since I’m finally getting boobs and hips, I will definitely look grown up in it. Best of all, it’s short, way above my knees, and it makes Mum’s eyebrows rise in that way that means she’s really not happy, but won’t say why. It’s perfect. Continue reading “The Red Dress”