Stella’s pink slippers pounded the cement,
“Hey – I said-” Stella felt her heart soften a tinge when the postman’s eyes widened in shock, “- hey”. He just stared at her with doe-like eyes. Stella sucked in a deep breath and tried rebooting her attack mode. She swung her hair away from her neck and cocked her hip, “I want you to explain to me why this letter-” she flapped it in the air, the postman’s eyes gravitated towards it and started blinking in time to the clicking sounds it made “- has only one ticket”. Stella found herself mimicking the postman’s rapid blinks. She caught the letter with her other hand and shut her eyes. Losing patience, she flared her nostrils to take in the cool morning wind, but was interrupted by the postman’s cartoonish,
How old was this guy anyways? Five?
Stella let the breeze wash over her before she erupted,
“THERE’S ONLY ONE TICKET! ONE TICKET! THERE’S ONLY ONE TICKET!” stomping her foot on the dry pavement. She opened her eyes and screamed through her teeth in frustration. The postman was gone. She turned on her heel and jogged home with both hands lifted high, giving the finger to show her neighbours that she knew they were watching.
“Rory,” Stella panted as she shut the front door behind her. “Rory,” she hopped about trying to get her slippers off, “Rory!”
“Yo,” said Rory, dragging his feet. Stella pulled her pre-teen son (she lost sleep over the “teen” part) to her bosom and stroked his hair with heavy hands. “Rory – I – I’m afraid there’s only one ticket in the envelope. That means…” Rory’s eye’s widened. He breathed a swearword, Stella twisted his ear, “don’t swear.” He gulped and Stella continued, “That means, we can’t leave – now hear me Rory – don’t move, just listen. That means we can’t leave during your grandmother’s visit.” She tried to make herself as small as possible. Feeling no resistance, she let go of Rory, who droned,
“I’m going to the cinema with Cas, remember. Bye”. Rory had two modes of speech: lazy and deflective. Stella was ready to pull her hair out, but let her son go, reminding herself that she had a lot of work to do to prepare for her… mother’s visit. Ouch, that thought made her wince. She looked around at her cluttered stairs and hallway, summoned a fierce energy, and rolled up her tattered sleeves.
One month had gone by, two days until Mrs Juniper’s arrival. Stella felt proud of herself: the house was spotless, both Rory and she had established a daily head-to-toe grooming regime and the guestroom was pristine. Yet Stella couldn’t shake off the gnawing the back of her brain. She noticed something different in Rory. He was home a lot more often, for one thing. His speech sounded icy almost all the time… She started to notice he was losing weight – yet walked as if weighing three hundred pounds. They had two days of freedom left, two days to chew on the fact that Mrs Juniper was going to live with them for a month. Yet, the only thought keeping Stella up at night was, what is happening to my boy?
“Rory? Are you upset that I didn’t send you away?” Rory poked at the pea on his plate. Stella continued, “You know I couldn’t let you go – you’re too young to go without me. And please try to cheer up; your grandmother will be here in an hour.” Rory’s mouth dropped out a shallow exhale. He struggled with his quivering lips to speak, and lifted his greenish face to meet his mother’s. His eyes were bloodshot. Occupying them was a desperate anger. Stella lifted an eyebrow and leaned forward to study her son’s expression. He was trying to tell her something – his eyes were screaming at her. She tried so hard to decipher their meaning and whispered, “Tell me Rory.” He took in a sharp breath. “Tell me, Rory,” she pleaded. After a moment’s silence and what sounded like clicking heels, Rory dropped his fork on his plate and pushed back in his chair,
“Ok, son – remember” they heard thunderous knocks at the door, “we have a routine. Stick to it. I need you to stay strong, ok?” pound, pound, pound “listen – clear the table. Tonight we sleep down here together, ok?” POUND! POUND! POUND! “AND WE’LL HOLD IT OUT!” Stella was competing with the racket from the door “WE. SHALL. TRIUMPH!” She ran to the door, picturing herself dodging bullets in slow-motion along the way, and then, “Mother – welcome in.”
Mrs Juniper’s body filled out the doorframe. “Stand aside, girl” she announced with an ominous tone. “Look, girl. I have no time for chit-chat. Take my things to my room. I wish to retire. Goodnight.”
“G-g-g-g-g” Stella stuttered, blinking rapidly.
“Spit it out, girl. You know what? Just move out of my way. I’m tired. I’ll find my room. Send your boy up with some food in an hour’s time. I’ll see you tomorrow.”
“Uh-huh. Err…Rory, get your grandmother’s things and take them upstairs. See how much he’s grown mum?” Stella asked to the chunk of mass climbing the stairs. No reply. Stella looked over at her son, who stood starring back absently. She snapped, “Move”, which he did. Stella lifted her arms up in dismay and went to clean her kitchen. This was going to be a long visit.
“Rory! Rory! I’m going out to the store with Maggie, be good to your grandmother!” Stella suspected that Rory would just stay in his room all day playing PlayStation whilst her mother would brood in hers until dinner at seven. Mrs Juniper had stayed a total of two weeks already, and Rory and Stella grooved into a routine. Breakfast was separate. Rory would take up their guest’s breakfast when she called for it: two eggs with orange juice and a biscuit. Stella would clean the house, clean herself, and then go grocery shopping. Rory would go to a friend’s house or to the cinema until lunch, where the three of them would follow the usual eating pattern. Stella would scruff up Rory’s hair, whispering the number of days left of the visit with a sly smile. Rory would leave to go to his room. Stella would leave to visit her friends. Then came dinnertime together, which was usually silent. Finally came sleep. As monotonous as it was, Stella was grateful for her mother’s cooperation. She was also relieved at the lack of voiced criticisms from her – last time they came into contact, Stella found herself crash dieting for the following few weeks. But this time: the silence, the routine – Stella could handle this, no problem.
She came back to her house dragging heaping shopping bags from the high street “I’m home!” she cried. No reply. No sound, for that matter – not even the TV, not even the screeching car tire sounds from Rory’s playstation, “Guys?”
Stella made her way upstairs. Copycatting the silence, she tiptoed her way to her son’s room. It was beyond messy. Rory! She practiced in her head. She stood inside the vacant bedroom. The TV screen was pixelated and grey – the PlayStation’s plug on the floor close to the vacant socket. Stella felt a dull queasiness. She listened hard for some sort of life, some sort of assurance, then gently patted her feet towards the guest room. The door was open ever so slightly. Stella came an hour early today – was this the norm? she thought. Had Rory gone without me knowing? Leaving mom alone?
As she crept closer to the door, she heard a muffled noise that sent a sludge of feeling pooling into her lower stomach. She held her breath. Peeking through the crack, Stella felt her whole world collapse. Her eyes felt torn from their sockets, her stomach growled with a sorrowful fury. Anchoring her right leg: maternal instincts. Anchoring her left leg: a paternal spirit. She commanded both powers to fill her every cell. Then, action: she marched into the room. Eyes wide with terror, Mrs Juniper’s hands released her grandson’s body. Her thick stomach and thighs wobbled away from the slight figure underneath them. Stella swooped her naked boy from the bed and raced as fast as she could downstairs. She felt a wise, steely force take control of her actions. She knew and knew not what to do, and did it.
Inside the cramped downstairs bathroom. Lock the door. She cradled her son, and in an instance and as if by magic, the narrow room breathed open. The white tiles floated into a space-like world. Stella and Rory gazed in adoration and amazement at the stars floating around them. A blue mist scented the space with sweet roses and lilies. Sunbeams hummed out a bird song, of which passing trees danced to. Smiling people blessed Stella and Rory with hellos. Tigers, whales, and caterpillars waved at everyone merrily. A lush green garden burped out purple fruit, and a sweet white bird came by and pecked at Rory’s feet. The bird cocked its head to one side, and chirped, “This too shall pass.”