A wave of nausea swept over me as I walked up the path to the front door and reached out to grab the cheap looking chrome door knocker. The sickness was probably mainly alcohol induced, partly stress induced and the bumpy car journey from Manchester had not really helped matters. I didn’t look forward to these courtesy trips up to St Helens but, intermittently, I felt that I should make the effort. Paying a visit to my dad’s house had all seemed like quite a reasonable idea earlier this morning, when we were lying in bed, and I now realised that Beth and I had probably still been quite intoxicated when we had made the decision. The front door was pulled open quickly by Tommy, my 15 year old step brother. His weasley face examined my face briefly before he firmly pushed the door shut again. Through the uPVC I could hear him shouting to my Dad to let him know that I was at the door. I felt amused that Tommy hadn’t called me a dyke today. I stepped gingerly back down the newly scattered gravelly pathway towards the front wall and glanced upwards to see the blinds twitch at the bedroom window. I felt a spot of rain on my cheek so I pulled my hood up and while I was doing so felt another drop on my hand. I pulled my zip up to my chin and pushed my hands into my fleecy pockets. I perched on the cold front wall uncomfortably and waited for my Dad and Penny to rocket excitedly out of the house and in a race to get to me first, scramble over each other and then squeeze me so tightly that all of the air inside of my body would rush out of me. After this, they would warmly invite Beth and I inside their house for a bacon sandwich and a cup of sweet tea. I always wished that this would happen, however in the real world the situation was somewhat different. I heard the door open again- this time, it was a joyless Penny, followed by my dad. I smiled as they stepped down on to the pathway and pulled the door shut behind them. We wouldn’t be having a bacon sandwich today then. I grinned awkwardly watching Penny unravel her umbrella and I wondered which hand she would play today.
“We’re just heading out actually. You should have called first,” Penny snapped.
“Oh, never mind. We’re in the car anyway. Beth’s there.” I didn’t let on that Beth had stayed in the car because she was wise from previous visits and knew that she would be left standing outside and that she really hated being cold. I gestured towards my girlfriend who was smiling and waving in a very friendly way in the front seat of the car, totally unaware of the tension building outside of the car. I turned back to look at my Dad and Penny. I felt as though I was on enemy ground and I knew that Penny enjoyed making me feel uncomfortable.
“So isn’t Rachel going to Australia soon?” I said, trying to spark up a conversation.
“She goes next week,” Penny quickly retorted. I raised my eyebrows and glanced over to my father for some support. He just looked at me, with a disgruntled expression and his arms firmly folded across his chest as if to protect himself.
“Really? That soon. I knew it was sometime in the next month,” I said with an upbeat tone. My dad and Penny stared at me coldly while I carried on smiling, “She must be so excited?” I was trying really hard to sound interested, probably too interested, which translated to sound like I was being sarcastic.
“Yes, of course she is excited,” Penny fired back at me. “She’s visiting all her friends this week to say goodbye. You did get the invitation to her leaving party, didn’t you?” I looked blankly at Penny as she spat out the words ‘leaving party’. This was the first I had heard of such a celebration taking place. I certainly didn’t recall ever being invited to my step-sisters ‘leaving party’. My feet were rooted to the gravel as I wondered what they were talking about. I stood there, my eyes shifting backwards and forwards from my dad and then over to Penny and back again. I felt the anger rise within me as my heart pumped twice as fast as normal with my breathing struggling to keep up. As I stared at my dad and Penny I visualised them both wishing that it was my leaving party and not Rachel’s. I felt sure that they would love for me to disappear. Although, unlike Rachel, my send off would not be their bragging right that I had left to travel the world and find myself. It would be a party for them to celebrate that they would never have to spend any time with me again, to celebrate that I was leaving forever and to celebrate that the reminder of a previous marriage could be easily erased and would never have to be revisited. My dad made a weak attempt to bring the boiling tension back down to a simmer.
“We haven’t heard from you. Penny has been so upset that you haven’t been able to call Rachel or see her before she goes. I’ve really had to calm her down.”
The words echoed around me as I listened to my Dad and then watched him put his arm around Penny’s shoulders. I expected to hear a director shout out that it was ‘a wrap’ and then thank everyone for their commitment. The whole episode seemed ridiculous, as if it had been written or planned out. Penny played her part well, right on cue, she looked up anxiously at my dad and I fully expected a solitary tear to roll down her cheek leaving a muddy line. This was an Oscar winning performance but I resisted the urge to clap with gusto and forced myself to speak instead.
“What Invitation? I haven’t had any invitation!” They both stared at me as the staccato and uneasy exchange slowed down.
My Dad and Penny were looking at me pensively, awaiting my response and as if I would suddenly realise that I had been given the invitation. The trepidation built as I focused on Penny and tried to anticipate her next move. I found myself doing this frequently after 9 years of tolerating her spiteful and trouble making ways. I despised her as she stood there with her painted face and her red faux leather gloves. As she spoke she patronised me and I found it easier to focus on the brown makeup that had settled in the heavy wrinkles around her eyes than listen to any of the lies that flowed so freely from her thinning, glossy lips. I hadn’t ever really listened to anything that she had said for the past few months and I certainly didn’t want to hear anything that she had to say to me today. I held her gaze until she broke the silence, “So?” she said.
“So what?” I said speedily and defiantly. I could tell that my dad didn’t like my retaliation as he looked at me with definite dismay. I willed him on to take my side, just for once. Surely, even he would realise that it was Penny who was being deceitful now.
“We gave it to you. You’ve definitely had it. I’ve just told you. You probably just put it on that scruffy bookshelf!”
“Don’t call my bookshelf scruffy! Dad? Seriously?” Now I felt truly saddened and I couldn’t believe that our relationship could have reached this point. I looked at the two of them as they stood looking down their noses at me. I was tired of partaking in their mind games and feeling so awkward around them. I despised the fact that I never got to spend time with my Dad on my own anymore- Penny always invited herself. I felt as though I was in a losing battle with a two-headed monster every time I saw them. Well, that, or I was a solitary theatre goer watching a sinister puppeteer pulling every string on her marionette.
My dad looked at Penny and nodded and then looked back over to me, his lip curling with resentment. Then his next words slashed through my heart like a knife, “You’ve had it alright? You’re saying you’ve not had it. And that means that you’re calling Penny a liar. She handed it to you. I was there.”
“When? What are you talking about? You really have never given me an invitation! I would remember.”
“Will you stop saying that! Never given me an invitation!” he tried to mimic my voice. He just sounded pathetic.
I stared ahead at the two of them. I appeared strong on the outside but on the inside I was a raging inferno. I wanted to scream with anger as my inner monologue kept cross examining itself. Had I been given it? Could I not remember? Could I have been hungover- Penny always made a point of highlighting when I was a little worse for wear. I was panicking. I knew the answers to all of these questions but I was tiring and I was beginning to doubt myself. I just carried on looking at them. I stayed strong and fought back the tears- I was determined not to show them my weakness. I stared at Penny, heavily, my mouth pursed tightly. I witnessed her sigh noisily, roll her eyes and turn around. I watched her over bleached straw-like hair, which, as she turned didn’t move at all. There was no flow in her hair, no softness, it was hard and brittle and over styled. I knew that I had never been given the invitation to her daughter’s ‘Leaving for Oz’ party. I had never had it. I shouted weakly, “When is it anyway? The party?” my voice wobbling towards the end as I realised the answer that was going to be coming back at me.
“It was last night. You missed it. You and Beth.” And then he managed to spit out, “You two never make the effort.” I stood there and I felt numb as I shook with anger,
resentment and frustration. I could feel buzzing in my ears and my eyes were slowly drowning with their own tears. I felt as though I had been set up by them, by her. She had never wanted Beth and I there and she wanted me to look bad in the eyes of my dad. We really had never been invited and now we looked as though we were the bad ones. How are you supposed to go to a party that you had never been invited to in the first place?
My dad turned around and followed Penny towards his new shiny sapphire blue Mercedes Benz. He hadn’t bought it but had basically hired it through some overpriced car lease scheme. I looked on at them as they got into the car, started the engine and drove off. My dad didn’t even look back at me and neither Penny or my dad turned to wave. I felt more aware as I watched them drive off and I realised that it was time for me to accept that they didn’t want anything more to do with me. They didn’t want a relationship with me and they certainly didn’t want to love me or include me in their life. I had known for a long time that I was not looked upon as being equal to her super-clever-A*-sport-playing-children.
I stood and listened to the sound of the engine of my Dads Mercedes as it drove off and I stood and concentrated hard to hear it until it was too far in the distance that I could not hear it anymore. I dragged my heavy feet back to our car, my body felt clumsy and my heart felt bruised. I felt Beth’s arms around me and I could smell the comforting musky nutmeg scent of her perfume. I flopped my head onto her shoulder and nuzzled into the soft warm crevice of her neck. The rain began to fall heavier around us and I took a last glance up to my Dad’s house. I could see the shape of Tommy’s silhouette as he played on a computer in his bedroom. I knew that I would not be making this journey again and I felt a strange sense of relief as I looked away. I hugged Beth tighter and then slowly freed my arms and taking the keys out of my pocket I knew that it was the right time to leave. I had a childish urge to visit the McDonalds drive thru- as a child my mother and grandma had always taken us as a treat or whenever we were upset. Now, I longed for that familiar salty sweetness to help cure my hangover and I could only wish that the comfort and memory of childhood associated with a double cheeseburger would be enough to cure the emotional emptiness that I felt.
Kristy Stott lives in Manchester. She is a mother of 3 children and a Speech Therapist. She is currently working on her first novel.