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Just One More Time

Alyson knew that listening to other people’s conversations was wrong but she didn’t care. In any case, this wasn’t a conversation – it was a row, and a full-blooded row at that.

“You don’t want me and I certainly don’t want you,” her mother screamed.

It had been going on for twenty minutes. Alyson was surprised it hadn’t happened before. She’d known about her father’s affairs. At first, when she was younger, he’d scarcely hidden them from her, thinking perhaps she’d been too young to understand – her father always thought that she didn’t understand anything. Her mother’s affair with Paul was different. That had been kept secret – until the day Alyson had borrowed her mother’s mobile when hers had been stolen. Paul had sent three text messages to her mother each one making it clear to the simplest mind what was going on and, Alyson knew she wasn’t simple.

At first she’d been upset and, then, more curious than upset. They’d been doing sex in class at school and she knew all about that kind of thing. She’d known about it before that. Alyson didn’t actually blame her mother – Paul was gorgeous and drove a white BMW convertible – but she was shocked at her mother’s stupidity in lending her the mobile without warning Paul. She thought perhaps her mother had wanted her to know.

She recalled the row when she was nine and her mother had found out about her father’s first girlfriend – ‘tart’, her mother had said. She had listened to them rowing then, too – she couldn’t help it, the row had been so loud. She hadn’t known her parents used, or even knew, such words. Later she’d tried out some of them on her parents and had been told off. They were always criticising her for quarrelling, too. It really wasn’t fair.

But this time it seemed really serious. She would have to put a stop to it ... again. She walked up the last few steps of the communal staircase and stepped into the kitchen of their little flat.

“Shut up!” she said in her best quiet and dignified voice.

No-one heard her and the slanging match continued.

“I wouldn’t care if it was anyone but Paul. He’s barely half your age. You could be his mother,” Alyson’s father shouted, and slammed his fist on the table so that the crockery rattled.

“That tramp Tania is less than half your age. She isn’t much older than Alyson.”

“Shut up!” yelled Alyson as loudly as she could. She had intended to be grown-up like Sharon on her mother’s favourite soap, but she couldn’t quite manage it and she realised with horror that she was crying.

But she wasn’t going to be a baby. She remembered her father’s words to her when she’d been quarrelling with a friend, so she wiped her hand across her eyes and took a deep breath.

“Stop shouting and grow up,” she yelled.

But, now, despite her resolve, the tears were flowing freely. She knew she was losing it and through the mist of her agony, she didn’t notice that her parents had fallen silent and turned towards her. She shouted again.

“Stop it. Stop it. Stop it.”

She ran to her father and beat her fists against his chest. At first he did nothing to stop her but, eventually, he drew her to him and held her tightly so she couldn’t move. She struggled free, cutting herself on the metal strap of his watch, and hurried over to her mother who held her as if she didn’t know quite what to do next. Alyson wasn’t comforted but she had stopped crying. You can’t be angry and cry at the same time, she thought.

“It’s all right,” her mother murmured distractedly. “It’s all right, Love. Calm down.”

She could scarcely have said anything less calming. Alyson erupted again at the unfairness of the words.

“Me? It’s you and Dad who should calm down. You’re both the same.”

“Don’t, Love. We’re just having a grown-up row. That’s all. It’s nothing for you to worry about.”

“You said you didn’t want Dad and he didn’t want you.”

“I don’t think Dad really meant it, do you?”

“He didn’t say it. You said it. And you said you don’t want him either.” Alyson was confused and frightened. Her parents had been rowing often lately, but usually they made some effort not to let her hear – although, of course, she had heard. This time, they had made no such effort.

She turned to her father. “Are you still seeing Tania?”

“It’s got nothing to do with you, Ally. It’s between your mother and me.”

“It is to do with me if you and Mom are going to get divorced. Mom’s only seeing Paul because you were sleeping with that Tania.”

“I wasn’t.”

“You certainly were,” Margaret Hedges said. “It’d been going on for months and I didn’t say anything because I didn’t want to upset Ally.”

“Well, you’ve upset her now. You with that kid, Paul.”

Alyson’s parents started the accusations and insults again, completely ignoring her. She listened quietly trying to understand. She loved them both but they were saying such dreadful things to each other. She knew some of it was true but she knew that some of what they were saying was just people shouting.

She remembered how Chrissie, her best friend, had rowed with her. She’d told tales on Chrissie. She hadn’t meant to but somehow she had – and Chrissie had found out. Chrissie had said the most horriblest things to her and she’d deserved it. But some things Chrissie had said weren’t true and that had hurt badly. Eventually, they had made up but things had changed. She thought, perhaps, they were better friends now than they had been before.

She hoped that was how it would be for her parents.

But the row was going on. Part of her was listening to the words and part of her was just hoping they’d shut up, hoping that it would all go away. When it didn’t, she tried to shut it out of her mind. She found herself noticing things that she wouldn’t normally notice. The tear in the wallpaper behind the fridge. It looked like a dragon, she thought. She could smell the aftermath of the morning’s burnt toast – or was it the dragon’s breath? She saw that her father still hadn’t fixed that bit of trim on the kitchen unit. It had broken away completely now and Mom would be angry about that.

But now Mom was shouting about Tania again and Dad was yelling about Paul. Neither of her parents seemed aware of her presence.

Slowly, Alyson walked over to the kitchen table and picked up the pile of crockery that had rattled when her father had slammed his fist on the table at the beginning of the row. She lifted it shoulder high and then lowered it. Then, quickly, she lifted her arms again and sent the whole pile in the direction of the ceiling. The crocks seemed to fly upwards ever so slowly and, then, curve over and come down, almost floating, and she watched until they smashed against the hard, ceramic tiles. Every plate was broken. And every cup. And every saucer and every dish. Even her favourite egg-cup that looked like a pig that Chrissie had brought her back from holiday one year. It seemed somehow right that that too had broken.

Alyson gazed in awe at the devastation she had wrought and didn’t notice at first that her parents had stopped shouting. They, too, were staring at the mess. Then her mother bent down without a word and began to clear up the broken crockery.

Alyson said, “I had to stop you. I had to stop you. And it worked, didn’t it?”

“That was a stupid thing to do,” her father said.

“Not half as stupid as you and Mom rowing like that. You were going on and on and on. As if it was all something new. You’ve been sleeping with that Tania and if Mom’s been sleeping with Paul that’s your fault. You think that just because I’m only eleven, I don’t understand things. But I do.”

“I haven’t been sleeping with Paul. I’ve just been out with him once or twice.” But Margaret’s words didn’t carry conviction.

“What about the texts I found on your phone when mine was stolen? You forgot them, didn’t you? I read them. They were disgusting.”

“You’ve been letting Ally read text messages from Paul?” John Hedges demanded. “How sick is that?”

“Shut up!” Alyson shouted at the very top of her voice. “There was nothing you couldn’t hear on telly and, anyway, I heard you on the phone to Tania so I know what I know. You’re both the same. I’m not a child any more. I know about sex and everything. You talk about me growing up. Well, I have. But you haven’t.”

She turned and walked out of the kitchen, slamming the door behind her. Then, she turned and locked it.

“I’ve locked the door,” she called, “and I’m not opening it again until you make up. And don’t shout too loud or you’ll disturb old Mrs Latham downstairs.”

She leaned against the door, panting, although she hadn’t run anywhere. She looked over the bannisters and wasn’t surprised to see Mrs Latham peering out of the door to her flat. Alyson put her tongue out and wiggled her face. “And you can mind your own business, too,” she shouted, and pulled another face.

She was sorry immediately. Pulling faces and being rude was not being grown-up and she was determined to be grown-up – but it was too late to apologise. Mrs Latham had retreated behind her own door. Well, never mind, she was an interfering cow, anyway.

So far there had been no sound from behind the kitchen door but, after a moment, she heard the door handle turn and her father’s voice said, “She’s locked it.”

“I said I had. I’m not letting you out till you’ve stopped rowing.”

Her father said, “You’ll have to. I have to go to work soon and you’ve got to go to school. Now, stop being a fool and let us out.”

“I’m not letting you out until you’ve made up. You’re as bad as each other. I’m not going to school and, if you don’t make up, you’re not going to work. You’ll have to explain why to Mr Bates.”

“Come on, Ally,” Mrs Hedges said, “You’ve made your point. You don’t have to carry it on for ever. Let us out.”

“Not till you’ve made up.”

“Look,” her mother said, “we’re sorry we’ve upset you.”

“You’re not really. You’re just sorry I’ve locked you in. I’m going to wait here until I hear you say sorry to each other and sound as if you mean it. You say sorry and say you’re not going to get separated and all that stuff, and that you’re going to stop going out with other people.”

It took four hours. There was more rows, most of them now directed at Ally, but she was determined not to give in. Her parents tried threats and wheedling and promises – false promises, Ally felt sure. Several times her parents said sorry to each other but never in way that Ally felt was genuine. “I don’t care if it takes all day and all night as well,” she said. “I can go down to the chippy for something to eat.”

She knew it was blackmail but she had had it with her parents rows and she wasn’t going to give in. At last, she heard first her father, and then her mother, apologise to the other and promise not to have a separation.

“No more boyfriends or girlfriends,” she prompted.

“No more boyfriends,” her mother said.

“No more girlfriends,” her father said.

Ally opened the door. She wasn’t convinced – she wasn’t a fool – but it was the best she could do. She sighed wearily. Perhaps it would work this time. She walked slowly downstairs. She would say ‘sorry’ to Mrs Latham.

 
Word Count: 2040
 
 
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