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Short Story Competition Winner

wedding dress on hanger

Well done to our Anon author who is too shy to claim the big bag of glory on offer.

See our separate post for this month’s competition, details of which will be in tonight’s full issue, but without further ado AION’s first ever short story winner…

Fresh Eyes by Anon

She had always had a strong hold over me and we both knew it. Throughout my childhood I took it as love and it wasn’t until I was old enough to leave home that I began to see it as control, and even then I saw it as loving control if there is such a thing.

“Is there anything wrong with being protective of your child? One day you’ll understand, that I’d die too if anything happened to you.”

“You are my life. No one will ever love you like I do.”

“I gave you life.”

“You are my life’s work.”

“You do not need to live away to go to university, that’s why I bought this house. For you.”

“He’s simply not good enough for you.”

As the plane left the tarmac at Heathrow I burst into tears, uncontrollable person-next-to-me-wants-to-move-crying. The ugly, wet face tears that can only come when something inside you releases. I hadn’t even realised that I was so contained like I had been holding my breath all my life.

To be completely honest Graham wasn’t the love of my life, he measured up to everything I thought my mother would approve of. The education, the accent, the resources, the dull dressing boat shoe wearing kind of man I thought she’d expect me to marry. Graham is kind and a nice man, and we would have made it work, it would have been a nice life for us both. A companionable relationship that would last forever.

“I may have said that it would be better if he left. That if he truly loves you he can see that he’ll be holding you back.”

As it turned out Graham truly loved me and I know what an ear-worm my mother can be. She got into his head, she must have been ‘working’ on him for a while, a good long while. Probably since he gave me his grandmother’s ring. All smiles and joy to me and wheedling her way into his vulnerabilities, insecurities and psyche. I know it all too well, and if she hadn’t I may never have seen her with clear eyes. I shudder at the prospect of a lifetime of blinkers.

It happened when I was laying on her sofa crying that Graham had got cold feet and had gone to his parent’s house for a few days. She was her usual self in this situation, that when I come to think about it, has happened a lot to me. Best friends, boyfriends even jobs that through no fault of my own ‘just aren’t for you darling’.

“Do you really think you should be working in a pub at night darling? Your studies will suffer, you mark my words,” and variations thereof over and over again, some subtle some not.

Then when you get one duff grade you believe her, you believe that quitting the pub that you like working in is the best option for your future.

“There’s a wise girl. Oh look I ordered you this…(pulls out something expensive that she knows you’ll like) and I’ve made us lunch plans for Sunday.”

My father, Him, left when I was nine. He hasn’t been in touch with us since. 

“He was a selfish and mean man.”

“Oh look no birthday card from Him again this year.”

“We have each other and that’s more than enough.”

When I was in her house looking for something ‘borrowed’ and she was downstairs with Graham, probably poisoning his mind, I was upstairs and for once I was poking around uninvited. I hadn’t asked her about borrowing something as I knew she’d choose it for me, give it to me and I’d end up with it as plan A, B and C. I was in the spare bedroom, at the top of the wardrobe when I found a stack of unopened cards, all addressed to me. I didn’t even need to open one, I knew. I put them back.

“Is this how you felt when dad left?” I asked as I lay there on her sofa and she brought me tea and tissues.

“Him or father. He does not deserve the affection of Dad.”

“Sorry. Is this how you felt when my father left?”

“No darling, it was far worse. He rejected you and that is unforgivable. The fact that we are so close and he was a mean jealous man is his own lookout and we are better off without him.”

It was like a flash, I saw something in her expression. Maybe it was her mouth, but something gave her away. I closed my eyes in case she could read my thoughts. Later I made my excuses and went home. I didn’t sleep. I watched my life back and saw myself as the pawn I had always been and never realised. I saw myself being told I was ill and couldn’t go on the school trip. I saw myself being told we had a new phone number as there’d been a problem with the old one even though it meant I’d lose contact with some friends. Being told kids holiday clubs were for children on benefits and that I couldn’t go. That I was allergic to horses when my friend invited me to the stables (I’m not allergic). That she was ill and needed me home (this is a well-used one). As I sat and looked at all these small situations I felt like there was a fast spinning Rolodex filled with situations that needed a fresh perspective. Each and every card I would pull would have me doing exactly what she wanted, often at the detriment of myself. Wow.

I left my wedding dress hanging on my bedroom door. I’ve labelled it for eBay ‘New without tags wedding dress. Never worn.’

She will find it when she lets herself into my home with the key she had cut without permission and uses every time she ‘just pops in’ even though Graham repeatedly asked her, and then told me to tell her, not to.

He wasn’t even hard to track down thanks to the internet. I called him at his office and he cried when I told him it was me. He said he knew one day I’d find him and that he had been waiting. He didn’t ask after my mother.

As I land in San Francisco I forward my watch to what would have been my wedding day and look forward to meeting my dad.

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