‘Look, I know you’ll probably think that something’s wrong. But it’s not like that!’ Aubrey places her cigarette to her lips and takes a quick drag, her hand unsteady. She stares hard at her mother.
Hedy is looking at her daughter, who just sat down across from her on the small chequered blue sofa. She feels her grip tighten on her Woman’s Weekly as she studies her.
‘I know what you’re going to think. But it’s not like that this time. So, don’t think that there’s … there’s something wrong with me. It’s not me this time!’ Aubrey’s fixed eyes irradiate genuineness.
Hedy puts down the magazine to add sugar to her tea and starts stirring. She stirs hard and long, longer than she usually does, making sure that every last bit of the hard cane sugar lumps is properly dissolved. The yellow and blue cosiness of the room, with its bookcase and picture frames, cannot protect her. Seaside holiday memories and Victorian postcards seem to lose their comforting power in the face of the grey wave that is about to engulf room. She softens her face.
‘Mmm .. alright, just … tell me what’s on your mind.’ She forces herself to smile at her daughter, then carefully sips her tea as if to say that this is just one of their normal teatime chats.
Audrey’s left foot dances up and down, and she takes two quick drags before putting the cigarette out in a small Chinese ashtray.
‘It’s … it’s the neighbours! They’ve … been talking about us behind our backs! They’ve decided that they don’t like us, and they want us to move out.’
‘How do you know this?’ she asks. ‘Have you talked to one of the neighbours?’
‘They’re going to call our landlord behind our backs, because they don’t like us, and they want to drive us out of the house. It’s really true. I’m not imagining it!’ Aubrey voice becomes more urgent, and her left foot dances semicircles in the air.
Hedy’s mind scrambles to keep up with the onslaught of thoughts that are trying to swallow up her last ounce of tranquility. She knows that her daughter won’t back down, no matter what she says. There really is only one solution.
‘I’m going to call the landlord and ask him about it,’ Hedy decides. She scans her daughter for a reaction, but Aubrey just glares at her, her left foot still tripping the light fantastic. Hedy carefully places her tea on a sidetable and reaches for the phone.
A short conversation follows, and then Hedy hands the phone over to her daughter. The landlord talks and Aubrey listens. Her expression is sphinx-like when she finally puts the phone down. She crosses her legs and lights up another cigarette, her left foot now perfectly still. Hedy watches and waits while the afternoon sun slowly creeps up one side of the room, the changing light colouring the pigeonholes of the square bookcase an alternating grey and golden orange, like a natural rendition of Celebrity Squares. Then Aubrey’s stillness crumbles, deep frowns and furrows now animating her face, and she starts speaking.
‘Ehmm… he … he told me I was wrong … It’s not true, but I … I really believed it. I was sure that it wasn’t my imagination. I heard them saying those things, but it wasn’t true!’
‘I know, sweetheart,’ Hedy’s voice breaks a little as she watches her daughter grow smaller until she seems to disappear into the pattern of the chair. ‘How would you feel about giving your doctor a ring tomorrow about adjusting your medication? Don’t you think that might be a good idea?’
‘Yes,’ Aubrey nods tiredly, ‘I’ll call him in the morning.’