Lucy had had a good but shitty day.
If that made sense.
It was good in that she’d just finished her last GCSE exam and never had to go back to Snob School but it was shitty in that she’d had to take a GCSE exam.
In fact, GCSEs were nowhere near as bad as everyone else seemed to think they were. Lucy supposed that this was because the teachers finally accepted that they were no longer responsible for the grades inside an August envelope. They’d been fervent and flustered and frenzied up until April and then the control shifted so that success was the responsibility of the student. They smiled to each other, dusted their hands off and took a small step back.
During exams you also were not allowed to speak to people, a rule solved quite a few of Lucy’s problems. Most of what she hated about school was the other kids while the other part of her distaste was made up of the people who supposedly taught them.
The thing was that – no matter how odious the school and its inhabitants might be – turning down a scholarship was something that you simply didn’t do. She hadn’t been expecting such an accolade but it had seemed something of an escape-route at the time of its arrival. Her acceptance into the esteemed private school had come at a point when she was wallowing in herself. She’d been sat in a toy-box of desperation and self-centred frustration and so had let Mum decide that the structure of a better-established school might be more beneficial than remaining where she was.
Looking back now she could not entirely distinguish whether that hope had been realised. She had certainly removed herself from her frantic rebelliousness four years previously but it was difficult to establish whether these changes were positive. She’d become even more withdrawn (something that Mum spent a fair portion of her time talking about and almost the entirety of her life worrying about) even more sour and an inverted snob in the most extreme of ways.
Being an inverted snob was, for all its guilty pleasure, a depressing mind-set that was ephemeral in its happiness and left little room for any appreciation.
Her experiences of Kent had been generally palatable until her tenth birthday. Her gran’s cottage was the sort that appealed to girls of a certain age and its prettiness lured her imagination out from the grime of her life in the capital.
Then Dad had been busted at his job at the garage.
That sounded harmless really – euphemised like that – but Dad’s job at the garage had involved stripping-down scrap-heap cars and repainting them for expensive resale. In other words, the job that Mum had trusted as completely honest was a total scam and, when Lucy was ten, the whole corrupt business got blown.
Lucy supposed she must have gone through the process of growing up very quickly; she sort of saddled herself with it and discarded herself almost overnight.
Mum sold the flat and Lucy sold off her love of countryside and equines and home-baking along with the pinkness of her bedroom. While Mum acquired a new flat in a new area, Lucy acquired a violent music taste and a general sullenness which she had never since shaken off.
She decided that scrawling herself on walls, setting fire to rubbish bins and bunking off school might be good ways to reinvent herself whilst also winning her the attention she craved. It was funny how she’d so longed for people to notice her when she now paid particular attention to being alone. Believe it or not, a desire to be noticed had consumed her for almost two years.
In the run of events after Dad’s fall from grace, Lucy had been all but side-lined by the court cases and financial worries. Most people were concerned about the fact that Dad had broken the law and worried about the safety of his customers but nobody had really bothered themselves with the fact that she, his daughter, felt completely and utterly betrayed. Lucy and Mum were criminalised by it, rather than being classed among the victims, although the arrest had shattered their lives like they were fractured car bonnets.
The worst thing was that she had memories of being taken down there as a young child and sitting around on the garage floor between spray cans and rags and pieces of broken metal. She remembered Dad fobbing her off with lollipops and whispering in her ear:
“Remember, Lucy-Lou. This is our little secret.”
“It’s magic, you see. If you tell anyone then the magic will disappear.”
The magic disappeared all right. The police tossed the magic into the back of their screaming car and rushed it away to be locked up alongside the man who created it. She’d woken up one day, still loosely believing in some sort of magic and had gone to bed later with her fairy-tales well and truly dispelled. The mist lifted; she realised exactly what Dad was.
Nobody actually seemed that anxious about what the magnitude of this revelation might do to her. They didn’t seem remotely interested while it scalpeled her heart out from under her ribs and mutilated her opinion of Family, Magic, and Life In General. She’d therefore decided that her best plan of action was to grab someone’s empathy and to make sure that that someone noticed just how much she craved concern.
She didn’t really care how she did it; in fact, the most radical actions were the most eye-jerking. It mattered so much to her to have attention that she really didn’t care if it was negative attention. Maybe it was stupid to essentially plunge into her father’s footsteps but at least people sat up and looked at her. They examined her with their eyes and then made plenty of assumptions about her disturbed mentality and emotional instability before dismissing them all with the scathing and cumbersomely deceitful label of “Hormonal.”
She’d proceeded to ensure her automatic expulsion from Parsons Secondary School.
After being summoned to several different schools for “concerned talks about Lucy McGuire” and losing her third job in as many years, Mum had uprooted them once again and returned them to the village where Lucy’s gran had once hosted them. Gran’s house was their default destination but it was stuffy and smaller than it had been in Lucy’s memory, stocked with enough 20th century trinkets to create a sizable antiques shop. Gran kept forgetting herself and cooking excessive numbers of jam tarts that no one took out of the oven. Every evening she’d sit down and tell Mum what a good girl she was for finally leaving “That Wretched Boyfriend”. She’d say:
“You’re too good for him, Marianne.”
Every evening Mum would curl her head down towards the carpet and say: “but Mum, you were the one who paid for my wedding dress.”
Lucy would say: “She didn’t leave him, he left us.” He’d left them for the barred window on his new front door and the excited taste of his own criminality. When did a man who would hand out lollipops start to smell like poison?
“It’s got nothing to do with being good,” she’d say, only to repeat the whole conversation the next day.
They’d moved out into their own place soon after. Gran had too; she moved to the Crematorium and they’d headed deeper into Kent.
A modern development in Lucy’s understanding of Kent was that it was twee, suffocating, and full to the brim of rich Londoners who’d escaped the city. The lacy, frothy memories of her disposed-of childhood had been replaced by a large portion of bitterness which may or may not have been anything to do with Dad and the fact that she’d grown up in a suburb infamous for youth crime rates.
Mum’s self-regeneration had been entirely different to her own in that it had obviously been good for her. She seemed to have grown, despite losing weight, so that she was now too big for all her old garments of Nervousness and Stress and Insomnia. She had bought herself oddly shaped jeans and colourful T-shirts and had set up the kind of café that boasted about its local and organic contents.
Mum had essentially become a walking, talking hippy cliché.
Having said that, there were frequently occasions when Lucy pondered doing the same. The move to Kent had liberated her mother to the extent that she was actually happy. Lucy was still so absorbed in frosting-over the relationship she’d had with her father that she frosted everything else simultaneously. Mum occasionally joked about her iciness – “perhaps I should stick you in the microwave to thaw and then string you up on the washing line,” she liked to say.
“Go ahead,” Lucy always said, “if you want to get done for child abuse.”
Then there would be an awkward hiccup in the atmosphere as they brushed too close to the topic of 'getting done' and they’d both give up on joking.
Lucy came in through the front door because the back door led off the shared garden. She’d noticed the two new people moving in the weekend previously and had decided that she would be no more inclined to share a garden with them than she was with any of the cottage’s previous occupants.
“Good morning, Lucy?” Mum asked as she drifted past the coffee table.
“Riveting,” Lucy said. “I could barely breathe for excitement.”
“Oh Lucy, don’t be like that-” Mum said and let her head weigh to one side.
She kicked her shoes off with acquired skill so that they skimmed onto the doormat and then she sidled into the kitchen.
“So, you think you did a good job in the exam?”
“Oh, I know, I’ll just ring up the exam board and ask for the answers, shall I?” Lucy mocked and Mum tutted at her flippancy:
“Lucy – it’s important-”
“To you it is,” She muttered and located a clean spoon and the jar of Nutella before extracting two slices of bread from the packet. “I don’t honestly think I can remember a single question.”
“What are you doing in there?”
“Getting lunch. It’s almost twelve.”
“Oh Lucy,” Mum sounded genuinely disappointed – almost as though this wasn’t an argument they had on a frequent basis. “I brought back some lovely spinach and mushroom quiche from the café yesterday.”
“The thing is, Mum,” Lucy said, flashing her head briefly back into the lounge; “We have very different understandings of the word lovely.”