by Rita McCann
Amanda Bell walked through the quiet, suburban neighbourhood. The sun lit up her long, fair hair, held in place by a navy Alice band. Her shoulders ached beneath the weight of her schoolbag but she felt no relief as she turned into the last house on the road. Although it was the same size and shape as all the others it stood out like a sore thumb on this perfect, porcelain street. The white paint was chipped and peeling, weeds grew freely throughout the cobblestone driveway and the untamed grass looked like a jungle next to the carefully maintained lawns of the surrounding houses. She hated it.
A briar tugged at her skirt. She had told her dad to cut them back more times than she could remember. She sighed and untangled herself before walking up to the door unlocking it. Her eyes struggled to adjust as she stepped inside the dimly lit hallway. Toys lay strewn across the carpet. Broken Barbies rode broken trucks over broken cardboard boxes.
She had barely made it through the door before she was knocked aside by her brother and sister as they ran screaming past her.
“How many times do I have to tell you not to do that?”, she shouted after them. She knew they weren’t listening. She had been looking after Alfie and Sarah for over two years. In fact she had been looking after everything since her mum left. She had done laundry, cooked pasta and walked them to school. She had taught them to make sandwiches, written shopping lists and left slices of pizza outside the study door on the nights when her dad got lost in his work.
She regained her balance and entered the kitchen. Her dad was leaning against the fridge. After a second glance Amanda realised someone else was next to him. Her heart stopped before the words had even entered her head. Her mother. But somehow not her mother at all.
Her mother had had soft brown hair that she kept tied back. She had worn cardigans and flowery dresses. This woman wore jeans and a white suit jacket. Her hair was lighter and cropped at the back and she seemed so much smaller than she used to. Amanda had no idea what to think. She gripped onto the handle of the cupboard behind her so her knuckles went white.
She was still struggling to collect her thoughts when her mother finally spoke.
“You’ve gotten so big, Amanda!”, she exclaimed.
“Uh-huh,” Amanda responded slowly. She stopped listening. It wasn’t intentional. She just couldn’t take it. She couldn’t comprehend this woman speaking to her like she was some sort of family friend. Like this had been prearranged. Like it was perfectly acceptable to walk out one day and return nearly three years later.
She stood there, nodding blankly, watching her mother’s mouth move as an odd buzzing sound filled her ears. “Yeah,” she interrupted in a voice that wasn’t her own, and she escaped through the kitchen door.