"Domestic" By Alison Wassell
Mum tips a whole packet of digestive biscuits into a plastic bag and beats them with a rolling pin. The vibrations make my pencil case walk across the kitchen table. Her lips are set in a thin angry line.
Jess totters in on her kitten heels, her bare legs pink and blotchy from shaving. She tugs at her dress as she walks, but it still only just hides her knickers. Mum looks at her and beats the biscuits a little harder. Jess sits down, She smiles as she unzips her make up bag.
Mum takes the butter from the fridge and slams the door so hard that the cans and jars in the door rattle in protest. Jess takes out her mirror and carefully fills in her lips with a lipstick as red as the ceramic strawberry we keep jam in. Finally satisfied with her work, she pouts at herself. The melted butter sizzles in the pan. Mum adds the biscuit crumbs. Jess snaps the mirror shut and stands up, pulling her dress down again.
There is a moment when everything could still be all right; when Mum could choose not to say anything, to just let it go. I watch helplessly as it slips by.
‘You look like a slapper.’ She continues to mix the biscuit crumbs into the butter. Jess says nothing for a long time. We both watch Mum press the biscuit base firmly into the tin. She prepares to beat the cream cheese. I pity the pots as she viciously tears off their foil lids.
Jess holds out her hand, rubbing her fingers together.
‘Taxi fare,’ she demands.. Mum snorts as she sets down her wooden spoon.
‘I don’t think so, young lady,’ she says. She stands with her legs slightly apart, hands on hips, ready for battle. I slide my notes into their folder to protect them from fallout.
I know Jess is heading for one of her kick offs, because she starts to pant, as though she can’t be bothered to breathe all the way in and out. Her eyes narrow until they are no more than slits in her face, which is pale, apart from the stripes of blusher on her cheeks. Her knuckles whiten around the handle of the knife.
Somehow mum is pressed up against the kitchen door as Jess wields the knife like Dogtanian brandishing his sword, in the old cartoon. I lack the guts to stand between them. I fumble for the phone in the pocket of my cardigan.
‘I love you, Mummy,’ calls Jess, as they lead her away. The constable is almost affectionate in the way she places a hand on my big sister’s head, guiding her into the police car. Mum presses a tea towel against the gashes in her arm, made as she tried to protect her face. A paramedic steers her to the ambulance. As she passes me she releases the sodden towel and grips my chin.
‘Now look what you’ve done,’ she says.
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