Siobhan parented loudly and smilingly. She wore primary coloured clothes that had the look of a children’s TV presenter and she spoke in encouraging soundbites.
“I just want you to reach your own potential,” she said.
“I don’t care what your test results are as long as you have done your best.”
“The only failure is in not trying.”
When she was thirteen she’d imagined herself a life so much more than this. An apartment, a lover, a cat, a job in academia or publishing, friends galore and suppers of canapés and champagne. There was fizzy wine, far too much of it slurped from glasses as if it were oxygen at the end of another day where she faked it as best she could by imagining she was being filmed by a team assembled to judge her mothering. She would not fucking fail this test.
At fourteen she’d noticed Russell Goldberg splayed out on the grass in the park. He was wearing a white vest top, arms folded under his head, and his black armpit hair was the most erotic thing she’d ever seen. She spent the next two years crushing on him, unnoticed, daydreaming kisses, s-e-x, a wedding. Twenty-six years on she hadn’t seen him once since leaving school, had quite forgotten his existence, then doing the weekly grocery shop she noticed a young cashier who had something of him. An intangible mix of youth and unexpected manliness. A darkness. Bit by bit this boy was nothing like, but there was, nonetheless, an unexpected awakening in her.
“Mum, can we have mashed potatoes and gravy for dinner?”
“Mum. Mum. Muuum.”
“Yes, of course. We need potatoes.”
She headed back to Fruit and Veg wondering what Russell was doing now.
At home, shopping unpacked and put away, chicken in the oven, her distinctly un-Russell like husband having an afternoon nap like a grandpa, she asked the kids, “Shall we watch a film?” hoping to buy slump time on the sofa. She wanted to play out a scenario where she tracked Russell down and … the images kept slipping in her head… they’d go for drinks in a low-lit bar, there’d be lots of eye contact, she’d feel that long dormant yearning…
“Mum, tell Peter to leave me alone.”
“Peter, leave your sister alone.”
“Can we have popcorn?”
In history class, Russell had used words she’d never heard before: “proletariat,” “bourgeoisie” and “hoi polloi” and it had filled her with a fierce wanting. She’d never been smart enough or pretty enough to interest him. It was a stupid memory. Another reminder of things she hadn’t achieved. The grocery store guy was nearer her kid’s ages than hers and Siobhan felt an embarrassment twist inside her.
She sipped a cup of tea while the kids talked over the Pixar movie. She tried to conjure Russell, but he slipped away again; such longing was entirely of the past. There were, however, still words to learn: Rivan. Sundered. Sublation. She mouthed the words, feeling her lips form the shape of kisses.
Sara Crowley’s fiction has been widely published in places including 3:AM, The Irish Times, wigleaf, Hobart, MIR, Pank and Time Out. She’s managing editor of The Forge, blogs at saracrowley.com and appreciates you taking the time to read this.