David Gregory

I’M NOT JULIE                                                                                             WORD COUNT…..489

 Xmas Eve, a crowded train, I wonder if their expectations are as bleak as mine.

 Last year at Uni. and  my first visit home since last Xmas.

“Are you coming?…. I’m not well you know and as for your Dad.”

There’s a pregnant pause before the final twist of the knife.

“It might be your last chance.”

Dad’s as fit as a fiddle, the only way he might go is suicide or the death of a thousand cuts from

 Mum’s lacerating tongue.

I pull my case, like a pet dog, up to our red brick, pebble-dashed council house and  let myself in.

“Mum, Dad, It’s me.”

 The living room is clean but doesn’t sparkle. No welcoming smell of fire,of coffee, of warm food.

 No happy family snaps, just three lonely cards, the only clue that it’s Xmas.

“ Decided to honour us with your presence have you?”

“Hi Mum.”

Dad looks up from his paper where he’s been hiding.

“Hi love…. good to see you.”

“Aren’t you going to give me a kiss then” Mum says, not looking up from the television.

I give her a peck on the cheek.

 “Not good enough for you now, are we?” She looks at Dad for support.

“I don’t think she means to…”  Mum cuts him off.

“That’s right take her side as usual,she was always Daddy’s little girl. She knows I’m not well what

 with the arthritis and the migraines. Too busy with her posh  friends. Not like Julie…sees’s her

 mother every day. Julie hasn’t changed, not like some.”

 Julie, married with two kids at 19,now she’s 24 going on 50.She was bright and pretty once.

Not street-wise and certainly not bed-wise, what a waste.

Dad speaks from behind his paper, a small spark of rebellion in his voice.

“Leave it Mavis,she’s had a lot of work,she’s studying for her finals.

Mum snuffs out the spark.

“Bloody typical…All my fault as usual.

My migraines started I’m going to bed. I hope you’re both satisfied.”

She makes for the stairs deliberately leaving the living-room door open.

 Dad  lowers his voice to a whisper.

“I’m sorry Love…she’s having one of her moods”

 Dad sighs, defeated years ago, castrated by that tongue.

“No Dad…she’s been like this since I went to Grammar school. It’s no good, I tried..I’m going back

 tonight,there’s a late train.”

“But it’s Xmas Eve love…can’t you stay, at least for tomorrow.”

“Tell me Dad, has Mum got a Turkey, mince pies, crackers? Is anyone coming round?”

 Dad shakes his head.

“She expects too much…I’m not like Julie Dad”

“I know….. I’m so proud of what you’ve done ” he hesitates.

“Maybe too proud….” His voice breaks. I kiss him on the cheek.

“It’s all right Dad, I’ll stay…but only tomorrow. I’ll Google lunch somewhere, my treat. 

It is Xmas.”