Three Meals a Day
‘Mum! Why d’you let him take my dinner money?’
She was sitting on her bed, tying her dressing gown belt around her waist – it needed washing but I had used the last of the bio capsules to clean my PE kit the previous evening. Sleep clogged up the corners of her eyes. Her mascara now looked as if she’d applied it with a mop. Stupid woman couldn’t even wash her freaking make- up off before she went to bed.
‘Mum!’ I repeated.
She stretched and yawned before she finally answered me. ‘There are a couple of crusty rolls in the kitchen and I think there’s a scrape of peanut butter in the cupboard.’
Her voice sounded rough, as if she had been eating bristled doormats.
‘Let him eat the rolls,’ I spat.
She covered her ears.
‘Mum. I need some money for school!’
‘Stop shouting, Mo. Can’t hear myself bleeding think; I’ve got a ringing headache. Get off to school. Aren’t you late?’
I took my mobile out of my back pocket. Eight- twenty. Cell bells! Holman’s gonna bruise my ears again.
‘I’m going back to bed,’ Mum said. She scooped the gunk from her eye with a fingernail and wiped it on her dressing gown before flopping back on to the mattress. ‘Take the rolls, Mo, and get off my case, will ya? We didn’t get in till after three.’
Half of the quilt was on the floor. There was a dent in the mattress where he’d slept. The ashtray was full. The room stank of beer. The bin was full of cans. I swore I’d never drink alcohol. Mum pulled the bedding over her head, turned her back to me and curled up like an unborn baby.
Frustration crackled inside me. ‘You’re freaking useless.’ ‘So ya always say. Can I get some sleep now?’
I stood there, arms folded, staring at her, but she didn’t move a muscle. I heard a noise from the kitchen. He was still here. I left Mum’s room, slamming the door behind me, and turned into the hallway.
He was sitting down at the kitchen table, sipping a mug of tea. He threw me an oh- shit- Mo- hasn’t- gone- to- school- yet look. I hoped he burned his lips. Name- brand trainers niced up his feet. (Where’d he got them? He was supposed to be skint.) He wore a too- tight Real Madrid football shirt, number seven on the back. The shape of his man boobs underneath almost made me spew. Jack Sparrow was inked on his fat right bicep. A pirate ship was tattooed on the other. His goatee beard scratched his neck. How could Mum smack tongues with him?
I looked at him dead on. ‘That five pounds Mum gave you – that’s my dinner money.’
‘Those rolls in the kitchen are for you,’ he said. His reasonable tone pissed me off big time.
‘I don’t want any freaking stale rolls for lunch; just give me the fiver and I’ll be off your radar. You and Mum can go back to your drinking party.’
‘You’ve got a dirty mouth for a fifteen year old,’ he said. He stared at me as if he wanted me to smile at his miserable wit but I would never give that prick- head the satisfaction.
‘If you don’t give me that fiver it’ll get dirtier,’ I challenged.
‘And you say you want to do media in college? With a mouth like that? They’re not gonna let you read the Six O’Clock News.’
‘Photography and media. And I’m not playing with you, Lloyd. Give me the freaking fiver!’
‘I have to sign on today and go for a job interview in Ashburton – warehouse work. You should be wishing me luck.’
‘Then use your welfare wheels – your feet. You could do with the exercise.’
He gave me a hard look but I didn’t give a shit. He wasn’t my dad.
‘You shouldn’t have killed all your money on beer,’ I added. ‘How much did that cost ya? Or cost Mum?’
Lloyd stood up. His chair scraped out behind him. His glare intensified. He took two strides towards me but I didn’t flake. I returned his stare like a shark.
‘It was my birthday on Sunday—’
‘So?’ I cut him off. ‘It’s Tuesday now. I see them name- brands; you’ve been spoilt rotten. It was my birthday two months ago and I didn’t even get the “n” of nothing!’
‘I haven’t seen your mum since Friday. Do we have to ask your permission to celebrate?’
‘I don’t give a freaking spare rib how you celebrate,’ I ripped. ‘Just gimme the fiver!’
‘I’ll be getting my money from the social on Friday,’ Lloyd said. ‘I’ll give you back the fiver then. I’ll even treat you to a pizza or take you out to the Cheesecake Lounge.’
Sit in the Cheesecake Lounge with him – is he nuts? He must’ve drunk more than I thought last night. God! If I ever got as liquor- happy as them, I hoped someone would put me out of my misery.
‘You choose,’ he offered. ‘My treat.’
Again, his calmness sucked the patience out of me. I stepped up to him and made a grab for his back pocket. He caught my wrist and pushed me away. Lloyd was fat but strong. He picked up his tracksuit top from the back of the chair and pulled it on. Before making his way to the front door he seized me with another stare. ‘Mo, you need to calm down. Chill out. What’s this all about? Eh? You and Sam having problems?’
‘How many times do I have to tell you? Sam isn’t my boyfriend.’
Could’ve fooled me. Have a good day at school.’
I could smell his pound- shop deodorant as he passed by me.
How could Mum sleep with that jailbird? He acted all calm and nice now, but he treated us like shit and got away with it. He was just using Mum but she was in denial. Didn’t she ever learn from her past mistakes? When any man gave her attention she went all I’ll- do- whatever- you- want- My- Tonkness. Stupid woman. God! It made me cringe when she called him ‘My Tonkness’. It had to stop. We flexed so much better when he wasn’t around. If she wouldn’t stand up for us, I would.
I ran up behind Lloyd and booted the back of his left leg as hard as I could. He hopped as he turned around. First shock then anger filled his eyes. I tried to punch him in the ribs but my fist only found flab. I aimed to boot his balls. ‘Gimme back my freaking fiver, you prick!’
He grabbed my arms tight and I felt his fingers crushing into me. He pulled me towards him. I got a blast of stale beer from his mouth. I kicked out again. I didn’t quite get his coco-nuts but caught him somewhere near the groin. He closed his eyes and grimaced on contact. Good!
His nails were scoring my skin and his eyes narrowed into hateful slits. He released his grip and shoved me away. I lost my footing and crashed down on my butt.
His fat cheeks were twitching. He made a crunched fist. He was simmering. Dread flooded through my arteries. He wouldn’t dare.
‘Don’t push me, Mo! I don’t wanna hurt you. Why can’t you accept that me and your mum are tight now? Deal with it.’
‘Is that what you do to Mum when you don’t get what you want? Is it? When she can’t give you the money you want?
Like pushing girls over, do you? Did you do time for that too? Why don’t you take your bad- breed, fist- happy self back to prison where your lumpy ass belongs?’
Lloyd paused. I knew my last comment burned him. Good! ‘Go to school, Mo.’ He opened the door. ‘Try to calm down.’ ‘Don’t come back!’ I screamed after him.
He slammed the door. I opened it and shouted down the stairs. ‘Leave me and Mum alone!’
Lloyd didn’t reply. I went back inside.
I stomped back into Mum’s bedroom. ‘Did you see that, Mum? Your boyfriend was about to hit me. Your jail- bird, saggy- ass, can’t- get- a-j ob boyfriend. And it ain’t the first time.’
‘Mum?’ She was fast asleep. I shook her awake. ‘I said, he was about to smack me again, Mum!’
She rolled on to her back but she didn’t open her eyes. ‘He’s promised not to lay a finger on you ever again. I made him say that to ya in front of ya face. And didn’t he apologise? He’s been trying to make it up to ya ever since, Mo, but you won’t let him. Now go on with ya! I don’t wanna get any more letters.’
With that she curled back into a ball. I glared at her shape. I hated living here. Hated it!
I went back to my room to get my stuff. I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror – my hair was like a bad 1980s pop video, but whatever. I grabbed my school rucksack and headed out.
I’d gotta find somewhere else to live. Maybe Elaine would have me.
Straight Outta Crongton, the next novel in Alex Wheatle’s award-winning Crongton series is published 6th April 2017. Find out how you can win a visit from Alex Wheatle to your school in our ‘Win a Wheatle’ competition here.