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by Deborah 

Posted: 12 February 2008
Word Count: 1287
Summary: Jen recalling how her mother may not possess a heart at all...
Related Works: LABRATS - 1 • LABRATS - 2 • LABRATS - 3 • 

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This piece and/or subsequent comments may contain strong language.


The first time I can remember was when I was seventeen and I’d been planning my future towards the end of my A-levels. I’d been doing Art, Art History (only briefly because I’d been asked to leave after disrupting the other member of the course – a silly girl, given to infectious giggles at the drop of a punch line) and English Lit. I’d decided I rather fancied going on to college after the exams and study Art simply because I loved it and I didn’t really know what else I wanted or could do. College would give me some time I thought, to consider options etcetera. My teacher, the Very Arty Farty Miss Greene was extremely enthusiastic about my work and when I eventually conceded my parents weren’t willing to even discuss the option of further education, Miss Greene gave me all the support and guidance she could. And so I started applying to colleges on my own.

Oh! How Bright, Shiny and Golden was the day I received a letter back from the Bath College of Fine Art inviting me for an interview (via Miss Greene of course) that summer.

My parents, however, went berserk.

Not only was I ‘dishonest’, ‘conniving’, ‘underhand’ and ‘downright ignorant’, they also seemed to object to the little note Miss Greene had hand-written for them illustrating the merits of Art college, my determination, talent and enthusiasm, oh, and guidance on financial assistance for low-income families.

This was like a slap in their faces. I guess. Judging by their reaction, that is.

I remember scrawling in my diary that night ‘I HATE LIFE – I want to die!’.

Mum had tried first. She sat by my bed watching my body heaving with sobs and tried to explain her reasoning behind why I wasn’t allowed to go to college. ‘Money is tight’ was one reason.
‘You always start something and never see it through’ was another.
‘If we let you go, it’ll give your brother ideas when he leaves school – and then where will we be?’
I think I howled even louder at that reason – it being so way off the mark.
‘We never went to college, your dad and me, and it didn’t do us any harm did it?’

At this stage the neighbours had started banging on the wall of my bedroom which adjoined theirs but my misery had by now taken over any sense of shame and I was in full-thrust.

Then dad tried.

‘Look, you know your mum and I love you,’ He started.
Blimey! Even through my incredibly loud wails (and fast-becoming drier tears) I can still hear him saying these words – made even more memorable because I don’t think I’d ever heard my dad mention the word ‘love’ and me in the same sentence before in my entire seventeen years. And he’d said mum loved me too, hadn’t he? That must mean they did then, didn’t it?
Oh, here we go.
‘We don’t like the way you’ve gone about it – behind our backs. We discussed it as you know, and yet you still went ahead and applied. That’s dishonest. It’s unfair and it’s put us in a difficult position.’

This sounded almost encouraging

‘You know I don’t earn much at the butchers. Your mum is up at four thirty every morning on the post and even then, with our wages together we couldn’t find the money to pay for fees and things for college….’
‘But Miss Greene said…’
‘Miss Greene had no right to do this behind our backs – knowing we didn’t agree – she’s been dishonest too! I’ve a good mind to go straight round that school and tell them you’re not going back – from now!’
‘But I’m half way through my A-levels!’
‘Yes, and what did we say about those? You knew full well we didn’t want you staying on to do more exams, we didn’t do them… you know we wanted you to leave when you were sixteen so’s you could go out and get a job and help your poor mother with the housekeeping. That’s what we did in our day, none of this stay on and decide what to do with your future rubbish – that doesn’t get anybody anywhere!’
‘But I’ll get a better job if I go to college… I’ll….’
‘Says who! Your Miss Greene I suppose. And she can guarantee that, can she? I don’t know - you go getting these idiotic ideas of yours and everything’s fine for five minutes and then you get bored and give up and then you’re back to where you started again. Look at that Airfix Anne Boleyn of yours – it still needs painting five months later! What makes you think this would be any different?’
Anne fucking Boleyn?! I still don’t think this entirely registered as a significant enough reason to dash my hopes and dreams… then again – if I’d known how much importance would have been placed on the painting of her stupid sodding frock then I’d probably have made damned sure I’d have painted it straightaway.
‘I promise, dad…’
‘Promise? Promise? Where’ve I heard that one before? You’re not going and that’s final.’

And it was. I swear to you, I could feel my heart tear in two and bleed, it hurt so much.

I didn’t bother much after that night and certainly I didn’t put any effort into anything in the Art room any longer. I think Miss Greene (bless her) understood. It all felt so pointless. The future looked all grey and foggy and I hadn’t a clue what I was going to do. All my friends were getting excited about college interviews, job interviews and the last year in the Upper Sixth which was going to be such fun and there were such plans to be made for the future, except mine – mine just wasn’t there any more.

So. Where was I? Oh yes, the first sign that maybe, just maybe my mum (and dad) had a heart. Not a very good example I grant you – but the word ‘love’ was mentioned wasn’t it?

The second was slightly more ‘hands-on’.
I’d just split from a particularly intense, whirlwind romance that had promised co-habitation, mortgage, marriage, kids, the whole happy-ever-after Nine Yards and it had ended so damned abruptly one night that I’d come home from seeing him (I still can’t even think his name without my breath catching) and taken all the tablets I could find in the house. I even remember taking contraceptive pills I found in the communal bathroom. I didn’t care. It was the closest thing to an ‘out-of-body-experience’ I think I’ve ever had. One of the clearest memories of that night was of the claim on the first packet of Anadin ‘kills pain – fast’ which kept repeating and swimming about in my head as I wandered zombie-like from room to room with my bottle of brandy and whatever other packet I’d just found. That’s all I was trying to do, to stop the searing, confusing pain that was shooting unending through my heart.

After a long, fitful night of throwing up (from all ends) and being kept awake by gallons of black coffee and a very concerned ex whom I’d telephoned in tormented despair in the early hours of the morning, my mother called round the following day.
She came in, led me into the sitting room, sat me down on the sofa and hugged me close to her chest calling me a ‘silly girl’ whilst stroking my hair from my face. It helped. It felt like she cared.

I shall never forget that hug.

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Comments by other Members

sazenfrog at 10:50 on 12 February 2008  Report this post
Oh, how moving, Debs. I have tears in my eyes as I finish reading this. I have no nitpicks, just congrats on a moving piece of writing.

Luisa at 12:26 on 12 February 2008  Report this post
I agree. Powerful writing, and really moving. Fantastic, Debs.

Deborah at 13:04 on 12 February 2008  Report this post
guys, guys guys, you have just turned one uber-pre-MT day a whole lot sunnier - thanks so so so much;)

manicmuse at 13:28 on 12 February 2008  Report this post
Oh God Debs. I really think you must have met my mother....I too am a bit tearful as I had exactly that experience in real life with university talk, no money etec etc. 'Go to work for a year and see what happens...' SO I really relate to this character. Brilliantly written. Cant you just send me the book???!!!!

Lola Dane at 16:45 on 12 February 2008  Report this post
i have just breathed out for the first time since starting that.
It is beautiful, powerful and just makes sense.

One of the clearest memories of that night was of the claim on the first packet of Anadin ‘kills pain – fast’ which kept repeating and swimming about in my head as I wandered zombie-like from room to room with my bottle of brandy and whatever other packet I’d just found. That’s all I was trying to do, to stop the searing, confusing pain that was shooting unending through my heart.

This made my heart thump that bit faster. I so know what you mean.

Not a nit pick from me either.

Deborah at 16:48 on 12 February 2008  Report this post
Fionnuala, thanks everso much for commenting - Would LOVE to send you the book but you'd be 20k words shy of a completed project thus far - am having crises of confidence with it now and am not sure where I stand on the 'Libel' front!!! (if it ever got that far of course)
Thanks again
Debs x

Deborah at 16:52 on 12 February 2008  Report this post
Oh wow, Claire! Thanks so so much for that - it means a lot. And I'm glad it's having an effect - oh and I've nearly finished "RDsandTs" - loving it girl!!!
Debs x

manicmuse at 17:08 on 12 February 2008  Report this post
Absolutement NO cris of confidence allowed with this writing. I simply will not allow it. Not get down and finish those last few words and worry about libel when you've written 'The End' Time enough in editing to worry about all those things as I have discovered!

ang at 09:03 on 13 February 2008  Report this post
Hi deborah,
This is probably not the sort of thing I would choose to read, but it is very moving and sad.
You are really finding your voice in this book.

Trina at 13:31 on 13 February 2008  Report this post
Hi Debs,
I felt I was there, right beside Jen, willing things to get better. This is very strong and as someone else said, powerful. And I can't imagine why on earth you would be having a crisis of confidence. You have everything to feel confident about... Can't wait to read more.
Trina x

Deborah at 16:04 on 13 February 2008  Report this post
Aww shucks, thank you Trina! Just what the doctor would probably order if I was 'proper' ill and not just feeling constipated in the writing regions!!

rebecca at 09:16 on 14 February 2008  Report this post
Hi Debs

I enjoyed this as much as all the other labrats I have read.

You have a real talent for writing. This was enjoyable ans very real.

Good luck with your crisis ;)


Deborah at 10:55 on 14 February 2008  Report this post
Thanks Rebecca, for reading and making such lovely comments. Both mean a lot.

Sidewinder at 18:50 on 15 February 2008  Report this post
Hi Debs,
Sorry I'm coming late to this. I agree with what everyone else said - it's great!

Also chapter 4, which I didn't get around to commenting on before. Some very funny stuff in there - loved all the stuff about the parents and the chaffinches, and the MC's irritation with all the inane small talk.

Love the bit about the Airfix Anne Boleyn and her father equating that with going to college - really funny.

Just loved it all. No nitpicks whatsoever.

C x

Patsy at 21:08 on 18 February 2008  Report this post
Hi Deb,

Sorry to be so late coming to this, but I loved it! Love the characters, the voice, and the story -- put me right in the moment with her.

No nitpicks :)


Deborah at 07:42 on 19 February 2008  Report this post
Thanks Clodagh, thanks Patsy, for reading and commenting
Debs x

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