I am delighted to hear that Karma, which is a 7-minute read, has made the longlist of the Fiction Factory 2020/2021 Short Story competition. Congratulations to Alex Fan Moniz who wrote the winning story Mozi Toes.
Ellen has high hopes for her future but is plagued by misfortune. Turning forty with two failed marriages behind her, downtrodden Ellen finally gets lucky.
My mother and I were never close. There has never been an unshakable emotional bond between us. No invisible strand that binds a mother to her child, post umbilical tie. Even as a child, I felt more of an accessory than a daughter. She never tried to cultivate a rapport between us, so I never felt that ache. That overwhelming sense of dread that engulfs you when you think about losing someone you love.
My mother started driving a wedge between us when I was fifteen and able to fend for myself, except financially, of course. She and my father were never short of money. Yet I always felt a tinge of envy when my friends discussed their pocket money because I never received any. I worked in the local supermarket stacking shelves after school, which was where I met my first serious boyfriend, Johnny Riley.
My mother, with all her airs and graces, took an instant dislike to Johnny. She never thought he was good enough for me. She used to peer out from behind her bedroom curtains when he came to take me out and watch us walk down the garden path together. She always denied it, but I knew she was there.
If she bumped into Johnny at home, or when we were out, she would say, just loud enough for him to hear, ‘trailer trash night is it, Ellen? And, to his face, ‘Unfortunately for you, you remind me of that ghastly Sex Pistols chappie, Johnny Whatshisname?’
Johnny dropped out of school before taking O-Levels but, leaving his hometown was never a priority. He was content to get a job at the car factory working alongside his father. He wasn’t like me at all, driven by the incentive to get as far away as I could, as soon as I could support myself. I was bright and determined to excel in both my O and A-Levels.
The fact I was so desperate to get away, and he was not, it was inevitable that our relationship would not have lasted. The reason I stuck with him was to spite my mother, because of her constant verbal Johnny battering. Then, I was faced with no option other than to stay with him. Two weeks after receiving my glowing A-Level results, I found out I was pregnant with Karen, so I married him.
As my hopes and dreams crashed down around me, I felt trapped. We started our married life in my bedroom. The alternative was living in a squat, but with a baby on the way, staying put was the sensible option. Two nineteen-year-olds and a baby living under the same roof as my mother, however, was not. It was never going to work. She detested Johnny and began referring to him as a pariah, a drain on society. As for me, I was the black sheep of the family and, in my mother’s eyes, soiled goods. No daughter of hers.
Johnny, no doubt pushed over the edge by my mother, joined the Merchant Navy. For someone who never wanted to leave his hometown, not with me anyway, I was devastated. Karen and I never saw him for months on end. He wasn’t interested in either of us, the lure of girls in every port became too great, so we divorced. By which time, my mother’s stock phrase was, ‘I told you so’, and it was beginning to grate.
Karen and I moved into a bedsit above Mr Carson’s chip shop in Stanley Street. It was hard at first until Karen went to school. Mrs Carson was a saint and looked after Karen as much as she could, so I could help out in the chippy, and the supermarket two doors down.
I used to look at my single mum friends whose mothers happily stepped in to look after their children while they were working, and I remember thinking how lucky they were. My mum and dad always seemed to be away on holiday, cruising around the Mediterranean or the Baltic. My mother never once offered to look after Karen. So, thank God for Mrs Carson!
I met and married Arthur Coolie, a widower, whose six-year-old daughter, Amy, was in the same class as Karen. He had his own house, so it seemed like a good idea at the time. Until I found out, he was an alcoholic. His alcoholism was brought on by his inability to get over the death of his first wife. Even after he married me, I would come home from work to find him slouched over the kitchen table, having drunk a bottle of cheap Scotch.
I saw very little of my mother, but when I did, she took great delight in reminding me, ‘you marry for better or for worse, you know.’ So, I stuck by Arthur, putting up with his physical rages, protecting both Karen and Amy from his flying fists. I had no option other than to face the world with the odd black eye.
I began having health problems in my thirties, blurred vision and difficulty walking. My mother was freewheeling towards sixty without any aches and pains. Even now, careering towards ninety, she is way off using a Zimmer frame.
My mother bought a bungalow after my dad died and moved in with her fifty-five-year-old toyboy, Vincent, who she refers to as her ‘fountain of youth’. She hardly knew him, but she tells the world, ‘he was a Godsend’, helping her come to terms with my father’s death. Loosely translated, being a Godsend meant he took my mother on endless cruises, at her expense. Leaving me to deal with the fallout of my father’s death on her behalf, while struggling to cope with an MS diagnosis, two failed marriages, and two children to support.
After they finished school, Karen and Amy took a year out and worked their way around the world. I adopted a ginger tom, Al, from the local animal shelter to keep me company after alcoholic Arthur absconded with the barmaid from the Cat and Custard Pot. They made the perfect pair, as they were both permanently inebriated but, to their credit, they supported each other through Alcoholics Anonymous. They are still together, so they were meant to be.
Then Al left me too. He wasn’t meant to be. Bored with eating the supermarket food I was feeding him, he moved in with the woman at number 29 who served her cats fish out of a tin. She didn’t have a problem with Al sneaking the odd pilchard, so it didn’t take him long to get his paws under her table.
Karen and Amy got as far as Australia and decided not to come back.
‘We love you so much, Mum, but there are so many more opportunities for us here. Why don’t you come over too? We can all make a new start together?’ I was tempted, but I’d felt I’d waited so long to make my getaway, I think I had started to believe that I would die in the town I was born in.
My mother had long since stopped saying, so-and-so ‘is not good enough for you.’ Instead, the little gem she would impart was, ‘the chance of you meeting Mr Right at your age and in your state of health is very remote.’ I was only forty-four.
When she announced that she had changed her will and would be leaving everything, including her bungalow, to Vincent, I was devastated. Even if she never found it her heart to love me, I was still her only child.
Maybe it was karma but, shortly after my mother changed her will, I won £20 Million on the National Lottery. It was beggars belief, although my mother has always defied belief, she assumed I would be buying a mansion for us both and her fountain of youth, to live in. She feigned devastation when I told her that sharing a house her again, with or without her bloody toyboy, would be the last thing I would ever want to do! She was incensed.
‘But I need you to look after me in my old age, Ellen.’ She wailed. I had never felt so in control when talking to my mother in my entire life.
‘Ah, but you’ve got your fountain of youth to look after you in your bungalow. I’m emigrating to Australia to be close to my children. I love them both with all my heart, and I cannot bear to be separated from them any longer.’
‘I can’t believe you would do this to your own mother, Ellen. After everything I’ve done for you!’
‘And what exactly would that be, Mother?’ I asked, but for once, she was at a loss for words.
I bought a winery in Victoria, and I now live in what used to be the manager’s cottage, with the manager I inherited when I bought the place. It was an instant attraction, something I had never felt before. He is a man who would lay down his life for me, and I have never felt a greater love.
Karen and Amy moved into the enormous colonial-style house, split it into two and live there with their own families. They’ve got six children between them, at the moment, and I am happy to look after them anytime. They all play a part in making Ellen’s Estate Wines into the successful family business it has become.
I have the wherewithal to support all my family now, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Although I never imagined I would find myself supporting ex-family members as well. I started receiving begging letters from Johnny, who was struggling to pay maintenance for each of his children in several ports. Arthur also had the gall to write. Both he, and the tart from the Cat and Custard Pot, had fallen off the waggon again. This time, they both wanted to go rehab.
‘Why should I give them any money?’ I thought. ‘Why should I feel responsible for people who couldn’t give a toss about me?’ But, I am a decent human being, and I have more than enough money to see me out. So why not use it for the greater good? To bring happiness to a child’s face and rehabilitate lives that teeter close to the edge. For total strangers, or for people you used to know, what’s the difference?
My relationship with my mother has changed for the better, now we are 10,000 miles apart. She rings me, occasionally, to thank me for my financial support.
‘Always happy to help.’ I respond, magnanimously.
‘I don’t know what Vincent and I would do without you. God, bless you, Ellen.’
Funny, isn’t it? She had no problem doing without me for years when I hadn’t got a penny to my name.