Going home requires more strategies than you left with by Cole Beauchamp

Photo by Jeremy Thomas on Unsplash

There’s an explosion of colour along Rural Route 2, burnt sienna and crimson leaves falling from the trees. You roll down the window to breathe in that half-ripe, half-rot smell as your mind ping-pongs between do and don’t.

Do tell your parents. Impart the news calmly, using the strategies you’ve been working on in your weekly sessions. They deserve to know.

Don’t tell them. Your mother will overreact. Your dad won’t understand. What’s the point?

You fiddle with the radio. Only two radio stations from Green Bay to home, and you don’t fancy either. When you arrive at the sprawling farmhouse, you’re still undecided.

Give what you want to receive.

Your mother opens the door. “Bad traffic? I’ll get that roast reheated.”

“Nice to see you too, Mum.” You hug your mother with more enthusiasm than offered. “What can I do?”

“Oh, I’ve got it all under control.”

You follow your mother’s back into the kitchen. It’s the first image that comes to mind when you think of your mum, those squared shoulders, ramrod straight even at sixty-five. Trim figure in various fashions and patterns over the years but always tightly belted, secured in place. It’s always your mother leading, you trailing voiceless in her wake.

How does she manage such authority?

Guide the conversation.

You collect the plates and silverware, begin setting the table. Something positive, you think. Something neutral to start with. “Jenny called as I was leaving. She’s had some good news.”

“Oh?” Your mother turns, showing her profile, her deceptively girlish nose.

“Yes. She’s been nominated for Saleswoman of the Year by your company. For the whole region.” You can’t help crowing a little. It’s been hard won, your daughter’s success. Everything has been hard won since leaving Hugo, but all the sweeter for it.

“Saleswoman? Do women need their own category?”

You fall for it and drop into the black hole of gender politics, ending with, “But can’t you see that positive discrimination is needed to overcome the legacy of sexism? The lack of opportunities to be hired and promoted in the first place?” You smack the last fork and knife against the polished oak.

“Either you’re for equality or you’re not. You can’t have it both ways,” snaps your mother.

Breathe deeply.

You breathe in, counting to four. Out with four. You focus on the steady flow of air tickling your nostrils. “Not everything is binary, Mum. Not everything is black and white.”

“Can you set these on the table.” Your mother points to three glasses of milk.

Your stomach turns, what little appetite you had fleeing. “Mum, you know I don’t drink dairy.”

“Always so particular.” Your mum walks to the stair to call your dad to lunch.

Breathe in. Out. Don’t descend to her level. Into your rib cage. Release. Damn, two strategies in and you aren’t even seated at the table yet. Decision made. You don’t need the stress.

Dad comes in, stick clacking on the tiles, a smile of welcome breaking across his face. “Darling!”

You return his fierce bear hug, encountering bone instead of muscle under his puffer jacket. How long could this go on before he stops being able to lift things, to hold his cup? Damn Parkinson’s. “I was just telling Mum about Jenny; she’s been nominated for an award.”

“Oh, good for her!”

Visualise a positive outcome.

You settle around the table, passing the white and gold serving dishes you’ve known since a child. Your parents’ chatter is light and easy, a blanket around you, feather soft. Why disrupt them? They’ve been married fifty-two years. Your divorce was hard enough for them to accept.

You’ve told Jenny and David, that’s enough. Neither of your children surprised, both supportive. You’ll just enjoy this weekend with your parents. It’s not as if, at your age, you need their blessing or approval. You’ll take your father out for a drive. He loves the autumn colours as much as you do.

Your mother finishes her story about Aunt Delia’s hip operation before inclining her head. “You look peaky. Everything alright?”

You imagine the words popping out of your mouth like gumballs, imagine your mum remaining neutral, your dad accepting. They will listen. Wish you well. You should tell them. What’s the point of hiding? You left Hugo years ago. Surely they’ve wondered? Surely they just want you to be happy?

Close your eyes.

You lose your nerve. Words trap and spin inside you, insects in a web. The vein on your mother’s forehead throbs, sending your own pulse rocketing.

You close your eyes. The darkness behind your lids is comforting. Keep it factual. Keep it positive. You don’t need them to say anything. You just want them to know…

You can’t sit there with your eyes closed forever. You’re forty-eight years old. This isn’t like getting caught smoking behind the shed or partying when you were supposed to be studying at Jackie’s. It doesn’t matter if they don’t understand. If they don’t agree. You’re a grown woman for heaven’s sake and should be honest with them. 

Repeat a mantra.

You open your eyes to find your mother and father waiting. Their expressions are puzzled, expectant. The gift you give is honesty, the gift you give is honesty. “I don’t need you to say anything, but I wanted you to know. I’m dating a woman.” As you speak, your words gain strength, gather force. It has taken until autumn, but you have found your voice.

About The Author

Cole Beauchamp (she/her) is a copywriter by day and fiction writer by night. Her work appears or is soon to appear in Ellipsis Zine, Free Flash Fiction, Damnation Lit, Lost Balloon and Bending Genres. She lives in London with her girlfriend, two children and an exuberant Maltipoo. You can find her on Twitter @nomad_sw18.

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