Tell me my story, she says, the one about the beautiful princess whose parents loved her more than anything in the world.
She sits on her bed, in the corner against the wall, with her chin resting on her knees. Her hair almost curtains off her face, but I can still see it is red and blotchy from crying. I don’t know what’s wrong, and I wonder how long it will be before she tells me.
Tell me my story, she demands again.
- You already know it.
I don’t know the end. You never get to the end.
- I can’t tell you the end, we haven’t got there yet.
Make one up. You’re a writer. Tell me the ending, and make it a happy one.
Give me a happy ending, Mum. I really need one.
I want to take her in my arms, hug her, but she is barriered from me, self-contained in her little world of knees and hair.
I want to give her what she wants, tell her all the things that she wants to hear.
But she’s not a child anymore.
- Oh, love, I’m sorry. I can’t give you a happy ending. You are the only one who can do that.
What good are you then?
- I can help you find it, when you are ready to start looking again.
I’ll never be ready. I stuff up everything I do. However hard I try, I always stuff up.
Oh, go away! You always say you want to help, but you never really do anything, you just turn it back on me.
That hurts. Never mind the fact that it’s totally untrue, and I know that she knows it. Never mind the fact that she’s just passing on her pain, whatever it is this time. The comment connects direct with my guilt centre, and it hurts like hell. I stand up, and walk to the door. Then I turn.
- However many times she stuffs up, the princess’ parents still love her more than anything in the world, you know.
I leave, shut the door, so I don’t have to listen to her when she starts crying again.
I make coffee, and a pot of soup. Eventually, I’ll be able to persuade her to eat that.
I sit, smoke an endless chain of cigarettes, wanting to go back in to her, knowing that I can’t.
Her door opens, finally. She shuffles through, looking dreadful, lifts the lid on the soup, pours a coffee, sits at the table.
Can I have one of those?
She gestures to the cigarettes. Takes one, before I can say yes or no. (I would have said no. She knows this. She’s too young to smoke. I let it ride.)
She pulls on it deeply, drawing the smoke deep into her lungs, and I steel myself so that I don’t cringe. I should have given up, I think.
She stubs it out, almost untasted, either because she has made her point or because she feels my discomfort and regrets her rebellion.
I fill a bowl with soup, and bring it to her.
She looks at it for a long, slow moment.
I love you, Mum.
-Eat your soup, princess.
I say it with a smile, although I don’t feel like smiling. She gets further away from me every day, and I keep waiting with dread for the day she’s gone further than I can reach.
Oh, God, I wish I could give her that happy ending.