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The Really Complicated Family Ch. 01

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Tim and I had been extremely close as children; two years younger than me, following the end of our parent’s marriage we were basically all we had. But like lots of kids we had drifted into hormonal sullenness with an element of sibling rivalry in our teenage years though.

Tim excelled in his school work and I was just a bit jealous. I tried not to let it show, but pretty soon with the onset of his extremely late development his hormones kicked in making him a snobbish, bookish, over confident prig with no people skills or belief in the worth of anyone but him. Our Mother’s isolationism and desire to keep out the rest of the world only made him worse.

I could still remember my mother and father being together, Tim had no memory of it at all thanks to our mother’s systematic removal of him from our lives and consciousness. My Grandma Barnes had been delightful and one of those grandparents that people had in Enid Blyton books. She had a wonderful warm house with a huge garden that I could play in to my young hearts content, and a tin that was always full of cakes and an apron that almost always had a chocolate covered caramel toffee in the pocket.

But when the divorce came along, suddenly however much I begged to go to see Nanny B I was never allowed to. Grandma Barnes fought extremely hard to see us, but grandparents, even parents rights, after divorces was unheard of in those dark days.

My father fought to maintain contact with us, so Mum moved us north, starting first in the Midlands then going further north every few years as my father and his family got used to it. My pre-school youth had always seemed sunny, but from six years old my life had all the chill and darkness of a Lancashire winter. We still received birthday cards and regular visits – my Dad’s trip to the family court had ensured that – while my mother just saw his interference as another way he could annoy her.

She was a hard bitch and no mistake. She hated the north and more so, the northerners. She hated their accent, the gritty ‘get on with it’ nature (at least up until Margaret Thatcher’s destruction of much of their way of life) and their almost instinctive not to say genetic mistrust of anything southern. Mum’s insistence that we never picked up a local accent was a constant bind; we were bullied at school for being ‘soft southern bastards’ and then bullied at home of we dared to exhibit the slightest Brummy drag or Mancunian twang.

Mum insisted we went to the best school. I failed my ‘Eleven plus’ examination so never made the local grammar school; at the time I was fool enough to voice the concern that my teacher had raised when she pointed out that if I’d stayed in a primary school for more than eighteen months perhaps I could have done better in that life changing exam.

Mum severed all contacts with everyone in Dad’s family other than him for that. The idea that someone else in the world might have affected me just did not enter her mind. I was to discover years later that she had taken to throwing all of my Nanny B’s letters to me in a box; apparently Dad has guessed this was happening and his solicitor pointed out that interfering with the mail was a crime.

I gradually learned to live without her except for my fortnight in the summer when we came south, and she died three years later, having never missing a birthday, Easter or a Christmas card up until that time I was to discover when I found the box years later. My Dad’s visits reduced; with the passing of my Nan it became apparent how much he had been relying on financial assistance from her.

Her death and splitting of her estate between him and his four siblings meant that rather than once a month we saw him once a quarter or less sometimes. We grew up and he got older, quickly. The cancer in his bowel dragged the life from him fast and he begged that we be allowed to come south for a week before our customary trip in the summer holidays.

Mum argued about disruption to our exams, even though we didn’t have any; eventually Dad’s youngest brother, my wonderful uncle Dan, drove to Tim’s school and collected him then to mine to collect me and, leaving a note scrunched between the stiff letter box flap and the draft excluder, drove us the two hundred miles to the hospital dad had been admitted to that day.

Uncle Dan was cheeky, (Mum always said vulgar) bright and spirited, something Dad had been until he married Mum, extremely clever, but above that a policeman. He’d told both schools what he was doing and the police at both ends of the trip, telling him that Mum could not be contacted, which was true. She always kept herself to herself.

So when she rang to report us missing, we both walked home from school, they told her about the emergency in London and the note through the door. She’d been had and she knew it.

Dad lasted another three days, and the funeral was arranged. Mum contacted the police demanding our return, but thanks to Uncle Dan she was put off – not something they could get konyaaltı escort away with these days. Uncle Dan arranged the funeral and everything and we went meeting all of the family, many of which we had not seen in five years, and finally Dad was laid to rest next to Nanny B.

Uncle Dan took me aside and told me that he wanted to give me some money for emergencies. I guessed this meant a railway ticket or money for phones and explained that he had put five pounds in my pocket but stitched the rest into the lining of my blazer, knowing that the clothes he’d bought for us would be consigned to the Oxfam shop as soon as we returned home. He gave me some for Tim, who even at the age had started to respond to Mum’s brainwashing, and was likely to tell her about it. On our last night we sat up in front of the telly in his living room eating Kentucky Fried Chicken and defrosted cheesecake and talking about Dad and Nanny B. The following morning, wearing his uniform as a police constable he drove us back to the chilly north and the frosty reception that doubtless awaited us.

It was to a distinctly chilly house that Uncle Dan dropped us back to. Mum tried to block the door, but Dan, with the confidence of his profession and of the age, pushed past like a moment from ‘Life on Mars’ and had a good look round. It was obvious that Mum had started to pack again.

He said he thought it was about time she moved again, and she snarled that he had no rights to me or Tim and she’d move to the moon if it would finally stop his damned family interfering with her and hers.

Dan smiled, shook hands with Tim and playfully rubbed his head then bent gave me a hug and kissed me on both cheeks,

“Don’t worry princess,” he said patting the padded shoulder of my blazer I knew contained an address list of all of his family and £100 in notes, “so long as wherever you go has phones you can always get me,” he looked straight into Mum’s face, “just dial 999 and ask for Uncle Dan.”

Mum ushered us both upstairs dragging our bags from our shoulders for closer inspection. I heard her hysterical whispers.

“You’re EVIL!” she hissed, “Like your whole cursed family, EVIL!”

“Yeah,” Dan said in a voice meant to carry, “you’d know about that wouldn’t you after all.”

More hysterical hissing took place, and I heard Uncle Dan’s voice,

“Marge,” he said coldly, “I hope you die – horribly, slowly and in great pain – just so you can see how much pain you caused one of the nicest and most harmless blokes on the planet earth.” I heard Mum’s sharp intake of breath, “you run as far and as fast as you like bitch,” my wonderful warm Uncle Dan growled, “I will always be able to find my brother’s children.” The front door slammed and that was that for my Dad’s family for five years.

We never did move again, Tim had passed his “Eleven Plus” exam it was enough problem getting him to the grammar school already. So we grew up with no contact with anyone, I would ring Uncle Dan at his station or his house occasionally. He told me he was getting married, and I sent a gift and a card, bought out of the money he had given me almost two years ago. I’d managed to keep it and the address book secret from Mum and Tim.

While I tried to remember Dad and Nan, Tim didn’t have my longer memories and was soon complaining about Dad’s family the same as Mum did – I don’t know why, he only ever really met them at Dad’s funeral.

Despite going to a ‘comprehensive’ school, I was able to get reasonably A’ levels, and in an England where student grants and free University education was still available I qualified as a teacher at a good college in London. Tim got better marks than me of course and qualified for two colleges at Cambridge, but strangely enough didn’t go, choosing to study Art at Manchester Polytechnic. I would return to Mum and Tim at Holidays of course, but it always seemed like I was intruding. Now I was studying in London, I was back in contact with Uncle Dan and that side of the family. I knew of course not to let Mum know.

I had a small framed picture of Dan, his wife Trish and their twin boys hidden under my knickers in the top drawer of my dresser. That flat I’d lived in since my freshman year was being sold so I had to move all of my stuff out.

A few days later Tim stormed into the bathroom while I was sat on the loo.

“Elaine!” he said in his affected public school nasal whine, “What the fuck is this?”

“Tim!” I snorted dropping my dress over my bare legs and knickers around my ankles, “I’m on the toilet you perv!”

“What’s this hmm?” his indignation was massive.

“It’s a picture of Dan and his wife and kids,” I hissed not wanting Mum to hear.

“Have you thought how this would upset Mum?” he snorted, “Well have you?”

“Of course, why do you think I HID IT in my underwear drawer!” I said trying to wave him out of the bathroom, “get out and let me finish what I’m doing!”

“We’ll discuss this later!” he fumed kültür escort pulling the door shut behind him.

I sorted myself out and went straight back to my bedroom to check out the rest of his intrusion into my privacy. Like all of the doors at Mums house the heavy brass door furniture all included keys for as long as I could remember. I noticed now that my door key was missing.

Like lots of girls my age I had a vibrator courtesy of an Ann Summers party one of the girl’s had organised at the halls of residence in college. There were nowhere near as common or as easy to get in those days and it was a prized and secret possession of mine, carefully wrapped in toilet paper after I cleaned it after its last use. I now saw that the toilet roll was scrunched up at one end and it was now underneath the ‘Fruit of the loom’ T-shirt is had been tucked in to.

I wrapped it in the loom T-shirt and felt around under the bed for my trusty loose floorboard, the place that had held my secrets since I’d discovered it almost seven years ago. I looked for my photo of Uncle Dan – Tim obviously still had it, so I stormed into his bedroom the same way he’d walked in on me.

Tim jumped up from his bed,

“Where’s my picture shithead?” I growled at him. He looked slightly scared of me, I was and always had been physically bigger than him.

“I’ll tell Mum,” he said gulping nervously.

“Oh for fuck’s sake Tim, your twenty years old,” I snorted derisively, “now where is my picture?”

“Here,” he said reaching under his pillow, and in the pulling I noticed the colour of one of my favourite bikini pants.

“You’re not sneaking my knickers as well are you, Perv?” I drawled back at him. He went pink and stuttered a bit.

“Well I had to hide it in something didn’t I?” he said after a few seconds.

“No,” I snorted snatching both the frame and my knickers from him, “you could have left them where they were and not interfered with my fucking stuff in the first place.” I stormed out of his bedroom, pausing only to stop at his door and take his key from the lock. “When I get my key back you can have yours. And what, pray,” I began, “gives you the bloody right to be going through my dresser in…”

“What key?” my mum snapped from the passage.

“My door key Mum,” I said, “it was there at Easter, I pretty sure it was there last night, I caught my jacket on something when I came in at least. Now it’s missing and I sort of want my privacy these days.”

“Wh… wh…” she recovered quickly, “why? Do you have secrets you need to keep from us these days hmm?” she snarled at me, “now you are a high living London teacher? Hmm?” she persisted.

“What?” I said in shock, “I just want my privacy Mum, it may be that no one has noticed but I’m a 23 year old woman now, and I don’t want my younger brother walking in on me when he feels like it!”

“Darling!” mum sighed and walked across to Tim and sat by him on the bed, pulling his head to rest on her shoulder, “never mind my Timmy,” she said as if talking to a ten years old, “Mummy will always want you…”

It seemed that in my three year on and off absence I had become a bit of a persona non grata within my house. I shut my door and wedged it with a chair, putting my picture under the bed with my toy.

My key never did arrive and I guessed that Mum and/or Tim still reserved the right to walk in on my life pretty much at will. That was that pretty much and I realised that my time feeling at home here was over.

After the holiday I went back for my final year at college and started to look for jobs. Fortunately the various county education departments all advertised in the college and the library took all the broadsheets and with all the best adverts.

I applied to the Surrey Education Authority and, providing I passed my finals, I would start work in a rather nice primary school just south of London and Uncle Dan and Trish. My finals were successful I was signed up to work in a really sweet primary school that served a small but nice post-war housing estate. I had done a fair amount of shadowing during teacher training and I was ready for the challenge.

Once settled in, I rented a small flat and started to move my stuff south, as much as I could carry at a time. Dan, Trish, my Uncle Ralph and a whole selection of cousins I knew I had but hadn’t seen helped me move in and decorate. Uncle Dan, among other things, was a superb driver and taught me to drive using Trish’s small car to practice. Then, after half a dozen lessons with a professional instructor to smooth off the rough edges I took my driving test and passed first time.

Celebrating at his house, he raised his wine glass,

“Darling Elaine,” he said, “your father would have been so proud of you. I certainly am.” He grinned a wide parental grin that so reminded me of my Dad and Nanny Barnes. I sniffed and wiped my nose. “So with all of that in mind, it’s time for me to give you something I’ve been looking after markantalya escort for you for, let me see, yes, must be ten years or more now.” He stood and walked to a bureau resting against the wall and opened the flap, he reached in and brought out a small green bank book and handed it to me.

“Your Dad left this in my care,” he said, “There’s one here for Tim when you think he’s ready.”

I opened the bank book; a quick look showed it had been updated yearly and as of that April I had ninety thousand pounds in my bank account. With closer attention I learned that this was as a result of the interest on the money and also some income from shares that I had been left.

“I…” I stammered, “Uncle Dan, I don’t know what to say,” my eyes were brimming with tears.

“Don’t worry Elaine, it’s no more than your Dad would have done for me and what I promised him I’d do for you both. It should be enough to buy you a house, and if you’re careful a car to make those trips home easier.”

No sooner said than done, I bought myself a Ford Fiesta XR2 sports car. However, I didn’t drive it to Manchester for my last trip home preferring to rent myself a large Transit van that would hold all of my stuff, although with my mum the way she was I wasn’t sure what would be mine and what wouldn’t.

I parked the van in the next street and using my key let myself in. The house was quiet so I tiptoed in and made myself a well-earned cup of tea, after my four hour drive.

Mum and Tim must have heard my tea making and appeared slightly flushed and embarrassed looking as if I’d caught them at something.

“Oh, look who it is Tim,” said Mum, “the prodigal returns.”

Tim shook his head looking disappointed,

“Not before time,” he said, reaching for the cup I’d just made myself. I got to it before him and sipped at the steaming lip.

“There’s plenty in the pot,” I said.

“Yeah, well that might be my cup,” he said petulantly.

“Yours is the Manchester United one,” I said lifting it down from the its accustomed place in the cupboard.

“Yeah,” he sneered, “but I might have wanted that one.” He made to snatch for it but I moved it just out of his reach and he managed to hit it and spill hot tea on his hand. He pulled his hand back and sucked his fingers. Not in the whiney mummy’s boy way he would have had about him that would have had Mum crooning all over him, but almost as if he was sucking the tea from his fingers for someone’s benefit. I hoped it wasn’t for mine.

So what do we owe this pleasure?” he said, as if it was his house. Mum almost simpered next to him.

I’ve just come for the last of my stuff,” I said.

“Stuff?” Tim said with his nose in the air, “Stuff? Hmm… what fantastic grammar you have,” he sneered, “And you are going to be educating this country’s children Elaine?”

Mum giggled like a soppy girl.

“The last of my clothes Tim,” I said, “Hopefully you don’t have too many pairs of my knickers under your pillow anymore?”

Tim looked chastened by my little burst of humour, while Mum looked furious, as if my revelation wasn’t new to her. She looked like a small tremble went through her.

“There’s nothing here that belongs to you Elaine,” said Mum. “It all belongs to me.”

“I’ll take my clothes, my books and my dressing table.” I said.

“You don’t have a dressing table,” said snapped Mum, her arms folded and with the slightest shake to her head.

“Nanny Barnes gave it to me when I was four Mum, remember?” I said, then added, “Uncle Dan helped Dad carry it in, it was Great Nanny’s,” Mum had lost her anger but replaced it with petulance at the mention of my Police officer uncle.

“Best of luck getting the fucking thing down stairs and back to whichever hell hole you’re renting on your own dear,” she grinned mirthlessly. She stalked away, “Oh and by the way?” she tapped my tea mug dramatically, “Those groceries don’t buy themselves?” I took a twenty pound note from my jeans and dropped it on the floor in front of her.

“Oops,” I said, “don’t worry mother, I’ll be gone before the night is out.”

“Oh,” she said bobbing down to get the note, “don’t forget the loft…” She let the last syllable hang in the air as she knew I’d been terrified of attics since childhood.

That was a long time ago though, and that little girl had grown out of the fear that mum had played on for many years.

“Okay,” I said, “I’ll do that.”

And I did; I found a shoebox full of envelopes all written to me. I found bags of toys and soft toys, gifts that I’d been given but she’d seen fit to hide up here. I also found wrapped gifts, with labels from family and friends. I took the ones with my name on.

I folded the ladder and pushed it back up into the loft where the spring took it and closed the hatch after. Tim appeared from his room looking not petulant but scared almost.

“You got into the loft then?” he said.

“Yes,” I said, “did you know about all our stuff up there? Oh no, you don’t approve of ‘stuff’ dear brother do you.”

“What… stuff?”

“Presents from Dad and Nanny, and all sorts of aunts and uncles.” I said, “I’ve got all of mine; You know that train set that Dad promised you?”

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