“Go on, it’s your turn.”
Bobby winced, he hated when it was his turn.
He stood slowly and moved towards the kitchen. His mother never looked away from the television, not that that was a surprise, she never moved too far from it. His brother was off out somewhere, free to roam with his friends. Not Bobby though, Bobby had to stay at home today because it was his turn. He hoped that maybe his mother would forget about it, maybe she would even do it herself, but that was a rare occurrence. In the last five years she had gone upstairs only a small handful of times. His dad had taken most of the burden onto himself, but he was at work today, so it fell to Bobby to pick up the slack.
Everything was prepared on the tray, food, water, he just needed to carry it up. That was his dad again, he always prepared the tray, tried to make it look nice. Sometimes there were flowers, or shapes made out of fruit. Bobby spotted his mothers smokes on the kitchen counter, a lighter resting on top. He picked them up and went into the sitting room, the room was still vaguely smoky, but it had been a while since her last one. He placed the cigarettes on the arm of the sofa, “Ah thanks Bobby.” She didn’t look around. One hand moved out and opened the packet, pulling out a cigarette before putting it to her dry lips. She lit it, inhaled deeply and released a cloud of smoke with a sigh. “Did you do it?”
“Get a move on, will you?”
Bobby nodded and left the room again.
In the kitchen he fussed with the tray, moving things here and there so everything was balanced, he didn’t want to drop it or trip. Finally satisfied with how everything was placed he picked it up and started to make his way down the stairs. His stomach felt heavy, a hard, burning knot inside him. He took slow breaths, forcing his hands to stay steady. His cheeks were already bright red with shame. He was old enough now that this shouldn’t be a problem, there shouldn’t be an issue. Every night he walked up these stairs to go to bed and it was always fine, there was never this horrible burning, the heat from his face seeming to bounce off the walls making everything uncomfortably hot. The hallway stretched out before him, each step taking an eternity.
He paused at her door, a light, innocuous brown, and knocked gently, there was no answer. There hadn’t been in a long time, but he still felt his shoulders relax. Gently, trying to be as quiet as possible he put down the tray in front of the door and picked up the other. Then, quickly, he scurried away, back hunched, tray clutched tightly.
In the kitchen he took slow, deep breaths. It was over for the day. It had been done. His dad would be home later, he’d take care of the evening tray. He put the dishes and bowls into the dishwasher before he slunk back into the sitting room, taking his customary place on the couch. The talk show was still going, he thought it would have been long over by now. “Is it done?”
She nodded, “You’re a good son. You know I love you right?”
Her hand reached out for the cigarette packet again. She always chain-smoked whenever there was any mention of Mona. She passed him the cigarettes, “Go on.”, still she didn’t look at him. He took one from the packet and lit it, inhaling tentatively. Immediately he started to cough, his throat dry and feeling like it was on fire. His mother shook her head, smiling. He took another puff, squinting his face as he did so. It was easier to smoke it than argue about it. The faster he smoked it the faster it would be gone. He kept watching the telly, occasionally he would glance at her to see if she was watching, but her eyes never moved from the screen. Every now and then he would raise the cigarette to his mouth and inhale slightly, filling his mouth with smoke before blowing it out. When it was finally done he got up from the couch and went into the kitchen, there he grabbed out a bottle of coke and took a swig, swishing it around his mouth to get rid of the taste.
He hated that taste, it always reminded him of Mona, of the first time he had seen her. He used to bring her tray up to her all the time, hoping for a peak of his mysterious sister, who refused to come out or leave her room. He had worn her down over years and years of pestering, of quick pleadings in the time he had. She never spoke much to him, or to anyone. Sometimes his dad would disappear into the room for hours and he could hear the dull sound of murmurs if he listened closely. He didn’t know what to expect on the day that she finally relented. He knew nothing about her, nothing but her name. Whenever he asked his dad became quiet and his mother usually yelled. Finally, Mona relented, after years of begging, just one glimpse, that was all he wanted.
She had opened the door slowly, Bobby could feel the excitement rising as more and more of the room beyond was revealed, she had a bed, that much he suspected but it was nice to have it confirmed, and a window with netting over it, so she could look out but it made it hard for others to look in, he had seen that from the back garden. The walls were bright pink with posters of bands all over them. Finally she came into view and Bobby, Bobby had started screaming. She slammed the door, and above his own screams he could hear her sobbing. His dad thundered up the stairs, yelling, shouting, screaming at Bobby to get downstairs while his mother shouted “I told her never to show them, I told her!” from her usual perch. He had been bundled downstairs, left with his mother while his dad went into the room of the monster. His mother had said nothing, she just kept watching the TV, she had passed him a cigarette, telling him it would calm his nerves. He didn’t know if she really believed that, or if she just wanted to provide an easy distraction. He had spent the next ten minutes trying to sooth his sore throat and stop the continuous coughing.
That night his father had come to him, explained that though his sister Mona looked different, and maybe even scary, she was his sister and was just like everyone else. He was told of how upset he had made her, how difficult her life was. That night he apologised through the door. It was the last time he had spoken to Mona, she had not spoken to him, nor had she opened the door since.
He hated that tray, he hated that his parents had never prepared him for it, that they let her hide away and waste her life and become the family’s dirty little secret. Most of all he hated himself, and how he had screamed.