Superglu in Summertime by Marianne Tatepo
Published in Issue 2 | Illustration by Brooklyn White
Our family is nuclear.
In the evening, we sit at the table like an awkward triangle and sip our pea and mint soup lathered in salt. With no words spoken, my parents glare from opposite ends of the 12-person table like millionaires on a pitch (if two people are shrieking from within but no one can hear them, are they still screaming for help?). I am the football.
‘Glu, pass the salt will you,’ Glassie, my mother, says.
I walk ten steps over to Gorman, sprinkling sea-salt flakes onto his bowl.
‘Thank you, Glu,’ my father Gorman says gormlessly, poring over his next heart attack.
‘How was your day?’ one asks
‘I miss my sisters,’ I say.
‘And other than that?’ another asks.
‘I miss my brothers,’ I tell the latter.
Give my mother and father a reason to hang their heads in lament for all the ones that were before me then weren’t – I grew up in the shadow of the children who never grew. There is nothing more to win. I stir the pot of green and ask myself if she concocted this in a cauldron with scalding water from the seaside, crushed the peas from the garden and sprinkled the leaves that grow haphazardly by my windowsill – does she even know what they are? It is payback for Gorman’s gout – the side-effect of years of assistants taken out to lunches that ended at three, although his wrinkled wife-beaters and shirts only hit the laundry basket at nine.
Oh, a stray bit of chilli. I choke on her revenge and excuse myself to bed.
Gorman has no sense of smell. No, no – my father is not disabled. It is not a disease never knowing what is right under your nose, the doctors say.
In the shower, I exfoliate and wonder if Glassie can smell Redacted on my skin. In the summer, when I am back, I sneak in garden-side, still smeared in what I know ain't love.
‘Hello,’ I say.
And on a good day maybe Glassie nods absently. And on a bad day my mother flocks to me with open arms because she needs a reason to stay.
I am the glue that keeps the glue together.
I keep my eyes wide open, stare deeper into his pupils than he can ever reach.
Our fingers interlaced, my legs apart. ‘Leave on the lights,’ I say, clawing my way down his spine with wounds that will not heal. There is more than meets the eye. There is nothing else to hold onto.
Clammy palms stroke keratin cloud averse to comb teeth. Tongue-tied, white teeth clank like champagne flutes as they reunite when the trembling is over. Unborn children trapped in latex oblivion tied neatly into a bow neither blue nor pink, chucked by the bedside.
Hollowed ribcages, we lay flat, yellowed fingers hanging near the window, kissing the man-made breeze of the room in the aftermath. Feet so cold – knee-high socks worn in winter as well as summer, for her. Black tufts of hairs poking out of boxers that sag at the hip, for him. We make a spectacle out of it as we exhale the poison.
I redact his name. Pills I always remember to swallow will end up in my mouth. I feel myself go with every gulp, but better mad than a mother, too. It is my turn now and I cherish the belly scans never to be made. I tell myself to never reproduce their mistakes.
I redact his name.
Girl- and boyfriends never make it the lifespan of a weave. Manicures chip before the sun is down.
Summertime I clean offices for one paperback an hour. Today I have seen the sun twenty-five times. I listen to the girl with rye-coloured hair. I do not sleep. I am always up first.
‘Twenty-five years, nothing to show for it. Nothing of any weight. Twenty-five more, will I never learn from it? Never learn from my mistakes?’ she sings.
My brain has a lot of room to itself as I wipe the dirty City cubicles that create dosh as well as despair. In Spanish they call it caber. I wonder what clothes I would be wearing in Barcelona. Outside, a drizzle unworthy of the acknowledgment of an umbrella. This is shit. This is England. When I’m done polishing and disinfecting I poke would-be glory holes in my paper thin toast. Is the white one the good one, or is it the seedy one? I eat my pulses in their can.
Around midnight, when I go over, I let him untie my apron. He massages my back as I stare at the couple in the concrete tower. The breeze blows through the light veil and all is quiet but for the distant sirens and echos of their familiar inability to agree to disagree. Access of anger. Objects turn shapeless against the glass of their bedroom window. Should I call the magic number today? The devil’s number like a frown turned upside down.
‘Sorry if this kills the mood,’ Redacted says, pointing at the feuding couple.
I keep looking. The pretend-curtain shifts around at times, as though a maestro were to come out and say, It was all a dream: That cry? Sound effect! That blow? Special effect! That row? Method acting! Strangulation? Nay, playfight! Do they know that the narrow, glazed window of their bathroom betrays the etching of their bare bodies in the bath like a shadow play. That I can see the idea of them in tsunami splashes of makeup sex. Maybe this is what love looks like.
Perhaps that’s why I won’t see it for myself.
The badge on my uniform reads ‘Shtum’ – no first name. Etched on the facade, it is the only thing that says our house is somehow different from the many brick houses along the precise grid of our street. I creep up the garden staircase when my shift ends. I wipe my fingerprints off the ceramic stove after I devil an egg. Maybe they won’t know for sure if I have been here. Maybe they’ll call and ask, ‘O, sweets. How many days around the sun, how could we forget?!’
One evening of torrential rain I do not go to him. Last I saw him I had nodded as he mentioned having The Talk. Tonight he comes to me.
‘Oh. Hi,’ I say while opening the door.
‘So you were just going to leave me hanging? I never know what you want! How you feel! Your mind is a fucking breeze block,’ he screams.
He has come where the magic doesn't happen to see the people with whom I live. For better and worse, this is our home. I am standing inside, the front door open halfway.
‘This is not a good time,’ I say. He breathes as though I were a contraction.
‘Okay… Well, it’s been five summers, Glu. When’s a good time?’ He asks.
‘No… this is not a good time… Anymore.’ I say, looking through him. He is an open book and I despise this ability of his. He looks away, passing a hand across his fade as though I were a billion-dollar question and he had run out of people to call.
‘Look, Redacted. I… You… Your heart is beautiful, like marble. But you got the wrong name engraved.’ I stare straight into his pupils deeper than he can ever reach. He wipes his eye with the back of his hand. I snigger at the thought: backhanded insult. When he leaves I know I will always remember that the only thing he said was—
Upstairs, the sound of glass shattering and the familiar inability to agree to disagree. I think about the magic number, again. Objects become shapeless against their bedroom wall. I call no one and tell nobody. My name is Shtum and I intend to keep it.