“Emily Jade Lancaster!”
Mom was working up to a full-blown rage.
“How dare you mutilate yourself like that?”
“It’s my body, Mom!” I popped my tongue out as an act of defiance, flaunting the silver-domed stud.
“Get out of my sight!”
She was trembling with fury so I stalked through the door. A torrent of words followed me down the passage.
“God knows I’ve done my best with you! I scraped that money together for your sixteenth and you disrespect me by doing this!”
I was quivering with anger myself. Mom was so old fashioned and nagged incessantly. “That skirt’s too short. Cover your midriff. Don’t think you’re going to that party.”
By 9pm I’d made a plan. Mom was normally asleep by 10 which gave me plenty of time to sneak out and catch the last train into the city. I popped my head around her door at 10:15 and heard tiny snores, rippling softly. At least one of us can sleep, I thought bitterly.
The next part of my plan was to raid her rainy-day fund. She kept this in a plastic bag, tucked behind the cake tins on the top shelf of the pantry. It was untouchable except in the case of emergency. I pulled it out, counted it by torchlight and with malicious glee, tucked it into my pocket.
I awoke the next morning to a haze of orange and beige tweed. The mattress was thin and the room smelled dank and sour. Still, the clerk had given me a cheap deal for a week and I had enough cash left for several days of food. I pressed the stud against the roof of my mouth, savouring the feel of hard metal. “I’m free.” I whispered.
The next few days passed in a blur. I kept my cell-phone off in case Mom tried to track me down and lived as I wanted. Pizza boxes stacked up and I went to bed at 2am and got up at noon. I tried half-heartedly to get a job but there were no vacancies at the malls or diners.
It was on the evening of day four that things took a turn for the worse. My tongue felt as though a million darts were stabbing it and my head ached. I tossed the TV remote on the bed and examined my face in the mirror. My cheeks were flushed and my tongue swollen and engorged.
I needed some pain pills. I pulled on a skimpy skirt and midriff top and plastered on some makeup to hide my rosy skin. The strip mall was only a few blocks away and I swallowed two tablets as soon as I’d paid for them. You’ll be fine, Emily. You just need a good night’s rest. I ignored the nausea and weakness that were increasing with every step.
The car loomed out of the darkness, a large late-model SUV. Confused, I paused as the window lowered and a man’s head appeared. He had chiselled features and a matt of gray hair. “Hey sweetheart.” He nodded towards the passenger seat.
With sick shame I realised he thought I was a prostitute. I broke into a run, stumbling over uneven sidewalks and piled-up litter until I barged into my dingy room. Tears streaming over flaming cheeks I pulled the outfit off and threw myself onto the bed.
I awoke a couple of hours later with my tongue distended and throbbing. Hands trembling, I carefully pulled the barbell apart and a stream of pus bubbled from the hole. Tissue in hand, I lay back on the bed, shaking as a picture filled my mind. Was this the state of my heart? Had I allowed myself to become infected with hate? Shame swept through me like a tsunami.
After an hour of thought, I pulled my cell-phone from my bag and switched it on. The in-box was full and I scrolled through the messages. Some were from friends but most were from Mom. The first few were angry but the rest tore at my heart.
I love you Emily. Please call and let me know you’re safe.
I’m sorry, Em. Come home. The money doesn’t matter.
I’m desperate to know you’re safe, Em. Please contact me.
I grabbed a fresh handful of tissues and dabbed the pus from my tongue. Then I did what I should have done four days earlier. I pushed speed-dial-one and waited for Mom to pick up on the other end.
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