Angela limped unsteadily into the living room, a thick splatter of blood trailing the carpet as she did so. Trying to keep pace with Angela’s loping strides, Carol struggled to keep her upright, holding all of the older woman’s weight across her slender shoulders.
“Fuck fuck fuck” repeated Angela, the same dedicatedly bitter chanting that she had intoned every step of their way home. She held her right foot several wavering inches above the ground, hopping as best she could over to the sofa. Collapsing with a wincing sigh onto the pillows, Carol slid down beside her.
“Let me have a look” said Carol.
Begrudgingly, Angela consented. What had she been thinking, she wondered. Sprinting with Carol across the beach, running with loose sand kicking up behind their footfalls, laughing like two schoolchildren. Two bloody stupid children, Angela corrected. She bit back a wince, her instincts pulling her foot back as Carol’s fingers probed at the wound. “Just leave it” she said. “It’ll be fine.”
Carol shook her head. “I don’t see any more broken glass in it. But it’s deep. You should get a tetanus jab.”
“No” said Angela. The thought of waiting in a hospital room, being bustled around by underpaid and over-stressed nurses, leaving her feeling less like a person and more like a processed piece of meat in a factory, didn’t appeal to her. “There’s some stick-on stitches in the first aid kit.”
A glimmer of surprise in Carol’s face. “You have a first aid kit?”
Nodding, Angela motioned to the kitchen. Of course she had a first aid kit. Her mother would have insisted on it. She always had one, a little metal tin smelling of TCP liquid and cloth bandages. Always be ready, her mother’s voice said in her mind, just in case. Her mother would certainly not have approved of her running barefoot along the beach. Goodness knows what could be hiding in the sand. Sharp rocks, or broken bottles. Angela could have jabbed herself with a druggie’s used needle, and that could have been the end of her.
She shut her eyes for a moment, as Carol stood and hurried to the kitchen.
Good girls, thought Angela, didn’t listen to their mothers. Not until they got older – old enough to know better than to run around playing silly games and hurting themselves.
Angela watched Carol through the gap in the kitchen door for a few moments, wondering just what her mother would have thought of the woman that she was certain that she’d be spending the rest of her life with. Doubtless, her mother would have smiled. Gently smiled, gently nodded, gently said in that faux, not entirely sincere way of hers, “You’re my daughter, and I love you.”
It was those exact words – “You’re my daughter, and I love you” – that her mother had spoken when Angela had first come out. Her mother, who had survived the sixties and seventies with a collection of Fleetwood Mac albums and always voted for Labour, had never been able to move beyond those few words. Of course, her mother would never have committed the ultimate sin, never have actually admitted that she disapproved of her daughter’s homosexuality. She was too open-minded for that. And each year at Christmas, she would ask Angela if she was still happy; and Angela would not, and her mother would say “That’s good dear” and smile with a grin that screamed that she wished that her daughter would find a nice man.
Reaching down, Angela pulled two tissues from a box on the table and pressed it to her bleeding foot, making sure not to get any blood on the upholstery. “I found the stitches” came Carol’s disembodied voice from the kitchen, “but the bottle of that stuff, what’s it called…”
“TCP” said Angela.
“Yeah. It’s empty.”
Carol hurried in, a roll of bandages trailing a bit behind her. She had opened them already, and Angela was gripped with an urge to take them, roll them up so that they didn’t unwind and cause them to spend the next half hour trying to coil them back into shape. It was funny, Angela thought, that she was worried about trying to coil something back up into its perfect, factory-sealed position. Taking her heel, Carol started to fasten the stitches in place.
It had been seven years since Angela had seen her mother. And yet here she was, being nursed by Carol, someone who was almost five years younger than Angela was. It occurred to Angela that surely she, as the older of the pair, should be the more motherly. But people didn’t work like that.
She did feel older, though. Far too old to be running on the beach. She was now more than half her mother’s age when she had passed away. If that was any indication to Angela, it means that she had lived almost half her natural life.
And what had that half a lifetime earned her? She didn’t own her own home, the housing market had seen to that. Her job offered little chances of ever reaching her full management potential, and that story that she had in her mind, about the detective who solved a crime and then something happened that made people think that he was a murderer or something, was most certainly destined never to see print. No, she had spent half her life learning not to run over broken glass. What a waste, she thought.
Her friends, one by one, had started to have their own families. Most of them had children, and Angela – she was still undecided. Did she even want children? She hadn’t wanted them ten years ago. But then, ten years ago seemed a lifetime away. She had wanted the right to have children, though. She had signed enough petitions insisting that gay couples should have the right to adopt – the right to marry – the right to be treated with the same recognitions as anyone else. But that was when she was young, and she could have told someone that she wanted to protect her rights for the future. Now that she was living in that future, she wasn’t so sure.
A deep swimming sensation absorbed Angela, one not altogether unfamiliar. In her mind, she stood alone in a desert. Sun baking overhead, and the future that she had protested for, petitioned for and campaigned for, stretched on around her, uncharted and without roads. Without trails. Without anything around her but shortening horizons, growing gradually closer to her with each passing year, and an uncounted number of broken shards of glass hidden in the sand.
Angela let out a sigh. Carol looked up, releasing her grip on the bandage. “Too tight?” asked Carol.
“No” said Angela, “not too tight.”
The younger woman looked down. For a moment, Angela thought if it had been wise to even become involved with someone who was younger than herself – almost half a decade younger, almost an entirely different generation, surely. Carol reminded her of the youngsters that surrounded them the last time they went to a nightclub, dancing and drunk and without any worries, never having lived through an age when being gay surely equated to aids. For a moment, she thought that her feelings towards Carol were selfish – so damn selfish.
“Guess it wasn’t the best Valentine ’s Day” replied Carol.
Angela tried to smile.
“Do you want your present now?”
She wasn’t sure what to say. What present could Carol give her? Perhaps Carol had, sensing Angela’s growing fear, adopted a Syrian orphan for them to raise as their own child? “I’m sure you’d be a lovely parent” said her mother’s voice, “I mean, you people can adopt these days. Although, do make sure that you adopt someone who’s older. It wouldn’t be fair on one too young, getting bullied for having two mommies. Maybe you’ll be able to find a nice man to help raise him too. That would be nice.”
Carol reached back, picking up a brightly wrapped box from behind the sofa. “Want to guess what it is?” she challenged. “I think you’ll really like it.”
“An end to brexit and the sudden abdication of Donald Trump?” suggested Angela.
Carol rolled her eyes, thrusting out the box. “Here. It won’t make the world a better place, I’m afraid. But it might help your foot feel better.”
Slowly, Angela removed the shining gold wrapper. Inside was a small cuddly toy. Holding it up, she saw that it was a kitten.
“Press the button on the back” said Carol.
Tilting it this way and that, Angela pressed the button. The kitten made a growling sound, masking a small whir of animatronics inside it. Its eyebrows curled into a snarl, and its mouth opened to show pointed fangs.
“It’s a Scare Bear” explained Carol, eagerly. “I had it sent over from America. Do you like it?”
Angela started to laugh, and didn’t feel quite so much like broken glass any more.