The Place by Frances Donnelly

The Place

There was a place where only girls and women lived, where sheets were quickly shaken and hung out with hard snapping sounds, and the shopping was hurried in through doors that released a moan when they were opened.

 

Some of the mums who lived in this place were half-boiling with rage, and so were their daughters. But these mums found the daughters of other mums less fucking impossible, and these daughters found the mums of other daughters less crazy and mean. And so these women and girls met in pairs at night, clandestine duos.

One morning, opposite this place, twenty-foot tall smiling people eating breakfast appeared, pasted onto billboards. Then a building rose up. It rose higher and higher, expanded wider and wider, and soon it was finished, and populated with professional couples and their children and furniture and silent, weighted fire doors that let their cleaners in and out. The billboards were replaced with an eggshell green metal fence and a huge gate with an intercom and keypad.

A curious kid from the new building came over to the place where only women and girls lived, to take a look. The kid walked between the low, brown apartment blocks arranged around concrete squares. The kid looked at the windows, lots of which had bright flower boxes and white lace curtains. It was evening, and nobody seemed to be about. The kid looked at the ground. Under the yellow lamplight, cracks in the concrete were so black that if you bent down close they looked like bottomless pits. The kid went home to practise piano.

Conscientiously was a word that the kid liked because a tutor had recently used it to praise her behaviour. She thought with nervy energy about her next lesson and about playing a school concert soon. Her major and minor scales were softly cradled in the new apartment’s carpet and walls, fifty feet up in the air.

What the kid was unaware of was that beneath where the new building stood there had been a small park, the only place where the clandestine woman-girl duos could steal a quick walk under the stars and then make it home before anyone suspected anything. They had even kept meeting when the building works began, when the grass and trees had been replaced with earth scraped with foot-wide scars. They had helped each other slip under the barriers, laughing loudly, squeezing each other’s arms.

 

Lisa had taught Chloe about punk and New Wave and she’d let Chloe share her cigarette. Chloe had let Lisa sling her arm around her, which she didn’t let her own mum do anymore because it put her in a mood. Becky had told Monique how she liked girls, not boys. Monique had tentatively told Becky that she had once kissed a girl at school, that Becky was very brave, and that all girls needed to be brave. Jasmine had told Gloria that she wanted to be a painter. Gloria had taught Jasmine to name the star constellations. Amy had found Lorna’s large calm body so reassuring to sit next to that she’d barely said anything, and Lorna wasn’t much of a talker either.

 

One night Lorna had let Amy ride her mobility scooter across the stripped earth where the park had been. When the scooter capsized, they had righted it, and Amy had taken a second turn around the lot.

 

Now, there was nowhere to meet. As they snapped their sheets and heaved shopping through the moaning doors, the women and girls glanced up at the high white building. The silver-tinted windows of the big white building stared back. None of the mums could tell their daughters they’d been spending time with another girl, and none of the daughters could tell their mums they’d been spending time with another woman, because they didn’t really want to hurt one another.

 

The kid fifty feet up in the air was now playing a familiar Bach piece, imagining winning a prize for her work in animal conservation and her parents weeping and her future husband giving her a kiss on the mouth, her future husband who would look like Liam. But would he? Could she? What would her dad weeping look like? Would he make the ceremony? It would depend.

 

The kid’s dad had just headed to Hong Kong for another six months. The walls and carpet ate the piano notes up. She closed the piano lid and pinched the bridge of her nose wearily, despite being only eight years old. She had her Maths homework to do before her mum got home at ten. The door buzzed; her tutor.

In their ground floor living room, Lisa stared at Amy, and Amy stared at Lisa. Both mum and daughter were desperate to hammer into the other’s thick skull the easy niceness they’d found on their starlit walks with other less unbearable humans. So they laid out exactly how shitty the other was to live with and exactly how much they had to put up with.

Amy and Lisa’s argument was watched over by three ceramic ducks and a crocheted hedgehog and a picture of a holographic wolf, who had all witnessed the persistence of Lisa and Amy’s belligerent mutual love for many years, but sadly none of them could speak.

 

When the shouting had stopped and Amy had stormed off to bed, Lisa heard the muffled sound of a record playing through the wall, in Chloe’s house next door, and the muddy trace of one of Lisa’s favourite ever songs struggled its way inside her.

 

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Frances Donnelly is a writer, musician and activist. She lives in Brighton, UK with a mischief of rescue rats and a moderately well-behaved human partner. Her stories have most recently appeared in The Forge Literary Magazine and The Airgonaut. She works in digital communications, and is proudly autistic. Twitter: @FrankGDonnelly.

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Every little counts! Counts Draculas, that is 🙂

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