The following Monday, after buying his daily cooldrink at The General Store, Malcolm came to a decision. He didn’t know what he was going to say to his mother, or how they’d do it, but he needed to leave. His pile of setworks was diminishing fast, and there was something wrong with life when you were worried about running out of schoolwork. There were only so many trips to The Hall, The Library and The General Store one person could take, and he’d taken them. Besides, the looming trees were becoming a serious issue.
He walked purposefully back to the house, ignoring the beckoning branches and the whispers that ran through the nettles. He stopped in front of the house. The borrowed car was gone. He glanced around the other houses. No sign of Althea’s either. Damn.
Then the neighbour’s screen door slammed. Malcolm turned his head. His neck stiffened. Becca. She wore a pair of tight red jeans and a tight black vest, which made it clear that there was still no bra underneath.
“Hey,” she said.
He ran his hand over his hair. “Um, hey.”
“How you’ve been?” As she came down the wooden steps, her boots made a pleasing clunking sound.
Then the screen door opened again and a woman stepped out onto the stoep. She looked to be about his mom’s age, but still pretty in her jeans and white summer top. It took him a second to realise that this must be Becca’s mother. He wondered why he hadn’t noticed her before. Then again, he’d been ignoring all the women here; it was too weird being the only guy around.
“Becca, don’t you think I should meet your friend?” she asked. “Especially as he’s my neighbour.”
“Mom….” Becca said complainingly.
She ignored Becca and turned to him, “Rosemary Roberts. Won’t you come in.” It was a statement, not a question.
The three made their way inside: Rosemary’s steps almost silent in her plain brown moccasins, his sloppy in his dusty navy blue canvas trainers, and Becca’s loud and pointed in her boots. They sat down at the kitchen counter, which was simultaneously casual yet intimate. It was all awkward. Malcolm wanted to turn around and run. But he knew his mother would eventually find out. Then she’d kill him. So he did what his mother would want, accepting the piece of pie with polite thanks.
Becca took her plate and slammed it down on the counter so hard Malcolm winced. She hadn’t lied the other night: her mother made brilliant apple pie. Which was good, because keeping his mouth full was the only solution he had for this situation.
Rosemary made herself tea, watching them both. There was a gracefulness about her, like his mother had once possessed before whatever his dad did made her start to shrink. But Rosemary held herself with more confidence, a kind of strength, that his mother had never displayed.
Malcolm chewed while wondering how a woman so self-possessed could allow some cult to convince her that there was something wrong with who she was. That she could be led to believe that getting married to a man and having a baby would change who she was. It was as crazy as if somebody told him that if he married a white woman he’d become white.
“Got something on your mind?” Rosemary said.
He swallowed a bite, shook his head, and shoved in another forkful of pie. There was no way on earth he was going to voice what was on his mind.
Becca checked her watch and pushed away her slice. Her mother acted like she didn’t notice, and sat down. Becca tapped her fork against the cup.
Rosemary smiled at Malcolm.
Malcolm took another bite.
Rosemary reached out and slid another slice on his plate. “You finding enough to do around here?”
Malcolm started to shrug but then his mother’s scolding voice came to mind. He put down his fork and looked Rosemary in the eye. “I brought my school work and I take walks.”
“I always worry that our youth get too bored out here.”
He couldn’t see how anybody could be anything but bored out here; but it seemed like a rude thing to say, and his mother would be furious. Rosemary watched them, then crossed her legs. Becca rolled her eyes, and Malcolm looked down at his plate. How could anybody act so relaxed when her daughter was clearly so angry?
Rosemary caught his eye. “And how long do you plan to stay in our little town?”
“I think the end of August. But not sure. My mother hasn’t said much.”
She gave him soft smile before asking another question. Malcolm continued with his poorly constructed replies. Becca didn’t utter a word. Her fury seemed to press against his lungs.
Rosemary set her mug down. “Well, I’m sure you kids have a lot you’d rather be doing than sitting here in my house eating pie.”
“The pie was good. Thank you.” He hoped he sounded sincere and not like some guy that only wanted to get into her daughter’s pants. Not that he would mind getting into Becca’s pants.
“You’re most welcome.” For a moment her eyes twinkled like Becca’s. “I’ve wanted to say hello for while now, being neighbours and all. But we ladies round here thought we’d give you some space. Can’t be easy being the only male in residence.”
“It’s not a big deal,” he said, lying his head off. But what else could he do? Not like he could tell her that if his mates at school knew where he was staying he’d be ruined for life. Not that he thought there was anything wrong with Rosemary or Althea or any of the other women around here being the way they were. He just didn’t want to live in their commune. Was that so hard to understand?
Becca got up and left the house, leaving Malcolm alone with Rosemary. She was very pretty for a mom, in a soft, un-trendy sort of way. “Um …” he said, stepping backwards for the door. Rosemary began to walk with him. Becca was already storming down the steps. Malcolm stood there, confused as to what he should do.
“Come on!” Becca yelled, as she climbed into her bakkie.
“I don’t have my wallet.”
“Just get in,” she said, and slammed the door. He swore that out of the corner of his eye he saw Rosemary flinch.
Malcolm climbed in, feeling slightly guilty, and more than a little rude. He noticed Rosemary giving them a small wave through the window as Becca reversed. Becca ignored her. When they pulled out onto the main road he noticed Becca wasn’t chewing gum. This bothered him, although he couldn’t say why.
Tell us: Do you blame Becca for being so cold and rude to her mother?