Playing Stories — Chapter 6: We Are Family

Chapter 6: We Are Family
from the 1979 album “We Are Family” by Sister Sledge
posted 12:00, 21 January 2019

We fly just like birds of a feather, I won’t tell no lie
All of the people around us, they say, “can they be that close”?

As I retreated into the safety of my room, I slammed the door, praying that my father would get the signal and back off. It worked. For five seconds.

“Well, Charlotte, how was school today?” said my father, striding into my room and sitting down on the edge of my bed. “What did you learn?”

“Just the normal shit,” I said without looking at him. “Professor Michaels started talking about the Weimar Republic today. Learning a bit of stuff about Berlin, I guess?”

“Ooh, the Weimar Republic! They made a lot of weird films back then, didn’t they?” enthused my father. I didn’t say anything, so he went on. “That must be a real interesting period for you… do you like the period?”

I did. And I was sure that my father knew about this as this was the twentieth time he’d asked me this question. Dreading what was coming, I said “yes, of course, but that’s just me.”

“Ah, obviously, obviously,” he said. He then fell silent, as if trying to find a way to approach the topic without seeming obvious. “What do you think about this particular professor then? You said some good things about him last year… what do you think of his teaching style?”

I shrugged. “Professor Michaels seems to like the work I do.”

“Does he now?” he said, and now there was a tone of genuine interest in his voice. I sighed and started up my laptop, uploading a few pictures I’d taken along the seafront earlier in the day. Watching kids at play, or the waves of the seaside sometimes helped. Just anything that would stop me from lashing out at him. “He seems like a nice person to establish a working relationship with. Do you ever feel like the interwar period could be an avenue to go down?”

I sighed. “Dad, we’ve been through this a thousand times. I’m not interested in making research a lifelong career. I don’t want to spend my days reading books, I just want to go and travel and write and photograph stuff. Is that too much to ask?”

“I’m just talking about your future, Lottie,” he said. I’d told him a thousand times to never, ever call me by that name, but obviously not one of them had reached his ears. “Everyone can come out with a bachelor’s degree these days… people here in our country have a lot of potential and nobody cares about just another graduate. Especially when you’re coming out from a history degree. What’s that useful for except teaching and a museum job?”

I rolled my eyes. “Yeah, of course, Dad. Thanks for that warning. I’m still not interested.”

“Well, if you’re not doing research, you might as well have some good results. It’s a jungle out there, you know,” he said, using his favourite idiotic phrase. I rolled my eyes as he continued. “Cause you know what, people fight tooth and claw out there, and if you don’t try your best you’re going to be so disadvantaged when you come out to find a job.”

After twenty years of living under the same roof, I’d managed to achieve a level of trust with my father where I could comfortably call him out on things. Things like mansplaining. The trouble was that he always forgot that I’d called him out immediately. I thought of telling him again, but was he even going to pay it any notice? “Yeah sure. But I can work these things on my own, Dad. I’m twenty, and I know how to make do and mend, I’m a clever girl. As you keep on telling me,” I said, praying that he would pick up on the irony.

“And you are. But I’ve always known what you can do best and I’d just like to see you play to your strengths… I just feel like it’s something which you could be very good at.” He sighed. The disappointment was palpable in his voice. It was always so irritating when he did this, cause you always started feeling guilty when he did that, and I’d lied a couple of times when I was younger, pretended I was interested in that sort of thing just to avoid that heartbreaking look of sadness on his face. But the inevitable alternative — he was nothing if unpredictable — was that he would talk for even longer. The last thing I needed tonight. “Anyway, have you finished all your assignments yet?” he said.

He might have tried to change the subject, but I was only clenching my teeth even more. “Dad, it’s only mid-September. No self-respecting teacher would ever set their students homework on the second week of school. Well, I mean, Professor Michaels might have a lot of stuff for us to do, but I like him anyway and he’s not exactly the harshest of professors in our department…”

“Yes, but I’ve noticed that you’ve been staying out a lot… is there a lot to do?” he asked. “I don’t recall having seen a lot of assignments for your courses… is everything the matter?”

My mind flashed back to what had happened just outside a few hours earlier. I had cycled up to the end of the street, and just sat there, looking at the house. It looked especially foreboding in the afternoon shade — the type that you always saw in horror movies, where murders happened and were never discovered for years.

Walking up to my front door, my hand had hovered over the bell. It wasn’t as if either of my parents were constantly looking out for my approach, but as I walked up the driveway I felt like I was being watched, like I was about to get pounced on any second. For a very long time, I just stared at the wood of the door. For some reason or another, I did not want to ring that doorbell. I backed up slightly, looking up at the windows. Mum’s shadow was on the ceiling of the bedroom — probably busy preparing for her evening classes. My father would not be home until late in the evening, but my mother was great at picking up little movements in the house and she never kept secrets from her husband. In a split second, I had turned and walked away from the house. I got on my bike, and rode as fast as I could away from the place.

“No,” I told my father. “I just got caught up at work.”

“Ah, yes,” he said, tousling my hair. His hand scraped against my scalp, cold, clammy. For a moment he stood there, looming large over me hunched over my laptop, not sure what else he could say. Eventually, he simply patted me on the shoulder. “Love you lots, Lottie”, and then he left the room.

Now that I had the room to myself, it felt noticeably colder than before. I looked out onto the street, where a lone car was passing by my window. It wound around the corner, and disappeared into the night, heading down the avenue and toward the city. Perhaps I should have taken the same route earlier; perhaps it would have been much easier for me, to find my freedom in the city. All my friends had all done the same since entering uni: they’d found a job, moved out of the house, making leaps and bounds in their worlds. And I was trapped here, five miles out in the suburbs, my every move questioned, my every thought scrutinized by two people who was responsible for my birth… and had taken it upon themselves to be responsible for everything that followed. Could I even breathe by myself if I found my way into the city? Could I live if I became just another name in the alleys and streets?

I stared at the computer screen and at the picture I was editing. The kids on the seashore looked tiny, their faces scrunched up in the most annoying way possible. One of them had jelly running down his chin. I slammed shut my laptop and climbed into bed. There was no way I was finishing any of those photos tonight.

Hey. That was a nice story you had. Liked Julia and Evan a lot.

Sure I can come over sometime… maybe during the weekend? Got a couple of days off near the end of the month. Perhaps you can show me round the suburb — E

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