by Eva Rivers

AMANDA AND I are sitting in my kitchen sharing a pizza and a cigarette. She’s got no choice about the ciggy because I’m blowing smoke in her direction. I like to see her flail her arms about. She’s going on and on about her precious Shandong Province bathroom tiles that are two months late. Handmade. Ancient design. Child labour, no doubt.

‘Should have gone to B&Q,’ I say, and blow a stream right in her face.

She does that tinkly laugh of hers and skims a fork through her roots. A nasty habit she’s had since when we were kids and her hair was mousy.    

‘So how’s it going, Elaine?’

‘Fine,’ I say, and it would be except for the fact that she’s turned up.

There are exactly ninety-three point seven miles between my house and hers so this is hardly a spontaneous visit.

We’re coming into some money, Amanda and I. From Mum. Enough to make a difference to me and to keep her in shoes for a long time. That’s why she’s here. But I’m not going to make it easy. When did she ever lend a hand? Listen to Mum repeat herself night and day? Feed her? Wash her? Worry about her?      

‘Matt OK?’ I say.

She throws her manicured hands to her cheeks, but I can still see the smug glow beneath.

‘I told you he got a place at Cambridge, didn’t I? Well, now he wants to spend a year in China.’

‘Making tiles?’

‘Learning Mandarin. Essential if you want a top job.’

I mumble something about Matt having a good head on his shoulders, but frankly I hope he goes under a rickshaw. She hasn’t asked about her nephew yet so I tell her anyway.

‘Johnny’ll be home soon.’

Johnny was never one for books. Nor top jobs. Cars are his passion. Not so much fixing them as stealing them. That’s how Mum got to hospital when the ambulance didn’t come. At least he didn’t steal the hearse, said Matt at the funeral. A joke perhaps, but he still went home with a bloody nose.

My lips twitch, like I’m about to cry, but I manage to stay in control. Johnny may not have floppy blonde hair and a glittering future, but I wouldn’t swop him for the world. Amanda can’t wait to change the subject.

‘Any plans for the summer?’        

‘Not really,’ I say.

‘We’re going to India. Get in touch with our spiritual side. I’m putting my foot down—strictly no laptops or iPhones.’        

Kali, kill me now.

Amanda rakes her nails through her hair. She’s literally itching to know how much money she’s coming into and how soon. But she won’t ask straight out. That would seem too greedy. Another one of her nasty habits.

The clock’s ticking. I let her prattle on and finally, she pauses.  

‘I don’t want to rush you,’ I say, ‘but I’ve got to go out.’

‘Somewhere nice?’

‘Prison. Why don’t you come? Johnny would love to see you.’ 

The one time Amanda came to see Johnny, he cracked a joke of his own. How is an aunt like a laxative? They both irritate the shit out of you. Everyone else found it funny.

She grabs the fork and judders it over a particularly itchy patch.

‘It’s parents’ evening tonight,’ she says. ‘Maybe next time?

I leave the question hanging in the air just like the cigarette smoke I know she hates so much.

oOo

Eva Rivers writes short stories and flash fiction about the ways in which life affects ordinary people. Her fiction has appeared in Popshot Quarterly, Fictive Dream, Storgy, Sick Lit Magazine, Penny Shorts, The Drabble and elsewhere. “Nasty Habits” was first published in Firefly Magazine, issue 8, (2016). She lives and works in London. Twitter @MsEvarivers.