Easington, Durham, England
Fourteen years ago…
"Molly, come to me, sweetheart. I have something to tell you."
My grandma was in the front room of our small house, sitting on her old brown armchair with her head in her hands.
I moved forward and looked around the room. My daddy wasn't yet back from the pub. He was always in the pub since the scary lady that was sometimes on the television shut down the mines the year I was born and my daddy got sad. Grandma told me.
My grandma lifted her head and smiled a sad smile. My grandma had the kindest smile that I'd ever seen; she could light up the room with just one grin. I loved my grandma so much.
As I walked closer, I noticed she was holding an old picture of Mammy. Mammy died when I was born, and Grandma and Daddy just get upset whenever I ask about her, so I don't ask anything anymore. I still make sure to kiss her picture beside my bed every night, though. Grandma said Mammy will see me doing that from heaven.
"Come here, my little Molly-pops. Sit on my lap," she said, waving for me to come to her, placing the picture frame on the red-carpeted floor.
I dropped my pink rucksack on the floor, walked over, and jumped up onto her lap. She smelled of mint. She always smelled of mint. I knew it was to hide the smell of her cigarettes that she sneaked out into the alley to smoke. She made me laugh as she scurried out every morning still wearing her pink rollers in her grey hair and her purple house apron.
I put one of my hands on her cheek. She looked upset. "Grandma, what is it?"
She took my small hand in hers and I jumped at how cold it felt. I rubbed it between my hands and kissed her on her cheek to make her feel better. She told me that my sweet kisses could make any problem in the world just that little bit easier.
The room was so quiet and the only sound came from the crackling of the log fire and the loud tick-tocking of the grandfather clock.
Grandma always had on music, music from years and years ago, and we would dance in front of the fire. There was no music playing today, though, and the house felt dull and sad.
I stared at the big hand on the clock and saw that it was on the twelve; the little hand was on the four. I struggled to remember what my teacher, Mrs. Clarke, had told us in class. My eyes closed tightly as I tried to think. They opened as I gasped. It was four o'clock. Yes! It was four o'clock. Daddy would be back soon.
I tried to wriggle off Grandma's lap to run to the door to wait for my daddy as he walked through the gate. He always hugged me and twirled me around before telling me I was the prettiest girl in the world, just like my mammy. It was my most favourite part of the day.
I slipped off my grandma's knee, but she grabbed my arm.
"Grandma, what are you doing? Daddy will be coming soon. He needs his daily hug!"
Grandma sucked in a deep breath and water began dropping from her eyes.
"Grandma, why are you crying? Please don't be sad. Do you need a sweet kiss? Will that make you feel better?"
Grandma crushed me to her chest, my glasses nearly falling off my nose, and the material of her apron scratched against my cheek. I scrunched up my face to stop the itch. She pushed me back and fell to her knees. Her sad eyes were the same height as mine now.
"Molly, I need to tell you something, something that will make you very, very sad. Do you understand me?"
"Yes, Grandma. I'm six now. I'm a big girl. I understand lots of things. Mrs. Clarke said that I'm the cleverest girl in my whole class, maybe even the school."
Grandma smiled at me. It didn't reach her eyes, though. It wasn't a full smile. Daddy said only full smiles show you're really happy. You shouldn't waste a full smile on a something that didn't make you super joyful.
"You are clever, sweetheart, though I don't know who you got that from. You'll go far. You're destined to leave this sorrowful life and make something of yourself. It's what your mammy and your d-daddy… would've wanted." She sniffed and removed her pink handkerchief from her pocket. It had red rose embroidery all over it. I'd picked the material at the market two weeks ago. We made one for her and one for me, a matching set, just like Grandma said we were.
She dabbed the handkerchief to her red nose as she stared out the window, before her eyes seemed to change and she looked at me again. "Now, Molly, you need to take a big brave breath, okay, just like I've shown you."
I nodded and breathed in for five seconds through my nose, holding my stomach, and blew slowly out for five through my mouth.
"Good girl," she praised, rubbing my cheek with her thumb.
"Grandma? Where's Daddy? He's late. He's never late." He was always home to see me after school. He always smelled of mucky beer, though, but he'd always smelled like that. It wouldn't be Daddy if he didn't.
"Molly, something happened to Daddy today," she told me with a shaky voice.
"Is he poorly? Should we make him some tea for when he gets home? Tea makes everyone feel better, doesn't it, Grandma? You always tell me that," I said, beginning to feel a strange, funny swirling in my tummy at the peculiar way she was looking at me.
She shook her head as her lip wobbled. "No, sweetie. Tea won't be needed today. You see, God decided to take your daddy to heaven this morning to be with the angels."
I tipped my head back to look up at the ceiling. I knew that God lived way up above us in the sky. I could never see him, though, no matter how hard I tried.
"Why would God take Daddy away from us? Are we bad people? Was I too naughty? Is that why God didn't want me to have a Mammy or Daddy?"
My grandma held me close, her nose tucked into my long brown hair. "No Molly-pops, never, ever think that. God just felt sad that your daddy missed your mammy so much. He decided it was time for them to be together again. He knew you were brave and strong enough to live without them both."
I thought about that as I sucked on my thumb. I always suck my thumb when I'm scared or nervous.
Grandma smoothed the hair back from my face. "I want you to know that nobody on this whole planet loved each other as much as your mammy and daddy. When Mammy died, Daddy didn't know what to do. He loved you so much, but he also missed her. When the lady on the TV-"
"Margaret Thatcher?" I interrupted. We'd learned about her at school. Not many people liked her in my town. They called her nasty names. She made a lot of people very sad.
Grandma smiled. "Yes, Margaret Thatcher. When Mrs. Thatcher closed the mines, your daddy no longer had any work and it made him very unhappy. Daddy tried for a very long time to make money and buy us a better house, but he'd only ever worked in the mines and didn't know how to do anything else." Her eyes squeezed shut. "Today Daddy died, sweetie. He's gone to heaven and he's not coming back to us."
My lip began to tremble and I felt tears sting my eyes. "But I don't want him to go! Can we ask God to bring him back? What will we do without him?" A heavy feeling spread in my chest and I felt like I couldn't breathe. I reached for my Grandma's hand, and my voice went all croaky. "There's no one but us now, is there, Grandma? You're all I have left. What if he takes you too? I don't want to be on my own. I'm scared, Grandma." A loud scream ripped from my throat. "I don't want to be on my own!"
"Molly-" Grandma whispered as she cuddled me close and we dropped to the floor, crying in front of the fireplace.
My daddy was gone.
My daddy was in heaven.
He was never, ever coming back.
The University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa, United States of America
I was so bloody late!
I puffed out short, ragged breaths as I ran across the sprawling University of Alabama campus, trying my hardest not to fall flat on my face.
My hands were full to the brim with printouts of the philosophy course syllabus I'd been ordered to copy over an hour ago-the first task of my TA duties.
Class was literally about start, but my seemingly endless run of bad luck ensured that the printer in the staff reprographics room decided to break down halfway through my order with a melodic swan song of a pathetic high-pitched wheeze and a stuttering poof of mechanical smoke.
The print room was on the other side of the college, which led me to my current predicament-rushing across the humongous quad in my non-athletic-worthy orange Crocs in the blistering Tuscaloosa sauna from hell-or as it more commonly known, a typically hot summer's day.
I caught a brief glimpse of myself in the reflection of a glass door.
Not good. Not good at all.
My brown hair resembled the frizzy coat of a miniature poodle, the sweat on my nose was currently encouraging my wide, black-framed standard-issue British national healthcare glasses to kamikaze bomb off my face, and my short denim dungarees and white T-shirt felt like a boiler suit.
England's constant overcast skies were pretty appealing right now.
Nothing today seemed to be going right-the defective printer being the second of my mounting misfortunes, my crazy friends' harassment of me this morning being the first.
* * *
"Toga, toga, toga…!" Lexi chanted loudly as she and Cass sat on my bed, laughing at me despairing in my makeshift toga, pumping their arms in the air to each word, whooping afterwards.
"I look horrendous," I complained, attempting to adjust the sheet in numerous positions to cover my usually private areas.
"You look hot! Your tits are unreal, all perfect and round…" Cass tried to complement, hands out pretending to squeeze my br**sts. "I'm tellin' ya, Molls, I'm not usually a pu**y taster, but I could make an exception for you in that getup! Shit, you got some delicious curves, girl!"
"Cass!" I reprimanded harshly, rolling my eyes.
"Do you have to say things like that?"
"Ah, turn it down a notch, would ya, darlin'? You look great. You're coming tonight, no backing out. Don't make me drag you there… because I will… if I have to."
"But, shit! We promised you a fun college life, not a repeat of the f**kin' wack one you had back in England. The full experience starts tonight."
"Oxford wasn't that bad! And how does this so-called 'experience' go? First, I have to join a bloody sorority, then what-drug cocktails, falling out of clubs trashed off my face?"
"That could be arranged, but it mainly just involves lots of men, sex, orgies, orgasms… oh, and G-spot experimentation. You know, the stuff you really go to college for," Cass said with complete sincerity.
"I came to college to study, Cass, not to whore myself out to drunken frat boys!"