Cat Lumb - Winner

Competition: Hate Short Story Competition

Cat Lumb is a Yorkshire lass living on the wrong side of t’hill in Stalybridge, Cheshire, with her wedding-phobic fiancé of ten years and a mischievous puppy called Hugo the Destroyer. Her short stories have featured in Woman’s Weekly, a Comma Press Anthology, and her recently published collection The Memorial Tree, available on Amazon. While she lives with two chronic conditions – ME and fibromyalgia – she’s determined that these won’t prevent her from being a published novelist one day. Find her on Twitter: @Cat_Lumb or via her website www.catlumb.com

Cat Lumb

A Strong Word

I’ve never been interviewed for the papers before. How does it work? Just talk, do I? Oh, that’s direct: when did I start to hate her? Why does everyone assume that, she’s still my daughter, you know? I guess it’s easier to tell you how it all happened, from the beginning.
We did love her when she was little, her dad and me. She had these perfect blue eyes, round cheeks and thin blonde hair. She looked like an angel but she was a nightmare to take care of; always so demanding and needy. ‘Mummy, can I have this?’ ‘Daddy, can we do that?’ I mean, she slept with us, right between me and my husband, until she was eight. I’m convinced that’s why he left. Oh, you don’t think so? Do you have kids? Well, then, you know how exhausting it is. Imagine your little one always getting in the way when you wanted to touch your wife. That’s what she was like; couldn’t just let us have a moment, no, she had to be the centre of attention. I mean, I can’t really blame Simon for leaving. I would probably have done the same in his shoes. But, I had to stay. I’m her mother, aren’t I?
We did our best for her. We wanted to make sure that she got all the things we never did growing up, but she didn’t appreciate anything we did for her. All the toys and activities, she didn’t accept them gracefully, if you know what I mean. Of course you do, you’ll understand with your kid that sometimes they can be unreasonable so you have to punish them. Oh god, not physically no, I’d never hit her. That’s one step too far, isn’t it? I’d confiscate her ‘phone, stop her from going out, that type of thing. Had to lock the window in her room when I caught her sneaking out; she could have been going to meet a boy and got knocked up as a teenager.
She did hit me once, though. She wanted to go out with friends and she hadn’t done her homework. She said she had, but I knew she was lying. She screamed some awful things at me, then when I still said no she slapped me, right across the face. I felt like I’d been walloped by someone bigger than a fourteen-year-old. She put so much force into it. She did it in front of Patrick too, just to embarrass me, I’m sure. I stood there, my face as red as the hand-mark on my cheek with tears in my eyes. Patrick had to raise his fist before she scuttled away. I never got an apology of course, but then she never thanked me for ‘owt either, so no surprise there.
I expect you’ll want to know about Patrick? Well, he came along when she’d just turned twelve. I never thought another man would look at me after my husband left; single mother, with a difficult child? Most men would run a mile. Not Patrick. He was gentle, understanding, and patient, even with her. But he saw how she would push me and bait me for a fight. It was him who fitted the lock to the outside of her door. For her own protection, just so we’d know where she was.
I can see your face. You think I was a bad mother. No, it’s okay, maybe I was. But it wasn’t all terrible. Before Patrick, the two of us would cuddle up on the sofa and watch a movie with a bowl of popcorn. We’d giggle at the stupid rom-coms where the girl always ends up with the guy and yell at the TV: ‘They always end up kissing!’ We were happy then but it never lasted very long. She soon grew out of wanting to spend time with her Mum. I suppose it was high school that did it. She wanted to be popular and fit in. She was for a while, but then she just stopped making an effort. The amount of times I had to go down there to apologise for her snarky comments to teachers, or for not wearing the uniform, even fighting. She was always the one to start it too.
Of course, you know Patrick had to leave. That was her fault. She said he’d touched her inappropriately. I mean, seriously, what would a grown man want with a fifteen-year-old blimp? Especially when he could have had me. Don’t think I didn’t see you look me up and down when I came in here. Not bad for 43, eh? She didn’t take after me this way; grew right out of her angelic looks. I tried to get her to eat right, exercise; I mean it’s not that hard, I do it, as you’ve noticed. But she just scoffed down the junk food. Then when puberty hit she piled on the weight. Sometimes I found her crying in the bathroom and I’d have to comfort her, encourage her that she could cut out all the sugar and crap she ate, but she didn’t want to change. In the end I gave up, figured she deserved to be fat.
See this scar on my arm? She’s the reason I prefer to wear long-sleeves now – caught her literally trying to cut the fat out of her thigh with a razor blade. She lashed out at me when I tried to stop her; cut me so deep I needed six stitches. What was I supposed to do with her when she got like that? She was a danger to herself and others and she was ruining my life. I defy anyone to love under those circumstances. I know she’s my daughter but she didn’t act like it. She was a leech, sucking the life out of me.
So, yes, Patrick left when she accused him. He didn’t want to get the police involved, not because he was guilty, mind. But stuff like that ruins a man’s reputation doesn’t it? He couldn’t risk his livelihood and place in the community for her, could he? I suppose that’s when I resented her the most. Like I wasn’t allowed to have life beyond looking after her. She’d scream that I didn’t deserve to be happy at me sometimes. I’d given up so much for her and she was so ungrateful. She couldn’t let me have just one thing. Not even Patrick.
Now, to be honest, I don’t even really remember it happening. Patrick called me from work, said that she’d shown up in a skimpy outfit and tried to seduce him. I didn’t know what to do. He drove her home and didn’t even look at me even when I dragged her out of the car. He sat staring straight ahead gripping the wheel with his knuckles white. It’s disgusting what she tried to do to him. And you know what she said? She said that he was a dirty old man and that she just needed proof. Convinced herself that it had to be before she turned sixteen because otherwise it wouldn’t be classed as raping a minor. How could you possibly love someone after they do such a despicable thing?
So, I guess I did hate in that moment. Who wouldn’t have? I must’ve snapped. I remember screaming at her and she tried to pull away, so I held her in front of me trying to get through to her how wrong it all was. I suppose that’s when the neighbours called the police. I just let it all out; I wanted her to know of all the terrible things that she’d done that this was the final straw, that I was done.
I still can’t tell you where the knife came from. All I know was that there was blood just as the sirens started. I don’t remember stabbing her, honest. I’m almost sure I didn’t. I was angry enough to do it, sure, but did I? I don’t know. Part of me wonders if she did it to herself, just to get me in trouble. She’ll probably tell you something different. Have you spoken to her yet? No? Well, watch out, she knows how to spin a lie.
Do I want to see her? I don’t know. Is she here? Would she want to see me, after everything? Well, I haven’t seen her since the trial. I suppose it would be good to make sure she’s okay. I am still her mother. But my lawyer said not to talk to her. I wouldn’t be able to think of anything nice to say anyway. Oh, just through this door? That’s it, no security? Well, okay then, if we can just walk past I suppose that will be alright.
Is that her? She’s lost weight and dyed her hair. Well, I guess that’ll be for you guys – everyone wants to look good for the press. Oh my god, did you see that? She’s smiling. She’d glad I’m in here, while she’s free and clear. I bet this was her plan all along.
Oi, you. How dare you smile when your mother’s behind bars. This is your fault. Oi, don’t you turn your back on me. I hate you, you ungrateful— ...get your hands off me. I’m fine. Just get me away from her quick.
I bet that answers your question though doesn’t it Mr Journalist man? Of course I hate her, look at what she’s done to me.  

Judges Comments

In Strong Word, the joint winning entry in our Hate Stories competition, Cat Lumb has presented us with a very convincing first-person voice for her unreliable narrator: a woman who believes she is the victim of her daughter's manipulations and uses that to justify her hatred.

It's a gritty, difficult story of a toxic mother-daughter relationship that tackles a situation where child abuse has been condoned or accepted. Cat has taken the most useful authorial decision and let her character speak for herself, without any authorial explanation, justification or moralising. The voice, bitter, vain and full of rancorous self-justification, is all we, the readers, need to make up our own minds about the character and circumstances, some of which which are ambivalent and defy easy interpretation. Was she sometimes a good mother? How difficult actually was the daughter? Is all of that interpretation smoke and mirrors, or is there some truth in it? There are compexities woven into this story, and it's all the better for it.

Strong Word is a terrific look at the way an individual can distort reality. We only have the narrator's persepctive but Cat, through her careful control not just of information release but through her ability to convey the escalation of her character's own emotional response to her version of events, enables the reader to understand that there is a whole other side to this story to be read between the lines.

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