I have always liked sitting under tables. I’ve found someone’s ankles and feet give a real insight into what they’re thinking. My favourite place to do this was at school; I only knew my class from the knee down, it was much easier that way. Mum says I don’t have to go to school anymore, she said I was too smart for those people. So now I just sit under the dining room table, not as many people walk by but I still hear some good stuff. The plus side of this table is the cloth; it’s a heavy thing, covered in big purple flowers and sometimes I like to try to count them. Most of the time Mum and Dad don’t even notice I’m under here. I’ve found it tends to be for the best if they don’t notice I’m there.
Last time I was here I got to listen in on everything. Dad had just come home from work; you can hear him before you see him. Stomp, groan, slam, stomp. Scuffed black shoes and wonkily hemmed trousers peaked into view. Groan.
“Marie! You in love?” Dad’s the only person I know who can make the word ‘love’ sound like a bad thing.
Mum’s walk is distinctly different from his. Shuffle, shuffle, sigh, shuffle. She was wearing her pink socks with the lacy frill around the top. Her pretty socks. It’s always a good sign when someone is wearing pretty socks.
“Hi sweetheart.” She rose onto her toes to kiss his cheek. “Was work ok?”
Dad did look stressed; he was leaning hard on his left foot. If you know anything, you know leaning hard on your left foot is the opposite of pretty socks.
“I contacted schools today…” He always mumbles when he’s nervous. It’s very inconvenient when there’s a table and a thick cloth between us.
“Why would you do that?”
I curled my toes, scared they were poking out and putting my top-secret position at risk.
“We need to find a school that will take her…” Dad’s feet shuffled turning awkwardly away from her and closer to me. “She can’t be here all day.”
Poor Dad, he never did understand that I’m just too smart for school.
“I’ve told you before, she doesn’t need a school.” Mum gulped, mimicking Dad and leaning onto her left foot. “I’m teaching her.”
(Mums lessons are great, we read books and if I’m sad we draw pictures together.)
Dad tapped his heel against the floor, a very bad sign. Partly because it was making my seat tremble.
“You aren’t teaching her anything Marie. She needs to meet other kids. Learn to socialise with her peers and all that stuff…”
“You’ve been talking to that doctor again.” Mums voice was sharper now and the lace on her socks had begun to shiver. We don’t like doctors. “He doesn’t know what he’s talking about. My daughter isn’t sick.”
“Our daughter. She needs help. You can’t do everything yourself, especially when it’s just you.”
He must be going on another business trip. (He likes them.)
“I’ll be fine.” Mum snarled. “She’ll be fine. No need to pretend you care.”
Dad leant back against the table, leaving me with nothing to see but his grey trouser legs. I’d never noticed all the stains before.
“Please, don’t turn this on me.” He sighed. Part of me wanted to hug his legs but I didn’t want them to know I was listening. “I’ve tried but I can’t do this anymore.”
“You haven’t tried.” Mum was starting to sound like the yappy terrier from next door. “You don’t understand her.”
“No-one understands her!” Stamp, shuffle, stamp. “She needs doctors! Special care! You can’t lock her away here and hope no-one notices!”
(Silly Dad, she never locked me in. I just prefer staying inside.)
Rolling back and forth was causing Mums socks to slip down and she irritable used her toes to nudge them back up. I couldn’t see Dad anymore; he’s always tended to stomp out of sight when they’re talking about me.
“So that’s it then? Ten years of marriage and you’re out?”
Both pairs of feet had disappeared but I could still hear their footsteps in between the shouting.
“I’m sorry Marie. It’s not my fault!”
Shuffle, shuffle. Stomp, stomp.
“Nothing’s ever your fault, is it?” Shuffle. “One day you’re going to have to take some fucking responsibility!”
Stomp, shuffle. Shuffle, stomp.
“How many times do I have to say I’m sorry!”
Shuffle, stomp. Stomp, shuffle.
I haven’t seen Dad since. When he gets back I’ll make sure I tell him about his wonky hem and the stains on his trouser legs. Mum is too sad for lessons at the moment, she hasn’t worn her pretty socks for a week. So, I think I’ll just wait here until Dad gets back. Maybe he’ll be doing my lessons from now on.
I like sitting under tables. I wouldn’t have a clue what’s going on otherwise.