THE OPPOSITE OF TIDY
is an award-winning author who lives with her family in Vancouver, British Columbia. Some of her accolades include the Arthur Ellis YA Award, the Stellar Book Award, several CLA Honour books, and the Sheila A. Egoff Children’s Literature Prize, which she was awarded for
The Gryphon Project
. She is also a paramedic with the BC Ambulance Service.
ALSO BY CARRIE MAC
The Gryphon Project
The Droughtlanders Storm
Pain & Wastings
Published by the Penguin Group
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First published 2012
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Copyright © Carrie Mac, 2012
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Mac, Carrie, 1975–
The opposite of tidy / Carrie Mac.
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FOR MY MOM,
WHO SHARED HER LOVE OF READING
Juniper had gotten used to the smell of the house. Even something as foul as that had become normal after a while, and it was made worse by the incense and cheap scented candles that her mother kept lit to make it smell “nice,” even though foul and fake did not mix well at all. But her mother plain stank, and there was no hiding it. This was a more recent and very alarming development. Her big fat self smelled rank. Junie couldn’t recall the last time her mother had washed her hair. It was lank and wet-looking, but not from any water. Just grease. There was a slick on her skin, too, a light oily sheen from not having showered or bathed or even passed a damp cloth over her face for who knew how long.
Chinese food takeout boxes balanced on the arms of her mother’s easy chair. Chow mein noodles inched down her ample bosom like worms. Red blotches of sweet and
sour sauce dotted her sweatshirt, too, and bits of egg foo yung littered her lap. Junie glanced in one of the boxes. The fried rice looked like maggots. She could imagine them writhing around in there, pale and putrid.
“Do you want some?” Her mother offered up the box, never taking her eyes off the television. On
The Kendra Show
that day, a man who used to be a woman was showing off the twins he/she gave birth to. Kendra forced a grin as he handed her one of the bleary-eyed infants, who promptly started to bawl.
Junie swallowed back bile. She wanted to throw up. It was the smell, yes, but it was everything else, too. Absolutely everything.
“Is that dinner?” she asked.
It was almost four o’clock. Junie could be sure that the only time her mother had left that chair was to use the bathroom. And to answer the door for the guy who delivered the Chinese food.
“Are you planning on making dinner tonight?” The question was pointless. Junie knew that her mother had no plans for dinner that didn’t involve a takeout menu and delivery, if she had plans for dinner at all.
“How about pizza?” her mother replied.
Junie glanced at the stack of discarded pizza boxes piled to one side of the easy chair, at the flies buzzing lazily above. When the television was off, you could hear the scurrying of rats as they sought out the dried up pizza crusts and abandoned noodles. No matter how many traps Junie set out, it was never enough. She shuddered at the thought.
“No. No pizza.” Junie made fists of her hands. Her mother didn’t notice. The man who used to be a woman was going on about how badly people had treated him during his pregnancy.
“So, in essence …” Kendra leaned forward, excited, “you were the world’s first pregnant man!”
“Hmm?” Her mother looked up. There were deep dark bags under her eyes, and zits dotting her chin. On a grown woman! And that sweat suit had not seen the inside of a washing machine in over a week, at least.
Junie lifted her fists. She brought them to her face and pressed them hard against her mouth. Part of her wanted to sock her mother between the eyes. Punch her to attention. Knock her out of this mess and into the realm of common sense. And the other part of her just wanted to run away. She let the latter take over and backed toward the door.
“Where’re you going, honey?” her mother asked, eyes ever fixed on the screen.
The Kendra Show
cut to commercials, so she flipped to the Shopping Channel. A tiny loud model was promising that the scarf flecked with real gold would slim down any woman when worn just so around the neck. One of those would show up within the week, Junie was sure. At least one.
Junie didn’t answer her mother. One thing Junie’s grandma had always taught her was that if you couldn’t say anything nice then you shouldn’t say anything at all. Right now, it was taking all of Junie’s inner strength not to tell her mother how disgusting she was. And that wouldn’t make any difference anyway. She knew this because she’d tried
it, and all that had ended up happening was that she’d hurt her mother’s feelings and made her cry. She’d tried begging, threatening and shaming, along with everything else she could think of, to snap her mother out of this eternal and fetid funk.
Junie let herself out the front door and took a deep breath of the fresh spring air. She closed her eyes and thought the worst thought. What if her mother was going to be like this forever? What if she never got better? What if this was the new normal?