“You’ve been through so much Holly, you’re a fighter, an inspiration,” Carly replied, squeezing her hand.
Aliah caressed a yellow dandelion with her long tan fingers. She’d always been told she had ‘piano fingers’, elegant and lithe. She loved the piano, its sound and presence. They’d had one in the house that her mother played, but she was the only one allowed. Aliah never understood it as a child, why her mother refused to teach her how to play and forbade her from getting lessons. As an adult it had become clear.
Holly continued. “If I didn’t have all these shit things happening to me all the time, I’d be happy. I just need life to give me a fucking break.” She glanced at Aliah. “Like you Aliah, everything always goes so well for you.”
“Life’s about choices. I consistently choose happiness.”
Holly narrowed her eyes. “So my misery and suffering’s my choice?”
Carly, the eternal fence-sitter intervened. “Aliah, I do hear what you’re saying, but I also feel your comment to Holly was maybe kinda invalidating?”
Holly’s chin climbed the air. “Aliah, always full of smiles and fucking sunshine.” She reached for her cigarettes, chin still elevated, eyeing her. “Guess it’s hard having compassion for me, when nothing’s ever gone wrong for you.”
“Holly’s dad’s abusive and her boyfriend’s violent and yells,” Carly began, spending more time looking away than at either of them. “Holly’s resilient, struggling with all that and still facing each day.”
Holly’s father, who still paid all her bills including rent in a brand new city apartment, had missed just four of her piano recitals in 16 years, and had told her in Year 5 that her poetry needed “a little more work.” Holly’s boyfriend had once thrown a cup at the wall when she’d cheated on him with his best friend, and had raised his voice on a single occasion: the day she turned up to his work drunk.
Watching Holly’s index finger circling the cuts she’d made with scissors on her left arm, images of Aliah’s own past flashed in her mind. The routine beatings until she left home at 16, belt brush spoon slipper vacuum, whatever had been closest in reach—her mother’s voice calling her stupid, fat, ugly, a mistake—her mermaid-themed bedroom when she was eight, the year her stepbrother started using her as an experiment for what he’d seen in movies—her ex-boyfriend taking a run-up in his boots across the carpet as she lay on the floor, kicking her in the ribs and shattering her bones—his eyes, pale and vacant as he lunged at her with the hair straightener, burning her labia.
Aliah’s memories were intercepted by Carly. “Some people’ve had it really tough Aliah. Maybe you could try being more empathetic...feeling their pain.”