Seaweed by Charlie Cox: https://soundcloud.com/harpercollinspublishers/she-must-be-mad-by-charly-3
Step, step, listen. Step, step, creeaaakkk–
Mel froze on the steps, lilac tulle swishing around her bare ankles. Her floorboards had to be the loudest floorboards in all of England. When she was satisfied that the house remained silent, she resumed her journey down the steps.
Mel had spent the night fretting about her fight with her parents and her upcoming date (or was it a date?) with Anne. Lisa had left for work hours ago, and she hadn’t heard a sound from her parents for the last twenty minutes. Had they gone to the beach with George? Was Dad asleep on the couch with a newspaper over his face? Mel didn’t know, and she wasn’t waiting to find out.
A noise from the pipes in the wall made her jump and one of her high-heeled ankle boots, which she’d been carrying in her hands, tumbled from her grasp.
Thunk-ka-thunk-ka-thunk! The shoe rolled down the steps. Mel held her breath, but no rebuttal came.
Emboldened, she picked up the shoe and crept onward. Through the kitchen, toward the door. She was so close! Three more steps...
The door swung open to reveal Mam, Dad, and George blocking her exit. Mam and Dad’s startled facial expressions quickly changed to anger.
“Mel! We take George on a walk for fifteen minutes and you go sneaking out?” said Mam.
“I was just going to take pictures in front of the house,” Mel managed.
“Aye, with your shoes in your hand and no one to take the picture for you. Who’s coming to pick you up? Jackie?” Mam asked. “Give me your phone, now.”
“Nobody’s coming to pick me up. Jackie and I have been fighting. We haven’t spoken in days,” said Mel, trying to back away.
“A likely story,” said Dad, snatching her phone from its hiding spot in her boot. His brow wrinkled in confusion.
“Who’s Anne? And why did she send you this picture?” He turned to Mam in utter bewilderment. “It’s got a crocodile thing with flippers crawling onto a beach and it says, ‘This niche empty, FEET!’ Molly, what does this mean?”
Mam ignored the question. “All you do is lie to us, Mel. You lie, and you sneak, and you–”
“Well what else am I supposed to do when you won’t listen to me?!” Mel yelled.
George’s head whipped back and forth, trying to follow the conversation. He was irreversibly lost.
“We do listen to you,” Dad began. “And believe me, we would love for you to go study whatever you want, but money has its limits, and we can’t throw it away on–”
“And can you imagine having to navigate a new city all on your own?” Mam interrupted. “I want my daughter to go up in the world. I want to make sure you’re connected with the best people, but I can’t do that if you’re hours away. And you’re of an age where I suppose you’ll be wanting a boyfriend soon and I know how tricky men can be–”
“I don’t even like boys!” Mel screamed. She had had enough. “You’re basing your argument on the assumption that I’m straight and I’m not! I don’t like boys, Mam, I like girls. I like one girl, and I don’t even know if she likes me back.”
Even George looked shocked.
“Mel–” Dad started, but she didn’t wait to hear the rest. Mel turned tail and ran. Across the kitchen, up the stairs, racing so fast she nearly tripped over that ridiculous skirt. She slammed her bedroom door so hard that one of Lisa’s lipsticks rolled off her shelf. It wasn’t a display of anger, but of fear. What had she done? And how would her parents react? They weren’t explicitly homophobic, but they hardly ever talked about queerness at all–in fact, they’d managed to go all eighteen years of her life without uttering the word “lesbian” once. She knew that one of Mam’s old school friends was a gay man, but were they really that close of friends?
Five rhythmic knocks. Mam. “Mel, it’s me. Can we please talk?”
Her voice was softer than before, but Mel didn’t trust it. She didn’t answer.
“Mel, please answer,” said Mam. And then a minute later, “I’m worried about her, luv. Go fetch the spare key to her room from downstairs.”
That got Mel’s attention. She had to escape, and fast. She glanced at the narrow bedroom window, where outside a rare thunderstorm was brewing. The window, of course! What kind of teenager never tried to sneak out the window? There was a first time for everything, and this was Mel’s first time climbing out of her own bedroom window. She slipped on a pair of trainers–no time for anything else. Still clutching her high-heeled boots, she threw open the window and heaved herself onto the roof.
It was all a grand idea until her skirt got stuck.
About the author: Ella Shively is a writer and wildlife technician in northern Florida. You can find her online at https://www.instagram.com/shivelywrites/.
About this chapter's featured poet: Charly Cox (born 23 July 1995) is a British poet and writer. Cox is also a mental health activist. She serves as an ambassador of mental health research charity MQ Foundation. Her bestselling poetry and prose debut collection "She Must Be Mad" was published in 2018.