By: Georgia Le Carre

“Oh! My God. Your face. What happened?” my mother screams as she rushes towards me.

“Nothing,” I mutter, taking a step back.

She grasps my chin roughly in her hand and turns my face left then right while her eyes examine my face. It’s afternoon and I can already smell the reek of alcohol on her breath. “Who did this to you?” she demands.

I shrug. Even having her hand on my face is painful, but I don’t allow myself to flinch.

“Tell me,” she commands, her eyes flashing with fury.

“It’s nothing.”

“Tyson Friedman, if you don’t tell me right now, I swear, I’m going to ground you for a whole week.”

I stare into her eyes rebelliously. Let her. I don’t care if she does.

“Please, Ty, tell me,” she begs. She knows I can never resist her when she pleads for something.

“Johnny Matteson called you a whore, and said I was the son of a gyppo. I punched him and his gang jumped on me.”

She blinks in shock then draws a sharp breath. I see her throat work as she swallows hard. Releasing my chin, she straightens. Her eyes flick away from me as she sways unsteadily inside her dressing gown. On TV the music for Countdown starts. It is one of her favorite shows. My mother is clever and often she has the answers before the clock stops ticking. Her hands shake as she flicks a lock of hair from her forehead.

“Mary Mayweather must have started that rumor. I’ll go to the school tomorrow and talk to the headmaster,” she says vaguely. We both know she’ll do no such thing. By tonight she’ll be so drunk she’ll have forgotten the entire incident.

I touch her arm. “Is it true? Is my father a gyppo?”

She drops to her knees, her eyes suddenly fierce. She still loves him. Desperately. “He’s not a … gyppo. He’s a traveler. A wild and beautiful gypsy.”

I stare at her face curiously. How transformed it is when she speaks of him. “Where is he now?”

She shakes her head. “It’s not important.”

“Tell me about my father, Mom. Please.” I look at her with begging eyes.

“When you grow up I’ll tell you.”

I shake my head in frustration. “Why should Mary Mayweather know more about my father than me? If you don’t tell me I’ll never be able to protect myself against the lies of Johnny Matteson and the other kids.”

For a long time she says nothing. Then she nods. “Come,” she says, and takes me to her room. It smells in mom’s room of stale sweat and alcohol. She sits on the bed and pats the place next to her. I position myself beside her. Taking a deep breath, she opens her drawer and pulls out an old Bible. From between the pages she pulls out a polaroid strip. One of those you get from photo booths. She strokes the length of it lovingly before she hands it to me. “That’s your father.”

I take it in my hand and stare at the picture. I cannot believe that young laughing girl who looks so full of life and vitality is my mom. She is unrecognizable. I stare at the man, drinking in his features. He has the same coloring as me, straight dark hair and bright blue eyes.

“Does he know about me?”

“He knew I was pregnant.”

“Where is he now?” I gasp. My voice is awed. All my life I’ve wondered about my father. My mother never wanted to speak of him. Every time I asked she would start crying so I stopped asking, even though the questions burned inside me.

She smiles sadly. “He lives in Chertsey.”

“Can we go and see him?”

Tears start rolling down her eyes. “No.”

I take her hand in mine. Already mine are almost as big as hers. “Don’t cry, Mom. Please, don’t cry.” I hate to see my mother cry, but I have to know about my father. I want my father to come and save us. I want him to make my mother stop drinking. I want her to go back to being the happy girl in the picture. “Does he not want us?”

She shakes her head.

“Why?” I whisper.

“Because …” her voice trembles, “because … he already has another family.”

My eyes widen with astonishment. “Another family?” I echo.

“Yes, he has a wife and children,” she sobs.