The Psychology of Crime by Sandra Jensen
"Donít mouth at me," Bonma said, "write it down." Coronation Street was on, and as per usual I was the designated plot-explainer. I mouthed again. Bonma just stuck her chin forward and sucked on her Silk Cut. A mixture of lavender perfume and face powder smell mingled with the smoke. She stubbed out her cigarette, lit another. Bonma left cigarette butts all over the house, each one ringed with red lipstick. She smelled like the bottom of an old ladyís handbag and was stone deaf. At least thatís what she said.
Bonma was my grandmother but it didnít really feel like it. Iíd met her last summer when Mum and I were on holiday in South Africa. The first thing she ever said to me was, Youíll have to do something about that skin of yours. My grandfather, Bonpa, ignored me completely and stayed in his room doing Ďresearchí. He was a professor of psychology. He had smelled like a wet dog. He had a heart attack not long after we left and two weeks ago Bonma arrived on our doorstep. How rural, sheíd said, clutching her plastic lime-green handbag to her stomach. She looked like sheíd landed on Mars. I had to agree with her on that. We lived in cow-dung smelly Somerset where I only had one friend at school. I was weird because I read Homer, I hated playing field hockey and I was going to grow up to be an architect. Bonmaís arrival just made me feel weirder. It wasnít like I could tell everyone how happy I was to have granny home. The only thing we did together was watch TV.
I tapped her on the arm. Deidreís not married to him, sheís married to Ken, I mouthed.
Bonma just gave me her dead-eye look. She was grumpy because Mum made the fish pie with pastry and not mashed potato.
I sank into the settee. She could figure it out for herself without my help. The show was boring anyway. I stared at her handbag lolling open beside her chair. I saw a slice of bread wrapped in wax paper and a notepad. Probably scrawled with a shopping list for Mum. Bread was always on her list, bread was always in Bonmaís handbag. It was even hidden in her underwear drawer. Iíd inspected her room once, I was trying to find out her Big Secret. I knew she had at least one.
Bonma glanced at me as if she knew what I was thinking. Smoke curled up from her head like she was on fire. I decided to give up feeling pissed off and returned to watching the telly.
"Heís not married to her," Bonma suddenly said, as if sheíd just discovered it all by herself. I pretended not to hear. Stone deaf Iíd be. I didnít care. She could yell like a foghorn if she liked.
"Oh! Heís not married to her! How disgusting."
I rolled my eyes but Bonma wasnít looking, she was fixedly watching Ken gather Deidre into his arms and kiss her.
Disgusting, Bonma repeated, not taking her eyes off the TV, her foot tapping the linoleum in excitement. She pulled her chair forward a little, as if to see quite how disgusting this was going to be. Another waft of perfume and face powder descended. I headed for the door. I had maths homework to do.
"Youíll be ruined," Bonma muttered, tapping ash onto the carpet.
"What?" I mouthed, halfway out the door.
"Do you want to end up like your mother?"
I gave her my loudest stare but she swivelled away as if sheíd not seen. I could tell she had by the way her lips puckered around her cigarette, pushing it forward like a weapon readying for action. She switched channels. A tongue-flicking snake crawled across the screen to ominous music. I Claudius. Sheíd always said the show was Ďa pile of abominable filthí but I knew she enjoyed it just as much as I did. I slunk back into the TV room hoping Mum thought I was upstairs doing my homework. Bonma gave a little flap with her fingers as if I was disturbing her concentration. I curled myself back into the settee and grovelled down the side for a pen and the square stack of paper stapled together. I flipped to a clear space. What do you mean Iíll end up like Mum? I wrote while Lollia stabbed herself to death because of the Ďbestial absurditiesí Emperor Tiberius had forced upon her.
"Poor thing," Bonma said, sounding a bit envious.
I fingered my note, crumpled it in my hand just as Mum opened the door. She looked at us as if we were both naughty schoolgirls. I scrambled up, Bonma leafed briskly through the TV guide.
"I thought you had homework."
"All rubbish," Bonma said, running her finger down the TV listings.
"Nearly finished," I lied.
"Well then, go to it. Then bed. Now!" she added, seeing my eyes slip over to the screen. Tiberius was talking to his astrologer. He wanted to find out how long he had to put up with his mother.
"You dropped something," she said, picking up my note. I reached out but she uncrumpled and read it. I tried to squeeze past her but she stepped in my way.
"Whatís this?" Mum asked, the note curling in the palm of her hand.
She held it out to Bonma. Bonma raised her eyebrows innocently. Not that she had any eyebrows, she shaved them off and drew perfect Mae West arches instead. "Utter filth," she said to the TV, cigarette stuck to her lower lip.
"What have you been telling her?" Mum asked, not even trying to mouth the words.
"I havenít told her anything dear. I wouldnít presume to interfere."
"I told you she can hear," I whispered.
"Then why are you whispering?"
"What has she been saying to you?"
"Honestly," Bonma said to no one in particular. Maybe to Patrick Stewart who had just entered the scene on the telly. She liked him. She tipped her chin in my direction.
"Shouldnít she be in bed?"
"I thought you said you wouldnít presume to interfere." Mumís voice like a small stone.
"Donít mouth at me dear."
"Oh for Christís sake," Mum said, steering me out the door.
I spread out my homework on my bed. The only reason I hadnít cribbed Alisonís answers was because we had a smashing looking new math instructor. I had thought Iíd at least try for once. I started trying but then Mum opened my door without me even saying come in. She just walked right in and went over to the window. There was nothing to see. It was pitch dark. Not even some stars because I already checked, hoping to see the Pleiades. She fiddled with the belt of her Laura Ashley maxi. My mother always wore maxis because she was bohemian. She sighed loudly and then came over and put her hand on my forehead.
"You feel a bit hot," she said, sitting down on the bed.
"I have a terrible headache," I lied. Maybe sheíd tell me to stay home tomorrow.
"I know Bonmaís been telling you things."
I peered at my fingernails which were non-existent in spite of me using Hard as Nails for months. I think I chewed at them when I was asleep.
"Do you think about him much?" Mum asked.
"Itís late and I donít feel well," I said all in a rush, moving my legs about to try and shift her off my bed. We never spoke about him and I didnít want to speak about him now. It wouldnít make him want to come back to us, would it? I kneed her in the thigh but I didnít mean to. She said, "Ow," and gave me a look. I put on my sick face and closed my eyes.
"OK darling," she said, getting up.
She only called me darling when she was mad at me. I donít know why she was mad. I wasnít the one who married him. I wasnít the one who divorced him.
"Maybe you should stay home tomorrow," she said, her voice softer. I grunted. I wasnít sure what I wanted other than for her to get out of my room and actually staying home from school didnít feel like such a good thing now. All alone with Bonma, whoopee.
The next day my throat felt like it was stuffed with gravel and a zit was exploding on my nose. No chance I was going to go to school like that and Mum thought the same thing.
I stayed in bed as long as I could after she left for work, until I was sure Bonma had finished her egg-bacon-and-burnt-toast breakfast and was in the TV room where she would probably spend the rest of the day. I needed something hot to drink. A Lemsip. I went to the bathroom but the medicine cabinet was full of bottles of Bonmaís Milk of Magnesia and Alka-Seltzer and the Lemsip box was empty. I sat on the toilet and cried while I peed. Suddenly the door opened and I stood up in fright, peeing on my leg a bit. Bonma stared at me. She stared at my private parts. She didnít move. I didnít move. And then she turned around and slammed the door shut. After a moment I heard her humming God Save the Queen in the corridor. I could hear her all the way to her room. I held my breath until I couldnít hear her anymore.
I felt very peculiar. Not just sick peculiar but inside peculiar. Like someone had taken a dirty cloth and wiped underneath my skin with it. I crept over to the door and slid the lock across. I didnít want to leave the room. I told myself I was being stupid. Thatís exactly what I said out loud: Donít be so stupid, but it didnít help. Something felt really creepy. It wasnít even her staring at me down there. I could understand that, it had happened to me when Iíd walked in on Barty Rogers at Alisonís party. He was holding his thing with both hands and aiming his pee at the back of the toilet seat while I just stood there like one of the Caryatids or something, my eyes stuck to his willy.
I told myself I was sick and thatís why I felt strange but I still didnít want to leave the bathroom. I climbed into the bath with my pyjamas on. I was cold so I covered myself with a towel. I wanted a bath but the hot water didnít come on until six. I had a long wait ahead.
I guess I must have fallen asleep because I dreamed I was sitting on Tiberiusí lap and he was feeding me bits of roasted meat which I didnít want but he kept saying, Open wide, open wide. I was like a hypnotised zombie and I did what he said and then heíd shove a gristly cube into my mouth. I asked Tiberius where his mum was but he just laughed making a sound like a hyena and that is when I knew that Iíd been eating pieces of his mother. I woke up gagging on a corner of towel that had fallen onto my face. The door rattled loudly and I jumped, cracking my head on the side of the bath. My leg went flying up, whacking the tap. I screeched because it hurt a lot and then the door rattled even harder.
"Kat, Kat!" Bonmaís foghorn voice shouted.
Bonma had never called me Kat. She insisted on Katherine which I thought was a horrible name. Bonmaís choice because it was her middle name. I never forgave Mum. Why wasnít I called Lucinda or Chloe? Anyway, something must really be wrong for Bonma to say Kat so I hobbled out of the bath and opened the door. She was sucking on a burnt-out cigarette, her big bosoms heaving under her blouse. I felt really faint and woozy. I leant against the doorframe. I wanted to be back in the bath all safe but then I remembered the sound of Tiberiusís laugh and everything went black. Next thing I know Iím on the floor, my head between my legs, crying.
"Good girl, good girl," Bonma said, stroking my hair. Her cigarette bobbed up and down between lipstick-smudged lips, like a finger wagging at me. I decided not moving was the best thing. I closed my eyes. There was a rushing in my ears like seawater or a nice breeze through leafy trees only it wasnít, it was Bonma whispering.
"Silly mistake, thatís all it was. He didnít mean to, luvvie, I know he didnít mean to."
It was as if someone had plugged me into an electric socket. I wasnít dizzy or headachy or sick any more. I was all buzzy like Iíd had one of Alisonís Dadís coffees which I wasnít supposed to have but he always insisted it would help my stick-work in hockey.
"Who didnít mean to? What silly mistake?" I asked. "What are you talking about?"
Her fringe of puffy beige hair flapped up with my breath. I was feeling quite angry but Bonma just rocked back and forth on her heels with her eyes shut. I stared at her varicose veins puffing through her nylons like little garter snakes. The telephone rang. I stood up and Bonma shot a hand out and grabbed me by the ankle.
"Your motherís a tart," she said, "she asked for it, it wasnít his fault, little hussy egged him on, thatís what she is, a shameless hussy."
I pulled away and she fell back hard onto her bottom. I didnít care. I ran down the stairs to the kitchen and almost yanked the telephone off the table.
"Hello?" I yelled, praying it was Mum. It was.
"Kat, how are you? I tried to call before but no one answered."
"Mummy," I said.
"Oh sweetie," her voice nice and soft.
"Tell me," I said before I could stop myself. I wanted her to tell me everything, all of it, why was I so weird, why didnít my nails grow properly, why wasnít she like other mothers, why didnít Daddy love me any more, why, why, why, but I couldnít get the words out, I just blubbered snot into the telephone.
"Tell you what? Kat, whatís going on? Are you OK? Howís your temperature?"
"Why is Bonma so nasty to me?" I managed.
I wanted her to say sheíd come right over but Mum wasnít like that. She thought I was fine by myself because I was always so Ďself-reliantí. I sniffed my tears back up and then told her what Bonma had said. Mum was very silent. Sort of heavy silent that weighed down the telephone in my hand.
After a while Mum said, "Letís talk about this tonight."
"Talk about what?"
"Mum! Tell me!"
"My father," she said, and then said nothing.
I could still smell his wet dog smell. I had nothing else to remember him by really. Iíd wanted to read his book, The Psychology of Crime, but Bonma had hidden it somewhere.
"Oh Christ, Katherine, canít this wait until I get home?"
"Canít you come home now?" I asked. She sighed.
"OK," I said, standing up. I pull myself together. Iíd be all grown up and make myself a cup of tea and finish my homework. I waited for her to at least say I love you, or something.
"He tried to do things to me when I was little," she said quietly.
I sat down again. "Bonpa? Things? What things?" There was another heavy pause and it got even heavier when I realised what she meant. "Oh," I said.
"Thatís why I couldnít have your father around anymore not when I found him well you know." Her words felt like bullets against my eardrums. I pulled the telephone away from my ear.
"Kat? I have to go now. We can talk later, OK?"
"OK Mum," I said, still holding the telephone receiver away. It looked sort of silly, like a play-play telephone. Pink. Why pink? Everyone elseís was grey or dark green or white maybe. I heard a click and then the buzz of dial tone so I put it down. My arm felt like it wasnít mine. I lifted it up and down like it was a puppet and then it got too heavy so I just left it on the table for a while.
Bonma must have been standing there in the doorway the whole time. Sheíd fixed her lipstick and her cigarette was lit.
"Itís time for General Hospital," she said, looking sort of past me, out the French doors where you could see Jack Buckley our neighbour who had a crush on my mother and had strangled my pet rabbit because it had myxomatosis. He was cleaning his already clean windows. We both watched him for a bit, his crinkly silver hair frizzing in the breeze.
"Would you put on some tea?" Bonma asked. I turned to her and our eyes caught for a moment. She didnít look away, she almost smiled but it came out looking sad. "And maybe some bread and butter?"
"Sure, Gran," I mouthed, not thinking really, it just came out. I never said Gran normally, it had been too close somehow, too much like admitting she was related to me.
"Thatís my girl," she said, blowing a smoke ring into the room. "Iíll go and turn the TV on."