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époque press
pronounced: /epƏk/
definition: /time/era/period

Teika Marija Smits
Short Story

Sparkles and Rainbows

The parcel was addressed to Ms. D. Watkins so it was either for Danielle or her mother, Deirdra.

     Christmas was only a week away, but Danielle already knew there’d be few, if any, presents for her, so she opened the box on the off-chance that a distant relative had remembered her and been kind. A slip of paper emerged from beneath the brown cardboard packaging. It said: Season’s Greetings, with the compliments of Mason’s Casino and told Danielle all that she needed to know – that this gift was for her mother, and that her mother was still gambling.

     Danielle’s hands, suddenly useless, let go of the parcel. It thudded to the floor and for a moment she delighted in the fact that whatever was inside the box might have got broken. But then regret, and a cold kind of logic, fierce and hollow, made her pick up the parcel and see what was within. She pulled out a bubble wrap cocoon, and breaking into it she discovered a single, cut-glass candleholder. It was heavy and ornate, with dozens of facets, and judging by the acid-etched mark on the bottom it wasn’t simply glass but crystal.

     Danielle held the candleholder up to the window. Her face softened as she watched the sparkling crystal split the sunbeams into rainbows. She waved the candleholder in the air and made the rainbows dance about the worn and once cream-coloured carpet until thick, envious clouds rolled across the sun and made the rainbows vanish.

     Danielle sighed, then returned the candleholder to its box. She’d tell her mum that she’d opened the parcel by mistake; Deirdra wouldn’t care, she’d only be bothered by the fact that Danielle now knew for certain that she was still gambling.

     Danielle ran a hand through her unkempt hair and then returned to her work. She re-read what she’d written of her thesis that morning and then once more proofread her CV. With a bit of luck the recruitment agency would have some work for her. And soon.

*                          *                              *


While on the bus that would take her to the agency, Danielle sifted through her feelings. Sadness and frustration; these she experienced most frequently. Resentment. That was another all-too-familiar emotion, for she knew that at any moment she could be dragged down with her mother, both of them devoured by poverty. Their lives seemed so precarious. That’s why Danielle had to finish her Masters and get herself a decent job. Yet it wasn’t as though her mother was lazy – she wasn’t – she worked almost ten hours a day cleaning, it’s just that she could gamble away her hard-earned cash within minutes. But Danielle’s thesis was taking longer to write than she expected, and what they needed was cash now. Lastly, there was anger. White hot, glowing rage at the casino who nurtured, nourished and profited from her mother’s addiction. Danielle clenched her fists. She hated this anger. It served no purpose, other than to disorientate her and cause her emotional turmoil. And she couldn’t afford to be distressed, unfocussed. Now, more than ever, she had to be calm and confident. She had to be the perfect prospective employee.

     It turned out that the perfect employee was only fit for cleaning.

     ‘You haven’t got much experience in the workplace, have you?’ the crumpled-looking woman at the recruitment agency had commented while she looked at Danielle’s CV.

     Danielle tried counting the various shades of spent dye in the woman’s hair: baby pink, turquoise, blonde, red. It was a faded rainbow of middle-aged despair.

     ‘I mean, apart from the years you’ve spent studying poetry,’ she said, infusing the word ‘poetry’ with disdain, ‘you haven’t actually done much, have you?’

     Danielle had gritted her teeth and said, ‘No.’

     ‘Still, we’ve got a few hotels who are always wanting chambermaids. You could start tomorrow. You’ll have to be up early though.’

     ‘No problem,’ said Danielle. She could do early. She’d get up with Mum.

     Early, though, was not to Danielle’s liking. Or rather, she could manage early along with cleaning and bed making until the afternoon, when her energy simply ran out. Writing her thesis after a day’s work at the hotel was impossible.

*                          *                              *


     On the day before Christmas Eve, Danielle returned home from work to find her mother on the phone. She could tell by her mother’s over-bright voice – a contrast to her pasty-looking face – that she was speaking to the landlord.

     Danielle slumped onto the sofa and considered the small artificial Christmas tree which her mother had placed on a small cabinet in the corner of the room. Deirdra’s gift from the casino, complete with lit candle, was next to it, and the magical way in which the crystal candleholder sparkled in the glow of the candle and the gaudy lights of the fake tree almost, but not quite, softened the edges of her anger.

     When Deirdra got off the phone she went past Danielle, and into the kitchenette off the lounge. She turned on the oven and then got a packet out of the fridge.

     ‘So?’ said Danielle.

     ‘So what?’ said her mother, putting a ready-made pie onto a baking tray.

     ‘What’s happening with the rent?’

     ‘Brendan’s okay about waiting a little longer. Till after Christmas. Told him I’d have all my Christmas tips
by then.’

     ‘And will you?’

     Deirdra took an envelope out of her pocket and waved it at her daughter, a grin on her face. ‘Got some already. From my richest clients. You know, the ones with the spotless homes who hire me just so that they can tell their friends they’ve got a cleaner.’

Danielle sighed and then turned on the TV.

     ‘Aren’t you pleased?’ said Deirdra, her sudden smile gone, leaving her face empty, pale. ‘I thought you’d
be pleased.’

     ‘I am pleased, Mum, honest. I’m just exhausted. How on earth do you manage to keep going, day in, day out, cleaning loos and scrubbing baths?’

     ‘Oh love,’ said Deirdra, sitting down on the sofa. ‘My work’s not as bad as yours. People’s homes are more interesting than hotels. And I know all the shortcuts and tricks to make things look extra sparkly. You’ll get used to it soon enough. The beginning of any new job is always the hardest.’

     Danielle leant into her mum.

     ‘There, there,’ said Deirdra, stroking her daughter’s head. ‘You’ll be okay. We’ll be okay. Just you wait
and see.’

     For a moment Danielle believed her.

*                          *                              *


That evening, after dinner, Danielle went straight to bed. She was asleep within minutes and so she didn’t hear her mother clattering about the bathroom, getting dolled up, and then leaving the flat. And she was still fast asleep when her mother came back in the early hours of the morning. Even the sound of her mother’s sobs didn’t wake her. It was only when her alarm woke her and she dragged herself to the bathroom that she knew something was wrong. Deirdra wasn’t up, which wasn’t like her, and the bathroom was messy with perfume bottles and make-up. Danielle’s stomach began to churn.

     She went to her mother’s room and found her asleep in bed, clothes all over the floor.

     ‘Mum?’ she said, sitting on the bed and putting a hand on her shoulder. Her mother was pale, and there were beads of sweat on her forehead. ‘Are you okay? What’s going on?’

Deirdra stirred, took one look at her daughter and began to cry. ‘I’m sorry, love,’ she began. ‘I…’

     ‘All your tips?’ said Danielle, her eyes round.

     Deirdra nodded and then reached for Danielle’s hand.

     Danielle suddenly stood. ‘I don’t have time for this. I’ve got to get going, to work. Like you should be doing.’

     Deirdra put a hand to her throat. ‘I don’t feel well, Danni. Could you do me a favour and get me the thermometer? And some paracetamol.’

     Danielle brought them, along with a glass of water, which she set down with a thump on the bedside table. She then left for work, her throat too constricted with anger to say goodbye.

     All day, while Danielle stripped beds, vacuumed and cleaned toilets, she made plans. She would go to the casino and kick up a fuss. Invite journalists in. Camera crews. No, wait, it might be better if she were cold and calculating: she would accuse them of theft and foul play. She’d get the police involved. Her mind drifted… and she would switch to thinking of what she’d say to her mum that evening. She’d threaten to leave – to go back to her dad, as unwelcome a prospect as that was. Then she thought of Deirdra, ill and in bed, and imagined herself nursing her mother back to good health and helping her fight her addiction. She’d never leave her side. She’d never let her come close to a casino, or any other gambling temptation, ever again. She considered their landlord – and what she’d have to say to him, and how they were going to pay the rent. Then her thoughts looped back to the casino. Finally, after hours of feverish reflection Danielle settled on a plan.

*                          *                              *


Danielle’s energy did not leave her that afternoon. Anger propelled her home after work and, keen to carry out her plan, she felt as though she could take on anyone and anything.

     ‘Danni?’ called her mum when she got back.

     Danielle went into her mother’s bedroom. ‘What?’ she said, instantly regretting her sharp tone. ‘Sorry, I mean, how you feeling?’

     Deirdra shook her head. ‘Like shit. And my temperature’s sky-high.’

     ‘I’ll get you some water. You need to drink lots of fluids.’

     Her mother nodded, her eyes glistening. ‘But Danni, you do know that I’m sorry, don’t you? I… I wanted to get you a decent Christmas present. And I just thought, you know, that I’d only stay for a little, until I’d made a bit extra, and then I’d come home. But once I started…’

     Deirdra began to sob.

     Danielle went over to her mother and held her hot, shaking body. It was difficult to feel anger towards her, especially when she was ill.

     ‘It’s all right Mum,’ she said, ‘I understand.’ Although she was certain that she didn’t really, or ever could, understand.

     After she’d brought her mother some water and got herself some food, Danielle went to her bedroom and pulled her best frock out of the wardrobe. It was a few years old, and unfashionable, but it would have to do. She put it on and then went to the bathroom to apply some make-up.

     ‘Going out?’ said Deirdra, entering the bathroom and sitting on the toilet. ‘With your uni friends?’

     ‘Yeah,’ said Danielle. If you could call the pawnbroker and the people at the casino friends.

     ‘I hope you have fun. You deserve to have a good Christmas Eve.’

     Danielle kissed the top of her mother’s head, and then told her not to wait up.

*                          *                              *


Armed with the money the pawnbroker gave her for the candleholder, Danielle entered the casino. She didn’t really know what happened at casinos, apart from what she’d seen in films, and so she wandered about for a bit, simply watching what people were doing. She then exchanged her money for chips and went to the roulette wheel. That looked simple enough.

     After only a short while she’d managed to convert her few chips into a large stack of chips. Beginner’s luck – that’s what she’d been counting on to win back the money her mother had lost, and sure enough she’d been blessed with oodles of good luck. This had to be the perfect revenge. The crystal candleholder for a small fortune, so that they could pay their rent – many months of it – and have a good amount left over. All she had to do now was exchange her chips for cash and get the hell out of there. But even as Danielle stood and gathered up her sparkling and clattering chips, she thought that maybe she should stay another few minutes. Just until she’d won back that little bit more.

Teika Marija Smits is a UK-based writer and freelance editor. She writes poetry, fiction and non-fiction, and her speculative short stories have been published in Best of British Science Fiction, Parsec, Shoreline of Infinity and Great British Horror 6. Her debut poetry pamphlet, Russian Doll, was published by Indigo Dreams Publishing in March 2021. A fan of all things fae, she is delighted by the fact that Teika means fairy tale in Latvian.


Of the story featured here, Teika states:


'Sparkles and Rainbows focuses on a mother-daughter relationship, the mother's addiction to gambling, and their potential slide into poverty. It aligns with the theme of shortage as the mother and daughter are both very short of money, yet there's also a shortage of boundaries; an inability to put distance between themselves and the casino.’

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