Fiction / Millie Holden


Ties That Bind

Issue 1. February 01, 2021

 

Her father once owned a watch. It was a vintage silver Blancpain with a brown metallic face, presented in a watch box lined with aubergine velvet. Its femininity struck her at once, specifically its thin, linked bracelet. He had left a note tucked in one of the vacant grooves.

            “Mary,

             This has been in the family for generations.

                                                                                                                        Mark.”

She peered into its face until her eyes unfocused and she was staring at her own blank reflection. It was sepia-toned and emotionless, filling up the glass completely. Her blinks became rhythmic with its ticking, until their union was interrupted by the uninspired chatter of her mother. As she spoke, her hand gripped the side of the case, pulling hard beneath the crown. The note, along with the watch box, tossed onto the table. They were no longer important, the vessel of a beating heart. Her fingers tumbled around its clasp, maintaining eye contact with her mother, nodding with the words she was not listening to. Eventually, she clasped it on her wrist. Struck by its fit, her open mouth quivered as her eyes lowered steadily to the now dressed wrist.

            “It fits.” She murmured, nursing her arm, safely bound in her father’s wishes.

            “Yeah. I suppose it does.” Her mother’s eyes rolled.

That night, the ticking kept her awake. She was used to the quiet of her high-rise flat, where the only noises were occasional drunk neighbours and the hum of an over-heating air conditioner. The watch had an undeniable presence. The monotonous beat left scratches down her arm. She debated removing the battery, but that would mean resetting it every morning. Then she thought of leaving it downstairs, but she knew it would still be ticking and her thigh would spasm. Every new idea felt like a hiccup, mocking her for ever conceiving them in the first place. So she endured it, until she barely noticed it.

The following afternoon, Mary was meeting her mother at a restaurant they visited every month. It was a middling affair, the customers ranging from businessmen entertaining partners to teens on first dates. They were the inbetweeners.

Her mother sat deliberately straight on her chair, polishing the cutlery with tight lips. Peering over thick rimmed glasses, she eyed up her daughter. She threw the glasses down to her chest, caught by the pearl beading of its chain. Mary tiptoed gingerly to the table and lowered herself, almost hovering, keeping her weight on her feet. Her mother waited until she relaxed to speak.

            “Purple washes you out.”

            “Thank you.” Mary whispered removing her coat.

            “Drink?” She rose her hand gesturing to the waiter.

Mary stuttered, splitting her teeth with her tongue. “Clearly you’ve already had one.” Her mother retorted.

            “Only the first Saturday of every month.”

            “Very funny.”

They flicked through the laminated menus, but they always ordered the same dish. Her mother would have a Caesar salad with no lemon juice, because the croutons soaked up too much excess, no anchovies, as they overpowered her palate, and mustard on the side so she could spoon some on each mouthful. Mary ordered risotto.

            “Ghastly woman.” Her mother said, eyeing the waitress.

            “I thought she was nice.”

            “You don’t have to shove it down our throats.”

            “What?” Mary began.

            “You know what.” Her mother sipped her chardonnay. “Whatever fad you’re trying this week.”

            “Liking women is not a fad.” Mary retorted, her breath steaming up the glass.

            “I see you got the watch.”

            “You saw it at the funeral.”

            She scoffed in disbelief, “Sorry, I didn’t remember, my husband died- “

            “-my father.” Mary cut her off, wringing her fingers in her lap.

            “Cry me a river.”

A zip tie tightened around Mary’s chest making her cheeks throb. She clipped and unclipped the watch’s clasp.

            “Do you ever stop fidgeting?”

She threw her hands onto the table and avoided her mother’s gaze.

            “I don’t see why you got the watch anyway. You weren’t exactly his favourite.”

            “And yet I’m the only one here.” Mary scraped her fork with her teeth.

            “I thought I would’ve had it but perhaps he thought it was a bit cheap for my wrist.”

            “Perhaps.”

            “Well, why else would you have it?” She said, aggressively dipping her fork in mustard.

            “I don’t know? Emotional compensation?”

            “PAH!” A piece of lettuce landed in Mary’s risotto. “Let me try it on.” Her mother demanded, gesturing with an open palm.

Mary felt a sudden urge to protect the jewellery on her wrist, nursing it in her hand, tuning into the ticking. Everything around her became a gentle hum and her eyes began to blur. The beat was incessant, speaking to her.

Keep me.

Keep me.

Keep me.

            “Let me try on the damn watch.”

            “Fuck off.”

Her mother’s eyelids pulled back as she slowly chewed the dry croutons in her mouth.

            “What did you just say?”

            “I told you to ‘fuck off’.” Still staring at its flicking hands.

Her mother leaned forward, “how dare you speak to me like that.”

            “I will speak to you however I want.”

            “Just like your father. Disappointing.”

For the first time, she stared deep into her mother’s eyes. “I am nothing like your husband.” She thrusted up and walked away, kicking the restaurant’s doors wide open with the watch firmly in her hand.

As Mary rang for a taxi, her phone vibrated against her ear.

            Received: 13:24

                        I expect an apology. I have never been so embarrassed.

            Sent: 13:25

                        Ha. You do surprise me.

While Mary watched the three dots on her phone, disappearing and reappearing, the beaten taxi rolled up the curb.

            “Had a good day, love?” The taxi driver beckoned, looking through the rear view mirror.

            “Is it obvious?”

            “Go on, what happened?”

            “I told my mum to fuck off.” She barely got through the sentence without hiccupping.

            “Sorry?”

            “I told her to fuck off.”

The driver did not respond. She watched him tense his brow like he was concentrating but she knew he did this journey almost every day.

            “Do you like my watch?” She asked, forcing her arm through the front seats up to the driver’s face.

             “Y-yeah, it’s, er, nice, where’d you get that?”

            “Mark- my father. He died a couple of weeks ago.”

            Curling his lips between his teeth, “I’m sorry, how did he die?”

Mary was watching raindrops race down the car window. “Topped himself.”

            “Are-are you okay?”

            “Truthfully, I’ve never been fucking better.”  She really thought she meant it.

The taxi driver dropped her at her flat, refusing to take her money. Dropping her bag on the couch, she stripped on the spot, removing her socks, her jeans, then her underwear, and finally, pulled the sweater over her shoulders. She felt a snag on her arm, tearing the fine knit of the sleeve. Gripped in the teeth of the watch’s crown, a tear ran down her forearm. A feeling of grief washed over her body. She decided her mother was right about purple washing her out.

She removed her earrings and left the watch on.







Millie Holden is a student, currently residing in Lancaster. She has been previously published in the 2020 LLA Anthology, the Lancaster Flash Journal and has also been shortlisted for the Literary Lancashire Award. She hopes to go on to a MA in Creative Writing. In her spare time, she enjoys painting and reading feminist literature.