By Waxesnostalgic Genre Rating Updates
More from Waxesnostalgic Drama PG No update page
Title: "Is That So Hard" Canon Characters: Deryn
Author: waxesnostalgic Original Characters: None
Genre: Drama Setting: Prequel; Glasgow, Scotland
Rating: PG Pairings: None

“The cat just came out of nowhere, ma!” Deryn explained again. It had been the skinny little mean-tempered one that seemed to hate everyone in the world except Deryn’s Auntie Ethel. Usually, its weird habit of darting across the room for no apparent reason didn’t really bother anyone, but today it had led to Deryn tripping over it, breaking one of their best teacups, and spilling tea all over Mrs. Edwards. Deryn reckoned that she would not be calling again after that incident.

I tripped over my barking skirt, Deryn wanted to say. And how can anyone walk in shoes like that, Ma? But she knew that nothing she could say could make her mother understand. Deryn wasn’t cut out for this, but her mother seemed convinced that if she made Deryn hate herself enough, it would turn her into a perfect young lady.

“And,” her ma was saying, “What was worst of all was when you swore at poor Mrs. Edwards.”

“I wasn’t swearing at her! I was swearing at that bar—stupid cat!”

Her mother covered her face with one of her hands, as though she was playing at being a real lady. Deryn looked around for something to sew, anything so that she wouldn’t have to look at her ma. But that had all been put away to make their parlor look presentable.

“This is a disaster,” Deryn’s ma said. “And you know that Mrs. Edwards’s brother is—”

But who Mrs. Edwards’s brother was, Deryn never found out, because they were interrupted by loud knocking at the back door. Deryn leapt up in a squick, shouting, “I’ll get it!” She reckoned that whoever was at the back door wouldn’t care that she still had tea on the hem of her white skirt. She darted into the kitchen, hoping that her ma’s disappointment wouldn’t follow her in there.

The kitchen was quiet after the hustle and bustle of the past half hour. The fat cat had fallen over again—or perhaps it was attempting to sun itself in the patch of sunlight filtered through the dreary lace curtains. The dishwashing otter dozed in a tightly curled ball at the edge of the kitchen sink.

The knocking continued persistently until Deryn cracked open the door. It was Davy McPherson, who lived two houses down the street. “Oh, it’s you,” he said. Lately, he never sounded too happy to see her, although she had thought of him as a friend when they were small.

“My ma wanted me to give this to, er.. your ma...” he explained awkwardly, handing Deryn a basket wrapped in red gingham cloth. He wouldn't meet her eyes, but he gave her a strange look at the stain on her skirt. It must be worse than Deryn had first thought.

“What happened to you?” he asked, with a hint of contempt.

“Oh, I had a wee bit of an... accident with a tea tray,” Deryn answered breezily, trying to sound normal. Davy didn't laugh though.

Auntie Ethel bustled in and took the basket from Deryn's rather limp grasp and sent Davy off with repeated thank yous. Deryn simply stood, unsure of what to do with her now empty hands, and fumblingly clasped them together and stood off to the side with her head down, like a “good” girl. She looked down to see the stain on her skirt from above; it looked like a splotchy brown tree, rising up to the floor. Auntie Ethel didn't seem to want to talk—she just hummed softly to herself as she unpacked the basket, and Deryn was glad, because she didn't feel like saying anything right now.

Today was yet another bad day, and Deryn felt that she had been having quite a lot of those lately. No matter what she did, her mother was always disappointed in her, and she knew that she could never be what her mother wanted her to be. She wished for the thousandth time that her da was still here. Though the pain was still raw, she could now think of it without feeling so paralyzed. Ma hadn't been so tense a few years ago, Deryn was certain.

“I am going to my room,” she said suddenly, and her auntie looked up but didn't say anything. Deryn's feet hurt, and she wanted to take off her irritating shoes.

At the top of the stairs she looked at her reflection in the mirror. She didn't look like anything or anyone but herself, despite her mother's ministrations that morning. Her hair was coming out of its carefully arranged and curled style, with several strands falling down onto her face and over her shoulder. It made her look as though she had just emerged from a Tarzan novel rather than the parlor. And the unhappiness on her face was obvious; even when she tried a smile it just looked tired.

Trudging into the room, Deryn shut the door behind her and threw herself down onto the bed, her head hanging off the opposite edge. She could see only the hazy-clouded sky and part of a tall brick building through the window from her upside-down vantage point. Then, reluctantly, she sat up, crossed her legs, and began to undo the buckle on one of her high-heeled shoes, and then the other. Deryn hated those shoes; they altered the way she walked and made her mince about unnaturally. She held them both up by their buckle straps and tossed them haphazardly under her dresser, where she hoped they might moulder forever.

Ma always expected too much of her, Deryn thought as she pulled off her stockings. She was always telling Deryn stories of her own youth, how she had been so happy, surrounded by friends and clothes. Deryn knew what she was trying to say with all of these stories, that Deryn should be more like she had been—as though she could recapture her youth through her daughter. Deryn knew that she could be—she was—more than her mother wanted her to be, but she wanted so much for Ma to be happy with her.

Deryn stood up again, reaching her arms back painfully to try to undo the back clasps of her bodice, but it was impossible from both above and below her shoulders. She would need help, and as she would need someone else to undo her corset anyway, she stepped out her door in bare feet. Ma was standing at the bottom of the stairs, as though waiting for her. “Do you need me to help you?” she asked, and Deryn nodded.

Back in her room, Ma undid the hooks and eyes on the back of Deryn's dress and pulled it off of her forcefully. It seemed that her ma had still not entirely forgiven her for the tea incident earlier, but she was only a bit prickly instead of outright angry. “Here, why don't you—help me—instead of just standing there like a child,” Ma snapped, as she helped Deryn out of her corset.

Deryn's ma went to the dresser and pulled out a shirtwaist and laid it on Deryn's bed. She was about to pull out a skirt, but Deryn said, “No, Ma, I think I'll be going to bed. I'm tired.”

“It's not even late,” said her ma suspiciously. Deryn reckoned that she thought Deryn was planning to sneak out to her da's old workshop and hide there for a while, as she had done before, but Deryn was past that now. But Ma didn't ask her anymore questions, and simply stood watching Deryn get ready for bed. The truth was, Deryn didn't really want to face the rest of the day. As she pulled on her nightgown, she wondered why her ma didn't just leave. There was no reason for her to stay, unless she planned to watch Deryn get into bed. Deryn wished that she could wear pajamas, as she knew that other girls she went to school with did, but Ma thought them too unladylike.

Deryn soon found why her ma had waited. “Here, we still have to put in your rollers,” Ma said, pulling them out from under a discarded corset cover on the top of the dresser, which Deryn had hoped might hide them. So, this was her way of making sure that Deryn stayed in her room—and she hadn't even been planning to leave. The kid rollers were a compromise, and Ma felt that large metal ones would work better—and perhaps they would. But Deryn was hardly about to sleep with barking huge metal things in her hair, and it hardly seemed worth it as any kind of curling device failed to work on her quite straight hair. So Deryn slept in the soft leather curlers instead, hoping that eventually Ma would realize that they didn't work and give up the whole thing.

Deryn stood in front of the mirror and watched her mother brush her hair. She felt like a child, but Ma always said that Deryn would never do it properly if left to her own devices. Then, she separated Deryn's hair into strips and wrapped them firmly around each roller. Deryn felt that she was pulling tighter on each one, making it painful. Although she tried to meet her mother's eyes in the mirror, all she could see was her long hair in her mother's hands, as though she were tied to her with a long, unbreakable rope.

“Ow!” Deryn finally exclaimed, pulling away sharply and turning round to face her mother. Ma stood dumbly, holding up her hand with a kid roller with a few strands of Deryn's hair dangling off of it from when she had pulled away.

Then her ma snapped back and slammed the roller down on the dresser angrily. “Stop acting like a child!” she said again, and then paused to catch her breath. Her tone softened. “Why do you do this to me! I am only helping you—you can't go on acting like a boy and expect to make it far in life. You're nearly fifteen, so you should start acting like it. Please, Deryn, I only want you to see... is that so hard?”

“I'm sorry, Ma, but I can't be like you. I'm not like you. I've tried, and I've tried to make you happy, but I just can't do it. I—I have things that I want too, I just want to be myself. Why can't you let me be me, is that so hard?” Why can't you love me for who I am?, Deryn added in her head, but she wasn't brave enough to say it.

“Well, if that's how you feel then I don't think I can help you anymore,” said Ma huffily. “Do what you like—and end up spending the rest of your life here like my sisters. Go on!”

“Well, I will, but I won't be staying here, that's for sure!” Deryn called after as her mother stormed out of the room. And she wouldn't be. Jaspert was coming home on leave soon, and, with his help, perhaps they could enact the plan they had talked about a few months ago. Deryn could join the Air Service by disguising herself as a boy—it had seemed a bit distant and silly then, but Deryn was older and taller now. And, she was determined to get out of this house, where she felt as trapped as a bird in a cage.

Still standing in front of the mirror, she took the kid rollers out of her hair and pulled her hair into a single tight coil, experimentally, then looped it behind her head. How would she look all of it gone? Very nice, she thought.

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