The Least Favourite Child

An excerpt from the first draft of my short story, The Supermarket. It got lost on the cutting room floor, so to speak, but it helped me characterize one of the three main characters in the short story, Ella. By the way, the skin condition in question is psoriasis.

The Least Favourite Child

Ella-May was her children’s confidante. They told her about everything: the fighting, the drinking, and the drugs. She knew by the way they told her so frankly that they must not be leaving anything out. No doubt they understood that she could keep her mouth shut. Ella always thought that she would have made a good moll – like in one of those mobster movies. She kept her lip buttoned and she was a good listener. She was tough, too, and none of those guys that came in with her boys had ever scared her. Now that she was in her sixties, she did the same for her grandchildren as she had for their parents.  Listened. Didn’t judge.

One of those grandchildren, a bank robber, kept a room at her house. He was a good grandson, always visiting, even as a kid. He didn’t mind rubbing shoulders with the rummies that she used to let stay over when they were down on their luck – old friends of her children, or people she met at the Blue Angel when it was still around. She didn’t go into that room now except to clean and to feed his pet alligators. He often slipped her some money for doing so, and she never asked where it came from. The alligators would soon outgrow their tanks – she could tell. He would have to do something about them then.

None of this was at the forefront of her mind on this day. No – she was busy being honest with herself. She had been looking through her pictures that morning, and there she had been, her third youngest daughter. It was one of the first times she had stopped to think about this particular daughter as separate from her siblings. Ella was admitting a truth to herself: she had a least favourite child, and it was this one.

With one or two kids, maybe it was easier to say you loved all your kids equally, even if for different reasons. But eight? Ella had discovered the truth about that. The Least Favourite Child visited regularly. She never borrowed money. She wasn’t a drinker, nor was she into any of the hard stuff that you put up your nose or into your veins. She didn’t fight with her husband. In short, she didn’t need her mother.

But that wasn’t where it started. The Least Favourite Child had been premature. Ella-May’s mother-in-law had kept the child in a basket in the sun. Ella remembered thinking it was like a primitive incubator, like for an egg. That had been just the beginning. Ella had sent her to live with her barren sister in the States, but like a bad penny, she had come back. Even her childless and desperate relatives had not wanted this child.

The Least Favourite also had a skin condition. She often had to get treatments at the hospital, and would be in there for weeks at a time, expecting Ella’s attention. Ella obliged by coming by on Thursdays and Fridays before she headed out to the Blue Angel, or another place. She was also unpopular with the other children in the neighbourhood, who called her “scabby witch” and made fun. Ella had hoped to avoid that by having the girl wear long sleeves all year round, even in high summer, but the children just found her the weirder for it. (The LFC never told her that her condition would have been helped immensely by exposure to the sun that her long sleeves and pants blocked out.)

Aside from that, the Least Favourite Child was unremarkable. Shortly after this revelation, Ella-May looked into the fridge to discover that it was Thursday…

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