Money: Part One
Sunlight filters through the thin clouds, striking my face. I feel the warmth on my skin and roll over, burying my face in the pillow. I don’t want to get up, not yet. Stupid sun. I wish it would burn to a black hunk of charcoal and sit there in space... well, not really. But at least it wouldn’t wake me up in the mornings. Maybe I should get some blinds. Curtains. Spare blankets, anything to mask the windows. But I can’t. There’s not enough money.
That’s the excuse my owner always has, whenever I ask for anything. There’s not enough money. We’re out of our weekly allowance. It’s too expensive. Every time I ask for something, just a little special, it’s the same story. Not so for Khelyer. She’s allowed anything she wants. She only has to ask and Rivenice gives it to her. She’s painted Royal, now, because she asked. “Hey Rivenice, can I be painted Royal? I’d love to be painted Royal. Come on, Rivenice, I want to be painted.” “Sure, Khelyer, honey, let’s go to the Hidden Tower now, shall we?” When I asked to be painted White I was told there wasn’t enough money. Just like always. “Rivenice, can I please have a White paintbrush? Please, I really want to be White, just a little bit special. Please, Rivenice?” “No, Kally, I’m sorry, there isn’t enough money. We really can’t afford it. I think your blue is beautiful! Why change it?”
My name’s Kalinin. Kally for short. Kally the Blue Shoyru. Plain blue. No special intelligence, or stats; nothing that would cost money. My bedroom is stark, almost empty; the only furniture I have is leftovers from Khelyer’s room. A bed that’s too small for her. A chair too ugly for her. Posters that don’t suit her mood. Nothing bought for me. Nothing given to me because my owner wanted to be nice. It’s like I don’t exist, and every time I try to be real they stamp me down and ignore me.
Khelyer is walking across the hallway. I can hear her footsteps on the wooden floors, the solid ¬¬¬¬thump-thump of her shoes beating out a rhythm. I roll over again, give up on the attempt to sleep, and sit up. Khelyer’s gone downstairs. I hear our owner asking her how she feels. Our owner’s name is Rivenice. I would say she’s really nice, because aside from the whole money thing, she is; she takes us out, she smiles a lot, and she loves us. Or, at least, she loves Khelyer. I don’t know why Khelyer and not me; I have no idea if I’ve done anything wrong. All I want is for her to smile at me once and say, “Here, Kally, how about you get yourself something from Pizzaroo?” and she’d hand over a thousand Neopoints. I dream that one day, it will happen; she will finally decide I’m worth spending money on.
I follow Khelyer downstairs and take a seat at the long table. Rivenice leans over and smiles at me, placing a plate of re-heated omelette in front of me. My eyes slip sideways, away from my plate, to glance at Khelyer’s. Of course. As expected. Her plate is covered with expensive foodstuffs: Faerie Toast, Spiced Apple Pie, and other things I can’t even name. Khelyer is stuffing her face and grinning greedily. I glare down at my plate of Plain Omelette. Suddenly I’m not hungry anymore. I push it away from me and leave the table.
“Kally, where you going?” calls Rivenice from the kitchen; no doubt fixing up some expensive drink for Khelyer. “You haven’t eaten your omelette!”
“I don’t want omelette!” I’ve finally had enough of playing second-best. I will confront Rivenice, here and now, about the unfairness.
“Well, what do you want? I’ve got some jelly here, if that’s okay for breakfast.” Jelly? Jelly! She’s offering me jelly! Once again, something free, something you can get every single day.
“I want Faerie Toast! I want a Spiced Apple Pie!” I look back at Khelyer’s plate and try to name everything on it. It’s difficult, seeing as I’m not around expensive food much. “Eggs Benedict... a Croissant... Fruity Faerie Fingers!”
“That’s too expensive, Kally. What’s wrong with the omelette?” Rivenice asks, coming out with another plate.
“It’s not too expensive,” I spit, furiously. “You’ve got enough money to buy them all for Khelyer.” All three of us look down at Khelyer’s plate, on which is every one of the foods I named, and others. Rivenice hesitates. I can see her struggling to explain herself this time. Furiously, I fold my arms over my chest and glare at her. Khelyer just shrugs and proceeds to stuff the Faerie Toast into her mouth.
“But there isn’t enough money to buy them for you,” says Rivenice, as though it’s the most obvious thing in the world.
“You’ve got enough money to buy them for Khelyer!” I shout. I’ve finally lost control. Some absent part of my mind is aware of my hands, fingers stabbing angrily at Khelyer’s breakfast and at my owner’s face. But most of me is focused only on my screaming voice, the anger rolling up inside me, like some sick parody of Techo Mountain.
“But I can’t buy these things for Khelyer and you, Kalinin. I’m sorry. I want to, but we’d be flat broke if I did.” Rivenice shakes her head gently, as though she’s actually sorry. I don’t believe her.
“Then why not stop buying them for Khelyer?” I demand loudly and rudely. “Why not buy them for me instead? Same money; even less! I don’t want all that!” I indicate the expensive breakfast so violently I accidentally flick the Croissant off the plate and onto the floor. I don’t stop to apologize. “Why not buy those things for me instead? What’s wrong with that? Tell me why not!”
“It wouldn’t be fair on Khelyer,” Rivenice says carefully, like she’s approaching a lit fuse and doesn’t want it to burn down further. She’s right to be careful. I explode.
“IT’S NOT FAIR ON ME!” I scream, so loud my ears ring. My cry of anger and despair rings around the kitchen, bouncing from tiles, from lights, from sinks, even from the expensive breakfast I want so much. “Why won’t you buy it for me instead?” I sob, my anger finally gone with that last desperate yell. “Why can’t you split it down the middle instead? Why can’t I have this?” I pick up the Croissant I’d knocked off Khelyer’s plate earlier. “Why can’t I have this, and she have the rest of that? Why can’t you buy something – anything – for me? Look at this!” I gesture at the dressing gown I’m wearing. It doesn’t fit. Of course it doesn’t. It used to be Khelyer’s, and we’re two different species. “You bought this for Khelyer. Not me. Never me. You gave it to her first. You only care about her.”
“Kalinin, let me explain something.” Rivenice wraps her arm around my shoulders and steers me away from the table. As she does, she takes the Croissant away from me with her other hand and gives it back to Khelyer. It’s almost the last straw and I am so close to losing it again. But I have to admit, I’m curious about what she wants to explain.
“Kalinin, there’s something I haven’t told you,” Rivenice begins as we sit down in the Lounge Room. She’s hesitating, fiddling with an empty coffee mug. I sit rigid as a statue, my arms folded again, trying to be as offensive as possible.
“What?” I demand coldly. “Why you don’t love me? Why you don’t care about me?”
“No,” she breathes, looking up at me. “What I’ve done has been because I love you so much, more than I can even describe.”
“Doesn’t look that way from here.”
“Look at Khelyer, Kally,” says Rivenice softly. I notice she’s gone back into my nickname again. “She’s spoilt. I gave her everything she wanted. I still do. She’ll never be like you. She’s never had to work for anything. She doesn’t try in school because she doesn’t need to win my love that way. But when I adopted you I decided to change. Now look at you! You work hard, you constantly try, you’ve grown up without needing these things! You’ll be so much happier when you’re paying for yourself, that you don’t need twelve-thousand Neopoint chairs to make you comfortable. I gave that to you. I did this for you.”
“How can you say it’s made me better?” I cry, with more emotion in it again. What she’s saying I refuse to accept. I’ve grown up for years without my mother’s love, and suddenly it seems I have it more than my lucky sister.
“Because you try and win my love. You’re nice. You’re polite. You do your chores. All in hope of winning my love, but you already have it. Money isn’t love. It’s hardly even an expression of it.”
“You treat Khelyer well,” I grumble. “You make her happy, comfortable. All through money. Then you don’t give me anything. You fill Khelyer’s room with toys, and won’t even give me the toys you win from Tombola! One Neopoint, ONE, is more important to you than my happiness.”
“Money ruins all,” cries Rivenice. I do a double-take. She’s actually crying. Rivenice never cries, and certainly not over me. I’m not worth tears. I’m not even worth one Neopoint. “Khelyer isn’t really happy. She’s just rich. Do you really think that the furniture, the breakfast, all of it, do you really think it makes her happy?”
“Then why give it to her?”
Rivenice is silent for a moment. So am I. It takes a while to digest. My mother, who’s never spent a Neopoint on me in my life, is suddenly professing her love for me. Trying to make sure I’m not ‘damaged’, not ‘spoilt’ like Khelyer. I think for a moment. Can I honestly say it’s made me any better? Khelyer demands; I ask. Khelyer takes, I beg. Khelyer strides, I tiptoe. Maybe it has, just maybe, made me a better person.
“Tell you what, Kally,” says Rivenice, slightly hesitantly. “Why don’t you and Khelyer swap places for a week? I’ll give you everything you want, literally stuff Neopoints down your throat, and I won’t spend a single thing on Khelyer.”
I grin to myself. A chance to wear clothes bought for me, that suit me, that make me pretty. A chance to wear makeup. A chance to eat something that cost money, that isn’t omelette or jelly! I could have pizza, Faerie foods, anything! I could read books, train in the Battledome! A chance to have everything I’ve ever dreamed of.
“Yeah, alright. We’ll swap.”
To be continued...