It’s weapons for breakfast again. Seven o’clock and my legs dangle off the kitchen stool searching for the floor. Mum sits opposite dad at the table which crosses over what used to be a separate kitchen and living room. Mum got it knocked through to be like the neighbours who have two cars and smile at each other like they mean it.
‘Surely Blackpool’s near enough you could just come home tonight?’ says mum. She keeps her eyes on the worms of her muesli. Her right hand stretches out and digs painted claws into dad’s arm. Then she pulls her hand back and picks up a teaspoon to ration her breakfast with. Little red moons glow out from in-between dark hairs on dad’s skin. I sip my juice and don’t complain that it has bits in.
‘Well I’ve got a long day ahead of me Laura, on top of a heavy week. Need to be on the ball for a big meeting tomorrow not dog-tired from driving.’ He carries on detailing the week’s diary in a librarian voice while lighting up a fag. I drink my juice and name the planets in order five times. Dad shoves the last sausage in his mouth then picks his plate up. As he passes mum he stabs the cigarette into the back of her hand, then gives it a couple of twists to be sure.
Mum sniffs a couple of times but her face stays as still as a photograph.
‘Well I’m sure you wouldn’t want to tire yourself Mike, so I’m guessing you’re planning an early night at the hotel?’ And, I’m sure all your colleagues will be doing the same, sensible like. Who is it again that’s going with you?’ Her eyes are open extra wide and I see lipstick on her teeth as she smiles. She wears even more when dad is away.
Mum’s dunking dishes into water that changes the colour of her hands. When she has finished with the breakfast bowls, she lifts the washing bowl out with her spaghetti arms that are stronger than they look. Dad hasn’t said who is going with him. My toes curl like in ballet except I learnt it from the laptop cos I can’t get to class by myself. She pours the water over dad’s head, soaking his shirt and making his cheeks and neck the colour of my grazed knees. Dad carries on making his sandwiches for the car trip.
‘Oh same old, same old. Boring really. But you know I’d do anything for you guys. Any plans with the kid?’ he jerks his head to me without showing me his eyes. I try to breathe in and out only a little bit.
‘Stacey’ll have homework I expect. And I need to get on with my sewing, there could be some big orders coming up for Christmas. The website will go crazy soon.’ I wonder how a website can scream and take too many tablets and stay in hospital for the whole of Christmas?
Dad stretches his arms out and yawns for a long time. ‘It’s nice you’ve found a little something to do in the daytimes. Very healthy to have a hobby.’
‘It’s a business, darling, just needs a bit of time for my name to get known.’ Mum picks up the chopping board and shoves it into dad’s chest like she’s posting a massive birthday card. I made my own birthday card last week, with a dog and cat who snuggle up together.
Mum looks out of the kitchen window and her shoulders drop away from her ears. ‘Stacey’s teacher says it’s a growth market.’
Dad gulps some air like its weekend whisky.
‘Ahh yes, Mr. Barrett. Such a wise, handsome man. Lucky that he has such business skills that he can help you out with time to time. Guess he’s got to find things to do in the evenings since his wife left him?’
Dad stamps his heavy shoes onto mum’s feet. They are small enough that she can wear children’s shoes and not pay tax, which mum says is payback for her getting broken by giving birth to me. My baby head was very big. Mum needs to wee a lot now.
Mum’s feet are crushed. She sighs for so long that I run out of planets. She gets down on her hands and knees and crawls over to her handbag.
‘That reminds me love, I best phone him now and remind him that I could do with a hand with my spreadsheet this evening.’
Dad’s washing his hands and the pipes are screaming like they want to escape.
‘I’ll just give this a quick mend,’ he says, scrabbling in the cupboard under the sink for his tools.
‘They’re at the back left,’ says mum, crawling over to reach them first.
I set down my glass and head up to my room to put my headphones on.
Stephanie Hutton is a writer and clinical psychologist in the UK. She has published her flash fiction, short stories and poetry online and in print. She believes in the therapeutic value of short-form writing. Find her work at stephaniehutton.com.