Here lies the final installment of the story so far (and the final photo of Esther and me). Hopefully posting this will inspire me to finish the story, now that my poetry submission is out of the way. Please let me know if you’ve read and enjoyed the story, or if you’ve read the story and have feedback for how to improve it. If you read it and hated it and don’t have feedback, please don’t let me know. It’s too much for a Monday.
The planetarium was out of this world (GET IT!?). We watched a show about the solar system, and another about the moons of Jupiter. Even better: we bought annual passes, and mum said we could go back whenever I wanted (but on the bus from now on). I bought some glow in the dark stars in the gift shop and, in the taxi home, mum and I planned how we could arrange them to represent some of the constellations. We decided that maybe the ceiling should be a dark indigo, the same colour as the night sky on that holiday in Wales; the same colour as the teddy bear; the same colour as my memory.
We were half way through watching Thelma and Louise (mum’s favourite film – I wanted her to choose) when the phone rang. Mum plonked her tub of aloo gobi on the floor and I paused the film so that I could eavesdrop.
I could tell it was someone she didn’t want to speak to because of the way her voice lowered. I couldn’t make out the words, but she was speaking almost in a whisper. She sounded cross. I tiptoed towards the door and listened.
“To be honest I think it’s rude that you’ve called. The number was on the form for emergencies only. And it’s a Sunday evening. Well, how very considerate of you to offer but no, we’re not interested. No, I have no desire to put her through that again. Not after seeing her this morning. I don’t remember you mentioning anything about side effects! Yes, she’s fine now, but that’s not really the point, is it? It’s not any of your business, to be honest, how we plan to spend it. No, of course you can’t speak to her! She’s busy! Yes I do have your number but I shouldn’t expect a call any time soon if I were you, goodbye Mr Silk.”
Mum slammed the phone down a little too hard. I darted back to the sofa and picked up my chicken jalfrezi, pretending not to notice how flustered she looked.
“Who was it, mum?”
“Oh, no one. Just a telesales person, trying to sell us double glazing or something. Shall we put the film back on?”
It was the first time, as far as I know, that mum has ever lied to me. I said nothing, but picked up the remote and pressed play.
The sun was bright in the skylight when I woke at 6.30am on Monday, so I knew it would be a good day. Plus, it was double physics first thing, and I had gymnastics after school. Knowing that always made it easy to get out of bed. I decided to go downstairs in my pyjamas and make mine and mum’s breakfast, so that she’d be in a good mood before she headed into university.
But when I stepped into the kitchen, she was already there. She was sat at the counter in her dressing gown, holding a letter and crying. Crying! Maybe you don’t realise how ridiculous that is, but mum NEVER cries. It’s just not something she does. She cries at films and books, but that’s different. This was actual crying. Big heavy sobs. I haven’t seen her crying like that since dad left, and that was five years ago.
“Mum! Are you ok?” I ran towards her with my arms outstretched, but when she saw me she sprang away, as though I was a spider in a bathtub.
“Oh God, Star! Go back upstairs please, I’m being stupid, I need a moment.” She held her hands up to cover her face, as if there was a chance that I hadn’t seen already. I folded my arms and stayed put.
“No way, mum. You’re crying. You never cry. I very much doubt it’s stupid. What’s going on? Has someone died?” Mum looked shocked when I said that, then she shook her head and looked even sadder than she had before.
“Mum! What’s going on? What could possibly be this bad?!”
“Oh Star it’s stupid, it really is. At least if someone had died you wouldn’t think I was a total idiot, and I’d have a good reason for crying. But I don’t, I’m just an idiot, it’s just a stupid bill. And I’m normally so good with them, but I’ve made a mistake and you’re going to think I’m a total idiot.”
I couldn’t think of anything to say so I just stood there. Emotional outbursts weren’t the kind of thing mum had brought me up to deal with. So I just tried to think what she would say if I was having an emotional outburst, and said that.
“Mum. Breathe. Take all of the negative stuff out of it for a moment and tell me what’s happened. Whatever it is, we can fix it together.”
Mum looked at me and managed a weak little laugh. She probably knew I was imitating her. She closed her eyes and did a few slow breaths, then started again.
“Our gas and electricity bill is £600 a year. Normally we pay it every month and I factor it all in. But last winter our boiler broke and we needed money for that, so I changed the electricity to twice a year. I said to myself that I’d put some aside and make it work, but I completely forgot to. Like a total… well, I forgot. And now it’s due in a week, half a year’s worth of it, and we don’t have anything saved up to pay it. We could have just paid it with the money from yesterday, but I told you not to worry about bills because I should be the one to worry about that. And now I’ve given you my word on something and not kept it. I told you to fritter away your £500 and now I don’t know how we’re going to pay this bill. I’m so sorry, Star. I didn’t mean for you to find me like this, feeling sorry for myself. I’ll think of something. I was just ashamed of myself for making a silly mistake, that’s all. I want you to feel like you can rely on me.”
Mum’s hands were limp in her lap and she stared down at them, like she was afraid to meet my eye. Like I was the head teacher and she’d been waiting outside my office for a telling off.
“Mum, that’s really not that bad.”
“It is, it’s stupid. I could have just-“
“Mum!” I interrupted her. “What did I say about negativity?”
She laughed and gave me a little grin.
“Oh Star. Sometimes I think you’re the grown up here.”
“Well I’m not. But we look after each other, don’t we?”
I thought that mum was going to start crying again when I said that, and I felt annoyed with myself for being too soppy. But then she gave her head a little shake and laughed, and I knew she was snapping out of it.
“Right, yes. We do.”
“So what’s the plan then, mum? Have you got any ideas?”
“There’s nothing you can think of?”
“Nothing at all?”
Mum looked at me then, suspicious.
I raised my eyebrows. I wanted her to bring it up, not me. We were both silent for a moment, but I knew that mum had more patience with things like this than me.
“Mum, I heard you on the phone last night. I know Mr Silk called.”
“What? Were you listening in on my phone call? No way, Esther. No way. I can’t believe you’re even suggesting it!”
She stood up and flew out of the room, her dressing gown billowing behind her.
I waited until she was in the shower to look in her purse.
I’m not a sneaky person. Like I said before, I hate lies. I hate any kind of deceitfulness. I believe that it’s easy to pretend to be nice; to pretend to be a good person. But actually being a good person? Being honest and doing the right thing? That takes real work. Dad was nice and loving. He pretended to be good, but really he was lying. Having a secret girlfriend: that’s not good. Going to live with your secret girlfriend and her kids instead of mum and me: that’s not good either. Leaving mum to look after us on her own: that’s definitely not good. If there’s one thing my dad taught me, it’s that there’s a difference between nice and good. I’m not sure that going through mum’s purse was nice or good, but it was the right thing to do. Sometimes you have to trust your gut with these things.
I found Mr Silk’s card and wrote the number down on a little scrap of paper, then replaced it quick as a flash. The shower was still whirring and I decided I probably had another five minutes before mum got out, so I took my chance. I darted through to the hall and picked up the phone.
Someone answered after one ring, but it wasn’t Mr Silk. It was a woman with a voice so crisp and clear that I thought for a moment she might be a robot.
“Good Morning, thank you for calling Dream Catchers, how may I be of service to you?”
I was silent. Suddenly I didn’t know what to say.
“Ms Turner? Can I help you? Would you like me to put you through to Mr Silk?’ My breath caught in my throat. I remembered how distrustful I’d been of Mr Silk. Suddenly, calling him seemed like a terrible idea.
“How do you know my-“
“Haha! Caller ID, Ms Turner. You’re in our database. Would you like me to put you through to Mr Silk?”
I paused, feeling a little silly. For a moment, I’d thought Mr Silk had cameras in our house, or could read our minds even.
“Um, yes please.”
My voice sounded like a scared little girl. I took a few little breaths to compose myself before Mr Silk came on the line.
“Good morning Esther, how lovely to hear from you so bright and early. What can I do to help you?”
His voice reminded me of a game show host: friendly but scripted.
“Um, yes, hello. I’m calling because I think you called my mum last night to request another donation, and she said no. I just wanted to let you know that we’ve changed our mind.”
Mr Silk laughed. I couldn’t tell whether it was with me or at me.
“Excellent, I’m very glad to hear it, Esther. We can fit you in this afternoon. Can your mum bring you along after school?”
The shower stopped whirring. Mum was getting out. I calculated I had about sixty seconds before she’d be opening the bathroom door. A few seconds later and she’d walk through the hall.
“No, I’m afraid she’s busy, but-”
“No trouble at all Esther, we can pick you up. 3.30pm outside your school gates sound reasonable? We’ll need your mum’s signature of course, and we can have you home by 6pm. How does all that sound, hmm?”
Mum’s signature. There was no way she’d sign for it. I heard her turn the lock in the toilet door. I had to think dead quickly.
“Yep, ok, great, see you there. Got to go, bye!”
I slammed the receiver down and raced through into the kitchen. I was just filling my bowl with Cheerio’s when mum came in.
“Star, I’m sorry about before. I just wouldn’t be able to forgive myself if I made you do that again. It wouldn’t be right. Let me figure something out. I can borrow something from gran and then do some overtime at the library to pay her back, ok? It’s just £300. One electricity bill is not worth putting your daughter through all that.”
I hugged her and said it was alright, and she went off to university thinking everything was fine. For the rest of the morning, on the bus into school and all through double physics, I had a heavy feeling in my stomach, like I’d swallowed a rock. This is what it feels like, I thought, to trick someone you love. This is what it feels like, to lie.