The day my mum ran away from home was the best day of my life.
I remember waking up, with a cold knot travelling from my stomach all the way down to my toes, reminding me about the looming English test that I had not prepared for. I knew that this time I would not get away with it as easily as last time and I decided to dive underneath the duvet. Whenever I was worried it always helped me to imagine I was cocooned inside a pink candy floss. My toes felt warm again.
‘Mum, my head feels hot. I ’m not sure I can make it to school today.’
Mum appeared at my bed with Alice, my younger sister, and touched my forehead, asked me to stick my tongue out, and then a gentle pat on my head followed a strict order for me to be downstairs in three minutes and no later. Dad had already gone to work; the sounds of his never changing habits still echoing in the house. The buzzing of his electric toothbrush followed by a murmuring shower and then tap tap tap down the stairs finished with a big bang of the door.
I followed the faint smell of Dad’s aftershave down in to the kitchen where Alice had just finished creating her cornflake version of the sun. I jumped over to her, put two grapes as eyes and drew a smile with my finger. All that time Mum was standing with her back to us. I could see her face reflected in the kitchen window.
I froze and pulled my hair. Not again mum. Please.
I dropped a spoon on the floor; the cold sound of the metal against the stone. Chink. Mum jumped up.
‘Off we go girls. Hurry up.’
I quickly scooped some of the cornflakes and hid them in my pocket. Sometimes mum forgot about us and our breakfast and cereal was easy to hide in the pocket of my uniform and to share with Alice on the way to school. She was so forgetful, my mum.
A slam of the door. A fumble with seat belts. Two neatly packed lunch boxes, resting on top of each other on the kitchen table. My stomach grumbled angrily, louder than the rattling car engine.
See that girl, watch the scene, diggin’ the dancing queen was blasting out of the car speakers and I almost forgot about the test until we stopped outside the stern red brick school building. Miss Marble, my English teacher, was standing at the gate in her usual brown cardigan and carefully styled hair that looked like my cycling helmet, herding her little sheep to later slaughter them in the mid-term English exam.
There she was, waving her arms, smile twisting into a growl, as mum slowly reversed the car and drove past the flock of my classmates. I pressed my face against the window and showed Miss Marble my tongue. Time stopped. I pinched myself. Ouch.
You can dance, you can jive, having the time of your life.
‘I just need a bloody break.’ muttered mum, lit a cigarette and put on her big sunglasses. I chuckled. She looked like a fly. Last time I was laughing at her she pulled my ear, and when her blue eyes met mine, tearful and sulky, she would not let go.
‘ I don’t like naughty girls.’
Today was different. The air was hot and sticky, not a cloud to protect our white arms and knees from the scorching sun. ‘A family of vampires.’ was mum’s usual comment as she was smearing me, Alice and Dad in aloe vera gel after yet another day out at the beach.
There we were – back to our usual spot at the beach.
‘Hooray.’ Alice swirled, her red hair setting the world on fire. I didn’t join in. We hadn’t been here for a long time. Not since that FIGHT.
Sunday family afternoon. Dad behind the newspaper, clearing his throat. Mum and her handbag, always clinking. Alice rolling in the sand and I, pink clouds of candy floss melted on my cheek.
Mum’s hand diving into the bag, dad’s had catching it. Her bangles jingle as he tightens the grip.
‘You’ve had enough. We have guests tonight.’
‘Don’t tell me what to do.’ She grimaced. He folded the paper with one hand and turned the handbag upside down. Tissues, sunglasses, lipsticks I had secretly tested on my dolls and bottles with poison that mum had said would kill children if they touched it were scattered all over the sand. Brown, green and blue bottles, glistening in the sand. Her treasures. Dad let go of her arm and she screamed so loud I covered my ears. Alice stopped rolling in the sand. Mum didn’t stop crying and throwing sand at dad when he kicked the picnic basket that wouldn’t close its lid. She yelled when he dragged me and Alice through the sand. I stumbled and fell, the sharp pain of a rock cutting through my skin. ‘I’ve done a pee pee.’ cried Alice, a wet streak behind her quickly swallowed by the sand.
My parents didn’t speak for a long time after that.
But today was different. Alice and I found a blue and red kite floating in the water. I caught the string and ran with it across the beach, with Alice stumbling behind me. Mum waved and laughed. I couldn’t remember the last time my mum was laughing out loud.
Tired and sleepy we climbed into the car. Mum’s phone buzzed like an angry bee, she ignored it and when after a short pause it started moving across the dashboard again she opened the window and threw it out. Whoosh.
‘Let’s go and surprise dad.’ Mum’s hands were shaking as she reached for her bag.
Mr Very Important Bloodsucker was what mum called dad but he never laughed at the joke. Neither did I. He did not look like a Bloodsucker that mum drew for me once, more like a tree. Tall with long, thin branches reaching out to me and Alice, always missing us by an inch.
Not a Bloodsucker and not a tree but a king of a very shiny tower with a door like a big, hungry mouth that swallowed and spat out people all day long.
As we were standing outside dad’s fortress , Alice and I holding hands, with Mum behind us, I sighed. What a day.
‘Stay where you are girls. Mummy needs to get something from the car.’
‘Can I come with you?’
‘No, I won’t be long. Close your eyes and count to one hundred. I’ll be back when you finish. It’s a surprise!’
‘I need a pee.’ I tightened the grip as Alice tried to wriggle herself away.
‘Shush. Mum will be back soon and then we will go home. With dad.’
Alice stopped pulling my arm and before I closed my eyes, I briefly I saw Mum’s face swaying above me. Her skin, almost transparent, was covered in a web of black streaks that disappeared into a secret place between her jaw and neck. When she smiled, I noticed some of the red lipstick had stained her teeth and made her look like a Bloodsucker. I covered my eyes with my arm and took a deep breath.
I smiled, squeezed Alice’s hand and started counting as the sound of Mum’s clicking heels disappeared behind us.
Copyright: Both the story and the doodle belong to BlueBeretMum.