Home-painted tiger

Home-painted tiger

My son starts school this year. Except he hasn’t. Yet.

The school we selected for our children is awesome, but they do have this terribly long settling-in period for Reception children.

Even though my daughter went back last Thursday, my son won’t have his first session until tomorrow afternoon. Random sessions for the rest of this week, 9-12pm next week, 9-1pm the week after.

Only on 28th September will he start full time (which is only 9-3.10!)

I know he’s nearly five, and one of the eldest children, but seriously – his class mates are all friends from nursery, even the only-just-four ones. They’ve been used to childcare days – 10 hour days for some of them (including mine when they were little!) and often five days a week.

I understand that school is different, and my daughter was exhausted for most of Reception year. Also the year group share a smallish space and there are sixty kids starting. Introducing them all slowly allows the staff to get to know them better.

Face painting at Burghley

Face painting at Burghley

But it’s hard on the children who are more than ready. The ones whose siblings already go to school. My son starts every day with, ‘Am I going to school today?’ and then a sad little face when the answer is no.

As it turns out, he’s come down with a cold this morning, and so another day and a half at home watching TV is probably not a bad thing.

I got the face paints out this morning, because his sister had her face painted at Burghley Horse Trials yesterday, and he wanted his done. But almost as soon as I’d painted a tiger, he’d sneezed most of it off. (Is it bad that he’ll be starting school with black pirate eyebrows?! You can tell he’s second child.)

So, in the meantime, we wait. I wait until I can get the house straight again. The dog waits for a decent walk. My books wait for some love and attention. And my son waits to start school.



At least I’m getting a bit of work done while the poorly man watches TV. (And as he’s poorly I don’t need to feel so guilty about his amount of screen time!)

I decided to get paper copies of all my children’s books, so I can hand them out to friends for feedback. I formatted most of them during the holidays, while the kids were in childcare. The Seren Kitty series and Moon Pony arrived in the post last week – don’t they look cool!

All I have to do is finish the Will on The Water formatting and order a copy of that. It’s my favourite cover, so I can’t wait to see it in print.

Of course, printing them out is dangerous – it feels like ‘job done’ when it’s far from done. I can’t self-publish these books – I’d need an illustrator, and I can’t afford one of those. So I need to find an agent. I should be contacting agents, not playing publisher with front covers.

But it helps fill the waiting and make it all feel more real..! Until they’re really in print, I’ll just keep waiting…


Oh, The Places You’ll Go!

Thank You cards

Thank You cards

Eleven months ago, my little girl put on her red gingham summer dress, shiny shoes and a huge smile, and went to school for the first time. Today, wearing a bigger red gingham dress, and her second pair of shiny shoes, she held my hand and skipped with me to her last day of Reception.

I am a proud Mummy today. She has had an amazing year. Helped by brilliant, caring teachers, and some how surviving my rages and tears and inability to tie a plait or remember to always order her school lunches, she has flourished. From barely knowing her alphabet she can now read and write and loves nothing more than to spend her free time doing both, when she isn’t doing sums or making robots out of cardboard boxes.

She started the year clinging to one friend and now she has a dozen or more. Although she spent her last morning, like her first, standing by the teaching assistant, there were no tears and I walked out with a happy smile.

It’s hard for a parent to relinquish their child to school. There is difference of opinion, there is letting go. There is dealing with, “but Mummy you’re not a teacher, so you don’t know anything” and “teacher says we have to do this…” There are constant rules, about uniform and behaviour, hair clips and pack lunches, but, frustrating as they are sometimes, the rules are what make it work. It’s about becoming part of a community, working towards a common goal. No wonder it feels new.

First Day at School

First Day at School

I have also started my school journey this year, and I found it as hard. Many times I wanted to relinquish my responsibility and let go, to enrol in breakfast club, after school club, to go back to the world of suits and coffee breaks and feeling like I know stuff, (instead of, “no, Mummy, you’re wrong!”) But I signed up to be a school run mum. It is important to me.

That isn’t a judgement. If I had an office job that I loved, even if that didn’t let me do the school run, that would be amazing too. My daughter has asked to go to breakfast club, and next year possibly she will. But there are few ‘achievements’ for a stay-at-home-writer-mummy. Dropping a happy child in her classroom this morning, skipping the last 100 yards (to applause from a random stranger, which made the knee pain worthwhile), even though I forgot the beautiful handmade cards for the other teachers my daughter wants to thank, made me feel like I’d earned my own gold star.

The summer will fly by, and before long we’ll be getting more shiny shoes and trying on new gingham dresses. But this time I’ll be excited, for her and for me. I think about the Dr Seuss story, ‘Oh the places you’ll go,’ and I know that school is giving her, and me, the ability to move mountains.

Difficult Decisions: 2013 365 Challenge #313

A plethora of school options

A plethora of school options

I’ve been awake since 5.30am, thinking.

It happens sometimes (especially after the clocks have gone back, and the children’s body clocks are still adjusting). Today, though, I’ve been worrying about schools again. This is a frequent topic on this blog, as regular followers will know.

We are in the (possibly) fortunate position that there are over fifty good schools in a twenty mile radius of our house, all offering different things. We thought long and hard before choosing the school our daughter goes to, and mostly we’ve been happy with our choice.

Our problem, though, is that she isn’t happy. The friendships we thought made the school an obvious choice are proving to be a double-edged sword. Previous relationships are making it hard for her to forge new friendships and people she’s known all her life are behaving differently in the new environment. She’ll be fine, but it is a worry when she complains she’s ill and doesn’t want to go to school. No parent wants that.

My anxiety has been exacerbated by having the first preschool parent evening for my son last night. It wasn’t bad, but it was a completely different experience to the ones we used to get with our daughter. I think that’s actually part of the problem. Our son’s preschool teacher kept comparing him to his sister: saying that, unlike her, he is easily led into trouble and needs a firm hand to keep him behaving.

Green spaces essential

Green spaces essential

Some of that is boys vs girls, I guess. Some of it is because he’s a second child and is used to following the stronger person (usually his sister) into doing things. I can mostly trust her not to lead him into things he shouldn’t do, but unfortunately a pack of three-year-old boys don’t have the same discretion.

Even though our son doesn’t start school for two years, I can already envision the walk of shame, when the Reception teacher walks out to the parent at home time to ‘have a chat’. I’ve seen it happen to others and I don’t want it to be me.

I understand more and more why my sister moved her family to America so she could send her children to a specific school there whose ethos she completely buys in to. I don’t have such strong views, unfortunately. I want a good education for my children, but I also want them to have the freedom to be children: to get mucky and run around screaming and play sports and have new experiences. My son is also complaining about being bored at preschool. In the winter they spend most of the day indoors in a small room, with an equal mix of boys and girls. I know without seeing that he spends the whole day being told to stop running, calm down, behave (I know because I say the same at home).

What’s the answer? Right now I feel I’d have to start my own school to get anything close to the balance I want: the right mix of learning and lessons and free-flow play. My school would have a giant atrium in the middle of the school with leaves and trees and places to curl up with a book. There would be a trampoline for boys to go and work out their energy when they’re antsy. There would be plentiful healthy food and an outdoor classroom and loads of switched-on teachers (male and female) completely enthusiastic about their subject, but fewer tests and worries about passing exams. Ah, utopia how we dream of you!


Below is the next installment in my novel Two-Hundred Steps Home: written in daily posts since 1st January as part of my 2013 365 Challenge. Read about the challenge here.You can catch up by downloading the free ebook volumes on the right hand side of the blog:


Claire tapped her foot and tried not to swear in irritation. The queue inched forward as young children ran around between the legs of grumpy grownups, yelling and screaming. Next to Claire a harassed mother tried to keep her twins in line, while balancing a baby on her hip. As the time ticked by, Claire felt her sympathy going out to the woman as the baby began to grizzle and the twins threatened to knock the waiting tourists over like skittles.

“This is ridiculous,” she muttered eventually, unable to contain her frustration. “It’s not even the weekend.”

“You should see it in the school holidays!”

Claire turned and saw a rueful pair of brown eyes smiling at her. She smiled back at the grey haired lady standing behind her, holding the hand of a bored-looking child. “I came with all the grandchildren, once, because they put on extra activities at half term. But, oh my goodness that was a trial. We were in the queue for over an hour: the little ones were ready to burst by the time we got in.”

“What’s causing the delay?” Claire peered over the heads of the milling crowd but couldn’t see the hold-up.

“Gift Aid,” the woman sighed. “If you’re a tax payer they can claim gift aid, but they have to get your address details from you. Even those with pre-bought tickets don’t get in any quicker. It’s a farce.”

Claire’s irritation evaporated as she realised she’d been handed something concrete to put into her report. She’d done the gift aid thing before, when she’d visited attractions with Sky earlier in the year, and she remembered it did take ages. Surely there could be a better way to claim the money back. Maybe some kind of national gift aid scheme, where you got a card from the government that could be scanned.

The time passed quickly as Claire followed the shuffling feet, her brain whirring with ideas. At last it was her turn and she monitored the procedure carefully, itching to make notes about it as soon as she could find a quiet corner to write into her phone.

All work ideas evaporated as Claire entered the site. She hadn’t really known what to expect. Although she knew the project was about education – about showing the world the importance of plants – she hadn’t appreciated just how big the place was, or that half of it was outside.

A little blue train trundled past and Claire went to get on board. It seemed the easiest way to get a feel for the place, as well as giving her a chance to take some notes. After a short time, however, she got off. The alien domes called to her and she couldn’t wait to get indoors and see what the fuss was about.

Claire entered the Mediterranean biome and her heart sank. Craning her neck, she gazed up at the sunlit hexagons snaking overhead. The structure was impressive, but all she could hear were the noises of the busy pizza restaurant in the centre.

She wandered along the walkways, where endless beds of vibrant flowers filled the air with clashing scents and painted the floor with rows of bright colour. Dotted among the plants were sculptures and displays, like a living museum, while all around there were people chattering and calling to each other.

With her critical head on, Claire couldn’t see much evidence of education. There didn’t seem to be that many signs or displays, although she decided that might have been because they would detract from the view of the plants.

After a while she decided to head for the rainforest biome instead. It was the one everyone thought of when they planned a visit, and she hoped maybe the magic was hiding there.

The heat and humidity hit her as she entered. Despite its size it was still a greenhouse. She could see mist rising above the trees, almost like real clouds indoors. The sound of rushing water pulled at her, until she reached a waterfall stretching high above her. Making an effort to block out the busy tourist sounds, Claire could almost imagine herself back in the New Zealand bush. It was breath-taking.


The wooden walkway curled through the trees high above the people. Claire had retreated up to escape the bustle. She’d contemplated climbing up to the roof platform, despite the height, and was a little disappointed to discover it was closed due to the heat.

Probably just as well. Knowing my luck I would have got dizzy and fallen down the steps, knocking out half the visitors at the same time.

Claire stood leaning on the rail, taking in the beauty beneath her. It was hard to believe the place used to be an old clay pit. It was amazing what could be created with some vision and a lot of effort.

What a shame the experience is spoiled by the shambolic entrance and the tourist traps every five minutes. Do they really need stalls and restaurants and an ice rink? What does that teach the children about the world? That there’s commercialism everywhere? That trees alone aren’t entertainment enough?

Her mind full of profound thoughts, Claire stood and let the view sink in.


School Comms? 2013 365 Challenge #302

Maths Homework

Maths Homework

I sat down with my daughter today to do her homework, as it’s half term. She was mostly happy to do it and we had fun. However, I have to say, I’ve been generally surprised at the poor communication between school and parent since my daughter started in September. I did my best but I didn’t really know what we were meant to do or how often: it was all rather vague. It also came as a shock as I wasn’t expecting anything to be set this early on in her school career (she’s not even five years old yet).

As far as school-parent communication goes, I’m the optimum parent: I drop my child off every morning and pick her up every afternoon. I browse the messages posted on classroom walls. I read the newsletters and emails and I trawl through daughter’s book bag every evening to fish out the paperwork. I read and write in the reading diary and I attended parents’ evenings and lunchtime reading meetings. And STILL I have no idea what’s going on half the time.

I don’t understand their merit system, even though I went to the celebration assembly. We have requests for things that need to be made for the Christmas fundraising fayre and I don’t understand what they’re asking for. I resort to asking the mums who have older children at the school and even they don’t have much of a clue.

I know it’s a tough job being a teacher, and I’m not criticising them at all: you couldn’t pay me enough to do their job. But the school has a duty to communicate with parents if they want to engage them and get their help. Our school has the infrastructure but the content is vague and confusing. it makes me want to volunteer to review their comms, except it would be a full time job and I have zero capacity. Having been fighting off a cold all day, just the thought leaves me shivering in horror! But it might be time to add my tuppence worth to the parent feedback forum! After all, communication goes both ways!


Below is the next installment in my novel Two-Hundred Steps Home: written in daily posts since 1st January as part of my 2013 365 Challenge. Read about the challenge here.You can catch up by downloading the free ebook volumes on the right hand side of the blog:


“Alright, Claire, I’ll bite. What happened to your face?” Conor’s tone was a mixture of amused friend and disapproving parent.

Claire looked up from her starter and grimaced. “Damn. I hoped you wouldn’t notice.”

Conor laughed, his eyes lighting up like a sunlit sea. “You look like you rode downhill on your bike with no hands on the handle bars and hit a pothole. I did that once, and my face looked something like that.”

“That’s not so far from the truth.” Claire ducked her head and let her hair cover her face completely. “I slipped, on the coastal path. I thought I was going to fall off the cliff. Thankfully I managed to stop at the edge.” She shivered at the memory. “Unfortunately I left some of my skin behind.”

“It’s not just your face?”

Claire mutely shook her head, and waited for Conor to laugh some more. When he didn’t speak, she looked up again and was surprised at his expression. His face contracted in a tight frown, reminding her of Michael for a moment. She bristled in defence, but his eyes widened and he smiled.

“Well, I’m glad you didn’t fall off the cliff. I went to too much trouble hiring you to have to find a replacement.” The lightness of his tone belied the sympathy in his gaze.

Unsure what to make of it, Claire turned her attention back to her food. She was glad he hadn’t laughed, as Josh might have done, or told her off, which would have been Michael’s reaction. This mixture of business-like detachment and compassion wrong-footed her. Her hands shook slightly as she raised a forkful of salad to her mouth, and she lowered her arm quickly, hoping Conor hadn’t noticed.

“So, aside from trying to kill yourself at Salcombe, how has your trip been so far? How is the report coming along?”

Claire inhaled and took a shaky sip of her drink. “Good, thanks. I’m beginning to get a feel for it. I had a long chat with the hostel manager, and spent some time in Torquay. It would be useful if you had a template or set of guidelines for me to work to, just so I can make sure I’m delivering what you’re expecting.”

Conor nodded. “Of course. There are some standard templates and previous reports on the laptop. I realise we haven’t given you much to work with. I’m surprised you haven’t been more demanding, to be honest.”

With a deep flush, Claire realised she wasn’t living up to her role as a consultant. Conor obviously expected her to be more proactive, to request information and guidelines. She had been so wrapped up in her drama with Kim and getting a car, she hadn’t taken the job very seriously.

As if reading her mind, Conor cleared his throat. “How is Kim?”

“I haven’t spoken to her since leaving her at her mum’s. I’m been caught up in my research.”

“Good.” Conor seemed to realise that sounded harsh, as he laughed uncomfortably. “I meant good that you’ve cleared your head to get stuck into the project. I confess I was concerned that your mind wasn’t really on the subject. It is important, you know? Your contract extension depends on the quality of the report.”

His words made Claire’s stomach constrict. As she analysed his tone, though, she realised he wasn’t telling her off. It was almost as if he was urging her to do well, so he wouldn’t have to sack her.

All the spent adrenalin from her earlier fall and the race to get to the hotel, combined with the ideas roiling in her brain, left Claire feeling dizzy and disorientated.

Why do I always feel like there are two or three different conversations going on at the same time when I talk to Conor? His face says one thing, his voice another and his words something completely different.

With a gulp of wine, Claire suppressed a sigh and hoped she would learn to read her boss soon, before she went mad.


Life’s Curve-balls: 2013 365 Challenge #253

My son's first full day at preschool

My son’s first full day at preschool

Today was a good reminder that, no matter how tough you think life is, it’s always worse for someone else (and it can always get a little harder for you, too!)

When I texted my friend last night, to find out what her daughter was wearing to school, she said she might not even make it to school as she’d had a tumble from her scooter and they were off to hospital. Sure enough, my daughter’s best friend broke her arm and missed her first morning at school. We didn’t tell my daughter, as expecting her best friend to be there was the only thing keeping her calm. As it was she was fine. She ran in smiling and says she cried a little bit when she realised her friend wasn’t there, but she soon made a new friend and came running out still smiling (I, on the other hand, nearly sobbed with pride!)

We stopped off to see the poorly girl after school and my daughter found that much harder: it’s the first time she’s had a friend incapacitated by illness or injury.

To begin with she was brilliant, playing nurse, letting her friend choose the games and telelvision programs. After a while though the novelty wore off. When we left she started crying and said, “Mummy I want my friend back, she can’t play with me properly.”

So what should be such a fun and exciting time for both of them is going to have an extra challenge for a few weeks. And my poor girl, who didn’t want to have to worry about looking after someone at school (having looked after her brother at preschool all summer) has now been asked to look after her friend.

I'm off, Mummy, bye!

I’m off, Mummy, bye!

Of course it’s nothing to what my friend must be going through. I can’t express how bad I feel for her. After seven years, to finally be within hours of having both children at school, only to have to stay home from work and nurse a distraught child after leaving A&E at 3am. It put my tiredness – after little man was up 1am-3am last night – into perspective. Of course it didn’t stop me being grumpy and leaving childcare mostly to my hubbie this afternoon. Sometimes, even if another’s lot is worse than yours, it doesn’t make yours any easier. It just made me pray that one of our kids doesn’t break something. Fingers and toes crossed.

P.S. I have an author interview live today, over on Paul Western-Pittard’s blog, That Thing I Said. It was fun to re-read it, as I wrote it a few months ago (it says that Baby Blues & Wedding Shoes is on hold as a project – shows how much things can change in a short period of time!)

It would be lovely if you could stop by, not least because there is loads of great stuff on Paul’s blog.


Below is the next installment in my novel Two-Hundred Steps Home: written in daily posts since 1st January as part of my 2013 365 Challenge. Read about the challenge here.You can catch up by downloading the free ebook volumes on the right hand side of the blog: 


“For God’s sake, I told you not to go.”

Josh rushed towards Claire as she walked away from the jet, dripping wet and clutching her neck. She immediately dropped her hand and forced a smile. Irritation fought with gratitude at the look of concern in his amber-flecked eyes. She longed to bury herself in his arms and have him smooth the pain away. At the same time, her hackles rose at his disapproving frown.

“What do you mean? It was excellent fun!” She looked down at her sodden clothing. “Do you mean this? I’m not as wet as I was this morning. I’ll know not to sit at the edge another time.”

Josh fell in step as Claire and Bethan waddled back to the bus to retrieve dry clothes. Claire willed her friend to stay with them as chaperone, but Bethan seemed oblivious to the brewing trouble, as she chatted to a couple of lads from the bus. Claire realised she was on her own.

“I’m not talking about you being drenched, and you know it. You were holding your neck, I saw you. You’ve given yourself whiplash, haven’t you?”

Claire went to shake her head, thought better of it, and folded her arms instead. “It’s fine. Nothing a cup of tea won’t fix.”

She heard Josh tut in annoyance, but he held his tongue.


Claire managed to avoid Josh for the rest of the day. She knew it was putting off the inevitable, but she couldn’t face a showdown. Her body ached with spent adrenalin and pain stabbed from her neck to her fingertips if she moved too quickly. A lecture from Josh would only exacerbate the already-blinding headache flashing in her head.

She was grateful they’d been allocated different dorm rooms and she had almost made it to bed undetected, when he finally tracked her down.

“Claire, please stop avoiding me. We need to talk.” He hurried after her, and she stopped in the corridor, not wanting him to follow her all the way to her room, which – judging by the raucous drinking going on elsewhere in the hostel – was likely to be empty at this early hour.

“Can’t it wait until the morning? I’m beat.”

“Do you need painkillers? I have some prescription strength ones that will help. I know you don’t want me mollycoddling you, I get it. But stupid to suffer in silence.”

“I told you, I’m fine. I took some ibuprofen earlier. What I need now is sleep.”

Josh rubbed his hand across the back of his neck and shuffled his feet. Something about his body language raised the hairs on Claire’s arm. She felt a declaration brewing, and didn’t want to hear it.

“Claire I–”

“Don’t say it.” She held up her hand. He reached forward and took it in a gentle grasp.

“No, I have to say it, before I chicken out. I haven’t had nearly enough beer.”

“Then go drink some more and let me go to bed.”

“I love you.”

The words rushed out and fell like rocks into her empty heart. Behind them a shout of laughter broke above the general hubbub, emphasising the silence between them. Claire felt acutely aware of his hand holding hers, as she stared at the floor and waited for it to open and rescue her.

After what felt like an eternity Josh spoke, his voice barely a whisper.

“Tell me you don’t love me. I won’t believe you.”

She looked up then, and saw a mixture of hope and assurance in his expression. She needed to speak, to end this. Short and sharp, like pulling off a plaster.

“I loved the idea of you: Josh the adventurer, Josh the husband and father. That’s all.”

“I can be those things again.”

He pulled her towards him but she tugged her hand free and folded her arms.

“You still are those things, just not with me. You have a wife who loves you, children who adore you. Don’t throw it away.” Claire thought about all she had lost. Her best friend, her boyfriend, her job, her family. There was nowhere she truly belonged.

“Don’t give up your readymade life for a pipe dream. What if we did get married and have kids? Life wouldn’t be any easier. Far harder, in fact. I’m not a natural parent like Fiona. You think it’s hard now, with her focussing on the baby? You’d be booking me into rehab after a week of looking after three children while my husband sodded off to England to nurse his guilty conscience.”

Suddenly her head crowded with the thought of all the pain this gorgeous man had caused, with his misplaced guilt and his refusal to take responsibility for his life. As he gazed at her like a puppy seeking praise, she felt a hundred years old.

“My advice to you, Josh? Appreciate what you have, before you no longer have it. Go back to Fiona. Beg forgiveness. Try harder. Hire a babysitter and take her out to dinner. Bring her breakfast in bed once in a while. Take the kids to the park so she can read a book or have a bath. And, for pity’s sake, grow up.”

As she walked away Claire remembered another conversation, a lifetime ago, when she’d said the same to Michael.

When am I going to find a man who wants a partner not a parent?

Puzzling over the impossible riddle, Claire headed to her room.


Wake me, Don’t Wake me: 2013 365 Challenge #93

Meeting the Easter  Bunny at the Farm

Meeting the Easter Bunny at the Farm

Can I start with a random aside? I think Easter Bunnies are rather creepy. I wouldn’t normally take my kids to see one but we went with friends to the Farm today and did a bunch of stuff we don’t normally do. Doesn’t the bunny here look like he’s thinking of kidnapping my children?

I read a post yesterday about why school is hard for parents as well as children:

Ten Ways School Sucks for Adults as much as Kids

It got me thinking about structure and life.

Where is the happy balance between waking up knowing what the day ahead holds and waking with the excitement of not knowing what’s happening next (or with the option of rolling over and pulling the duvet back up over my head while the kids take themselves off to play or watch TV)?

Watching TV while Mum does cleaning

Watching TV while Mum does cleaning

Hubbie found out – today – that he won’t be starting work tomorrow after all.

IT issues apparently.

He might start next Monday, he might not. Considering he has been out of work for five months you’d think an extra few days wouldn’t matter. But we were all looking forward to at least a temporary return to routine. Now we’re back to muddling through, taking each day as it comes, making plans after breakfast, if at all. Routine seems like a holy grail that’s persistently out of reach.

On the flip side, the idea of Amber starting school this September scares me: Having to be organised five days a week, 38 weeks of the year, not just for me but for four people. And doing that for the next fifteen years (at least). In the days when I had a job, I barely managed to get myself to a desk by 8am every day. And what about days like today when the sky was finally blue and the sun shone. The Farm was the only place to be after so much cloud and snow. What if today had been a school day? Will I be like my Dad and take them anyway and sod the consequences? I’ve never been one for breaking the rules, but surely they’ll grow more as people for the odd adventure?

The thing that worries me most, though? How will I manage five days of clean, ironed uniform? 🙂


Below is the next installment in my novel Two-Hundred Steps Home: written in daily posts since 1st January as part of my 2013 365 Challenge. Read about the challenge here.You can catch up by downloading the free ebook volumes on the right hand side of the blog:


“Auntie Claire!”

Claire braced for impact as a whirling dervish of blonde hair and pink net hurtled down the corridor and hugged her knees. Déjà vu. I wonder if she has any other way of greeting visitors? This time Claire didn’t feel the urge to shake off her niece. Instead she dropped to her knees and gave the narrow shoulders a tight hug.

“Hey Sky. I’m so sorry I wasn’t there to collect you yesterday.” She avoided making eye contact with her mother, who had appeared behind Sky in the corridor. “Crossed wires, I’m afraid.” She looked down at the elfin face and saw a wobbling bottom lip. “Don’t cry, Sky. I’ll make it up to you.”

The jutting lip vanished and blue eyes sparkled. “Will you take me shopping? Mummy says you spend an ob… omscene… amount on clothes. I don’t know what that means, but it sounds fun.”

Blood rushed to Claire’s face but any chagrin at her niece’s repeated words vanished when she caught sight of her mother’s face. Ha, forgot your granddaughter can listen did you? I wonder what other titbits I’ll discover? It’s going to be like working with Carl again, but it will be worth it to find out what they really think of me.

“Hush now, Sky.” Madeleine pulled her granddaughter away and sent her down the corridor with a push. “Ruth’s in bed. Sky’s bag is packed so you can leave whenever you want to.”

Looking up into those blank eyes, Claire wondered when her mother had become such a cow. Then the words sank in, and she rose slowly to her feet. “I thought I was spending the night here? The hostel is booked for tomorrow.” The idea of trying to find two beds in a hostel at short notice on Easter weekend made her throat dry. She was about to remonstrate when she sensed the emotion pouring off her mother, filling the close space around them. Claire shivered. The need to grab Sky and walk back out the front door consumed her.

“Fine. We’ll find a hotel.”

She pushed past her mother and went in search of her niece.

Claire waited in the doorway until her eyes adjusted to the gloom, breathing quietly as she listened to see if Ruth was awake. At last her sister’s form materialised out of the dark and she saw the glittering light of open eyes.

“I’m so sorry,” Claire whispered, walking towards the bed. “Did I wake you?”

“No, I rarely sleep. I stay in bed because Sky tends to leave me alone a little bit more. I love her to bits, but she’s a bit overpowering at the moment.”

“And me not collecting her yesterday didn’t help. I really am sorry, I was convinced you said Thursday.”

A dry chuckle turned into a hacking cough. “I probably did. I put the cheese in the breadbin and the butter in the cutlery drawer yesterday. My brain doesn’t seem to be working quite as it did.”

Her words were barely audible but they twisted like a corkscrew into Claire’s rib cage. She wanted to scoop her sister up in a hug and tell her how much she loved her. The words wouldn’t come. Instead she brushed her hand gently across Ruth’s hot forehead.

“I do stuff like that too, and I don’t have your excuse. Don’t worry about Sky. I’ll take good care of her. Hopefully two weeks of peace will allow you to recoup your strength. You’ll be back to yourself in no time.” Her voice sounded fake to her: she hoped her sister was more convinced.

Ruth reached out a hand. As Claire took it she shuddered: her sister’s bones poked through her wasted skin like broken sticks in a silk sack. I’m glad it’s dark.

Her sister squeezed, the action barely registering against Claire’s grip. “Take care of my little girl, Claire. I know she’s in good hands.”

Claire nodded, unable to speak, even though she knew her sister wouldn’t see her response in the dark. She lowered the hand to the bed and turned to go before her emotions overwhelmed her. As she reached the door, she heard Ruth call her name.


She returned to the bed and bent close to catch the whispered words.

“…Thank you.”