Ooh, I could swing for my brother sometimes. Dad says he’s a blessing, an ‘accident’, but I think he’s a curse. I’m supposed to look after him when Dad and Sarah, that’s my step-mum, want to go out, but sod that! I’m seventeen and should be having fun. Why should I stay in while my mates all go out? I’m left clearing up puke when brat eats too much ice cream or chocolate ‘Buttons’. It’s not my fault if he eats the whole packet in one go!
I try to study while brat pretends he’s a train or an aeroplane or something equally loud and infuriating. Sarah hears me shouting at him to “eff off” and swishes into the room, her blonde hair swaying and annoyingly shiny. She whisks him away, singing his favourite; ‘The Mockingbird Song’, giving me a glare that could freeze a volcano. I’m in her bad books, but so what? It does the trick…gets brat out of my way.
I switch off the PC and look up as Sarah returns, now smiling sweetly. She reminds me that she and Dad are going out tonight and that I’m “not asked to baby-sit very often”…not very often, my arse! “Yes, Mum”…she likes me to call her ‘Mum’ and thinks it means something to me. Of course it doesn’t. My real mum, Laura, died when I was seven. If Sarah thinks that playing a mother to me for four years makes her my mum then she can go to – “I haven’t forgotten!” I add as an afterthought and mimic her sickly smile. Her glare returns. She leaves the room, muttering something under her breath. I catch the words “always” and “mood”, and a ‘tut’ or two.
The front door slams signifying Dad’s arrival. “Hello Button” I hear. Brat’s obviously in sight. I skip downstairs in a ‘Little House on the Prairie’ fashion (Sarah watches it on UK Gold, the lazy bitch). He’s looking very smart in his charcoal grey city-style pinstripe suit. I’m greeted with a “Hello Poppet” as he plants a kiss on my right cheek. He asks me how my studies are going and beams as I say they’re all done. Sarah looks at me in a “as little as you can get away with” expression but I don’t care. She can’t tell me what to do.
Sarah reminds Dad that they’re running late and he rushes upstairs to get changed. Poor Dad, the stick she gives him. Nag, nag, nag. I wouldn’t be like her; not that I’m ever going to get married and I’ll certainly never have kids!
With the car scrunching its way out of the drive and brat despatched to bed, I settle on the sofa with some smuggled-in cider, Galaxy Fruit & Nut and ‘Final Destination 4’ on DVD.
I get to a quiet bit of the film, about half way through, press the pause button on the remote and go to check on the kid, as I’d promised Dad. Brat’s sleeping soundly. “Makes a change”, I think to myself. Glancing in the bathroom mirror on the way back downstairs, I make a mental note to get pink streaks in my hair like Penny at school – Sarah would hate that. Dad’s a pushover. He lets me do whatever I want – says I’m a teenager and I’m going through a ‘phase’. Phases are a great excuse to get away with murder!
I leap down the stairs, missing the last couple of steps and settle back on the sofa, finishing off the cider. The film’s nearly finished when the doorbell rings. I swear, stuff the empty cider bottle under a cushion and press the pause button. With the chain on as instructed, I open the front door and see my dad’s brother, Mike, standing in front of me. “Hiya!” I beam but he looks awful. I see the tears streaming down his face and know something’s really wrong.
“What’s happened?” I ask dreading his words. I feel sick and shiver. He just says “I’m sorry Janie, so sorry, I’ve got some bad news”. He asks to come in. I say nothing but take the chain off and move back so he can get past.
He asks me to sit down but I can’t. I stand fixed as if super-glued to the spot. Mike tries to blink his tears away without much success. He puts his arms around me, easing me on to the sofa. He clears his throat and begins to explain that my dad was driving to the restaurant when a lorry pulled out of a side road and the car hit it head on. “I’m so sorry Janie,” Mike says again “they didn’t stand a chance.” After a pause, he asks me if he can get me a drink, I shake my head. I say I want to see my Dad but he drops his head. He clasps my hands and continues. “Aunt Izzy’s getting the spare room ready for you to stay with us. You wait here, I’ll switch everything off, fetch you some clothes and get your brother.”
In a haze, I trudge upstairs while Mike switches the TV off followed by lights in the lounge and kitchen. I head for the box room. Leaning over the small bed and stroking a slip of Tyler’s hair from his forehead, I whisper “sorry little one, but you’re stuck with me now. Don’t worry. I’ll look after you.” Tears start rolling down my face as I sing “Hush, little baby. Don’t say a word. Mama’s going to buy you a mocking bird.” and I suddenly realise that I’m not only crying for Dad but also for Sarah – my second mum.
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Unfortunately, as I post an interview a day (amongst other things) I can’t review books but I have a feature called ‘Short Story Saturdays’ where I review stories of up to 2,500 words. Alternatively if you have a short story or self-contained novel extract / short chapter (ideally up to 1000 words) that you’d like critiqued and don’t mind me reading it / talking about and critiquing it (I send you the transcription afterwards so you can use the comments or ignore them) 🙂 on my ‘Bailey’s Writing Tips’ podcast, then do email me. They are weekly episodes, usually released Monday mornings UK time, interweaving the recordings between the red pen sessions with the hints & tips episodes. I am now also looking for flash fiction (<1000 words) for Flash Fiction Fridays and poetry for Post-weekend Poetry.