“Mum! Mum! I’m back! It was absolutely amazing! There were lots of people from my old school! Can you believe it? I didn’t think anyone of them could be bothered to travel from that dump all the way to Central London for a University Fair! I suppose the offer of scholarships and cheaper tuition will draw even the most…” Her voice faded as she went into the downstairs toilet to relieve herself.
“…an eye-opener!” The sound of flushing drowned out part of her previous statement. “I mean when you suggested going to Uni somewhere in Europe, I thought you were out of your mind, as usual,” she chuckled to herself at this last statement , “But if others come to Britain to study, then why can’t we go to …Mum?” She halted the flow and cocked her head to one side.
“She’s probably not at home and I’ve just been yabbering on to myself,” she laughed nervously, wiping her dripping hands on the back of the sofa defiantly, as she pictured he mum yelling exasperatedly.
“There’s a perfectly clean and dry hand towel in that toilet, Kayleigh!”
Oh well, her mum couldn’t see her now, so what did it…
…She thought she heard the closing of a window upstairs.
“Mum, I’ve been calling you for ages! Why didn’t you answer or say something. I’ve just been blathering to myself like my old Physics teacher, Mr Leman; you know the one that went on and on…” She bounded up the stairs in twos, straight into her parent’s room.
It was empty.
The window to the left was pushed wide open to catch the prevailing breeze while the curtain was making a light, smacking sound against her mother’s dressing table.
Humph, Kayleigh thought to herself, I took that for the sound of a closing window. Where on earth can this woman be?
“Mum! Mother! Kayleigh ran downstairs; two steps at a time. Her mother’s voice again – ‘Walk! Don’t run!’ – Humph! As if she was back in primary school!
The kitchen door was shut which was a first. Her mum never shut the kitchen door; she wanted to keep an eye on the ‘goings-on’. Yeah, right! As if!
Kayleigh pushed the kitchen door open with force and it banged against the small, trestle table where her mum usually leaves her crossword puzzles, magazines, recipe books and other odds and ends. There was no corresponding shout from her mother; no ‘Pack it in, young lady! That door’s not your enemy!’
The kitchen was as silent as a mausoleum, save the running of the tap. Kayleigh walked over to the tap to turn it off and inside the sink, an old-fashioned, sunken ceramic type, (even when they did up the kitchen recently, her mum refused to change it), was a colander with carrots, leeks, half a turnip, some parsnips, a handful of new potatoes and a potato peeler resting on top.
“Mum?” She spun around. There was no one there.
“Mum??” She poked her head into the laundry room. Empty.
“Mum!!???” She ran into the conservatory, through to the back garden; by this time, she was frantic. “Muuuuummmm!!!”
She ran back in, stood for a minute inside the conservatory, and heard her mum’s voice again, ‘Now, Kayleigh, take deep breaths, breathe…breathe…’
“You can’t just speak in my head,” Kayleigh lifted her head and screamed to the ceiling. “Where are you???” She ended on a half-whispered sob. Dashing a lone tear that had made its way down her cheek, she walked slowly through the house a second time; going through each door – closed or open, sweeping with her eyes, every nook and cranny.
Her mum was nowhere to be found. In fact it appeared as if she had left in a hurry – tap running, vegetables half-washed, potatoes half-peeled, handbag (the leather one with faux-wooden clasps) half-spilled on the table and her car keys…her car keys? Her mum never went anywhere without her car even when they ran out of essentials – a bottle of milk, cheese or butter or whatever the essential was – she would drive to the corner shop; a walking distance of about five minutes…the corner shop…Kayleigh almost flew back to the living room window, ripping the curtain aside; her mum’s car was parked in the driveway. So where on earth was she??? She let her body sag and drop into the nearest sofa, head in hand.
The sound of keys being turned shook her out of her gloomy despair.
“Mum?” She didn’t quite shout it out this time; more like a nervous whisper
“Kayleigh? Jennifer? Anybody home?”
“Dad!” Kayleigh almost knocked her father down as she careened into his arms. “I can’t find mum!” She let out a strangled sob.
“What do you mean you can’t find mum?” He gave her a fatherly smile. “Her car is in the driveway so she should be somewhere in this house.” He placed his laptop case down on a side table by the sofa that Kayleigh had just vacated.
“Dad, I’ve looked everywhere! She isn’t!!!”
“Now, now Kayleigh, there’s no need to yell at me. Here, love, why don’t you sit down and I’ll make us a nice cup of tea and you can tell me about it.” He walked over to the three-seater, gently sat her down and went over to the kitchen. A quick glance over his shoulder and a small trickle of dread crawled up his back. His daughter never looked this defeated at anything.
He returned with two mugs of tea, one sweetened with three sugars for his daughter and a black one for him.
“Now, tell me. What happened?”
And she told him.
– The argument about her outfit and how inappropriate it was for a university fair.
– Her hair…the style…shaved left side; the colour – pink.
– Her diet…grapefruit segments and chocolate-covered raisins for breakfast.
“She was going on and on, dad, moaning about everything I did, said, wore, ate, everything so I yelled back at her.”
“And what did you yell at her, exactly?”
She took a sip of her sweetened tea and placed it down, shakily, on the coaster on the small, glass-topped coffee table. She looked straight into her dad’s face, her eyes filling with tears and then her whole body began to shake like someone caught in a snowstorm without a warm jacket.
John grew as cold as his untouched tea.
“Kayleigh, darling, just tell dad, tell me what you said to her. Try and remember your exact words.”
She clasped and unclasped her shaky hands, tried to wrap her arms round herself in a bid to still her shaking. She opened her mouth to speak but a loud cry came out instead.
Her dad rose to come over, his hands outstretched to hug her. She stuck her right hand out, palm facing outward to halt him.
“I…” she gulped, paused then started again.
“I…I said that I wished she would just stop moaning and disappear!”
The air stilled and silence shrouded father and daughter.
After what seemed like an age, John turned to his daughter “You said you wished she would disappear?” It was more a question than a statement.
“And she did.”
“And she did, indeed.”