Creative Writing Ink June Winner

Sunglasses

Ellen Kelly

You want to go in with her. She’s seeing the baby on the screen and you want to see too.
‘Not today sweetheart, next time,’ she says but you know you’ll be in school next time. It’s midterm break and this is your only chance.
‘P-p-please.’
‘Enough Jamie,’ your dad says. ‘We’re better off waiting in the car.’ He keeps the engine running and turns up the heat.
‘Cook her off,’ he says glancing around at your sister Lucy beside you.
Her eyelids are fluttering, fighting uselessly against the fanned warmth. He hands you paper and colouring pencils and tells you to draw something.
‘One of your maps,’ he says and you can see him in the mirror smiling to himself.
He thinks it’s funny you’re going to be a town planner when you grow up. When you tell him this on the Easter holidays he says he’s never heard of a seven-year-old wanting to be a town planner.
‘But give me a boy at seven,’ he says, laughing and tickling you, ‘and I’ll give you the man.’ You don’t see what’s so funny. Not at all.

Your dad’s phone rings with the xylophone tone he has just for your mum.
‘All finished?’ he says answering it. Then he snaps his head around and you see her too, standing in the entrance doors, her phone to her ear. He gets out of the car and walks over to her.
You wave through the rain speckled window. She has her sunglasses on and doesn’t wave back. Your dad is giving her a hug. You wish they’d hurry up and get back in the car so you can show her what you did for her. A pigeon head bobs past the car and you mimic him until he half flies off.
‘L-l-look Mum,’ you say passing your picture up to her.
‘Thank you sweetheart,’ she says without looking at it. She folds it over and over so that it is tiny and she sticks it straight into her book.
It is better than the black and white fuzzy pictures from the doctor. You’ve coloured the baby in with a smile on his face, and put him in her tummy. You’ve drawn her in her favourite black dress with the red flowers.
They are whispering in the front so as not to wake Lucy.
‘How the hell, this bloody late?’ your dad grunt whispers and he bangs his hand on the steering wheel.
She doesn’t tell him off for cursing or say anything at all for a moment but then she says, ‘Jesus, Gorgonzola,’ really loud and you laugh. It’s a funny word that you think would be a good name for a cat.
‘I’ll google it,’ she says.
‘Don’t do this to yourself Eve,’ your dad says.
Her phone is buzzing and she doesn’t answer it. ‘It’s my mother,’ she says. ‘You’ll have to…’ as the phone beeps twice with a message.
It is quiet the rest of the way home. You’re allowed to watch whatever you like on TV for the afternoon. You choose Peppa Pig for Lucy and you watch it too even though you think it’s babyish.

On your way to the toilet you pop your head around your mum’s bedroom door. She doesn’t see you. She has her purple fluffy dressing gown on and she’s rubbing her tummy, staring at the laptop on her bedside locker. She’s forgotten to take her sunglasses off. She’s concentrating very hard, the way she’d like you to for your written homework. Each school day she leaves you to get on with it by yourself, calling out ‘no distractions’ while she chops and stirs in the kitchen. Then she signs your notebook without checking your work trusting you’ve done it just fine. It’s different with the reading. Every night she brings you up here to her bed. She looks you evenly in the eye and lets you know it’s ok. There’s all the time in the world. She joins in and your words flow then, the two of you with the same sounds out loud together and it feels as if you can really do it. She breaks off to listen and it creeps back in again. She winks at you. You’re to take your time. Looking at her now you wonder what she’s going to do with all she’s learning about Gorgonzola. Not try to make it, you hope. They try to get you to taste some once, smearing it on a slice of pear for you.
‘No thanks,’ you say and eat the rest of the pear instead.

It’s night now and she is on the couch staring at the fire. The flames dance on her sunglasses. She drinks a full glass of red wine the way you drink Ribena after soccer. You wonder why she is so thirsty. She hasn’t really done much today. Your dad fills up her glass again and she says nothing to him, but ‘Sweetheart, it’s time for bed,’ to you instead.
It certainly is not your bed-time. It is only seven o’clock and you do not have school in the morning. Lucy is still running around upstairs. You hate going to bed when she is awake. You’re four years older than her. It is not fair.
‘C-c-c…’
‘Can I just stay up for half an hour,’ your dad interrupts, guessing what you’re about to say. Your mother takes off her sunglasses and looks at him. He looks away. They’re not supposed to do that. Interrupt, guess, finish. Your speech therapist is very clear about it, instructing your mother as you play with the Lego. She says nothing to your dad now and turns her head towards you. Her eyes are red and puffy. Too much screen time you think to yourself. She doesn’t look at you evenly or wink to tell you to take your time. Which is just as well. You have nothing to say now. You go to bed without brushing your teeth. They won’t be checking tonight.

You see her standing at the school gate waiting for you. She is staring at her phone in her hand again, not texting, not dialling, just staring like she has been ever since she got home from the hospital on Sunday.
Your teacher, Ms Clarke says, ‘Oh there’s your mum Jamie, I’ll just say hello to her’ and she smiles so that her green eyes sparkle and you don’t want her to say hello, not at all.
‘Congratulations,’ she says and your mother looks up suddenly, snaps her phone shut and says ‘sorry?’ without taking her sunglasses off.
You’ve heard her telling your dad that she thinks it’s really rude when people talk with their sunglasses on so that she can only see her own reflection and not the other person’s eyes. ‘No trust,’ she says. You notice how she always takes her own ones off, or pushes them up into her hair when she is talking to someone. Except today when she does nothing at all and you can see your teacher’s reflection in your mother’s glasses and you hope she doesn’t think it’s rude.
‘Congratulations,’ Ms Clarke says again. ‘Jamie was telling us in news time before mid-term’ and your mother says nothing at all so your teacher keeps talking but she’s not smiling so much now.
‘He was telling us that you’re expecting, but, well, I don’t know, sometimes they just say things.’
You feel your face getting hot and you’re staring at your mother, screaming from your head for her to hurry up and say something, to tell Ms Clarke that it’s the truth. She hugs her cardigan tight around her, looks down at you and nods her head slowly, just once. Your teacher smiles and starts talking again.
‘It was so cute, he’s so excited,’ she tells your mother as if you’re not there now, and how you wish you were not.
‘He had no lunch in his bag today,’ she says, ‘but not to worry, some of the others shared theirs didn’t they Jamie?’ and she’s smiling down at you.
‘Thanks,’ your mum says and turns towards the car.

You’re standing on the little blue bench at the very end of the pier. You stretch your arms out from your sides and the wind blowing your red puffer jacket makes you feel like a kite.
‘The doctor says there’s not going to be a baby,’ your dad says to you. ‘Not this time.’
It’s so windy you wonder if anyone has ever been blown over the edge and into the sea with their clothes on. The people on the little boats cannot keep their sails up, that’s how windy it is and a sound like little bells tinkling coming from the parked boats makes you think about Christmas and how you’re meant to have your baby brother by then.

You go into her bedroom without knocking first.
‘Doctor is wrong,’ you say, assuredly, and you rub her tummy.
She smiles and the two holes in her cheeks are there now again. You stick your fingers in them and she laughs.
‘I don’t think so I’m afraid sweetheart.’
‘He’s just so small, the doctor can’t see him,’ you say without your stutter creeping in.
‘They’re doing tests to find out what happened,’ she says. ‘I ate something that might’ve caused an infection in the baby,’ she says.
‘Gorgonzola?’ you say, as if in your head, clear and steady.
‘You don’t miss a trick, do you?’ she says and she tickles your back.

Your dad shouts for you to come down for tea, three times before you get a chance to answer. He puts an egg and beans in front of you. The egg yolk is runny, the way he loves it and you hate it. You eat the beans and pass the egg onto Lucy’s plate.
‘Yeuch!’ she screams and he looks at you, his eyes going small and his eyebrows meeting in the middle. You think about the black caterpillar in the jar in your room.
‘Off you go Jamie,’ he says. You jump up and run back upstairs to check if it has turned into a butterfly yet.

A week passes and you’re at the kitchen table doing your homework. Your new trick of borrowing her sunglasses is working. Once you put them on you know it’s time to concentrate with no distractions. You get quicker each evening and neater too. Ms Clarke puts stars and smiley faces on all that you do now.

The telephone rings and your mum stands still. She tells you not to answer it. It stops and her mobile rings. She picks it up and stares at it in her hand.
‘The hospital,’ she whispers and walks, trance-like, into the hall.
You go to the door and listen from behind it.
‘Not an infection?’ she says, her voice shrill.
‘Trauma. God,’ she says, softer now.
‘I did get a bang from a swing, could…’
You can hear nothing now, as if swimming under water. You think of that morning in the park. You’re pushing Lucy and another little girl in the big blue basket swing. It’s pulled up so high you can’t see a thing and you push really hard to give them a thrill. You’re showing your strength off too. Your dad is watching. The girls are screaming and your mum steps in front of it but she’s looking over her shoulder saying something to your dad. Bang.
‘Jesus, take it easy Jamie,’ she says.
‘S-s-sorry,’ you say and jump to catch the swing to slow it down.
She comes back into the kitchen now with the same look as she had that day at the hospital. You hand her glasses back, smiling up at her.
‘It was the cheese,’ she says, her eyes dark and staring but she’s not looking at you.