‘Hi Mum. It’s only me. I’m home.’
Rosa strained her ears in order to pick up the very faint sound of her mother’s answering call from upstairs. Looking around the kitchen, Rosa acknowledged that from the pristine state of the worktops and lack of washing up, her mother had been in bed all day again. She turned the kettle on; it was still full from when she had left for school that morning. Dumping her rucksack on the table, she made two mugs of coffee and picked up the unopened packet of biscuits.
‘Bringing you up some coffee and biscuits Mum.’
The response was less faint as Rosa climbed the stairs. Pushing open the door with her foot, she put on the smile that she always wore when greeting her mother. Her mother. The woman who lay in the bed, covered with blankets and two duvets, not the woman who used to laugh and make cakes for tea. The woman who used to be happy.
The portable TV was tuned into an American channel that played endless game shows. Rosa put the mugs and the biscuits on the bedside table and turned the ear-splitting volume down.
She sat on the edge of the bed and passed one of the mugs to her mother; steadying the pale, listless hands that cupped themselves around the welcoming warmth.
‘Have you been alright today? Did anyone call?’
Rosa’s mother shook her head in answer to both questions.
‘I left you a sandwich and these biscuits in the kitchen. Did you not feel well enough to get down there?’
‘No,’ came the croaking response. ‘I got as far as the bathroom but my legs didn’t feel as if they’d get me downstairs. I wasn’t really hungry anyway.’
Rosa’s smile became more forced. ‘You must try to eat Mum. I’ll go and get those sandwiches shall I?’
‘If you like. How was school?’
‘I’ll tell you in a minute – while you’re eating your sandwiches.’
Running down to the kitchen and fetching the sandwiches only took a couple of minutes and in that time Rosa’s mother had eaten half the packet of biscuits.
‘See!’ said Rosa. ‘You were hungry. Here you are. Corned beef and sliced tomato, just like you used to make us when we went to the seaside.’
They both smiled at the memory of sunny days at the beach and trying to eat sandwiches before the wind covered them with sand. Rosa’s mother took a sandwich and ate it voraciously while Rosa nibbled at a biscuit and sipped her coffee.
‘Mrs Williams is putting me forward for an English literature prize. I also got an A minus for my science homework and a B plus for maths. It’s been a good day today. Its Saturday tomorrow so we can spend the weekend together.’
Her mother’s weak attempt at entusiasm threw their experiences of the day into stark contrast.
‘Would you like me to help you to the bathroom Mum?’ said Rosa as she got to her feet.
‘Get out! Stop nagging me child! Do your homework or something! I can manage! I’m still your mother. Remember that!’
Recognising the danger signs, Rosa picked up her mug and the empty sandwich plate and left the room, stopping only to pick up her diary from under her bed and pull her bedroom door shut.
Putting the diary on the table, Rosa washed up her mug and the plate, leaving them to dry on the drainer. She heard the heavy footsteps overhead and the slam of the bathroom door. She waited; holding her breath, until the footsteps returned and the creak of the bed confirmed that her mother was safe again.
Opening her diary, Rosa scanned the chart at the front and her fears were confirmed. She turned to the back pages and propped the book open. Her list. Lists made life easier. The woman at the young carers group told her that. She mentally ticked off each item as she worked down the page.
- Crockery and cutlery – especially knives.
Very methodically Rosa collected their limited supply of china, and the metal cutlery, putting it into the bag that she kept on the back of the kitchen door. Her mother had turned up the volume on the TV again, so she knew that it was unlikely that she would hear the sound of the back door opening. Moving as quickly and quietly as she could, Rosa undid the padlock on the garden shed, feeling thankful that her mother’s bedroom overlooked the road at the front of the house. She swapped the crockery bag with another one containing a plastic picnic set and took it back into the house for unpacking.
- Remove all alcohol.
There wasn’t much left now but Rosa knew all the places where her mother liked to hide the vodka bottles brought in by stupid but well-meaning relatives. They went into another bag and out into the shed.
- Photographs and DVDs.
The sight of any photos of their previously happy life were enough to set Rosa’s mother off. DVDs that they had watched together had a similar effect. Bagged up, they went into the shed too. ‘Titanic‘ had been the last film that Rosa’s parents had seen at the cinema; her father had brought the DVD for Rosa before he walked out of the front door without a backward glance.
- Unplug the phone
Although most of the local shops were aware of the problem, in desperation Rosa’s mother would do her best to phone up and get alcohol delivered. Either that or she would phone friends and relatives to give them the usual sob story.
- Use the cash card to get some food to last over the weekend
Locking the shed and the back door, Rosa loaded up the bag on wheels and crept out of the front door, doing her best not to look up at her mother’s bedroom window. Her neighbour Gladys, was in the corner shop.
‘Stocking up my love?’
Rosa nodded as she loaded the basket with TV dinners and junk food.
‘It’s that time again is it?’ said Gladys.
Again, Rosa nodded mutely as she placed her purchases on the counter. Mrs Sadiq exchanged a sympathetic glance with Gladys as she rang them up and placed them in Rosa’s bag.
‘We’re off to an anniversary party tonight Rosa. We won’t be back till late so don’t worry about the noise.’ Gladys put a comforting hand on Rosa’s thin shoulder. Rosa smiled and did her utmost to quell the tears caused by such brief moments of understanding. She paid for her shopping, and gulped for breath again as Mrs Sadiq slipped a bar of her favourite chocolate into the bag.
‘From me darling, a little treat, but mind that you eat it all yourself now.’
Rosa’s next stop was at the fish and chip shop next door. She knew that the enticing odour was guaranteed to ease her mother’s trouble, and if she bought enough, she could offer her some more over the weekend without having to leave the house.
She came home as quietly as she could and stowed the food away, leaving a package of chips by the stairs for her mother to smell.
- Put all money and cards in the shed, lock everything up securely and draw the curtains.
The last on the list. Rosa’s mother wasn’t up to going out even when she was well but the locked doors and drawn curtains deterred unwelcome visitors. Rosa and her mother both knew that when Rosa said she didn’t have any money on her to buy alcohol, she was telling the truth – literally. Rosa had made a point of showing her birth certificate to Mrs Sadiq and the owner of the off licence so that they knew she wasn’t old enough to buy alcohol anyway.
‘Rosa! Rosa! Have you been out? I can smell chips.’
‘Just coming Mum. Do you want fish and mushy peas too?’
‘Of course. Hurry up with it.’
Taking some plastic cutlery and a plate out of the picnic bag, Rosa washed and dried them before putting out her mother’s food. She carried it upstairs. The room was dark now, except for the TV’s blue glow. Her mother’s eyes were barely visible above the edge of the duvet.
‘I need a drink.’ she said menacingly.
Rosa handed her a plastic bottle of diet Coke.
‘Is that all I get? I mean a real drink. You know what I want.’
Shaking her head, Rosa loosened the cap of the bottle and put it on the bedside table, taking the china mug away.
‘There’s no other drink Mum. People know how old I am and won’t sell me any.’
‘You can go to the supermarket. They don’t care how old you are.’
Rosa took a deep breath and crossed her fingers behind her back.
‘Gladys next door – her daughter works there now and she knows how old I am. I have homework to do Mum and your dinner’s getting cold. Call me if you want me.’
Leaving the room quickly before there were any more arguments, Rosa went into her room, grabbed the duvet and a couple of pillows and hurried down the stairs. Taking her dinner into the front room, she snuggled down in front of the TV and readied herself for the onslaught.
Flipping through the channels; she ignored her mother’s favourite game show channel and settled for the one that played old feature films.
An American Werewolf in London.
Rosa grimaced and sent up a silent wish. At least you could tell if someone was a werewolf and you could kill them with a silver bullet. Not all problems were so visible – or so easily solved.
She heard the angry scream, followed by the sound of the plastic plate and empty bottle being thrown at the bedroom door.
‘I WANT A DRINK!’
Turning up the volume, Rosa did her best to concentrate on the film. She looked down at her diary and checked the dates again. Knowing that her mother wouldn’t have the strength to come downstairs until tomorrow afternoon at least, gave her some respite.
She got up and looked out of the window.
Bloody full moon again.