Linus has come over a few times and we always watch QVC and just chat or whatever and it’s just…Well. It’s good. Now it’s Friday afternoon and even though I’m not at school, I’ve got that end-of-week feeling. The air’s warm and I can hear children playing in their gardens. From the kitchen window I watch Felix running round the lawn with no clothes on and a watering can in his fist.
I hear the tinkle of an ice-cream van and I’m about to call out to Mum that we should get Felix an ice lolly, when she comes into the kitchen. Staggers, more like. Her face is so pale it’s like mauve. And she actually holds on to the kitchen island as though otherwise she might fall over.
“Mum?” I eye her in alarm. “Are you OK?” At once I realize this is a stupid question. She’s not OK, she’s poorly. “I think you should go to bed.”
“I’m fine.” She gives me a weak smile.
“You’re not! You’ve got a bug. You need rest and fluids. Have you got a temperature?” I’m trying to remember all the things she says to us when we’re ill. “Would you like a Lemsip?”
“Oh, a Lemsip.” She breathes out, looking like a wraith. “Yes, that would be nice.”
“I’ll look after Felix,” I say firmly. “You go to bed. I’ll bring the Lemsip up.”
I flip on the kettle and am rooting around in the cupboards for the Lemsip packet, when Frank arrives home. I can tell this from the almighty crash that comes from the hall. That’ll be his school bag, a sports bag, his cricket bat, and whatever other junk he’s got, all being dumped from a great height onto the tiles. He comes into the kitchen, singing some tuneless song and peeling off his tie.
“All right!” He punches the air, singing, “It’s the weeeeeek-end…What’s for supper?”
“Mum’s ill,” I tell him. “She’s got, like, flu or something. I told her to go to bed. You should go out and buy her…” I think for a moment. “Grapes.”
“I’ve only just got home.” Frank looks unenthusiastic. “And I’m starving.”
“Well, have a sandwich and then get her some grapes.”
“What good do grapes do?”
“Dunno,” I say impatiently. “It’s what you have when you’re ill.”
I’ve made the Lemsip and found a couple of biscuits, and I put them all on a tray.
“Get Ribena too.” I say. “And whatsit. Nurofen. Write it down.” I turn to make sure Frank is listening—but he’s not writing anything down. He’s just standing there, giving me this weird, very un-Frank look. His head is tilted and he looks sort of fascinated, or curious, or something. “What?” I say defensively. “Look, I know it’s Friday, but Mum’s ill.”
“I know,” says Frank. “It’s not that. It’s…” He hesitates. “D’you know something, Aud? You wouldn’t have done this when you first came back from hospital. You’ve changed.”
I’m so taken aback, I don’t know what to say. Like, first of all, I didn’t think Frank ever noticed things about me. And second of all, is that true? I try to think back, but it’s a bit hazy. This is a side-effect of depression, Dr. Sarah has told me. Your memory gets shot to pieces. Which, you know, can be a good thing or a bad thing.
“Really?” I say at last.
“You would have just hidden in your room. Everything got you into a state, even the doorbell ringing. But now look. You’re in charge. You’re on top of it.” He nods at me holding the tray. “It’s…well…It’s good. It’s cool.”
“Thanks,” I say awkwardly.
“No probs.” He looks equally awkward. Then he opens the fridge, gets out a carton of chocolate milk and plugs in his iPod buds. I guess this conversation is over.
But as I walk up the stairs with the tray, I’m replaying it. You’re in charge. You’re on top of it. Just the thought gives me an inner glow. I haven’t felt on top of anything for…forever.
I tap on the door and go into my parents’ room. Mum’s lying in bed, her eyes closed. I think she’s fallen asleep. She must have been exhausted.
I put the tray down as quietly as I can, on her dressing table. There’s a bunch of framed photos on the polished wood, and I linger, looking at them all. Mum and Dad on their wedding day…me and Frank as babies…and one of Mum with all her workmates, winning some award. She’s wearing a pink jacket and clutching a Perspex trophy and beaming, and she looks totally vibrant.