A short story for the CAKE.shortandSweet Wednesday Write In
‘But mum, I need two more tubes, not just one!’
Emily pouted and vibrated with rage. She held a toilet roll tube above her head. Her pigtails vibrated, angry snakes above her shoulders. It should have been funny at the time. I was never in the right place, nor was able to find the right time then. Retrospect and nostalgia are ephemeral things; they can’t be snatched. We never seem to appreciate the moment until it’s gone.
‘You can’t have any more sweetheart,’ I sighed, ‘we need them in the bathroom. You can have them when they’re empty.’
Emily placed the tube in her mouth. She made a low humming sound and banged the cardboard – a damp digeridoo. Emily was small for her age. Plump, always hungry, we never seemed to have enough food in. As she hummed, she nibbled at the precious tube.
‘Don’t do that, you’ll get it soggy and then you won’t be able to use it at all.’
Emily scowled. She pulled it out of her mouth. There were indents in the cardboard from her wobbly teeth, her dribble had made the rim of the tube pulpy.
‘Lizzy Mellstone will have at least three. And Jack Gibson is going to use five and make a rocket launcher with his dad. I want to make fire crackers for the Fireworks’ Display.’
Jack’s dad. A mistake. A case of loneliness and alcohol, he blasted into my life for a few noisy months. But Jack’s babysitter had come back too early, her spare key too quiet in the newly double glazed front door.
Jack with his science projects, Jack with his love of Tomorrow’s World, Jack who always wanted to impress his dad. Jack who saw his physicist father like a rocket. Docking. The round curve of a woman who was not his mother, pale as a moon. It should have been funny but it was not.
Word got around and Dan had left. Three’s a crowd after all. I coped without Dan, Emily coped without a Dad. Somehow she got through it, we got through it. We clung together – not always willingly
Time went on, Emily called me today; she does when she’s low. As we chatted on the landline, I idled through junk letters on the desk – “consolidate your loan”, “claim your PPI”. It’s Emily’s desk, engraved in hearts, scribbled out boys’ names. This was Emily’s room – now it’s my office. Nostalgia sweeps in like a sweetness: Emily revising, Emily making cute animal models out of Blu-Tack and paperclips, Emily spending hours curling the cord in her fingers as she chatted with friends or flirted for hours with that boy. Empty, unremembered conversations full of laughter.
Emily teaches in a primary school in Norfolk. She keeps her greying hair in complicated braids. She always has spare cardboard tubes and crafting materials for the children. She makes rockets every year.