UPSETTING THE ROUTINE | In Claire Schön’s short story, a child’s-eye view on her parents’ relationship reveals the inequalities.
by Claire Schön
‘There you go, love. Coffee and buttery toast. I ironed your shirt; it’s hanging up.’
Dad grunts behind his newspaper.
‘Cornflakes, angel, and a glass of warm milk.’
She kisses me and rushes off to get ready for work.
Mum cleans, tidies, does washing, cooks and bakes every evening as soon as she gets home. Sometimes she is still wearing her jacket when we sit down to eat. Her smile slips along with her eyelids, but she still plays Scrabble, tucks me in for the night and reads me my favourite book.
Dad grunts ‘goodnight’ from behind his phone.
Dad’s sick. Mum whispers ‘It’s man-flu’. It must be bad: his runny nose has stopped his legs working. Mum serves his dinner at the sofa.
Mum’s nose runs too, but her legs are fine, women seem to get off lighter. She can still go to work, clean, tidy, do the washing, make dinner, and bake. And she plays Scrabble with me.
Dad is better now. He went back to work today. He is still not home. I can’t wait any longer.
‘Did you make this?’
Mum cries – I’m not sure she likes it. It’s a heart but like the one in biology; I painted ‘Mum’ on it. I give her the birthday card I spent two weeks perfecting and ask her to light her candle on the cupcake. I know it will be yummy, as Gran helped me. She cries again, but she’s smiling.
I’m asleep when Dad comes home.
“Her smile slips along with her eyelids, but she still plays Scrabble, tucks me in for the night and reads me my favourite book.”
‘Here you go, angel.’
Cornflakes, as usual, but something is different.
I call out ‘bye’ and hear Dad grunt. I don’t remember him having a shirt on or eating breakfast.
Mum says she forgot.
‘You never forget, are you sick?’
‘Not of you, angel.’
Mum doesn’t need to clean, tidy, wash or bake that evening. She said it does itself ‘apparently’. We play, read loads and order pizza. I’ve never been so happy. Mum still looks tired or something.
I call goodnight to Dad. He’s not in his usual place staring at his phone.
‘He can’t hear you, love, he’ll come up later; he’s battling with the washing machine.’
‘Well, he’s losing.’
Mum still doesn’t do the housework; although, I don’t think it’s doing itself. We’re having pizza again, and Mum plays with me after looking at photos. Her mouth has turned down, and a dent appears at the top of her nose. She’s wearing a white dress in the photos – Mum and Dad have forgotten to smile for the camera and are smiling only at each other – I don’t think I’ve seen them do that before.
Dad brought Mum flowers today and made her tea. He hasn’t used the kettle before: he’s not a tea drinker. Must be easier than the washing machine – he won.
It smells of laundry and baking again, and toast and coffee that Dad made.
Dad’s got his nose in his phone again, but he shows me a Christmas present he is buying for Mum. I’m glad, I like pizza but not at Christmas.
Dad plays Scrabble with us. He spells out ‘I LOVE YOU’; Mum smiles as she did in the photo.
Claire Schön | @SchonClaire
Claire started writing fiction last year. She has been published in the Pure Slush Birth and Growing Up anthologies, on Funny Pearls, Every Day Fiction, Fudoki Magazine, Blues Doodles and on Meet Cute Press. She has been shortlisted for Flash500, longlisted for both flash and short stories with Cranked Anvil, and longlisted for flash with Grindstone Literary, Free Flash Fiction, Strands and Blinkpot.