Authors: Sinead Moriarty
‘What did they have for lunch?’
‘Uhm, I gave them raw carrots and cheese and—’
‘Banana sandwiches with sugar,’ announced Jack, who had snuck up behind me.
Mark raised an eyebrow. ‘If you’re finding preparing their meals too complicated, just say so and I’ll get someone else to do it.’
I turned to Jack. ‘Can you please go and play with Bobby for a minute? I need to talk to your dad.’ As he slouched off, I rounded on Mark: ‘Who did you have in mind? Dad? Derek? Fiona? If you’re so concerned about their nutrition, why don’t you cook the meals yourself? It’s called pitching in, helping out, lending a hand.’
‘I was thinking of buying in bulk from a delicatessen and freezing them,’ he said catching me off guard.
‘Oh, well, that might be a good idea, but I don’t think Fiona would approve. I don’t want to wind her up. It’ll make her sicker.’
‘Fiona’s going to be fine. She’ll be back to normal in a matter of weeks.’
‘She’s going to get a lot sicker before she gets better and you have to face that fact and deal with it, instead of sticking your head in the sand. She’s about to embark on months of chemo and radiation treatment that will make her incredibly ill. And then, if she’s really lucky, she’ll go into remission, but she will never be clear of the cancer because it can come back at anytime. She needs all the support she can get,’ I said, feeling tired and emotional. ‘And if the boys eat a banana sandwich once in a blue moon then so bloody what? Now, instead of giving me a hard time with your rules and regulations, take your coat off and help me put them to bed.’
‘I’m well aware of how sick the chemo will make her. I’m just trying to be positive instead of pessimistic, which is the attitude you seem to have taken. Thinking the worst isn’t going to help Fiona either.’
‘I’m too tired for this crap,’ I snapped, fed up with his criticisms.
‘Daddy, are you and Auntie Kate fighting?’ asked Jack, appearing from nowhere and looking as if he was about to cry.
‘No, you silly billy,’ I said, feigning a smile. ‘We’re saying how excited we are about Mummy coming home tomorrow.’
‘Yes, it’s going to be wonderful,’ said Mark. ‘Now, come on, let’s find your brother and get you to bed. I’ve got a fantastic story to read to you tonight about a man called Archimedes who was a mathematician and inventor from ancient Greece…’
They’ll be asleep in no time, I thought, as I watched the boys heading upstairs with Mark. Two minutes of Archimedes would put anyone into a coma.
By the time I got home I was as tired as I ever hope to be. I heard Derek and Gonzo talking in the TV room so I went into the kitchen for some peace and quiet. I didn’t have the energy to talk. I flopped down at the kitchen table and ate my way through a packet of chocolate biscuits. Cooking was not an option: it required too much effort.
I could hear Derek and Gonzo lusting over some girl on the TV.
‘Dude, check out those tits.’
‘She’s a fox.’
‘Do you reckon they’re real?’
‘Who cares? They look sensational.’
Whoever this girl was, she had two big fans. Marginally revived by the sugar rush from the biscuits I wandered in to the boys. They were staring at a blonde girl with enormous boobs, enhanced by an obscenely low-cut top. Something looked familiar. I peered at the television… Hang on a minute… I know that set. That’s my show.
’ I shrieked.
Derek and Gonzo jumped.
‘What’s up with you?’ asked Derek.
‘That’s my show! That tart is presenting my bloody show! Oh, God, what have I done?’ I said, dropping to the ground and wailing like a banshee.
‘Fuck, Kate, I’m sorry I didn’t realize,’ said Derek.
‘Dude, you’re like way better-looking,’ said Gonzo, trying to do some damage limitation. ‘She’s just tits and ass.’
I sobbed uncontrollably as the two boys hovered around me, not knowing what to do.
‘She’s a total bimbo and you’re a… an older, like, more serious chick,’ said Derek.
‘Yeah, totally. You’re the Trevor McDonald and she’s, like, the Jordan,’ added Gonzo.
‘You are so Trevor,’ repeated Derek, confirming my likeness to a seventy-year-old, knighted newsman.
I managed a watery smile. I had to give them an A for effort. ‘Thanks, guys,’ I said. I dragged myself off to bed to lick my wounds, then cry over my lost career and current position as an unsuitable, unqualified childminder.
My alarm went off at six thirty. I had been asleep for thirty seconds – or so it felt to my tired body and puffy eyes. This was worse than boot camp. Fiona told me that Mark liked to get to the office early so I needed to be at the house at seven to give the boys their breakfast and dress them. I staggered into the bath room and stood under the shower, hoping it would revive me. It didn’t. I threw on a sweatshirt and jeans, drank a cup of extra strong coffee and headed for Fiona’s house. It was still dark. This day two weeks ago I had been in Paris, interviewing Drew Barry more about her new film.
When I arrived Mark was ready to leave.
‘The boys are just waking up. Please make sure they’re on time for school today. Bobby told me they were late yesterday. I’ll be picking Fiona up at lunchtime and bringing her straight home. Could you put fresh sheets on the bed and maybe get some flowers for her bedside locker. Right, I’m off,’ he said, darting out the door before I had had a chance to open my mouth.
‘Good morning to you too,’ I hissed after him. ‘I hope you have a rotten day and the Chinese mathematician is a phoney who makes you lose your stupid prize, you selfish prick.’
‘Why do you want Daddy to lose the prize?’ said a voice behind me.
I spun round to see Jack in his
Bob the Builder
pyjamas, frowning at me. It was seven-oh-one and I had already messed up.
‘I wasn’t talking about your dad, silly, I was talking about the other man who’s trying to get the same prize and I want your dad to win.’
Jack looked unimpressed.
‘In bed and he says he won’t get up.’
‘Well, let’s go and see if he’s OK,’ I said, glad of the distraction. I climbed the stairs with Jack hot on my heels.
Bobby was lying in bed with the duvet round his ears. ‘What’s up, lazy-bones?’ I asked, going over to pull down the duvet.
‘No,’ Bobby shouted.
‘Are you all right? Do you not feel well?’ I asked, praying he wasn’t sick. I was really looking forward to the three hours when they were at school. It was the only thing keeping me going.
He shook his head.
I sat down on the bed and leant over. ‘Are you worried about your mum?’
He shook his head again.
‘Are you worried about Teddy?’
He shook his head a third time.
‘Do you not want to go to school?’
He rolled away from me and as he did I got a strong whiff of urine.
‘Oh, honey, did you wet the bed?’ I asked.
His little head nodded sadly.
‘That’s OK. Everyone does it sometimes. It’s nothing to worry about,’ I said, leaning in to hug him.
wet the bed,’ said Jack.
‘Shush now. Go and brush your teeth and I’ll be in to you in a minute. I want to speak to Bobby alone.’
Jack ran out of the room, shouting, ‘Bobby peed in his pants.’
I rolled Bobby over so he was looking at me. ‘It’s OK. Come on, let’s get you out of those nasty wet sheets and pyjamas and we’ll have a nice bath and then we’ll get dressed.’
‘Will you tell Mummy?’
‘Not if you don’t want me to.’
‘I had a bad dream that she was reallysick and then I woke up wet.’
‘Oh, sweetheart, you mustn’t worry about your mum. She’s going to be fine,’ I said, and hugged him.
As I did, I remembered my father doing the same thing to me when I was nearly eight. I had woken up in the middle of the night, screaming, and he had come in to me. I’d had a dream that Mum was being eaten alive by monsters. Dad had rocked me in his arms and told me not to worry, Mum would be fine. But she wasn’t fine. She died three months later. Was I lying to Bobby? Would Fiona be OK? Were we all being over-optimistic about her recovery?
I looked down at his worried little face and kissed it. I’d said the right thing. He needed to believe – just as we all did – that Fiona would get better and things would return to normal.
‘OK, Mister. Off with those stinky jim-jams and let’s get some big bubbles for the bath so you smell all nice and clean for school.’
As I was stripping the bed, and Bobby was taking off his pyjamas, he came over and hugged my leg. ‘Auntie Kate.’
‘I’m glad you came back from Ingerland.’
I turned round so he wouldn’t see me cry– if the sheet hadn’t been so smelly, I’d have buried my head in it. I had done the right thing. This family needed me.
Jack insisted on getting into the bath with his brother and chaos ensued. I ended up wetter than anyone. Then I got them dressed and fed, and somehow managed to be at school two minutes early. Mrs Foley barely acknowledged me as I dropped them off. ‘Be good, boys. I’ll see you later. By the time we get home, Mum will be back.’
Their little faces lit up. I could tell my popularity was going to be short-lived.
I drove back to the house, put Bobby’s sheets into the washing-machine, changed Fiona’s bed linen and tidied up. I wanted everything to be nice and organized for her return.
Mark’s car pulled up at exactly twelve, and I watched him help a frail Fiona out of the car. She winced as she stood up, clearly still in pain. I ran out to help her in. ‘How are you feeling?’
‘Not too bad,’ she said bravely.
‘She needs to take her painkillers,’ said Mark.
‘I’ll just have a cup of tea first,’ said Fiona, and sat down at the kitchen table. I put the kettle on. ‘How are the boys?’ she asked.
‘Great,’ I said. ‘They’ve been as good as gold. Although I’m not sure Mrs Foley is my biggest fan.’
‘What did you do?’ Fiona asked, sighing, which I have to say ticked me off, considering I’d been running around like a blue-arsed fly for the past twenty-four hours looking after her kids.
anything. I just dropped them off ten seconds late yesterday and she gave me this big lecture on tardiness as if I was five years old.’
‘She has to be strict about parents being late, otherwise people take advantage and treat the school like a hotel. It’s important for children to learn about good time-keeping.’
Clearly the pain hadn’t done anything to reduce Fiona’s ability to lecture. I bit my tongue. ‘What are your doctor’s instructions? Lots of rest, I suppose?’ I asked.
‘She’s to rest and she’ll start chemotherapy in three weeks’ time,’ said Mark, as if he was reading a shopping list.
‘Yikes! So soon,’ I said, looking at Fiona, who was glaring at Mark.
‘Do you think you’ll be able for it?’
She shrugged, as Mark said, ‘It’s what the doctor recommended.’
‘Well, we’ll all be here to help, so don’t worry.’ But I was frightened by the dread on Fiona’s face.
‘Thanks,’ she said.
Mark cleared his throat and said he had to get back to the office. He asked Fiona if she wanted to be carried up to bed.
‘No, thanks. I’d like to be up and dressed when the boys come back so they don’t worry,’ said the saintly mother, as her selfish husband got ready to slink back to the office, away from his responsibilities.
‘Fine. We can discuss that other matter later,’ he said, as he left.
When he had gone, Fiona slumped in her chair.
‘What’s he talking about?’ I asked.
‘Oh, Kate,’ she said, her eyes filling with tears. She told me about the conversation she and Mark had had with the doctor. He had asked if they wanted to have more children and Fiona had said, yes. He explained that chemotherapy can cause infertility and that Fiona needed to consider whether she wanted some of her eggs to be preserved for the future. But he added that he wouldn’t recommend that she go down this avenue, first, because it would delay her treatment, and second, because of the high doses of hormones she’d be given to induce ovulation. But, he added, it was entirely Fiona’s decision and something she needed to think seriously about.
‘Mark said I need to focus on getting better and we can think about having more children later.’
For once I agreed with him. ‘Well, the priority now is that you get better. It’s only a possibility of infertility, and if the worst came to the worst, you still have two beautiful boys.’
‘But I really want more kids for Mark,’ Fiona said, welling up. ‘He’s such a brilliant dad. We were going to start trying again before all this happened.’
‘And maybe in a year or two you’ll get pregnant, but I don’t think postponing your treatment is an option at this stage. You have to take the doctor’s advice. He said he wouldn’t recommend it.’
‘But I love kids.’
‘Look, if you need eggs, I’ll give you mine. They’re shag-all use to me so you might as well have them. Problem solved. Now, I’ve to go and collect the boys or that witch will have the police out looking to arrest me for tardiness.’
As I drove to pick the twins up I thought about Fiona wanting more children. Having spent half a day with the twins I couldn’t imagine how anyone would want to add to the pandemonium. Where would you get the energy from? When would you have any free time to go shopping or read a magazine in peace? She must be mad. But, then, she had always been maternal. I seemed to lack that gene. I liked the twins but, God, was I glad to hand them over to Mark last night and leave! The responsibility was too much. I liked my own space and being able to do what I wanted, when I wanted. No, kids were definitely not for me. Fiona was welcome to my eggs.
I skidded to a halt outside the school just on time. The twins came sprinting out, impatient to see their mum. I was irrelevant now – a mere chauffeur – as they quizzed me on what time she’d got back and was she all better and would she be staying at home for ever…
When we arrived, Fiona was leaning against the front door. She smiled when she saw her sons and they ran into her arms. I saw her catch her breath with pain as they threw their arms round her, but she hugged them and gave an Oscar-winning performance of someone who was in full health. When she had the chance she told me that the hospital had called to confirm that the cancer hadn’t spread to her lymph nodes. I hugged her too, but gently, and told her it was the best news I’d ever heard. She laughed and said Dad had used the same words.