This week’s words were: murky :: favourite mug :: hasty :: myth :: murder
I knew it as soon as she came through the door. Murky look in her eyes, mouth drawn tight, frown lines like steppes across her forehead. When she threw her backpack into the corner without giving it a second glance, I knew for sure.
Favourite mug. Kettle on.
‘I could murder a cup of tea, love. You?’
‘Thanks, Mum.’ She slid into her chair, folding her legs under herself like she used to do when she was tiny. I had to look away, just for a second, as the kettle started rumbling beside me. A blink or two, and I was fine again.
‘Everything all right?’ The kettle clattered and clicked, belching steam. She spoke, but I couldn’t hear her over its racket. I poured the tea, carrying the mugs to the table. She wrapped her fingers around hers without even looking – her fingernails are gone to hell again, I couldn’t help thinking, before telling myself to shut up.
‘So. Is it something at school?’ I blew across the surface of my tea, pretending to watch it ripple. I saw her lick her lips, and the pained flash that crossed her face.
‘I told you,’ she said. ‘I’m fine.’
‘Good, good. So, how’s Maths? I know you were having some difficulty last -‘
‘Mum, is it true? About boys?’
I coughed. ‘What about boys, specifically?’ I took a mouthful of tea and held it.
‘That they can – you know. Tell.‘
I swallowed. ‘Tell?’
She rolled her eyes at me. ‘Come on.‘
‘You’ll have to give me something else to go on, darling. I’m good, but I’m not a mind-reader.’
‘It’s embarrassing,’ she muttered.
She started to chew the inside of her mouth, and tilted her head so that her hair fell down over her eyes. She huffed several long, pained breaths in and out before finally managing to clothe her thoughts in words. ‘That they can tell if you – if you’ve done it.’
‘Ah.’ I took another mouthful of tea, wondering why it suddenly tasted like acid. ‘That old myth.’
‘Myth?’ she said, flicking her hair out of her face and gazing at me with those eyes, so clear. So like her dad’s. My heart lurched, but it passed.
‘Yup. Think about it. How would they tell? It’s impossible.’
‘Stacey says it’s obvious. Like, on your face, or whatever. She says it’s like you might as well wear a big sign on your back saying ‘Virgin!’ unless you – you know.’
‘Well, no disrespect to Stacey,’ I said, putting down my tea. ‘But she’s talking nonsense.’
‘Really?’ She smiled at me, her dimples showing. ‘Them’s fightin’ words, Mum.’
I grinned. ‘Bring it on.’
She laughed, then – a genuine laugh, head thrown back. I felt a throb of something large surge up my throat, and my eyes filled again, and I had to blink hard to keep it all in.
‘Go, Mum!’ she said, looking back at me. ‘So, it’s for real? They can’t tell?’
‘Nope. Nobody can. Well – maybe a doctor. But that’s all right, isn’t it?’
She shrugged, her eyes falling. ‘Well, it’s good to know.’
I leaned in, and put my hand on her arm. She didn’t pull away, but she didn’t look up. ‘There’s no need to be hasty about anything like this. Do you understand? You have time to make your own choices, in your own time, and don’t let Stacey – or anyone – pressure you. All right, darling?’
‘Yeah, Mum. Keep your wig on.’ She unfolded herself, shaking off my hand. ‘I’ve got homework, okay? See you later.’ She grabbed up her bag and was gone, her untouched tea still steaming on the table, and I nursed my heart for a few moments before hauling myself to my feet and getting on with making dinner.
I wish I’d had a mum like me, I thought, as the carrot peelings piled up and the oven warmed, but then I just put the potatoes on and forgot all about it.