The shop was down a gloomy, beat-up

lane, in an obscure part of town. William

was with me. I pushed open the battered

door, and we moved inside. A curious

toad-like man was sitting at the counter.

He looked up. His fishy eyes, behind huge

bottle-top glasses, expressed only mild

interest. How can I help you? he asked,

in a bland, slippery way. He showed

absolutely no curiosity about our ages.

I placed Mother’s watch on the counter.

So, what have we here? he asked, his

eyebrows beetling with professional

excitement. I want a fair deal, I said

firmly. The negotiating had begun.


When we went home, I ransacked

Mother’s jewellery box. There was

the watch, sitting deep in the felt,

wrapped in tissue paper. It sparkled

valuably. I imagined the big wad of

cash that would be coming our way.

I knew pawnbrokers were notorious

villains, but I vowed to be firm, and

demand a fair deal. There were some

rings and bangles too, but they were

clearly lesser trinkets. I put everything

in a fresh hankie, and stuffed the swag

deep in my coat pocket. Tomorrow

we’d visit the pawnbroker.


I licked my oily, salty fingers with glee.

William was beaming, massively satisfied.

The crowded restaurant buzzed with

small talk and canned music. I’d have

loved to place another food order, but

my mind swarmed with lurid scenes of

starvation. I needed to raise more cash.

I thought of selling some items at the

pawnbrokers. Mother had taken me

along when I was younger. I remembered

the drill. I’d be able to pawn some of

Mother’s jewellery, maybe her special

dress watch. We wouldn’t raise much

cash, but we’d be able to eat. The matter

was settled. Feeling reckless, happy, I

ordered more fries.


William complained he was heartily sick

of lingering at home. I wracked my brains

for something entertaining to do. William

was too old to be fobbed off with a

childish visit to the park. But we had no

money for anything lavish. I suggested

we go and stroll around the mall and do

some window shopping. William agreed

to this. We could have hot chocolate at

some fast food joint, that wouldn’t cost

the earth, and maybe a double serving

of French fries. I told William to put on

some fresh clothes. He made an ugly

face at that. I grabbed the house keys,

and we skedaddled into the empty street.


I slept late, having no impetus to rise.

Mother had usually heckled us out of bed

at the crack of dawn, so this was a rare

freedom. William was up, sitting at the

breakfast table, looking disconsolate.

Nat, there’s no cereal, and the milk’s

gone sour. I checked our funds. I told

William to go and buy some eggs and

fresh milk. He leapt up, and was gone. I

didn’t want to dwell on our misfortune,

so I brewed some black tea, which I

sipped at thoughtfully. When William

returned, two of the eggs were cracked.

I said nothing. I went to the stove, and

scrambled up some breakfast. We ate

together, until we were comfortably full.


It’s time to wish you both goodnight,

my dearies, Mrs Eames said. If there’s

anything you need whatsoever, just

remember, I’m only next door. She

handed me a card with her phone

number on it, and kissed me tenderly

on the forehead. She then bear-hugged

William, who giggled helplessly. Mrs

Eames was our fairy godmother in a

horrible world. I thanked her warmly.

Please call me Meg, she said simply.

I nodded, and pecked her cheek. That

meant we’d be inseparable.


As we walked up the pathway,

a gust of wind caught some leaves

and sent them spinning into the air.

William covered his face like they might

scratch. Mrs Eames stood hulking in the

doorway. A fabulous aroma wafted into

our noses. Suddenly I realized I was

ravenous. Poor William was positively

salivating. Mrs Eames hurried us inside,

to get it hot. For a marvellous moment

all my grief was forgotten.


Eventually I went up to the nurse’s station

and asked to be let out. I felt nothing had

been achieved. I struggled to pry some

information from the duty nurse, but

clearly he knew nothing about Mother’s

care. William and I were buzzed through

the bolted doors. We walked back down

the bleached corridor, into the bright

sunlight. I felt cheered by the afternoon,

by the sudden liberty. The next thing was

to seek out a bus. Money was dwindling

badly. But Mrs Eames would be making

us dinner.


Mother didn’t return. I expected a doctor,

even a nurse, to come and discuss her

condition, but nobody appeared. So

William and I wandered through more

double doors, into a small ornamental

garden surrounded by high electric

fences. A large long haired woman in a

nightie was casting her arms into the air,

screaming at the shrubbery. There were

no medical personnel anywhere. The

patients were wild, neglected, sky-high

on their medication. It was blatantly clear.

You couldn’t get better in this place.


We were ushered into a small room.

There were boxes and boxes of puzzles

piled high in a corner. Dust has settled

over everything. I presumed there weren’t

many visitors. After an interminable time,

Mother came. She wore a long white

nightdress, she was heavily sedated,

her hair was beautifully combed. She

seemed confused, she didn’t recognize

us, she spoke no words. I guided her

to a chair, but she wouldn’t sit. Mother,

it is us. Please say something, I said

desperately. A ward orderly came. It

was time for Mother’s medications.

Come along, dearie, the man coaxed

gently, and Mother was shuffled away.