A cold blast of air followed William and I
down the bleached corridor. We were
guided by a duty nurse, who swiped his
card, unlocking the double doors ahead.
At the nurse’s station, staff worked
assiduously, scribbling into thick patient
files. Nobody looked up. Someone
pounded their fists on a hidden door
and moaned out to be released. No one
took notice. I asked at the desk about
Mother. She was sleeping, although it
was past midday. An obese man, stood
on his tiptoes, was performing a
languorous dance. He was shouting out
crazily. No one cared. The nurse went to
fetch Mother. I was afraid. William
whimpered beside me.
Mrs Eames, who was a widow,
with three grown-up sons, had
time on her hands. She promised
to bake us hearty shepherd’s pies
and mouth-watering roasts. William,
once he heard, perked up considerably.
The question of visiting Mother now
pressed on me. Mrs Eames didn’t drive,
so we’d need to find our own way.
There was a bus to the outskirts of town,
then it was a short walk. William and I
googled the facility. It was a stark gothic
place. It looked like the mental asylums
of popular imagination. My heart sank.
I invited Mrs Eames into the kitchen,
where she sat heavily, literally bursting
with questions. She gazed horrified at
the small pile of sandwiches I’d made.
Natalie, where’s your dear Mother gone?
I’m worried sick pet, thinking of you both
so alone, fending for yourselves like this.
I tried not to tear up. I asked if Mrs Eames
would like some tea. Yes my dear, that
would be grand. She strolled over to me,
and hugged me massively in her arms. I
melted into sobs.
The neighbour was an extremely snoopy
crow who loved to gossip with Mother.
Mrs Eames was always pushing her beak
into our concerns. Each morning I saw her
hovering by the hedge. She was simply
dying to cross-examine me and find out
the truth about Mother. I deplored the
sight of Mrs Eames’ wrinkled face, and
was determined to say absolutely nothing.
We wouldn’t be hanging out our dirty
laundry, as Mother liked to say. Then,
when I was preparing some simple
sandwiches for lunch, Mrs Eames’
curiosity overcame her and she tapped
lightly at our door.
Nat, do you know where they’ve taken
Mother? William asked plaintively.
I told him not to fret, we’d visit her
very soon. I’d discovered the authorities
were holding Mother in a mid-security unit
just outside town. She was constantly
monitored, in case she self-harmed.
William and l, however, had fallen through
the cracks. No one had deduced we were
alone, without adult supervision, without
money. Thankfully Mother always kept
the cupboards well-stocked, in case of
dire emergency, so food wouldn’t be a
problem. Also I’d found a crumpled fifty
pound note hidden deep in the tea caddy.
William and I were going to survive.
William had witnessed everything
from the window. When I came inside,
he was sobbing on the couch. Nat,
what are we going to do? he mouthed
piteously. His tiny shoulders shook. I
struggled to compose myself. I said
we’d have breakfast now. William
nodded. I didn’t like to think too hard
about what we’d do. So I made some
scrambled eggs. My brother sat moodily
at the dinner table. We ate in silence.
Mother had strayed across the road.
She was stood under the chestnut tree,
gesticulating wildly. A white van had
pulled up. A bearded man stepped out.
He approached Mother cautiously. She
began to scream. I’d never heard anything
more terrifying. It was a thin, unearthly,
disembodied cry. The bearded man was
guiding Mother towards his van. I ran
outside and stood by the gate. There
was nothing I could do. Mother was
being hustled into the rear seats. The
hatch was firmly shut, and locked. They
were driving away.
I was at a loss. Who could I call?
At first I considered Mother’s doctor,
but she was just a general practitioner,
and Mother always said she only knew
about curing colds. I trawled the internet
and found a crisis hotline. I explained
the situation. I was put on hold. A new
voice came on the line. I was compelled
to explain all over again. Once the person
figured I was sixteen, that my Mother had
cracked, that I had a younger brother too,
things began to move. A crisis councillor
was appointed to my case. I was to hold
tight. Help was on the way.
Mother started rambling. Incoherent
words spilled from her mouth. She
would converse with invisible people.
It was incredibly alarming. She’d forget
to make our meals. She’d wring her
hands abruptly. She’d weep joyfully.
Her eyes were glazed over. Then,
suddenly, she’d listen intently. Natalie,
my love, I can hear the angels sing,
Mother said, ecstatic. It was then
I knew she needed help.
Mother was shoutier than usual.
There was this ugly edge to her
usual hectoring tone. She paced
the room, throwing up her hands.
I wondered what hidden problems
were harassing her. She boiled over
at William, slapping him, when he
went all sulky after a tirade. This
was peculiar. At first I thought it
must be money. But there was this
desperate lunacy in Mother’s eyes.
Like nothing I had seen before.