Nothing disturbed Mother’s slumber.

I figured her medicines must be really

heavy-duty anti-depressants. Mrs Eames

was long gone. She’d promised to come

and check on us next morning. I felt

nervous. Mother might have a full-blown

psychotic episode. I wouldn’t know what

to do. I held my breath, and listened hard,

for the sound of her feet coming

downstairs. Nothing happened. I told

William it was time for bed. We both crept

past Mother’s room. She was like an

unexploded bomb. I closed my door as

quietly as possible. I lay on my bed, fully

dressed. The blood pounded in my ears.

Silence. Slowly, my eyes grew heavy,

my muscles relaxed. I slept.


Mrs Eames had made a venerable

vegetarian quiche. She sliced enormous

wedges, and served us all. Mother had

calmed. She was drugged-up to the

eyeballs. She sat like a troubling statue,

pecking at the food like a bird. I didn’t

know what to say. I kept thinking I’d soon

be Mother’s nursemaid, once the initial

excitement was done. William was

fidgeting in his seat. He’d flicked his salad

to the side of his plate. He’d already

demolished his quiche. He was irritating.

Paula, you better take an afternoon nap,

said Mrs Eames slowly. It’s been an

eventful day, and you’ll be tired. Mother

stood up, her legs wobbly, her eyes

glazed over. Mrs Eames guided her away.


Mrs Eames hired a modest vehicle.

We bundled into the car, and drove

out to the hospital. Mother was waiting

with bulging paper bags at the nurse’s

station. She warmly hugged us all. Mrs

Eames signed some papers and a nurse

escorted us through the locked doors.

Once we were in the car park, Mother

sheltered her eyes. She said the sunlight

was blazing, hurting her. She cringed,

moaning quietly. Mrs Eames sat her

gently down in the back seat. Mother

blinked in a disturbed way, tears filling

her eyes. I grew nervous. This was an

inauspicious beginning.


Natalie, this is terrific news,

chirped Mrs Eames. It’ll be

so wonderful, to have your

Mother back home. I felt all

teary, and swallowed hard.

Mrs Eames really wanted to

help. She said we could ferry

Mother from the hospital with

all her belongings in a rental car.

I smiled broadly. Mother’s homecoming

would be special. William suddenly

spoke up. Is Mother going to be all

strange, all weird? he asked. I couldn’t

answer. I supposed she’d need some

gentle nursing, some tender care.

I’d be there.


It was a surprise when I received a letter

from Mother. The buff envelope was

stamped with the hospital crest.

Inside were two crisp pages. Mother’s

handwriting was beautiful. She explained

how she was recovering. How each day

the fog bank in her head was clearing.

She asked how we were coping. I could

feel the tearful guilt in the lines. Mother

spoke about her treatment. The medicines

had finally kicked in. She said she’d be

discharged within a fortnight. She was

coming home.


I sat by the big window and watched

the sun sink, and fizzle out. Sunset

always made me maudlin. Dinner had

been disastrous. The whole evening

Martin had avoided my eyes. He hadn’t

said much at all. My dumplings were

chewy and leaden. William had a stomach

ache. He groaned now, folded up in the

corner. On a pretext, Martin had left early.

Our once bouncy relationship was on the

rocks. I couldn’t understand a thing. I felt

degraded, cheap. Darkness settled on

the street. Dim street lamps flicked on.

I would wrap my grief in its sullen black



I’d become obsessive over William.

Now he was recovering, I needed to

loosen my unwholesome fascination.

My dreams had been filled with images

of his excruciating pain. They had to stop.

I turned my mind to Martin. My big crush

had petered out. I needed to rekindle the

flame. So I invited Martin around, to share

a special dinner. Now William could eat

again, his appetite was formidable. Nat,

cook us a stew, something heavy and

satisfying, William pleaded. I’d make

something with dumplings. I’d wear a

flimsy dress and loud make-up. Martin

would be enamoured.


The day came when William’s tooth

was removed. His root canal was

seriously infected. The only option

was a laborious extraction. We all

sat in the dentist’s chambers and

watched, as she manhandled the

offending molar from William’s numb

jaw. After an epic wrestling match,

the tooth came loose, and was dinged

into a silver dish. I looked hard at the

bloody mess. I felt like screaming into

the sterile air. The dentist was perspiring

heavily. Her bill would be colossal.


I got tired of seeing William clutching

his face as if he was mortally wounded.

The pain didn’t subside. William began

to groan in a ghastly fashion. He didn’t

eat or drink. I grew fatigued, and barked

at him to quit his noise. His cheek swelled

up, until he looked like a misfit. Mrs

Eames was kinder, and pampered him,

and cooed to him. She reckoned William

had a serious infection. If the pain didn’t

alleviate, we’d need to rush to hospital.

I got on with the days, my empathy

ragged. I longed for the peace of my

room, away from William’s relentless



William had toothache. It was

excruciating, he said, having learnt

the word from me. I rushed around

to Mrs Eames for painkillers. We’ll need

to take the young lad to the dentist’s,

Meg Eames said wisely. That kind of pain

only grows worse. So she rang her dental

clinic and booked William in for

emergency treatment. The soonest slot

was the following week. I grimaced at the

thought of all that untreated pain. We’ll

need to dose William up to the eyeballs.

I’ll dash to the shop and fetch some

stronger medicine. She donned her coat,

and sped out the door. William sat

whimpering at the big table, nursing his

jaw. It had clearly swollen. I tried to

distract him, but he was immersed in his

pain. I remembered how Mother always

crushed up the pills, so they’d work

faster. I needed her.