Guilt

Mrs Eames hobbled around to our house.

She was wielding a crutch, cursing mildly

as she came. William hugged her knees,

nearly capsizing her, and knocking her to

the ground. I knew she sensed his misery.

What’s up matey? she asked lightly, but

William had burst into tears. We can’t

have this, Mrs Eames said soothingly,

shooting me a puzzled glance. I tried to

look nonchalant, but failed. Everything

would come out now. I’d be accused of

bullying poor little William. I flushed, the

guilt strewn all over my cheeks. Mrs

Eames sat heavily in our best chair.

She was waiting for an explanation.

Fists

Mrs Eames was laid up in bed with

excruciating back pain. She called me

to ask if everything was OK. I could

sense she spoke through gritted teeth.

I lied. I insisted everything was hunky-

dory. She mustn’t worry. In fact my

fight with William had escalated to

a cold war. He had dug in his heels,

and wouldn’t mutter a single word in

my direction. It was comic. I knew he

was bursting to pummel me with his

little fists. I tried very hard not to snigger.

When William saw my amusement, his

face curdled. It was too late to patch up

things. Irreparable damage had been

done.

Knives

William performed his duties. He

hoovered the house, took out the

rubbish, cleaned the cutlery drawer.

But it was always slapdash, grudgingly

done. We didn’t speak. A pall of silence

settled over our lounge. I made all the

meals. William and I ate them like mutes.

Our knives and forks clattered, they were

more vocal. Mrs Eames hadn’t been

round for days. I dreaded what she’d

have to say. William was her special pet.

She’d take his side. She’d insist we

made up. If I refused, we’d fight. I’d

be ostracized. It wasn’t worth it. I had

to thaw the deadlock. Show some

sisterly love.

Rhinoceros

I drew up my chart. William’s name

was written in bold handwriting and

underlined. His chores were clearly

defined. I thought about penalties for

uncompleted work, but I didn’t know

what punishments I might give. Starving

William seemed inordinately cruel, and

he didn’t get any pocket money I could

dock. Nevertheless I hung my notice

prominently in the kitchen, on the fridge

door. I waited for the fallout. It didn’t

take long. William barrelled up to me

demanding answers. What’s this all

about Sis, you cannot be serious?

he screamed, clutching my notice.

I said it was deadly serious. William

gave me a death stare. I stared back.

Then William turned heel, and stampeded

from the room, angrier than a bull

rhinoceros.

Change

I prepared our usual dish of scrambled

eggs. We both sat down at the kitchen

table. William chomped his eggs down

like a barbarian. Then he licked his knife,

and burped loudly. I craved for more

refined company. A girlfriend, who would

have polished manners. William suddenly

pushed his chair back. It scraped

alarmingly on the floor. I shuddered. My

stupid brother bounded to the sofa, to

continue his dumb game. I was saddled

with the washing-up. I felt downcast.

Things had to change around here, I

thought defiantly. I’d devise a roster.

Put William to work. Enough was enough.

I wouldn’t be taken for granted.

Back

A thin layer of dust had settled over the

sofa and armchairs. The house had a

dead, glazed look. William and I unpacked

our meagre things. I got out a dustpan

and brush, and whisked around, until the

lounge was respectable. I opened the

windows wide, because there was a stale

smell. William was sat at the kitchen table,

oblivious, playing his wretched game.

We’d need to buy some food. I asked

William to dash to the corner shop for

eggs, bread, butter and milk. He frowned

and groaned. So I said he could get a

small chocolate bar too. This appeased

him. He snatched the ten pound note I

held out, and lurched towards the door.

Journeys

The train journey back was uneventful.

Perfectly manicured fields for miles and

miles, with only the soft lines of distant

hills. Which gave way to drab satellite

towns, then the great smoking

conurbation of London. We slowed,

squealed over endless points, and

rumbled into the terminus. Muddy

announcements were made. I didn’t

understand a word. So we grabbed our

luggage, and strode down the platform.

Mrs Eames muscled her way through the

milling crowds, and found a taxi rank. It

was good, to be going home.

Unchanged

Mother was unchanged. Our visit had

been worthless. I was pretty sure Mother

was oblivious to our existence. She was

securely locked inside her delusional

head. It didn’t seem like she’d ever

escape. Mrs Eames requested to speak

with Mother’s psychiatrist, but he wasn’t

available. Downcast, we decided to leave

town. I scanned the train timetable and

we reserved our seats. We’d depart the

next morning. There’d be another

afternoon to kill. I’d grown to loathe this

gruesome town, and our hideous hotel

room.

Dust

Mrs Eames was upbeat. Let’s visit your

Mother this morning, I’m sure she’ll be

feeling chipper, and more than delighted

to see you both. This was clearly a

comforting lie. There seemed little hope

that Mother would be altered for the

better. We’d purchased a box of cereal

and plastic spoons and bowls. We ate

the muesli, which tasted like funeral

ashes, perched on our beds. Mrs Eames

said she was in dire need of a coffee.

We would skirt around town, probably

visit our café, then catch the bus.

Stepping into the street, we were assailed

by a swirl of gritty dust. William choked.

I patted his back. Soon we were striding

purposefully towards the town centre.

Sleep

We were all lying on our beds. The sun

had sunk down. William’s socks were

beginning to get whiffy. A malodorous

guff permeated the room. I could hear

traffic grinding in the street below. Mrs

Eames was dozing already. She had

been complaining of back pain. I had

caught her swallowing some serious-

looking crimson pills. Her teeth were

perpetually gritted. I resisted the

temptation to pull out my phone and

play some inane game. My eyelids grew

heavy. The space-invader beeps coming

from William’s stupid gadget dimmed in

my head. I felt hot and groggy. Sleep.