After I’d unruffled my feathers, I showered
and waltzed downstairs to prepare dinner.
William had gone to his room. I could hear
the sounds of cartoon people being
zapped from behind his door. Tonight I’d
microwave some macaroni cheese. Uncle
had bought this high-end Italian pasta
and an enormous wedge of cheddar. It
seemed like his pockets were deep. We
hadn’t heard a murmur from Mrs Eames.
I wasn’t angry with her anymore. I craved
for her cheerful company. I supposed
Aunty’s loyalties had shifted. I wondered
if she was in love with Uncle Timothy. I
was less appalled by the thought of it.
It is funny how we adapt. I was even
getting used to the hulking creep who
fed us. The obscene man who perved
over my legs.
I sometimes wish I could lay down
the law. Insist William restrict his screen
time to an hour each day. But I know this
is just a fantasy. Once Uncle had gone,
to warm adulation, William started to
tinker with his new plaything. He was
absolutely enthralled. Apparently it was
the latest model, with a super-fast
processor. This was all jargon to me.
Essentially I thought it was stupid to be
so besotted by a piece of plastic,
however revolutionary it might be.
William downloaded all his games.
He sat in the corner, goggle-eyed as
a goldfish. There was no prying him
away. I could feel my gall rising. I threw
up my hands in despair, and stomped
out of the room.
There was an imposing thud at our door.
It made me suspect social workers were
calling again. I flicked the net curtains
aside. Uncle Timothy was there, like great
big grumpy bear. He was carrying a bag
in his massive alarming paw. He saw me
and attempted a grin, which curdled on
his leathery face. I opened the door.
Uncle bent down and pecked my cheek.
I shuddered. I could smell his rancid
breath. I have something special here for
William, Uncle announced sombrely, and
handed me the bag. I shouted out for my
brother, who was lingering upstairs. He
came, bounding down the steps. I thrust
Uncle’s gift into William’s outstretched
hands. He beamed at both of us, and
leapt onto the sofa. Very rapidly he was
tearing into a colourful box, unwrapping a
brand new phone.
I dialled. I could sense Uncle’s gruff,
wheezy breath before he even said a
word. He knew it was me. Down the
line I heard a sharp intake of air. The
diabolical man was thrilled. I didn’t beat
around the bush. I simply stated how
William had broken his phone and he
needed a new one. I should be more
than delighted to assist, Uncle announced
after a brief pause, in his creepiest-ever
voice. It felt like I was beholden to him
now. Uncle asked me a few questions
about what kind of mobile William would
like. He hummed and hawed in his foul
gravelly way. I shall bring it over later
today, he concluded, and hung up
abruptly. My heart was racing horribly.
I was nauseous. I tried to focus. I would
go and tell William. He was going to be
William’s cellphone was broken.
It had taken a tumble down the stairs,
and its screen was awfully smashed up.
My brother was completely mortified.
William wept for an hour, his tiny
shoulders shaking up and down.
I tried to comfort him. I looked into
my bank account. Perhaps I could
buy him a replacement. But the news
wasn’t good. Our available funds were
pitiful. William whimpered, until I became
annoyed, and shushed him. At that, he
bounded up the stairs and slammed his
door. He was inconsolable. There was
only one solution I could see. I would
need to ask Uncle Timothy for assistance.
A daily bag of groceries appeared on
the doorstep. Otherwise Aunty and Uncle
kept their distance. I suppose they
thought I needed to chill. I began to hope
my cellphone would ring, and Aunty’s
comforting voice would boom down the
line. But my mobile remained stubbornly
mute. I imagined Aunty and Uncle’s
blossoming romance. It made me cringe
to think of them rolling together under the
covers. Holding hands, pecking each
other’s lips. Eventually I had to go out,
to get some air. I walked briskly around
the block. The streets were deserted. It
began to drizzle. I felt entirely forsaken,
I lay on my bed, my ears pricked.
I was waiting quietly for Aunty and
Uncle to leave. After some time I heard
the front door click, then close softly.
They had gone. I felt bad that William
had been left to his own devices.
I opened my door a crack, and looked
out. I tiptoed into the hallway and peered
downstairs. I could hear crunching noises.
William was still hunched at the table,
devouring the last morsels of food. I
figured he’d been eating solidly for an
hour. He would surely explode. I went
down and ruffled his shaggy hair. He
didn’t look up. Where’ve you been Sis?
he spluttered, with a full mouth. You’re
missing out on all this fancy food.
William was clearly in heaven. I sat
beside him, smiling. He was an
My heart lightened. I grabbed a stray
crisp, and crunched it loudly.
Mrs Eames chased after me. She
squealed my name breathlessly,
but I was already in my room, my
door wedged shut. Aunty was a
collaborator now, she was the enemy.
I wept into my pillow, wishing Mother
were here. Our lives had gone
disgusting since she had departed.
Mrs Eames rapped gently on my door,
calling my name. I didn’t respond.
After a while I heard her tramping
back downstairs. She would rather
be with Uncle Timothy. They’d discuss
my irrational behaviour. They would
whisper and posture and croon together.
They’d agree how unmanageable I was.
I sat down at the heaving table, an odd
assortment of curious foods in front of
my eyes. I’ve never been adventurous
when it comes to what I eat. This strange
spread troubled me deeply. Uncle
spooned a huge smelly silver herring
onto my plate. It looked positively
repulsive. Uncle’s eyes glittered excitedly.
Herrings are best eaten with the fingers,
he announced in his creepiest voice. I
curled my nose. I bit sheepishly at the
edge of the fish. It was dreadfully salty.
I felt like spitting it out. Uncle observed
me closely. I was being scrutinised. I
swallowed the repugnant thing. This
was torture. Suddenly I rose from the
table and ran for the stairs.
Uncle refused to go to our regular
supermarket. He wanted to shop
lavishly, and get us some memorable
food. We drove for some while in his
stinky vehicle, crawling towards the
centre of town. Finally we parked
outside this ritzy boutique delicatessen.
I patrolled the aisles, feeling way out of
my depth. Natalie, have you ever tried
rollmop herrings? They are quite
something, simply delicious, Uncle
rumbled, deep from his throat. I nodded
my head, feeling accursed. Uncle tossed
three jars into his basket. I had this
horrible vision of him hand-feeding me.
I felt like retching. Meanwhile William
was rifling through some packets of
dainty foreign biscuits. Nobody scolded
him. Uncle placed two bags into his
basket. He was winning over William,
who smiled widely, delighted. I felt my
stomach curdling inside me. Beside me,
Mrs Eames was grinning like the biggest
fool in history.