Playing The Game

Entry by: Tauren

20th October 2017
“Hi mum.”

Ellen looked from the girl in the doorway to the wall clock, it read 4:53. “You`re early?” she said.

“Oh dad picked me up on the Model farm road,” her daughter replied, “Said he was finished for the day and drove by on the chance he might see me.” She dumped her rucksack on the kitchen floor, going straight to the table and the plate of food already set out, “Mmmm, sausages and chips, my favourite, thanks mum.”

But before she could sit, Ellen, pointing to the discarded schoolbag, said, “That’s not where that belongs young lady.”

Patsy, who had already pulled back the chair, gave her a look of utter misery, “But muuumm, I`m starving. I`ll do pick it up I’ve eaten.”

Ellen, hands now on hips, gave her daughter her best, stern mother look, “Now… Madam... I didn’t spend all day cooking and cleaning for you to turn the house into a pigsty ten seconds after you walk through the door.”

For a moment they stood staring at each other, then Patsy relented. “Aaaww,” she moaned as, pouting, shoulders slumped, she trudged the whole ten feet back her bag.

It was all Ellen could do to stop herself from smiling; only twelve, she thought, and already she`s got the disgruntled teenager act down pat.

In an act of defiance Patsy didn’t pick up the bag, but still in full twelve labours of Hercules mode, dragged it laboriously back to the kitchen table, only then hefting it onto the seat next to her own. “There,” she said as she flounced into her chair, “satisfied?”

“Very,” her mother said, tugging playfully on her daughter’s blonde ponytail. Which earned her a complaining, “Muummm, quit it, I’m not a baby.”

As she clicked on the kettle to make John a cup of coffee, Ellen asked, “Where is your father anyway?”

“He said he had to get some things from the boot,” Patsy said between mouthfuls.

Ellen nodded, john was always fiddling with something, he was one of the world’s last great tinkerers. Probably rescued something from a skip somewhere, she thought. Still, she consoled herself that he confined his projects to the garage, and hadn’t burned the house down… yet.

Fetching the carton of milk from the fridge, she went back to the table, and as she filled her daughter`s glass asked, “So how was school?”

Patsy made a face, “Mrs O`Murchu gave us two pages of Irish homework,” she said indignantly, “Two whole pages.”

“Oh no!” her mother said, both hands going to her cheeks in mock horror.

“Muummm, I hate Irish,” Patsy complained, “I dunno why we have to do it, it`s stupid.”

“You know you have to have…..” Ellen broke off, startled by the sound of John`s voice close to her ear, “Let her go honey,” he murmured.

She jumped, began to look around, then turned back to the table, determined to remind Patsy that she needed Irish to go to college.
For a moment she stood in utter bafflement; there was no-one sitting at the table, the plate of food untouched, not a morsel gone from it. Then the memories came flooding back, knocking the strength from her legs and she had to grab the table to stop herself from collapsing, easing into the nearest chair, sitting down before she fell down.

Patsy wasn’t home; Patsy was never coming home again. Not since that day eleven months earlier when John had given her a lift after finishing work early, not since the truck driver, too busy texting to notice the lights had changed, drove into the junction without braking, slamming into the side of her husband’s Volvo, killing their only child.

She turned in her seat, meaning to scream at him, “THIS IS YOUR FAULT, WHY`D YOU HAVE TO FINISH WORK EARLY, SHE`D BE ALIVE IF YOU HADN`T.” But she never did, because she was alone, the truck had had to go through John to get to their daughter and she had only been able to identify what was left of him by the suit he`d gone to work in that morning.
As she always did in that moment, Ellen collapsed forward, elbows on her knees, head bowed, sobbing uncontrollably.

When she`d stopped weeping, Ellen used the hem of her apron to blot the tears from her cheeks and chin, levered herself out of the chair, and on wobbly legs went to get some kitchen towel to blow her nose.

As she torn a couple of sheets from the paper, foil and Clingfilm dispenser, she was reminded, as she always was in that moment of the day she`d bought it. How absurdly childishly giddy she`d felt when she saw it in Lidl, and only €11.99, and how she`d nagged John to put it up as soon as he`d gotten home, the last odd-job he ever did, somehow, in her mind the two events were inextricably linked.

She blew her nose noisily, torn off a square foot of Clingfilm, carrying it back to the table, hands apart, keeping it tight so it wouldn’t fold into itself. Then carefully, wrapped it over the untouched food, making sure the plastic was tight as a drum, before putting the plate back in the freezer, where it would forever remain pristine, ready for tomorrow, ready for when Patsy came home.

Ellen stood in front of the fridge for a long moment, a puzzled frown on her face, then she remembered what she had to do next.

She`d recorded that days re-run of Star Trek Voyager, Patsy`s favourite, they`d watch it together… when she got home from school.
A dreamy smile on her face, humming “Frere Jacques,” Ellen stumbled towards the living room.
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