Outside, the dark dawn is turning to a damp grey. The kitchen clock click-clicks and the boiler hums softly in the background. I love the stillness and quiet of early mornings but the house is about to come alive with chattering, clattering and kitchen smells.
Here she comes now. Dressing-gown inside-out – slippers on the wrong feet. She grabs the kettle as she shuffles past wafting the scent of warm bed.
“Good morning Jen,” I whisper. She yawns loudly.
Cupboards and drawers are opened and closed. She sets the table; one bowl and two small plates. From upstairs comes sounds of shuffling and thumping. Jack comes running down half-dressed, all tousled hair, shirt untucked and one sock on. I know what’s next.
“Mum, where’s my tie?”
“Where you left it…” Jen yawns again, “…on the banisters.”
Jack grunts and runs back upstairs.
“And clean your teeth,” Jen calls after him.
Wisps of steam fog the window as the kettle boils. The rich aroma of fresh coffee makes me want a croissant. Then Pickle skips into the kitchen. My little Pickle in her Pepper Pig jim-jams. “Morning.” She greets me with the biggest smile and holds up her pink fluffy elephant.
“Morning to you little Pickle and good morning to Mr Heffalump.”
She grins and climbs up onto the stool next to me, sits Mr Heffalump next to her cup of milk then, reaching up, she takes a noisy slurp. The milk leaves a thin white line under her nose. She grins at me again. “Like my ’starsh?”
“Very nice,” I say with a theatrical wink.
“Very nice darling,” says Jen, still at the toaster.
The toast pops up – it smells of home…and charcoal. Jen tuts as she scrapes hard at the blackened slice then throws it in the bin. Another slice goes in the toaster. She shouts at the ceiling. “Jack, you’ll be late!”
Hurried footsteps on the stairs. Jack emerges with tie in hand, shirt tucked in and both socks on. He grabs the toast at the very second it pops up.
“Sit for a minute will you!”
“No time Mum. Bye.”
“Don’t forget to -”
The front door slams and he’s gone. Jen sighs and shakes her head and puts yet another slice in the toaster. Waving the butter knife she turns to Pickle. “When you grow up, Pickle, don’t have a son.”
“I won’t,” giggles Pickle.
Jen kisses Pickle on the head then sits at the table. She shakes cereal into her bowl and stares at it. Her shoulders rounded, she’s crumpled almost. My heart hurts. Wiping her eyes, she sniffs, rummages for a tissue in her pocket and tuts again as she realises her dressing-gown is inside-out.
“Silly Mummy,” Pickle says and winks at me with both eyes.
“Quite right sweetheart, silly Mummy,” Jen and I say in unison.
Pickle looks up at me. “Daddy thinks it’s silly too.”
“Yes, sweetheart, I think he probably would have.”
Julia Hartnett lives on the East Kent coast and divides her time between writing flash fiction and researching her family history. She is a member of the Beach Creative Writing Group – a small band of writers of flash fiction, plays, prose and poetry who have one thing in common, a love of the written word. Julia has only recently decided to share her writing with a wider audience and was pleased to be shortlisted in the Erewash Writers Themed Flash Fiction competition earlier this year. Some of her work can be read on her blog, ‘Tales for the Tube’ at www.jajhartnett.com.