For all the things in the world, only one occupied my mind – boredom. Toy cars had been driven, books read, and the TV was burned onto my retinas; I’d exhausted every stimulus in the house bar one, my mum.
“Mummy,” I said, tugging at her skirt as she washed the dishes. “I’m bored of being bored.”
“You should try being fed up of being fed up,” she replied.
“All I want is to be happy.”
She laughed to herself then leaned in closer. “Sometimes you have to look at things differently to find what you’re searching for.”
Her sentence whizzed through my mind and I couldn’t catch it. “What do you mean?”
“Take these plates for example,” she said, holding one above the sink so its bubbles could flop down into the water. “They may look like things you eat off, but what’s to say they’re not flying saucers in need of a good wash before their next intergalactic mission?”
“I don’t see any little green men driving them.”
“No, but I do see little green stains from the vegetables you had for tea.” She took off her apron and put it on me – it was more like a wedding dress with the way the bottom cloaked my feet and dragged along the floor. “Get scrubbing,” she said, patting my head and leaving the room.
I put my hands into the water and basked in the warmth. Then the realisation that I’d been tricked into housework burned me, my skin hot with embarrassment – what a fool I am. But I knew I had to press on, because who else would do it? Mum looked too tired to do anymore work today. If I were her parent I would’ve sent her to bed hours ago.
The crockery began to pile up on the draining board, ready for drying. All the cleaning had made the bubbles burst, so I turned on the hot tap and added a glug of washing up liquid. I watched the foam grow higher and higher until it became mountains. And then it became clouds and the water was the sky. I took a spoon and scooped it up – now it was frogspawn and I was a biologist. Maybe Mum was right, perhaps you can find what you’re looking for if you change your way of thinking.
As the last of the scum slid down the sink and into the plughole, I finished drying up. Mum was in the lounge fixing the tear in my school trousers.
“I’m done, Mummy,” I said.
She seemed too absorbed in her sewing to notice me as she watched the needle pierce the fabric with ease, weaving in and out quickly and cleanly.
“Mummy,” I said.
She didn’t look up. “Have you finished?
“Uhuh. Can we play now?”
“I can’t tonight.”
“I’m too busy.”
“But you’re always busy.”
“Look,” she said, her eyes attacking mine. “Things haven’t been easy lately. I’ve been working hard to keep the two of us together.”
“Why do you have to work? We’ll always be together.”
“You try telling your father that.”
“Is he going to take me away?”
“I don’t know.”
“You promised you wouldn’t let him.”
“I can’t promise anything.”
I felt the tears building in my eyes, and then it rained. “But I don’t want to go.” I ran upstairs, crying all the way.
“I’m sorry,” my mother called, but by the time her apology reached me, my head was burrowed in a pillow, soaking up my sorrow.
An hour or so must have passed by the time I woke up. I opened my bedroom door a fraction, enough to see the lounge light split the dark and empty hallway. Mum was still up, but I didn’t want to see her. I felt bad for making her angry.
And so I found myself alone in my room again, not sure what to do. I rummaged through my toy box, dinosaurs and board games spilling out and onto the floor. Mum and Dad have bought me quite a few things over the years, especially Dad. Mum says he’s spoiling me, trying to lure me in, and I agree. Besides, I don’t like most of the stuff he gives me anyway – I’ve outgrown action figures and I’ve never liked football. Dad doesn’t know me very well.
I’d pulled almost everything out when I reached my pink and blue elephants. They’ve been crushed at the bottom of the box and the damage is evident – a missing eye, rips in the stitches, stuffing bursting through the old material. Their appearance is somewhat my fault. I’ve left them there since Mum and Dad split up.
The elephant couple is the last gift they bought me before their divorce. Since then, every time I’ve seen Mr and Mrs Trunk I’ve cried. I’d scream my throat raw and hurl them around the room when I was little, but in recent years I’ve been more mournful, as if the elephants were a gravestone, marking the end of the happy times.
I took the Trunks out of the box and sat them side-by-side. This time I didn’t cry. Maybe it was because I’d drained my eyes earlier, or maybe it was down to my new perspective. Instead of symbols of sadness, I saw beacons of hope; the elephants had seen better days but they were still together. And although my parents aren’t, Mum and I are still united, and we always will be, I know it – Mr and Mrs Trunk hold testament to this.
As I played with the elephants, I heard footsteps grow nearer in the hallway. Bedtime. I waited for Mum to say the dreaded word, but it never came. There was no sound at all until a sniffle ended the silence, and it wasn’t mine. I looked round to see Mum smiling, a tear in her eye, and I smiled back.
Copyright 2016 by Joshua Perrett. All rights belong to the author and material may not be copied without the author’s express permission.