Welcome to Sunday Scribbles!
Today marks week 50 of the 52 week writing challenge!
The prompt for Sunday 17th December is ‘Tavern/Pub’:
This week my attempt is a bitter-sweet story for the holiday season. I’ve tried to use minimal dialogue tags, as part of one of the FlashFicHive challenges earlier this week. Whatever you do, however you celebrate, have a great December!
I blinked open my eyes to glare at my bouncing sister, Lily. She perched on my lap in light blue pyjamas, and the clock behind her read 6am. Too early. ‘Santa’s not real.’
Hot tears filled her eyes. ‘Mum said he is!’
I winced and sat up. ‘Mum said she wouldn’t leave us alone on Christmas either…’
The tears fell. I wasn’t helping. I squashed my bitterness and reached for her. ‘There there.’ I patted her shoulder awkwardly and grabbed my phone to flick through a few sites for inspiration. My eyes widened on a picture of a large tree in the town centre. The route we took would take us past the pub. Maybe there was hope yet.
I gestured to my sister. ‘Come on. Up. If you’re good we’ll go see the Christmas lights.’
She blinked at me through her sobs. ‘Will mum be there?’
I wasn’t making any promises, still, ‘I hope so.’
Lily dashed off my lap and grabbed my hand. ‘Come on, I want my presents!’
I tore my hand free and ran a hand through my hair, thinking of the empty space beneath the tree. ‘It’s official, she’s lost it.’ Lily pulled the covers off me. I glared at her. ‘Brat!’
She giggled and ran out the door. ‘Come on, Maria!’
Oh, it was on. I leapt from my bed and gave chase. By the time I reached the living room I could hear giggles, but I couldn’t see Lily. I scanned the room, and what I saw beneath the tree made my jaw drop. A stack of brightly coloured presents. I drew closer in a trance and wrinkled my nose. They reeked of stale alcohol, just like mum did after a night at the pub.
I jumped as Lily leapt out from behind the tree. She pointed at the presents. ‘Told you so!’
As we knelt by the tree, my eyes hardened as I stared at the gifts. If mum could sneak in and leave us presents, why couldn’t she stay a while? It was Christmas.
Lily grabbed a brightly coloured present. ‘Me first!’ She tore off the paper to reveal a colourful notebook. I glanced over her shoulder. For you to write about your adventures. Love Mum xxx.
I hid my scoff behind a cough. What did mum know of love? She spent nearly every day at the pub, and was never here when we needed her. I wiped away a few tears and forced a smile when Lily handed me the notebook. ‘We’ll have to get you a pen.’
Lily nodded and thrust a present into my hands. We took turns opening them, me in sullen silence and Lily with all the enthusiasm of… Well, a six-year-old. Stuffed animals. Puzzles. Games. A watch decorated with colourful characters. Mum had spoiled Lily this year. Not me. All I got were mums old car keys, booked driving lessons for when I turned seventeen, and a notebook eerily similar to the one Lily had with an identical inscription.
Lily scrabbled under the tree. She tossed me a box and turned away to play with her new stuffed bunny, miming movements and words. She was as bored of my presents as I was. They weren’t given to make me happy, they were given to make mums life easier. Soon I’d be driving Lily everywhere on top of looking after her and the house.
I sighed and tore open the box. Crumpled notes filled it to the brim. More money than I’d ever seen. Finally, I smiled. I could buy something really nice with this. Something I actually wanted. I tipped the box up, and began to count.
‘Money?’ Lily made a face. ‘Boring!’
I smiled as she went back to her toys. Wouldn’t be so boring when she were my age. Parties, clothes, cinema tickets. Oh! I could finally go to the zoo with my friends! The money stacked up. Maybe even join them in Europe. My smile faded when I spotted an envelope beneath the pile of notes. My name, scribbled in mums scruffy handwriting. My heart dropped into my stomach as I read the letter inside.
I’m sorry to leave you with this burden, but I can’t stay. Your father always wanted kids, and when he left me with you, I couldn’t cope. I still can’t, no matter how much I drink. Use this money to take care of your sister until the New Year: You have an aunt in Egypt who agreed to come. I’ve never met her but I’m sure she’ll look after you better than I could. Love, Mum xxx.
I grit my teeth and crumpled up the letter. She’d written it in the pub, drunk off her face. Even the kisses were wobbly.
Lily’s small scared voice pierced my thoughts. ‘What is it?’
I took a deep breath and forced what I hoped was a reassuring smile. ‘Mum can’t be here today.’ Or ever. How could I explain that to Lily after dad? That our mother didn’t want us either? That she never had? My hands shook, and I clenched them into fists. I barely understood it myself. How could she not want us? Leave me here with Lily? I hated her.
Lily was chattering on. ‘…but you’ll have to cook it.’
Cook it? Cook what? I followed Lily’s finger towards the turkey on the counter. Ah. Christmas dinner. Just one problem. ‘I don’t know how.’
Lily’s eyes watered, a tantrum coming on. ‘But mum does it! You have to! I want it!’
I took a deep breath. Counted to ten. Not her fault. Not her fault. We had to eat, and I know mum bought everything a week ago. Had she been preparing to leave then too? I shook the thought away and turned to Lily. ‘All right, but you’re helping. How hard can it be?’
I had a little experience cooking for Lily since dad left. Turns out cooking a roast wasn’t that hard. Radio on, phone on the counter with google as my guide, I made a passable dinner and kept Lily distracted in the snow whilst the oven did most the work for me.
The time after dinner was spent in a daze. Lily was lost to a fantasy world amongst her toys, and I had nothing but my thoughts and Facebook to keep me company. Happy faces smiled back at me. Sandra, my best friend, cooking with her mum. I closed the app and opened a text message. But what could I say? I was her rock, never the other way around.
I tapped my phone against my knee. I could hardly say Mum left, not on Christmas day. There was nothing anyone could do anyway. She wasn’t coming back, and this aunt would probably drag us to Egypt. My life was over. My friends would forget about me, and I’d never make new ones when I couldn’t speak the language. I didn’t…
Lily shuffled in front of me. ‘Have I been good? Can we see the lights?’
I looked outside. When did it get dark? I got to my feet and forced a smile. ‘You’ve been perfect.’ I took Lily’s hand. May as well make the most of our last Christmas in England. ‘Let’s go.’
As we wandered the streets towards the large tree at the centre of town, bundled in coats and scarves, I scanned every crowded pub we passed for a familiar redhead. Plenty of red hats, plenty of cheer, but no mum. I don’t know why I bothered. She’d be long gone.
Lily pulled on my sleeve as we reached the tree. ‘Mum said she was going away for a while, but she’ll be here, right?’
I tugged Lily to my side and held her. Held my breath and shuddered against the cold evening chill. Mum wasn’t coming back. I was all Lily had. I couldn’t let her worry. ‘She won’t be back for a while, but we’re meeting our new Auntie soon. She’s from Egypt.’
Lily made a face. ‘Where’s that?’
‘Somewhere far away.’ Where mum probably was. Lily frowned. I took out my phone and showed her some pictures of Egypt.
Her smile touched my heart, and I made a vow then and there. No matter who this aunt was, Lily was my sister, my responsibility. I’d be the mother our own mother could never be. I glanced at the large families around us, jealous no longer. No matter what, we’d have each other.
Thanks for reading!
Christmas may be a fantastic time of year for most, but spare a thought for those less fortunate, who may be alone, homeless, missing a family member, or struggling with health issues. Even if your family drive you mad, be thankful for what you have 🙂
Next Sunday’s prompt:
The prompt for 24th December is ‘Party.’
If you try next weeks prompt yourself, let me know how it goes. Post your attempt on your blog on the 24th December and leave a link in the comments below so I can read it 🙂
You can also share lines around the prompt under #sunscribbles on Twitter. I am super interested to see what you all come up with 🙂