‘How much cauliflower?’
Lily is making a vegetable curry, wearing my French linen apron. I’m in her fluffy pink dressing gown, staring at the computer screen.
‘Mummy, what time is it? Because you know you really ought to be helping me.’
Lily looks over my shoulder.
‘Mum! You’ve got to put the dot thingies in, or else it looks like the date Seventeen Fifty Seven.’
I finally get to the end of my emails and other distractions and am about to close the laptop when I realise what I originally set out to do today: Tidy Up. First item on the Tidy Up agenda was to put away the camera. Before I put away the camera, I needed to download the photos. Which involved turning on the computer. And then I was lost. Sucked into the vortex. Watching the House of Lords gassing on, my noble Lords, about the riots. (How ridiculously quaint that they have to refer to the Commons as The Other Place, in the manner of Voldemort having to be called You Know Who.) Reading articles about only child psychology and menopausal mental health. Answering emails. A lost thread in a tapestry of communications. Oh my God! Hugo and Jemima are coming to dinner soon and I haven’t washed my hair and the dog hasn’t been walked! Argh!
I am sitting naked in the empty bath, washing my hair under the rubber hose, when the nozzle flies off the hot tap and boiling water pours on my foot. I shriek.
‘What?’ calls Lily from the kitchen.
‘I just burned my foot.’
‘Oooh,’ Lily sucks in her breath sympathetically.
As I dry myself I spot the loo roll, soaking wet, clearly sprayed by Lily when she washed her hair earlier.
I march into the kitchen swathed in towels.
‘I hate it when the loo roll gets wet!’ I accuse, plonking the offending item on the Aga.
‘So, it’s 6.30 and you’ve finally decided to get up,’ remarks Lily, who is chopping onions.
‘Don’t be mean,’
‘I’m only saying!’
It’s all Gitface’s fault. If he’d stayed and acted like a proper father, Lily would have been a child. Instead she’s my sibling rival. As well as my other half. I read it all online today in an article about SPOCs. Single Parent Only Child. Apparently it's typical for SPOC parents and children to bicker like siblings. It’s also typical for adult-child boundaries to become blurred and SPOC children to think they’re on a level with their parents. Exactly!
Lily interrupts my thought processes. ‘Mum! You’re delaying Dusty’s walk.’
Did it mention SPOC children actually taking over the parenting?
Ah, it’s good to be out! The world is covered in a fine mist of what Lily calls rain too soft to touch. The stalks of barley with their extravagant mohicans have turned a tarnished gold. The sky is heavy and drizzle-grey. Dusty is panting and wheezing like an old harmonium. A pair of swallows dart down the track at ankle height, flit into the air as they reach me, then swoop down to continue their low-level reconnaissance.
I make it to the top of the hill before Lily flits into my mind. I left her tending a Le Creuset that came out of the oven and onto the hotplate. I warned her to remember it had come out of the oven. What if she forgets, picks up the cast-iron lid with her bare hand, drops it on her foot and is now standing there with third-degree burns and a broken toe?
‘Come on Dusty,’ I turn and jog down the hill. The pigs stop to stare at me – or perhaps at my bobbing Babington House-embezzled umbrella. When we reach the road, Dusty trots straight across the road purposefully.
‘Oh no, Dusty, surely not! Surely… Oh Dusty!’
But she has launched into the river. On a day like this! I wait for her and then quick-march home.
Lily looks up from the sofa where she is watching Calamity Jane. I glance at the Aga. No burning smells or lids bouncing and hissing.
‘Have you checked it’s not burning?’ I ask.
‘Yes,’ she says, getting up calmly to check again. ‘Fine,’ she says replacing the lid and returning to her relaxation station.
Everyone I know is calm, cool, collected, guilt-free. I, however, am like a swallow, flitting and darting hither and thither, achieving nothing but a massive guilt complex.