Wednesday 10 December 2014

Day 10: Hush by Melanie Whipman

She’s crying. They do it every time. Ten to one. I’ll be smiling, telling them everything’s just fine. No need to worry. But they cry anyway. When I haven’t even touched them. This one is just the same. “Hush, hush,” I say.
Mum used to cry when Dad left. Night after night, with the moonlight barring her duvet and her face hot and snotty in my neck. In the daytime she’d push me away, would get on her knees and scrub the floor, her hands ungloved, raw with heat and bleach. Every once in a while she’d stop, rest her bottom on her heels and pull a hankie from her pocket; a monogrammed piece of cotton, ironed as flat and smooth as a cross-word square. 
She used to boil them up in our pasta pan, then dry them on the radiator like rows of little flags. Afterwards she’d stack them up on the board. I remember the hot hissing of the iron under her two handed hold. “Run and get me a penguin, Carly boy,” she’d say. She had a sweet tooth. I’d feed her while she ironed. Portions of penguin popping in. “Pick, pick, pick-up a-penguin, pop-it-in,” she’d sing. I’d post them in, above those blue-white pristine squares. No crumbs. I was very careful.
    She’d smile. “Cruel to be kind, Carly boy?” She’d lift the iron and make it hiss.
When Dad left she’d hold them to her face and grind them up in snotty, sodden balls. She’d blub out words that women shouldn’t say. She’d scream out names. “Slut! Bitch! Slag!”
    I never say it to my girls. I wipe away their tears with a hankie from the haberdashery section at John Lewis. There are drawers full of them – cotton, silk, plain, embroidered, layered up in squares and triangles – enough for the world’s tears.
    The girls’ faces are always smudged. I smooth away their masks. Make them clean again. 
    I was Mum’s rock when Dad left. Me at her side, sharing cuddles and Penguins. No crumbs. “Hush, hush.” She’d kiss the iron-shaped scar on my cheek and hold me close.
    “You can read it if you want to.” She’d hold up Dad’s letter. 
    Carl Redman, on the envelope, in neat capitals, his writing alien, small and unimportant. I used to watch Mum’s face. “D’you love him?” she’d say.
    “No, no.”
    “Maybe he wants you to visit him,” she’d smile, “him and that slut.”
    I never made a mistake, “No thanks,” I said, her loyal soldier.
    We’d burn them. Swan matches, yellow and red, the scraping smell of sulphur and the paper flaring up. “Careful of your hands, love!” she’d giggle.
    We’d watch the unseen words shrink to a pile of grey flakes in the guest ash-tray.
    “Ashes to ashes, dust to dust, hush, hush,” she said.

About the author:
Melanie Whipman grew up in Brighton, and has lived in Germany, France and Israel. She has now settled in a Surrey village with her husband, teenage twins, dog, cats and chickens. She has an MA in Creative Writing and her short stories have been published in various magazines and anthologies and broadcast on Radio 4. She is a PhD student and an associate lecturer at the University of Chichester. Her short story collection will be published next year by Ink Tears.

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