Chapter Nineteen: Disconnected
Dad was late for work. By the time I got up, Mum had already had some kind of meltdown this morning, I don’t even know what it was, but it made him late. I was having breakfast when Dad passed his phone to her and asked her to ring in work to let them know that he was on his way.
She took the phone and put it to her ear, ‘Hello,’ she said, ‘Hello. Hello.’ It was just like the last time when I found her talking into a dead phone.
‘Mum, you need to dial the number. Here let me do it for you.’
I got up from my seat and dad shouted at me, proper sharp. ‘No. Let Mum do it.’
‘Yes, I can do it?’ Mum said in this weird voice. ‘Well you just do it like this, and you do this like this.’ She had turned the phone upside down and she pressed the screen, it’s not a touch phone, my dad’s still a caveman, and then she put it to her ear and said, hello, again.’ She just kept saying, hello, over and over and I couldn’t go to her because Dad had his hand out to the side warning me not to because he wanted to see what she would do. But she’d shocked him because of how bad she is, and his hand had stuck there. And he’d stuck there with his mouth a little bit open. One of them was acting mental and the other one looked mental. And I was stuck there, both of us just watching Mum having no idea how to use a telephone. I wanted to laugh because Mum said that if she does something mad we have to laugh at it. I tried it out, but the sound wasn’t laughing. It just isn’t funny.
‘Not to worry love,’ he said, taking the phone from Mum. He’d come out of his trance and she’d taken the phone away from her ear. She held it in her hand now, she’d forgotten what it was for and it was just there, more in the room than she was, at least when she was saying hello into it, it was better. You do say speak into phones.
Dad passed her the newspaper, already opened to the telly guide. ‘Just have a look in there, will you love, and tell me what time Coronation Street’s on, please.’
She smiled and turned the newspaper upside down, ‘Well, you know, It’s Corrie, isn’t it?’ she said this as if Dad had asked a completely different question altogether. She didn’t even look at the paper, she just rested her arms on it. ‘You’ve got Annie Walker and Stan and Hilda and Eddie, the bin man. I don’t like him. He always looks dirty. I like Benny. He’s out of Crossroads. I like Benny. Do you like—?’ And then she tailed off, right in the middle of talking. She lifted her head up, but didn’t look at either of us. She wasn’t staring out of the window, or anything, she just had this really stupid expression on her face. It scared me. Suddenly I knew what she was going to look like all the time. It was a blankness, as though she was looking at something really pretty. And a little smile, a horrible little smile that made her look so young, but at the same time was creepy, you know? It was like; wherever she was, it wasn’t in our kitchen. She’d found somewhere better to be. Maybe she was with another daughter, a better one. One that she wouldn’t have gone mad with, because that daughter was good enough to stop her from going insane.
I went to school and I was sad. Sal was still talking about babies and I promised her that she can push him, when he comes. She asks me every morning now, if my mum threw up today and then she fires a load of names at me. I didn’t want to talk about babies I wanted to talk about my mum. I tried, but when I started, I knew that Sal couldn’t help me. She’s just a kid, like me. She hasn’t got any answers. Maybe there aren’t any and I’m on my own, as lost as Mum is. She knew that I’m sad and she said that I’m just having new baby jitters, like a bride on the day that she gets married. She told me that I’m worried that my parents won’t love me as much when the baby comes. And I wanted to go back in time two months. Because she was right, that is exactly what I was feeling…then. I can’t believe that I thought that she didn’t love me, anymore. If only we could go back to then. Feeling unloved is nothing. Feeling unloved is one tiny little conversation and a few tears, sitting at that (B-bomb, the one where you’re bleeding, not the bad one) dining room table. She’d have told me not to be so silly. I’d have snotted into a tissue and we’d have all gone back to normal. Normal. The word that doesn’t exist anymore.
She used to go on and on about making the right choices for which classes to take next year when I do my selection for GCSE. ‘It’s so important, Katie. I know Sal’s going to go for Social Studies, what’s that when it’s at home? It’s not maths it’s not a science, it’s not going to get you into university, is it? Don’t be a sheep; don’t take the easy way out just to be with your friends. See the bigger picture. When they’re working in pubs, you could be a doctor, or a vet, you like animals. These GCSE results are going to govern the rest of your life, my darling’
No, I think dementia is going to govern the rest of my life. When I get them, she won’t even care about my results. Dad will take me to Salvo’s for a posh meal and either, Mum won’t be there at all, or, she’ll be wearing a bib, in public.
At least Sal’s still got a dad; my mum will be like a zombie by then. My life will be an old re-run of Day of the Living Dead.
At school I got sadder and sadder and sadder. This morning Dad had said that he couldn’t leave Mum like that and had rung in to get the day off. He was so sad. He said the time has come for him to leave work. He said that he thought he’d have more time, but she won’t be able to be left alone soon. I want to take a gap year from school. It’s important. Every moment that I have with my real Mum, before she becomes a stranger, is important. Why can’t they see that? I decided to go and see Miss Chew. She was so kind that other time, she might let me go home and stay there until my mum is just a walking shell. And then I’ll come back. And I’ll go through the humiliation of sitting in a class of kids who are all twelve months younger. I’ll drop a whole year, because it won’t matter then. Nothing will.
Last lesson Miss Chew had a free period. How is that fair, that teacher’s get free periods. We don’t. I knocked on the staff room door and Mr Hunter was standing there. I asked for Miss Chew and he put his head back in to call her for me, before telling me to tuck my shirt in, he stalked off down the corridor. Miss Chew came to the door and I burst into tears, and I flung myself into her arms, because she’s all fat and round and comfy. I just sobbed and she led me into the staff room. No kids are ever allowed in there. They have television and everything. She sat me down and I told her everything, everything, and when I finished, she was crying too. And I’ve never seen a teacher cry before, well not since Mr cross went down on one knee and proposed to Miss Singleton in the middle of assembly. She cried, but that was different. They are the two PE teachers; can you imagine how fit their children will be? She kept saying, ‘You poor child,’ and, ‘Your poor mother.’ But she wouldn’t let me go home. She said that she has a duty of care and that she couldn’t send me home unless a responsible adult was there. I told her that my mum was at home—and then she changed the subject quick and made me tea.