This is a short story for World Mental Health Day
I held up my coat by the hood. Mummy was running her fingers around the seams. It was long. The bottom nearly reached to the floor. It covered nearly all of my school shoes except for the ends. My school shoes were new. They were black and had my name written on stickers on the inside. Mummy was having a no cuddles day. Some days she would cuddle me all day and make me late for school. Other days, she’d flinch when I held her hand so I knew that was the sign that it was a no cuddle day. My little brother Jimmy didn’t understand this as he was still in nappies and only went to nursery. He’d grab at her clothes which really made her mad. Once she pushed him over. Luckily he banged his head on the rug and not the hard wooden floor. She got really upset about that and screamed for a bit.
Mummy was sweaty. Her eyes were all red and glossy. I could feel her pulling down on the coat. It was hard to keep holding it even though she kept telling me to. She pulled it out of my hands and went into the kitchen with it. She had the small scissors from the top drawer and was picking at the stitching along the bottom of my coat. It was my new winter coat that Nanny Jean had bought for me after we went shopping in town. Just the two of us and we had coffee afterwards. I had an apple juice and a chocolate flapjack.
The front door was open. There was a draft coming in making my arms go all shivery. I had goose bumps. I told mummy that I was cold. She’d got the white padding stuff out of my coat and was pouring water all over it. In the sink. She told me to get my old coat from the pile in the garage. I could unlock the garage door on my own but not the back door into the garden. The key was super stiff. Last night mummy and I had gone through all my clothes to see what was too small for me and what could go to the charity shop. Daddy said he would take everything around when he got in from work. He said he’d take Jimmy with him so mummy and I could have a chocolate biscuit without him seeing.
The bag was ripped open. It was a black bin bag I’d got from the big roll under the sink. The small green ones were for the food recycling bin where we put our banana skins and apple cores when we’d finished with them. Jimmy kept trying to eat the whole apple so I had to show him not to eat the bit with the seeds in or the long stalk on the end. All the clothes were out and ripped up. They were all over the garage floor. My old coat was there. It had a tear down the back. I put it on as I was still cold and the wind came in under the garage door.
I went back into the house and locked the garage door by turning the key. I pulled the handle down to make sure it was locked like daddy does. Mummy took my hand and pulled me out of the house. She was making those funny humming noises that make Jimmy laugh. Daddy had told her she didn’t even know she was doing it, and she got cross and shouted at him. Mummy stopped walking and pulled me against her leg. There was a postman sitting in his big red van. He was on the phone. Mummy turned and made us cross the road behind the van. Then we went the other way.
Mummy started to walk really fast. I had to start running next to her. We had PE at school and I had my new white trainers to wear. They were in my PE bag which you had to leave at school on your peg. I had a tray for all my work as well. You kept things at school if they weren’t finished so you could work on them later in the week. I had got a certificate for good behaviour from Mrs Webb. Daddy was really pleased and said I could chose a toy at the weekend. We couldn’t go to the shops during the week because I had to go to school and daddy had to go to work. Jimmy still went to nursery and did half days. Mummy had to pick him up at lunchtime.
We stopped as the red post office van went past. Mummy was really squeezing me tightly. She was saying, ‘How do they do it? How do they do it?’ I asked her if she was okay, but I don’t think she was really listening. She was saying the same thing over and over, but doing her humming in between. I saw Jennifer with her mummy on the other side of the road. She had a pink scooter with purple wheels. It was her birthday party at the weekend. Daddy said he’d take me. We’ll get a toy for my certificate as well. Before the party probably.
I waved at Jennifer who waved back. Her mummy put her hand on the scooter and looked at us. I waved at her, but she didn’t wave back. She was looking at mummy. Mummy was pulling at her hair. Mummy had long blond hair which she’d let me brush. Daddy said it was like mine. We both have long blond hair. Jimmy has sort of dark hair like daddy. They go to the barber and mummy and me go to the hairdresser. I saw some of mummy’s hair drop onto the pavement. There was some more caught in her ring. It wasn’t her wedding ring, that was on her left hand. Daddy gave it to her when they got married before I was born. I’m not in any of the photos but I like looking at them as mummy wore a big white dress.
Jennifer’s mummy started walking again. I could see her looking back at us. We started walking again. I could hear mummy breathing. She was making a lot of noise like daddy when he comes in from one of his fast runs. He says he goes round the block three times as quickly as he can so he’s not away from us for too long. He calls me sausage and Jimmy is chicken. That makes me laugh.
We took the shortcut through the park. There were some people walking dogs. I like the small fluffy ones. I want to have a dog when I’m grown up and have my own house. I would need a big garden and lots of food for it. I’d call it Lucy. I might have a rabbit as well, but they’d need to be friends. There were some people sitting on the benches. Mummy didn’t want to go near them, so we went across the grass. It was quite muddy as it had been raining. The playground would be wet for Jimmy later. He didn’t mind. I don’t like going on the slide when it’s been raining because it makes my school dress all wet. Sometimes it gets muddy too and has to be washed. Washed overnight mummy calls it. Sometimes daddy has to do it because mummy has to go into her room and stay there. We hear her talking on her own. One time daddy went up to see her with a cup of tea. We heard him shouting. Mummy had used the thick black Selotape stuff to cover all the bedroom windows and daddy was really cross. Mummy was crying and doing her humming noise really loudly. Daddy said she needed help. He took ages to peel it all off. Mummy said she wouldn’t sleep in the room but went quiet when Jimmy and I came in.
Mummy was looking at a man. He was sitting on the bench near to the gate where we go out. It was the closest gate to school. I saw a boy from my class with his big brother. I don’t know his name. I sat near him for lunch. Mummy said the man was the same one who had been in the big red van. We started to run, and squeezed through the gate in front of the boy and his brother. Their dad told us to slow down, but mummy didn’t hear him. She was looking back at the man on the bench. The man on the bench was on his phone. Mummy had thrown her phone away. Daddy had asked her why she did that, but she wouldn’t tell him. She said he knew exactly why.
The school gates were on the other side of the road. Mrs Kowalski was the lollipop lady. She wore a big bright yellow coat and made the cars all stop so we could cross the road safely. She came into the school sometimes to teach us all about road safety. She said good morning. I waved at her, but mummy didn’t say anything. Mummy was squeezing my hand really tightly, and I could hear her breathing really hard still. We had been running, so I was breathing hard as well. Mummy was humming. Mrs Kowlski asked her if she was ok. Mummy was looking at Mr Jefferies and Mrs Antonio who were standing on each side of the school gate.
Mummy said I couldn’t go to school anymore. We had to get away from there, so we had to run off down the street away from Mrs Kowalski. We had to run through all the children and their parents who were going to school. They all stopped and looked at us. I had muddy legs. My hair had come loose and was getting in my eyes so I had to push it back behind my ears but it kept coming down again as we were running. Mummy stopped by a shop and looked back down the street. She said that Mr Jefferies and Mrs Antonio were coming, but I couldn’t see them. We had to run again until we got to the cafe.
The lady knows that we always have the same things, so she told us to sit down and we’d bring them over. I think her name is Gill. She looked at mummy, and I thought she’d ask if she was alright like Mrs Kowalski did, but she didn’t. Mummy didn’t say anything. Mummy was making humming noises still, but the radio was on, so the other people couldn’t hear her. She had a little bit of blood on her forehead. It must have been from where her hair had been. She still had some hair under her ring. I pulled it out and held it.
I told mummy I needed a wee and she looked at me. Her eyes were all watery, and she looked like she did when daddy made her cry. The blood was running down her forehead. The bottom bit was going into her eye, but she didn’t seem to mind so I didn’t say anything. When people are crying you shouldn’t say things that might make them even more sad. I knew it wasn’t a cuddle day, so I didn’t give her a cuddle. I told her I needed a wee again as I was starting to jiggle. Daddy tells me off when I jiggle as he says I’m a big girl and should be able to go to the toilet when I need to go and not sit around jiggling like a baby.
Mummy was looking out the window. She was talking about the people at the school and the man in the park. And the man in the big red van. She was mumbling. I’m told not to mumble, but as mummy was sad, I didn’t say that. Mummy sometimes asks if I’m hungry when I get all grumpy after school. Sometimes I get cross with Jimmy. Mummy says it’s because I’m really hungry and that school takes it out of me. That was last week or the week before. Mummy hasn’t said that this week. She does her humming.
I went to the toilet because I really needed a wee. I knew where it was because we came here all the time. I always have an apple juice as that’s my favourite drink. Sometimes daddy lets me have the froth off the top of his coffee, but mummy always told him off which made him laugh. Jimmy was only allowed water. The toilet door was by the counter where the lady was standing. She was looking at mummy. I could see she had a cup of tea and my apple juice on a tray ready to take over. The big silver thing was called an urn and it was making a lot of noise. I could smell toast and bacon. Bacon sandwiches are my favourite breakfast at weekends. In the week I have Weetabix and hot milk.
When I had done a wee I washed my hands. I used the soap from the blue bottle. You had to put one hand under the tube and press the top with your other hand so the soap would come out. You had to remember to turn on the cold tap before you did this otherwise you wouldn’t be able to because you had soap on your hands and it would be too slippery. It was the tap with the blue top. The other one was really hot. That’s why it had a red top. I took one of the folded green paper towels from the top of the pile and used it to dry my hands really well. I could hear mummy shouting and screaming, so I folded up the towels and put them in the bin. There were lots of other scrunched up towels in the bin. Daddy would say it needed emptying. We laugh at daddy because he’s always emptying the bins at home. He says it’s all about hygiene. Mummy used to say he was something beginning with N. A long word. She was still shouting.
I went out and mummy was shouting at a man who was sitting at the little table by the door. We never sat there because it only had space for one person and you couldn’t use the high chair for Jimmy because it would block the door. The man at the table had a computer with him. He had been typing on the keyboard. He was there when we went in. Mummy was shouting that he was writing down what she was thinking. She was yelling at him and standing next to him. He had a cup of coffee next to his computer.
The woman had come out from behind the counter. She had left our drinks on the counter. They were still on a tray. She had put a spoon and some napkins on the tray as well. She had a cloth in her pocket which she used to wipe the tables before she put people’s drinks down. She was telling mummy to calm down, but mummy wouldn’t. Mummy grabbed the man’s computer and threw it across the cafe. I heard it smash. It sounded like when she tipped the TV over at home but wasn’t as loud. The TV made Jimmy cry. I cried as well until Daddy came in and mummy was crying too and told him it was a mistake and she was sorry. It’s good to say sorry when you do something wrong, even when it’s an accident. I say sorry to Jimmy when I push him over, and he says sorry to me when he pinches my arm which he does a lot.
The man stood up. He knocked his coffee over, and it went all over the table and the floor. There wasn’t much so I think he must have nearly finished. When I finish my apple juice I take out the straw and tip the carton up so I can drink from the hole. I get all the apple juice that way. Daddy doesn’t like us to waste things we’ve bought especially food or drink. The man had knocked his coffee over by mistake so he’d have to say sorry to the lady from the cafe. He would need to ask her for another one once she had cleaned up the mess with her cloth.
Mummy slapped the man across the face which made him sit back down really quickly. She was screaming a lot. That made my ears hurt. Daddy had arrived with the car outside. Some people were looking through the window. Some had their phones up like you do when you take photos. I saw daddy shouting at them as he got out of the car. He slapped a phone and the person dropped it on the floor. I bet daddy said sorry, but I couldn’t hear because mummy was still screaming at the man. He was holding her wrists. I think she was trying to hit him again but he didn’t want her to so he was holding her wrists.
Daddy came into the cafe and started cuddling mummy from behind. Daddy always has a black coffee and one of the little biscuits that come wrapped in plastic which he breaks in half and gives to me and Jimmy. Daddy was telling mummy that the school had called him because they were worried. Mummy had stopped screaming, but she was crying. She was crying a lot, but it was much quieter and didn’t hurt my ears as much. The man let go of her wrists, and daddy cuddled her outside where she got into the car. Daddy leant over and put the seat belt on her.
I went out so I wasn’t left in the cafe on my own. The woman in the cafe wasn’t a stranger, but I was supposed to be with either mummy or daddy or both of them unless I was at school or with nanny Jean. Mummy was still crying. Daddy started shouting at the people who were pointing their phones at her. Some of them were laughing, so I don’t think daddy was making them sad. Daddy slammed the front car door. He lifted me into the back and put on my straps. Ally the purple alien was next to my seat so I gave him a cuddle. I was a bit sad and he made me feel better. A bit. Daddy drove off really fast. He said he was going to drop me with his mum. He meant nanny Jean, but he called her mum because he’d been in her tummy once like I’d been in mummy’s tummy. He said he was going to take mummy to a special person who would be able to help her at the hospital. They would make her better.
Mummy didn’t say anything. She wasn’t even making the humming noise.
I told mummy I loved her.