Eve opened the curtains and sighed. A sliver of wintry sun peeped from behind a dark cloud. She wedged open the rickety sash window and propped it up with an old encyclopaedia to let in an icy blast of air into the musty living room. With a heavy heart she surveyed the shabby furniture and proceeded to carefully dust the mantelpiece with its array of old-fashioned ornaments. The only sound was the tick-tock of the old antique clock.
‘Evie, hurry up, girl, where’s my breakfast!’ her father suddenly shouted from upstairs, banging his walking stick on the floorboards.
She hurried into the kitchen to assemble his breakfast on a tray before scuttling upstairs. She couldn’t bear another row today.
He was sitting up in bed coughing and spluttering and reeking of nicotine and medicine.
‘This egg’s too hard, love,’ he moaned, stabbing at it with the teaspoon.
‘Now, Dad, try and eat it, it’ll do you good,’ Eve said patiently.
His swarthy face turned puce with rage and he suddenly hurled his mug of tea on to the floor. Eve watched the crockery smash into shards of porcelain as the hot brown liquid seeped through the threadbare carpet.
‘Don’t tell me what to do!’ he shouted.
Eve took a deep breath and left the room. She wouldn’t have to put up with this much longer.
She hurried into her tiny bedroom to finish packing. She glanced at the Florida Keys postcard on her wall with its white clapboard houses, azure skies and sun-blanched sand. She couldn’t wait to get there. She’d worked through her notice at the sweet factory and was going to stay with her cousin for a few months until she thought about what she really wanted to do.
She felt a flicker of guilt about dad, but he would be fine. She had made arrangements for her sister to pop in every day and he also had a home help.
When she was ready, Eve took him another mug of tea and kissed him softly, ‘Bye dad. Jo will be around later with your dinner.’
She buttoned up her green duffle coat which hung from her skinny frame and pulled down a green woollen hat over her curly copper hair. She then quietly left the house. She brushed away a tear as she walked briskly down the cramped terrace, with its overgrown weeds and broken paving stones. She gripped her small, battered case tightly and marched forward, not daring to look back.
Eve perched on a platform seat in the busy station and briskly rubbed her bony reddened hands together. She had forgotten her gloves. She wound her scarf more tightly round her slender neck, her breath forming tiny puffy clouds in the cold air.
The tannoy announced that the Kings Cross train had been delayed by twenty minutes.
She swallowed nervously. Her nerves were taut with the waiting and her stomach churned.
Her eyes were drawn to an advertisement for breakfast cereal, torn and faded, pasted to a brick wall. It was an idyllic picture of a family cheerily eating breakfast together, all sunshine and smiles. She thought of the contrast to her own dreary home.
Eve unzipped her handbag and unwrapped a boiled sweet to distract herself. As she sucked it and allowed the sharp, tangy centre to fizz against her tongue. the memories came flooding back. Childhood memories of skipping to the corner shop to buy a bag of lemon sherberts for her father - his favourite sweets. They were happy then.
Her emerald green eyes welled up as she recalled her mother’s words, ‘Whatever you do, promise me that you’ll always look after your father, pet. You mean the world to him.’
She crunched hard into the bittersweet confection. She thought of the Positive Thinking mantra she had written in her diary, ‘always look forward, look forward’, she kept repeating softly to herself.
The train eventually arrived and she joined the bustling queue of people.
‘Come on, love, get a move on,’ a rough voice said behind her as she hesitated at the steps into the carriage.
‘S-sorry,’ she mumbled, as she gripped the case more tightly.
Something was stopping her - she was frozen to the spot, her head spinning.
Then, with tears streaming down her freckled face, she turned round, pushing past the jostling commuters and headed slowly back home.