“Is that you, Ruthie?”
“Who else would it be,” muttered Ruth, slinging her jacket onto the peg, “the Boston Strangler?... Hello, Mum!”
She stuck her head around the living room door and waited for the next question. Out it popped.
“Good day?” Mrs Barton barely lifted her gaze from the TV.
Bloody abysmal, thought Ruth. Year 9 had behaved like animals again. The new and target-obsessed Head of English had taken her to task over grade predictions. She had thirty lots of marking and three lessons to prepare before bedtime.
“Fine thanks,” she answered. “Cuppa?”
“The Chase,” said her mother, randomly, nodding at the screen. Her tone grew wheedly, girlish, “I fancy something nice. Fish fingers. With a bit of mash. And peas.”
In the kitchen, Ruth yanked open the freezer. Thank God there was microwave mash, half an hour saved.
Mrs Barton’s voice penetrated from the next room, “Is there any cheesecake left? Ruthie! Is there any…”
Ruth took a deep breath. Opened the fridge. Called; “Just a slice.”
Ruth pressed her forehead against the cool fridge door.
Something nice for tea. Her mother was frightened, petrified, of anything that wasn’t nice.
“My daughter’s a teacher,” she told the nurses who came to dress her legs, the volunteer who came for coffee. “She’s the clever one.”
Not my daughter’s a wreck at 50, struggling in a sink school, hating it. Past her sell-by. Never been married, never been kissed. Her brother lives in France with his wife and two kids. Our Ruthie, she’s the dutiful one…
There was a crash from the next room. The old lady was halfway across the room on her walker.
“I was trying to reach the remote. You moved it when you brought my tea. I knocked the crinoline lady off the shelf.”
They looked at the fragments of china on the hearth.
“Can’t you glue her? Get her repaired like on that telly programme? She’s Royal Doulton.”
“Sit down, Mum. I’ll get the dustpan. These pieces are too small to glue.” Ruth sighed. “I’m afraid she’s well and truly broken.”