The Family Stone
A short story
Mummy’s cross with Daddy again. We’ve been sitting down in our circle waiting for him in the living room, like we do every night. He’s always late. Mummy says it’s because he doesn’t want to do it, that he never wants to do anything she wants to do. She sighs when she says this and takes the pink stone in her hand and says: ‘Why do I even bother?’
She calls him again and he walks in picking bits of food off his suit and putting them in his mouth.
‘That roast chicken was resting,’ she says in her telling off voice.
‘Sorry, I was starv—’
‘Always something,’ she says and sighs.
It’s not too bad today. It can be worse. Especially if she’s feeling under the black, but she’s not today and so she just tuts and Daddy sits down between Mummy and Harry on the floor, and Harry smiles and shakes his head, which he does every night. It’s because he knows what he’s going to say. He says the same every night.
We all hold hands.
‘Who wants to start?’ Mummy says.
We never answer but she always asks.
‘I’ll start then, shall I?’
Before the stone thing is was something else. It was the Angel Cards then. I liked the Angel Cards. One night Mummy picked the Divine Pleasure card and it told her to order a takeaway. Or that’s what she said anyway. It said something on the back about spending money and not doing the hoovering, and then Mummy got up from the floor and said: ‘We’re all having a takeaway tonight, I’m not cooking.’
There was no black that night. We all took turns to pick the cards. They were pretty, I liked looking at the pictures. Daddy pulled the death card and me and Harry both gasped. He made spooky, silly sounds and funny faces, and then Mummy did her cross face and he stopped. She said it signalled new beginnings and I hoped that didn’t mean we had to start all over again because I could hear Scooby Doo starting in the other room.
Daddy’s got a bit of chicken stuck on his chin. I don’t want Mummy to see it and be cross again. I stare and hope that I can magic it away with thinking. He sees me looking at him and pulls a funny face and then looks away before Mummy catches him. The bit of chicken falls off onto the carpet. No-one sees it except me.
‘Right,’ she says. She takes a breath and her chest puffs up like a pigeon. I like chasing pigeons even though I did it when I was four. Daddy says you never grow out of some things.
Before the Angel cards it was the white sage sticks. We all had to walk around the house in a long line, wearing scarves because Mummy opened all the windows even though it was nearly Christmas. We each took turns to hold the stick as it burnt. Mummy said the native American Indians did the same to clear evil out of their houses. I pictured them in their feathers and facepaint and thought it was alright for them because they didn’t have to go into school the next day with stinky ash on their uniforms. Mummy got excited when the smoke went out of the windows and into the black black sky. She knelt down until her face was in the same place as ours and said:
‘Look! Look! That’s all the badness going, can you see?’
Me and Harry shrugged, and then Daddy put his arm around Mummy’s shoulder and squeezed a bit.
‘A fresh start, eh?’ he said. Or something like that and Mummy smiled at him but not like she smiles at us. It was her worried smile, the straight letterbox line one.
‘It’s helping isn’t it, Danny?’ she said then, and he squeezed her tighter and said:
‘Of course it is - if it’s helping you.’
I don’t think he thought we’d have to do it the next night too. And then the next one. And then we buried what was left of the stick in the garden. Daddy stamped the soil down with his feet, not far from where he buried Puddles and Mummy did a real smile and one-two-threes with me all the way back to the house.
It didn’t work though, taking all the bad away. Because when I was in bed I heard Mummy telling Daddy he didn’t try hard enough. She said she hasn’t really got the black, she’s just got him and he doesn’t even try and make it better. Or something like that. He said something about pills and a doctor and she said something like, we just need to talk more.
So we did the stick thing, and the angels and now we do this.
Mummy holds the stone in both of her hands and we watch. It’s a pink stone, a rose quartz she told me. It’s pretty. It looks soft, but it’s hard. Hard and cold.
‘I feel…’ she starts. ‘Trapped. Yes, trapped, that’s what I feel today. And claustro…’
Claustro-something. There’s a sticky bit of thread come loose on my school shoes. I showed Mummy when I came home from school, but she just said ‘hmmm’ and turned another page of her book. I read it upside down while I did a handstand against the wall. It was called The Happiness Trap. It sounded like a nice thing to be in a happiness trap. A bit like Puddles in his cage. I never understood why he had to escape. It was a good handstand, but Mummy didn’t see it. She says she never has a minute to herself.
I look up from my shoe and reach for the stone from her. But Mummy doesn’t pass it to me. She just stares at me and her eyebrows try and touch.
‘Didn’t we have a talk the other day about not daydreaming?’
She says not daydreaming like she’s talking through a window to someone, emphasising the syllables. I learnt that word at school today. Daddy ate the chicken. There are six syllables in that sentence.
Back to Mummy: ‘I feel trapped between these four walls.’
I take a look around, they seem fine to me.
‘I spend my life looking after everyone, and sometimes I think “who looks after me?”’
Daddy coughs a bit then and Mummy says: ‘Oh Daniel, you just spat a bit of chicken on the carpet!’
He picks it up and goes to the kitchen to put it in the bin while Mummy passes the stone to Harry. It looks bigger and heavier in his hands than ours. Daddy comes back and sits down again.
‘Your go, Harry,’ says Mummy. ‘Tell us how you feel today.’
‘Fine,’ he says. I roll my eyes. He says the same every night. He starts to pass the stone to me and I hold out my hands, but Mummy stops him.
‘How was school?’
‘How about your friends?’
‘Nothing you want to talk about?’
Mummy sighs again. She mumbles something, something about how you can’t possibly be fine every night.
‘Scarlett,’ she says, and this time it’s a proper smile.
I take the stone. Mummy has the same look she had when I did my five metre swimming badge for the first time without armbands. The same smile she had just before I touched the sides.
‘I’m fine, too.’
I freeze. I don’t know why I said it.
‘Oh come on, Honey, you can do better than that! You can’t be fine!’
I squeeze my eyes shut and think harder and then I remember.
‘Maisie was mean to me at school today…she wouldn’t let me play ponies with her and Maria and —’
‘Okay, right, good! And how did that feel?’
‘Fi— well, sad, just for a little while, because after a little while she said I could play ponies with them—’
‘Good! Good!’ She looks at Daddy. ‘You see? It’s good. It’s good for us.’
She seems happy then and Daddy gives her his no-teeth smile, the one where his eyes don’t twinkle, and then I pass the stone to him.
Maisie doesn’t have to do this in her house. But then her mummy doesn’t have the black like our mummy. Her mummy wears pink clothes and dangly earrings and lots of beads that rest on her boobies. I wonder if Mummy should wear more pink like Maisie’s mummy. Pink is brighter than black. I could make her a necklace for her boobies. I’ve got some beads in my room. I’m trying to think where I put my beads when Herbie walks in and miaows and brushes his black tail under my plait. I giggle, but when I look up, Mummy and Harry are staring at Daddy. And Daddy is staring at his lap. And there are dark wet dots on his trousers. Daddy is crying. Daddy is crying and I’ve never seen Daddy cry before. And then Daddy looks up at me like he’s remembered that too and then he wipes his tears away.
‘Ah,’ he says. The same way he does when we’re messing around in the swimming pool and he’s coming up for air after diving around and around me under water. I usually giggle but this time I don’t.
‘Sorry about that,’ he says. ‘I…I don’t know what happened there.’
He smiles then. A big smile with teeth. But it’s too big. The kind I don’t believe. So I just keep on staring at him. He puts the stone down in front of his crossed legs. He’s wearing the socks I got him for Christmas, the Spongebob Squarepants ones. But then he puts his head inside his hands and his shoulders start to shake and now he is really crying, like I did when we found Puddles dead behind the washing machine, or Harry did when Jake didn’t invite him to his birthday party. I look at Mummy because when she has the black she cries like that too. She’ll know what to do. But she’s staring at Daddy too. And then at the floor. And then she starts picking under her fingernails. And now I’m really scared, so I put my hand on his shoulder, just gently, like I’ve seen him do when Mummy cries. Except his fingers don’t have felt tip on them like mine and I wish I was still drawing at the kitchen table. I wish we hadn’t done the stupid stone thing. And then his big hand covers mine and he gives it a squeeze on top of his suit jacket.
‘I just… ah… I didn’t mean this to happen. Sorry.’ He coughs.
Me and Harry nod. Mummy is still looking down.
‘I just… it’s a lot of… I mean, this…’ He lifts his arms up to the room and me and Harry follow them with our eyes and I wonder how a ceiling can make a grown up cry.
He cries again, really crying. I’ve never even seen Mummy cry at the ceiling. I’ve seen her cry at lots of other things: next door’s cat pooing in her herb garden; when Harry’s Lego blocked the toilet; when I tried on her lipstick and made it all stubby. But Daddy never cries. And now Harry is crying too. He’s holding onto Daddy’s arm really tight and making his suit jacket all wet. And now my throat feels really small and my heart is ouchy inside my tummy. And then all the sadness just comes rushing to the top and a big cry comes out of me, and Daddy scoops me up under his other arm and I tuck myself in and bury my head in his chest and we’re all crying. All of us except Mummy. She stares at us then. For a long time, and I want her to say something to make it all better.
There’s a big, long minute. And then she gets up from the floor and says: ‘I think that chicken has rested long enough now.’