An ill wind had blown through our house, if the expressions on my parents’ faces were anything to go by.
Mother looked as if she was sucking a particularly unwieldy sweet in her mouth, her cheeks pinched, her look martyred. Every now and then she would emit a loud sigh, designed to attract attention. But when it did, from Father – ‘what’s up?’ – she would simply retort ‘nothing’, as if surprised by the question.
Father, meanwhile, wore a frown instead of his usual gormless expression. He looked as if he had discovered a once lost, now found box of doughnuts – only to discover that said box was empty.
Their grumpiness was spilling out beyond their faces. For the last hour they had been bickering on and off about who had been responsible for buying another bottle of washing up liquid. The debate had disintegrated rapidly: ‘Fine. That’s fine. I’ll just buy paper plates in future seeing as how you’re too lazy and too selfish to do one tiny thing,’ and ‘What was wrong with my suggestion of using shampoo? It cleans, doesn’t it?’
Of course, the argument was ensuing sotto voce, as part of their determination to protect me from all things negative (shame they hadn’t taken this stance with scratch mitts which surely are the most negative creation known to man. There is nothing good about any garment or object which prevents you having a good itch when you need to). But, I knew what was going on, I could see from their faces that they were ‘having words’ (the throbbing vein in Mother’s neck was a bit of a giveaway).
They had been like this all morning and for the life of me I didn’t know what was wrong with them. Had one of them done something mind-blowingly stupid to upset the other? This seemed the most likely course of action. Mother was still furious about the time when Father had given her best cardigan, dress and blouse to charity after he had got confused between his left and his right. ‘I said right! The pile of clothes on the right. The pile on the left was for the dry cleaners.’ ‘An easy mistake to make,’ suggested Father, meekly. ‘Easy, yes. If you are a moron.’ Father was duly dispatched to the charity shop to buy back Mother’s mislaid items. ‘I didn’t get much change out of fifty quid,’ grumbled Father. ‘I’m not surprised,’ returned Mother, haughtily. ‘Good quality clothes those.’
So yes, the probability was that one or the other had managed to wind the other up. That had to be the answer. What else could there be? The only other person who could have put them in these ill tempers was me and that seemed very, very unlikely.
Yes, I hadn’t managed to get to sleep particularly early the previous evening but that shouldn’t have had any effect on them, I was sure. My mind had been racing last night, a plethora of new questions dancing around my brain, such as why was Mother constantly on a diet if it made her so miserable? I had noticed a direct correlation between the amount of cake and chocolate she consumed and her mood. More than once I had seen Father grimace at Mother when she was chewing distastefully upon a rice cake, knowing that a scolding was imminent. For example: ‘That bin is starting to stink. I asked you to empty it three days ago.’ Half a packet of biscuits and a bag of crisps later and she would be cracking jokes and laughing heartily with all the lightness of a cloud. I wondered why she bothered with the diets, and her explanation to Father didn’t hold up if you asked me: ‘I want to look good in a bikini.’ Considering that a) we didn’t have any holidays planned that I was aware of and b) when we would go away I imagined it would be for a short space of time, it seemed like a whole lot of misery and effort for very little gain.
I was also musing upon the question of Father’s hat which he had taken to wearing. It was an orange cap with a peak. ‘I saw a chap on the telly in something similar,’ he told Mother when she looked at it uncertainly as it balanced on his head precariously. He looked ridiculous and whilst it would surely suit other men, it made Father look as if he was sporting a brick on the side of his head. But the great mystery to me wasn’t that Father wore it – I have long since worked out that Father has very little sense of style and tends to wear whatever he finds lying on the bedroom floor or, failing that, tucked away at the back of the wardrobe. No, the confusing issue for me was the way that people were blatantly lying to his face. ‘You look really….trendy,’ suggested Mother encouragingly, though her eyes danced with horror. ‘Cool. You look like a Hollywood star,’ complimented Mother’s cousin, obviously biting her lip to stop herself from laughing. The only person who was anything less than supportive was Grandad: ‘You actually handed money over for that?’ he’d asked, doubtfully.
So with so much on my mind, it did take me a long time to get to sleep, I would probably estimate it was around three am. I must confess, the hours preceding my snoozing were perhaps rather noisy on my part. I did scream a tad, in frustration mainly, at my inability to resolve the riddles in my head. I don’t think Mother and Father minded, I am sure they understood; after all, I have seen Father agonising over the games he plays on his phone, only to let out a rather loud and unseemly expletive when yet again he is bested by technology. They did look a little fraught in the run up to my sleep but this how they look most days, and I was confident that I was not the cause of the tension in the air. I am, after all, well aware of my popularity in the house (if it came to a competition, I would suggest I would definitely win it. It would be a battle for second place, and some days, I am not sure either Mother or Father would garner the runner-up position. It would probably go to my teddy bear and good friend RoRo).
Eventually, as it always does (in spite of Mother’s ridiculous comment: ‘That’s it! She’s never sleeping again! She’s just going to stay awake FOREVER and torment us’) sleep overtook me and I fell into a slumber. Which, as it turned out, was rather brief, thanks to my impressive hunger. It was my appetite which forced me awake with a hungry yell a couple of hours later, a yell which was the trigger for Father stumbling out of bed to prepare my bottle. By the time it arrived (what on earth was he doing downstairs? Had he fallen asleep on the kitchen counter?) I was in rather a state. This was entirely my parents’ fault. They know full well that I do not, I cannot wait longer that a minute for milk. Otherwise I become alarmingly angry. Mother says I’m like the Incredible Hulk: ‘One minute, she’s lying in her crib like butter doesn’t melt. And then, in a nano second, she turns into this raging ball of fury.’ I think she’s a little excessive in her description (as usual. Mother has such a taste for the dramatic) but by the time Father FINALLY came upstairs with the milk, I had gone past the point of being upset, I was LIVID. And even my much-wanted food couldn’t stop those screams.
‘Do something!’ said Mother, hopelessly.
‘Anything,’ she snapped. ‘This is all your fault anyway. What took you so flipping long?’
‘Is that jam around your mouth,’ she asked, peering closely at Father’s face, cross-examining him like one of those television detectives of which she is so fond.
‘No,’ he replied meekly. But if the jam wasn’t the giveaway, then the crumbs on his t-shirt were. ‘I was starving,’ he admitted, realising the game was up. ‘Tiredness always makes me ravenous,’ he added, and I recognised the sentiment. This was clearly a shared trait between Father and daughter.
After a good hour of cuddling, coaxing and caressing, I was calmed down to mild disgruntlement rather than all out hostility. Mother and Father looked a little stressed but I imagined this must have been because of their earlier disagreement about Father’s snacking; they are well used to me now and know that I do settle down eventually.
Happily, that was the end of my mild protestations (or, as Father described it, ‘all out flipping declaration of war’) and I fell into the rhythm of the day. I was pleased to discover that in spite of perhaps rather less snoozing than usual, I was full of vim and vigour and was able to make my usual demands: to be carried to my playmat, to be put back in my Moses basket, to be taken back to my playmat, to be turned over from my tummy (immediately), to be given my mirror, to be given a book, to be given RoRo, to have RoRo taken away when we fell out (I don’t want to talk about it), to be put in my chair, to be taken out of my chair, and to be given a rather large feed. I am sure Mother and Father were pleased to see that I was going about my business as normal, I know that they worry when I am quieter than usual.
‘Right, that’s it,’ said Father at last. ‘Sit down, put your feet up and give me the baby,’ he ordered Mother, taking me out of her arms and causing a break in my feeding (which I’m sure you won’t be surprised to hear, now that you know me well, I was furious about).
But Father persisted. ‘We’re going to rest today. No housework. No rushing around. Just relaxing. We both need it,’ and he rested his feet on the table in front of him.
I thought this was exceptionally lazy of them. I also thought that Father was taking a risk putting his feet up on the furniture; Mother wouldn’t like that one bit. Instead though, Mother just smiled at Father and tucked her own legs underneath her. She looked as if she was drifting off to sleep, which I thought was an absolute dereliction of duties.
I was going to berate her but strangely, the warmth of Father’s strong, comforting arms began to lull me into a sweet slumber. Perhaps a lazy day wasn’t such a bad idea; I was feeling a little weary if I was honest. Just before I gave in completely to my dozing, I pondered on what on earth had put Mother and Father in such bad moods, but an answer to my query remained wanting. I guessed it would remain one of life’s great mysteries….