You alight from the school bus and walk slowly into the house. Despite being just nine years old, you have your own key. Father won’t be home until seven so you have the house to yourself. You go straight into your room to change from your school clothes. Mother always insisted on this but even your obedience doesn’t bring any joy. Rather than going back down the stairs to eat the Fruits and Fibre – your once-upon-a-time favourite cereal in the world – that Father set on the dining table that morning, you drop onto your knees and crawl under the bed.
You feel the sadness pressing down on your shoulders, not unlike the weight of Father’s laptop backpack which you always insisted on carrying to his car. You feel your lips tremble and you grab Jonas, your teddy, hugging him close to your chest. You try not to cry but you can only hold back the tears for so long. Your chest starts to heave as the tears cascade down your cheeks, first in rivulets, then torrents. The sobs shake both you and Jonas uncontrollably but you make sure he doesn’t bump his head on the frame of the bed above.
You remember how excited you were only this morning when Father told you were going to have a new Mummy. After three years, he had met someone he loved enough to marry. You had smiled and hugged him. At least you wouldn’t have to eat your favourite cereal twice a day anymore, you said. He laughed, reminding you that you once said you could eat it three times a day for a whole year without complaining. You remember saying it and you were not lying when you did. You never lie because Mother told you never to. You did not understand why but in the years following Mother’s death, the more you ate Fruits and Fibre, the less you craved it. And it was supposed to be your favourite cereal.
You remember how excited you were, smiling as you ran to the school bus. You remember telling your best friend about the new Mommy you would get to meet later at night. And about how she was going to cook all sorts of delicious appetizers and desserts for you and Father, just like Mother used to. And how she would weave your hair into pretty braids, like Mother used to. And how you wouldn’t have to go to school with the mass of tangles Father came up with each Sunday evening. Your friend knows you never tell him this though, you would hate to hurt his feelings. Your friend listened to you patiently for a while before she spoke. She told you not to be excited because the new Mommy wouldn’t be like Mother at all. Rather, your friend said, the new woman would hate you, and scream at you when Father wasn’t home, and make you do all the chores, including the laundry. Mother never made you do the laundry. She always said your knuckles were still too tender for such. You listened to your friend in silence as she told you about her cousin who also got a new Mommy when her mother died. Her cousin, who used to be great fun, had now had all the happiness beaten out of her by the new Mommy.
The sound of the clock striking five o’ clock brings you out of your reverie. You suddenly remember you have not fed Simba, your big Golden Retriever. Mother wouldn’t like that. She had brought Simba home as a puppy exactly one year before she died. Each time you see Simba, you smile as your thoughts inevitably turn to the happy times you had with Mother. You crawl out from under the bed and move morosely down the stairs and through the kitchen to the backyard where Simba lives. He runs to you, almost knocking you and Jonas down in his excitement. He stands on his hind legs, putting his fore legs on your shoulder as he licks your tears away. You pat his head in gratitude and you immediately feel your heart lighten. I love you, Mother, you whisper, looking up to the clouds. You head for the shed where you grab a can of dog food. Simba gallops ahead of you to his plate, wagging his tail. You carefully open the can and dump the contents into the plate. You toss the can in the direction of the trashcan about ten metres away. You miss. You still don’t know how Father does it, he never misses.
You go back to the shed to pick up your bicycle. You sit on it and proceed to ride it around the yard, with Simba – through with his food – in hot pursuit.
Then you hear the sound of the front door. Father has arrived. He knows where to find you so you keep riding. Simba leaves the game and races to the backdoor to wait for Father. Soon enough, he opens the backdoor and steps into the backyard. He smiles, ruffles Simba’s shaggy coat and says hi. You respond cheerfully. Behind him is a tall, pretty woman.
“Is that a dog?” She asks Father in a high-pitched voice.
You apply the brakes of your bike and dismount so as not to be rude. Mother always told you about the importance of being polite.
“This is my daughter…” you hear Father say to her before she cuts in.
“That dog has to go, you know I don’t like animals.”