As soon as they saw the front of the train come whooshing out of the tunnel, all the mummies would grab hold of the wrists of their little girls and yank them back to the other side of the yellow line. To safety. It was the same for mummy and me, sort of. The only difference was that, with us, it was always the little girl who pulled the mummy back so as she wouldn’t get slapped hard on the legs by the clanking train.
We used to go on the train to mummy’s appoinkment. If the appoinkment went well, and if it wasn’t raining, we’d go to Waterlow Park afterwards and mummy would push me on the swing till I could nearly touch the sky. Else we’d take a bus to the top of the hill and go to the cafe where there were pages from old newspapers on the walls and mummy would tell my fortune from the bits left-over at the bottom of her coffee cup. Once, a long time ago, the appoinkment went really well, and we did both: the park and the cafe, and when we got home it was nearly time for Emmerdale.
Those times when the appoinkment didn’t go well we’d get back on the train and go straight home to watch Room for Improvement on the telly with the curtains drawn. And mummy would open a bottle of cider and then she’d cry and I’d try not to move till she was feeling better. And then she’d say I was her angel and she didn’t know where she’d be without me and would I get two cheese and tomato pizzas out of the freezer compartment and put them in the microwave.
We were all right, mummy and me. I loved her more than the whole wide world, and she loved me back, double. We didn’t need nobody else. And then Mrs Isaacs said I had to go to school.
I didn’t see the point of school, I didn’t. It wasn’t a nice place. The rooms were too big and it was noisy and my head hurt cos there were too many different things going on. It wasn’t like being at home where there was just mummy and me and the telly. The other children were always racing around the playground at break-time and none of them wanted to play with me cos I didn’t have the right jumper on. It was supposed to be a pink sweatshirt with a Barbie on the front but mummy and me didn’t know how to get one, so I wore a knitted cardigan with a Scottie dog on the back that looked lovely in our flat but didn’t look nice at school cos the big windows there made the light different. Everything turned funny under that light. It was too bright, mummy said.
The other thing about school was that the teachers got cross if I didn’t sit in a circle with the other children and listen to the story. But I didn’t feel like sitting down when there were toys that needed to be tidied away and dirty footprints that needed to be wiped off the floor. And I hated the stories cos they were all about things that couldn’t happen, like pumpkins turning into carriages and houses being made out of gingerbread and geese laying golden eggs.
When I told mummy about it she said that some little girls aren’t suited to school and that maybe I should stay at home with her and learn what I needed from the telly. But when mummy told Mrs Isaacs she got very cross and took to ringing mummy up really early in the morning, twenty past eight, saying, Are you dressed? Has she had her cornflakes? You’ve got half an hour to get her out to school. And mummy had to turn her phone off, else she’d never of got no sleep.
One day, when we went to mummy’s appoinkment, there was a little girl just my age sitting in a wheelchair in the waiting area. Her legs were really skinny and knobbly, like pencils that had been chewed all the way along to the end, and I had to look away cos it was so sad that those legs wouldn’t be strong enough to take her right up to the sky on the swings in the park when her mummy didn’t feel like pushing. I sat on the orange plastic seat and tried to keep my own legs really still, but it made them feel jittery, so I just looked at a spider crawling across the carpet instead. And then I heard the wheelchair girl laugh and it was all tinkly like the tiny bell on the ribbon round the teddy bear’s neck in the Oxfam shop, and I decided it wouldn’t do no harm to have another look at her.
She had springy golden hair that was spread out neatly across her shoulders and she wore a pink sweatshirt with a Barbie on the front and no stains on it at all. Her blue eyes sparkled like the jewels on the bracelet Mrs Isaacs had bought me for my birthday after mummy had lost all the money she was going to use to buy my present, and her skin was the palest yellow colour, as if the person who had coloured her in had been concentrating really hard, taking great care not to press too heavily with the crayon. Her mummy and the nurses kept asking her if she was comfortable, if they could get her anythink. It didn’t seem so bad about her picked-over chicken-bone legs, after all. I think she might of been a princess or somethink like that.
When the time came for her to go in for her appoinkment she suddenly started crying and wriggling about in her chair and saying, No, I don’t want to go! And the nurses stroked her hand and said it would be all right, it would be over in no time. Mummy put down her magazine and shook her head and whispered to me that she was a naughty little girl and I nodded. But as they wheeled her away, the little wheelchair girl looked straight at me with her beautiful princess face. She stopped her tantrum and smiled at me. It was all of a sudden, like when the adverts stop the programme on the telly. Just a little smile: her lips hardly moved at all, nothink more than the slightest curve, so that if you weren’t looking at her right you wouldn’t of noticed it. And I felt all hot cos I realised then that there was somethink in her wheelchair or in her Barbie sweatshirt or in her well-brushed hair that could take her right up to touch the sky whenever she wanted, even without a swing.
That day, mummy came out of her appoinkment with the sides of her mouth pointing down and her chin all wobbly. I jumped off the chair and took hold of her hand. And then somethink strange happened. I thought, I don’t want to go home and sit with the curtains drawn watching Room for Improvement. I want to go on the swings. I didn’t say nothink at first, but when we got outside, and I saw it wasn’t raining, I said, Mummy, let’s go to the park. It’ll make you feel better. But mummy said, No, we’re going straight home. So we went into the station and put our tickets in the slot to let us through the barrier and went to stand on the platform with all the other people.
When I saw the front of the train come whooshing out of the tunnel I didn’t grab mummy’s wrist and yank her back. I decided I wasn’t going to do that no more. As the train came roaring into the station, I just looked at the driver’s face, looked at his mouth forming an enormous O and his hands darting up to cover his eyes. And I just listened to the people saying, Oh, my God! and Quick, stop her! and Did you see it? and Has anyone called Security? and Who’s supposed to be with her? and I think I’m going to be sick. And mummy’s scream that went on and on and on and then came to a stop, even more sudden than the adverts, like somebody had pulled the plug out of the telly in the middle of a programme.
Now mummy says I did it cos I didn’t want to go to school no more. So as I didn’t have to sit in a circle and listen to no more lying stories. And Mrs Isaacs shakes her head and says she thinks I did it cos I wanted to get some attention for myself for a change. As if she knew all along about the wheelchair girl. And then they both cry cos they think I’m not here no more. cos they think they should of done somethink to stop me.
But it wasn’t nothink about not going to school no more. It wasn’t nothink about having other people ask if they could get me anythink. If they could see me now, if they believed in ghosts and could hear me, I’d tell them I did it so as I could watch over mummy all the time, never let her out of my sight. Even on the toilet, even when she went in to see the doctor, even when she was asleep. Especially when she was asleep so as I could look after her dreams. So as I could really and truly be her angel. And do it properly. No distractions. Just mummy and me.
© Anne Goodwin
Anne Goodwin has been publishing her short fiction since 2007. She has two novels in progress: Underneath and Sugar and Snails. Her writing website is at <http://annegoodwin.weebly.com>