You always had rules, but we weren’t very good at listening by Cole Beauchamp

Photo by CDC on Unsplash

1. No calling your sister names.

Now Dad lives upstairs, my sister and I make toast most mornings. Today Maya won’t give me the last piece even though I’m older.

Heat rockets inside me and I blast at her.

Maya runs to the stairs. “Tell Cassie not to call me a fat blob!” She pitches forward, bracing herself on the lower steps. “I. Don’t. Like. It!”

I sit down, crossing my legs. “Come on then. Give us a show.”

“Dad, she’s watching me!” Maya tugs at her rainbow striped t-shirt, stretching it over her rounded belly. Tears are close. I can smell them.

“Girls!” It’s clear he’s not coming down.

Maya’s crying for real now, a disgusting mix of tears and snot sliding all over her face. Silence from upstairs.

And just like that, the rocket’s blasted off. Just vapour trails like that launch we watched on telly. Go say you’re sorry. I can hear your voice in my head. And you’re right, I am sorry. Maya looks so sad. She’s only little.

But you’re not here. She is. Maya, the wriggler who wouldn’t let you strap her into her seatbelt the day of the accident. I feel another rocket building, a glowing burst of heat. Let her cry.

2. Clean up after yourselves.

The Tesco driver is one of the nice ones. When we tell him our dad is sleeping, he comes into the house even though he’s not supposed to and unloads our groceries onto the counter. “Aren’t you good helpers, you two,” he says, stacking the empty green crates.

“I’m ten,” I say proudly.

Maya shouts, “I’m six next month.”

She’s so mouthy.

Be nice, I hear you say. Show her how.

When he’s gone, I tell Maya she gets two points for everything she puts in the fridge. I get one point for things in the cupboard.

“Two, four,” Maya chants, putting in the milk and butter.

I remember you in the kitchen, flipping eggs, bacon spitting in the heavy black pan. Pancakes and Nutella. The way you’d sing and talk back to the radio. Back then there were grocery trips to a real store, all our favourite foods: tubes of Petit Filous, raspberry jam with no seeds, that bread that comes in a circle and has to be sliced.

Now it’s the same delivery every Monday, whether we’ve eaten the food or not. We’ve got jars of peanut butter piling up; we’re sick of ham. I’ve asked Dad to show me how to change the order, I do ICT at school; it can’t be that hard. But he just shakes his shaggy head, rubs his whiskers.

When he comes down, I hold up the same blue and yellow box that comes every week.

He puts your Tampax on top of his two six-packs of beer, face crumpling, and heads upstairs.

3. Look both ways before crossing the road.

We used to line up our shoes, two by two. Dad. You. Me. Maya. Now it’s only mine and Maya’s that move.

Thanks to lockdown, we can only go out once a day. Down Arundel Lane, round the curve to the common. Around the common as many times as we like, Dad says. “Just be careful.”

Only two roads to cross, and we know what to do. We used to walk on each side of you, our hands in yours, that squeeze when you said, Come on little duckies, look both ways Left, right, left. I want to see your heads move.

My shoes pinch my toes when I pull them on. Maya whines, says she doesn’t want to go. I coax her, “Extra points if you come today, and I’ll pack a picnic.” 

When we go outside, it’s so bright we blink. Maya holds my hand like she’s supposed to. I think of you every time we cross, make sure we bob our heads left-right-left just the way you liked.

At the common, we settle our green and blue striped blanket out on the warm grass. Around us loads of families are playing ball, walking dogs, laughing. One of the mums has an orange top and a loud laugh; she’s handing out ice lollies.

“I want an ice lolly,” Maya says.

“Me too.”

We lay on our backs and look at the clouds, trying to find shapes in the flat white clouds.

4. Hands off things that aren’t yours.

We pause at the top of the steps, crouching low so we’re below the banister if he comes out. The bath is still running and it’s not until the water stops and we hear him getting in the tub that we know it’s safe.

We count to five once he splashes in, then creep towards your bedroom.

The air in here doesn’t smell like you anymore. On his bedside, an empty beer can and a foil pack with all the pills pushed out. I heard him on the phone yesterday. The doctor said no more pills. I wonder what happens now.

I take your perfume bottle and we go deep into your closet, snuggle into the clothes. One quick spray on each wrist and it’s like you’re here, words swinging in the soft hems of your shirts, the folds of your trousers. Don’t forget to brush your teeth. Is your schoolbag ready? Time to change into your pyjamas.

Maya nestles into me like a cat. I let her. We press my wrist against our noses and inhale.

About The Author

Cole Beauchamp (she/her) is a copywriter by day and fiction writer by night. Her work appears or is soon to appear in Ellipsis Zine, Free Flash Fiction, Damnation Lit, Lost Balloon and Bending Genres. She lives in London with her girlfriend, two children and an exuberant Maltipoo. You can find her on Twitter @nomad_sw18.

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