‘Harriet, don’t tease your sister!’ I yell for the umpteenth time. I wipe my forehead with my gloved hand.
I am washing the breakfast dishes. The dishwasher’s kaput. Died mid-cycle three weeks ago, so I had to empty it of half-clean crockery and then bucket out the excess water. Since then, my lower back is frozen, screaming in pain. Completely rejected the idea of being stooped over, moving from left to right for more than ten minutes.
In the girls’ bedroom, Harriet ignores me and continues with her plan to break Milly’s spirit.
I scrub at something crusty on the bench. When it doesn’t oblige with the hot soapy dish cloth, I use my thumb nail through the glove. I pick and pick; it’s worse than all those hard boogers on the wall next to the children’s beds. Must be Weet-Bix. That cereal sets harder than cement. Honestly, houses could be made with that shit. More environmentally friendly too, I reckon. I make a mental note to Google that possibility later.
‘Mum,’ Milly screeches. ‘Harriet’s being mean.’
Harriet is mean. She has an iron will. Refuses to see other people’s perspectives. She’s 14 and thinks that watching YouTubers has provided her with all the answers she could ever need. Sometimes, I secretly hope life throws her a curve ball, so I can watch her collapse and cry for my help.
Milly, though. At only 10, she greets each new day with a lust for seeking the endless—and only positive—possibilities that lie within her reach. She rests at night, exhausted by her goodness and lively nature.
‘Harriet!’ I yell. ‘Don’t make me come down there.’
‘Whatevs,’ she mutters back.
My shoulders tense, pull upwards to my ears, as my jaw clenches tight. Pulling off my gloves and tossing them onto the old wooden draining board, my footsteps stomp towards my insolent child.
Milly’s face is splotchy red, tear-streaked. Her clothes are a twisted mess; her pyjama top is scrunched up and…is that a rip? Her doona is off the bed and her sheets are rumpled.
‘What is going on in here?’ I ask. I glare at Harriet. She’s staring at me, her eyes full of teenage disdain and disrespect. Her arms are crossed.
Neither girl answers me. ‘I’m waiting,’ I say. ‘Harriet?’
She mutters something under her breath. It sounded a lot like fuck off, but she wouldn’t dare. Would she?
‘What did you just say to me?’
My gaze falls to Milly.
‘Mum, Harriet called me a dumb shit-for-brains,’ Milly says, sniffing.
‘I don’t want to share a room with this retard,’ Harriet whines.
‘Please don’t use that word.’
‘Alright. I don’t want to share a room with this fuckwit. Better?’
A ball of rage fires within my belly. My hand twitches at my side. I breath slowly in through my nose, and release it like a whoosh through my mouth. A tiny spit bubble sprays and lands on Harriet’s arm.
‘Gross!’ she screams.
God the melodrama from this one!
‘You spat on me,’ she continues. Her voice is thin, tinny. ‘I wanna to go to Dad’s house for a while.’
‘Fine,’ I retort back without even a thought. ‘I’ll call him right away. How does a fortnight sound to you?’
‘OK,’ I respond. I know she’ll be back. Right now, I just don’t know if she’ll cave and come crawling back to me, or if her dad will invent an excuse, a business trip that will prevent him from playing his parental role.
Won’t even take two weeks though. That much I’m sure of.