A British Summer

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Chapter Four

It’s the following morning and Olivia is in her kitchen. A half-eaten cake remains on the side. Crumbs line the unit. She is getting ready to eat away another slice and sips on a cup of tea. Perhaps not the healthiest breakfast in the world, but it sure does make her happy. Claudia comes into the kitchen, all dressed in her freshly washed nurse scrubs. “I’ve picked up a double shift, so you won’t see me till tomorrow, now.” She comes over to Olivia and rests her fingers under her daughter’s chin, lifting it up so she can better view her face. “That looks sore, honey. Get some ice on it.” Olivia nods. It is sore. She doesn’t tell her mother that - no need to worry her for something that can’t be changed. She is about to take a bite out of her cake. “And maybe opt for something with nutritional content at breakfast time?” She drops the fork.

“It’s a good cake and you know it.” Olivia points out. Claudia takes out some tin foil and cuts herself a slice. She wraps it up in the foil. “It is a fantastic cake. That’s why I’ll be having some between my shifts.” Olivia jumps up and hugs her.

“Try to get some sleep.” Claudia nods energetically.

“Yeah, I absolutely will. There are cots and private rooms for us workers who are there for long shifts. I’ll get my head down at some point.” Olivia’s phone chimes.

“Ooh!” She squeals. Claudia practically jumps out of her skin.

“What?” Olivia holds up her phone to her mother. She smiles widely and Claudia reads the message then smiles back. Nicole has finally replied and has told her to get down to the community school by a specific time today and she can take the drama class. The last guy who’d held the position had quit last minute and she really needed a replacement. Olivia jumps up and leaves the cake on the table. Claudia leaves for the day, wishing Olivia luck before she heads out the door.

Olivia sits before her mirror and closely examines her face. The bruise it pretty bad and she can’t imagine it’d go down well with children’s parents if she turns up at a school looking like she’s been in a fight. Maybe she can tell them she’s a superhero? No. She picks up the concealer and starts dabbing it along the bruise. It’s sore to touch. She persists. As she finishes, she holds her head away from the mirror, then leans back in again. The only way anyone will be able to see it, is if they’re right in front of her face. If anyone is getting that close…then they’ll be getting a bruise of their own. She throws on the first outfit she can find, scrubs her teeth and is out of the door, ready to teach some little ones how act like Meryl Streep.

It’s raining. Several places in Great Britain are experiencing rainfall right now. Maybe more than several. The news reports are coming in and the green screen with the pretty lady in front, shows numerous clouds with little drops underneath them; some near the western coast, some down south, some to the east, but not Manchester. Manchester sits, still, under an ever-sweltering sun. It’s been forty-five days in total, since the last drop of water fell from the sky. Lawns are parched and landscapes are starting to wilt and yellow. Green still remains in some places, but for Olivia, the scorched land is getting just as depressing as Manchester under constant cloud cover. A British summer is supposed to be brief, with brilliant green hills, daisy crowns, grass fights where multiple boys and girls call “Hey Fever,” to avoid getting their clothes covered in freshly mown sward. There’s supposed to be rain. Always rain. Otherwise, how are the British people supposed to complain about brief sunshine, or joke about summer being over in mid-August? Sweat is now a constant aroma everywhere you go, and jackets, denim and wool are outlawed from everyone’s wardrobe. One of the few good things Olivia can enjoy about the weather is that she isn’t stuck up in an office somewhere, inputting numbers and calming down frustrated managers. No. Instead, Olivia is in a school hall, closed to students for the holidays, but open to dance and drama students between the ages of five and eleven. Turns out, five to eleven-year olds don’t want to learn about Stanislavsky and the Method approach. They want to run around in circles, or sit on their phones, or talk about their boyfriends. That’s right. Boyfriends. Not the eleven-year-olds, no, that could be understood. There is a seven-year-old girl, right now, talking about her irritating boyfriend, who she’s certain she’s going to “dump” because he forgot her birthday. I mean, how could he forget her birthday? It’s right there on Facebook.

She has tried several times to coax them into a circle for some vocal exercises and maybe a few ice breakers, but hasn’t had any luck, so now Olivia stands in the corner of the room and watches as children run riot around the hall. Nicole is only a few rooms away, in a mirrored dance room, where she is choreographing sweet contemporary dances with adorable little ones, to the tune of “Frozen’s” ever famous “Let It Go.” She contemplates yanking Nicole out of her own class to save her skin from these demonic spawns of Satan, but there’s only five minutes or so left and there’s really not much point in her trying right now. Best to call her first class a bust and to learn from it. There’s another lesson planned for that Saturday and she already has a few games in mind that she thinks may intrigue them enough to pay attention for long than three seconds. There’s a little blonde boy, running around in circles like a maniac. Knowing exactly what’s going to happen if he carries on, Olivia is calling to him. “Hey! Kid! Stop running about, you’re going to hurt yourself.” By way of response the little boy runs past Olivia and punches her in the leg before racing away again…Now there’s a bloody nose. The little blonde boy, has now tripped over his own foot and flown, face first, into the seven-year-old girl with the boyfriend problem. “Jack!” The girl yells at the poor boy. “You hurt my knee!”

“Yeah, okay.” Olivia jogs over to Jack and lifts his head up to assess the damage. “Give me your hand. Here.” She takes his hand and pinches it on the soft part of his nose. “Hold onto that there for me.” The whole class gathers round and it’s perfect timing that parents have started turning up to collect their children from ‘Demon day care.’ “Jack!” A woman screams from the doorway, there is a commotion and the sound of clunky heels tapping the floor rapidly and closing in. Olivia feels a hand grab her shoulder and she is shoved to one side. Her knees twist painfully, and she topples onto her buttocks. Now she’s pissed. She looks up at a bleach blonde woman, middle aged, wearing designer boots and a leather jacket. Her perfume is far too strong and she’s wearing far too much of it. The woman is examining her son’s nose, cooing and mollycoddling him. Olivia stands up, brushes dust off her knees and towers over the woman, who now, noticing Olivia, stands up and puts herself nose to nose with her. She screams, red in the face, “What the hell happened to my son?”

“Your son,” Olivia replies through gritted teeth, “was running around in circles, tripped over his own feet and went nose first into this little girl’s knee.”

“Why weren’t you watching him? When I leave my child here, I expect him to be kept safe.” Her eyes are wild and Olivia finds herself taken aback by this Mother’s stance. The woman lifts her hand in a claw and looks like she’s ready to lash out. Olivia takes a step back and composes herself.

“And I,” Olivia spits, losing her patience, “expect children to do as they’re told and to not run around like hyperactive puppies on three pounds of sugar…accidents happen. Look at him, he’s fine.”

Jack’s nose has now stopped bleeding and he’s wiping it on his shirt as his Mother argues with Olivia. She snarls, her lip curls up and she speaks with venom. “What did you just say to me? Who do you think you are?” If there’s one thing Olivia can’t stand, it’s pretentious, arrogant arse holes. She can’t help it. She laughs. At this point, several parents have arrived, and all stand with their children behind their backs as they watch the drama unfold. Pun intended. Jack’s mothers face has gone bright red with rage, and she is practically shaking. Olivia feels a little bad for her, but not bad enough to stop laughing. She finally manages to compose herself. “What did you just say? No. Actually, I have no idea who I am. I’m still trying to figure all that out, but that just means that when bitches like you start screaming in my face, I feel quite content with telling you where to shove it, and then later, I’ll go home and contemplate whether or not that’s the kind of person I’d like to be in the future. Lord knows the last person I want to be, is someone like you. With your pretty little handbags and perfume that puts a hole in the ozone layer, it’s so strong, and a son who has no idea what the word “no” means. No thank you.” She is out of breath. Is the woman going to slap her? Who knows? The look on her face suggests…maybe. Olivia takes a step back again. There’s something off about this woman. Her eyes dart around the room and then land on Olivia again. She’s calculating something. Olivia doesn’t know what. The double doors across the hall open and Nicole comes through, tying her long dirty-blonde hair into a pony. Her blue eyes narrow as she takes in the scene before her and instantly runs to Olivia, positioning herself between the two women. Olivia idly wonders who she was protecting. “What’s happening?” Nicole asks.

“This silly little girl wasn’t watching Jack and now he’s broken his nose.” The woman growls.

“To start with, I was absolutely watching him, otherwise how would I know how he came to break his nose? That’s another thing, you don’t know it’s broken. It looks fine to me. Definitely not broke…just a little bruised.”

“You little bitch.” The woman throws her hands out to try and grab Olivia. The parents at the back of the hall make a speedy exit with their young and Nicole pushes the woman away.

“Okay, okay, everyone calm down. Olivia, stay here. Caroline, let me speak to you over here, please.” With one final look of absolute distaste from the mother, they depart to the other side of the room. Olivia looks down at Jack who looks up, a little bit of blood still dry under his nose. She kneels down so she’s at eye level with him. “It should be okay now.” She says gently. He lowers his hand down, slowly. The bleeding has definitely stopped. “Does it hurt?” She asks. He shakes his head.

“Sorry I punched you.” Jack whispers, uncomfortable that his mother might hear him. Olivia smiles. “It’s okay. I’m sorry you hurt your nose.”

“Wasn’t your fault.” He wipes at his lip. “Is it bad?”

“Nah. You might get a wicked shiner though.” The boy’s eyes widen. “Don’t worry.” Olivia wipes the concealer under her right eye and reveals a fading bruise from her rabbit catching escapade. “I’ve got one too.”

“How did you do yours?” Jack asks, his mouth hanging open.

“I’m a superhero. I got it chasing bad guys away.”

“No, you’re not.”

“No. I’m not. But I could be. You could be too. So, if it does bruise, just tell people you did it saving the world from aliens, or something.” Jack grins widely and nods his head in agreement. She tussles his hair and stands back up, just as his mother, Caroline, returns. “Be careful.” He whispers to Olivia, quietly enough that only she can hear. He glances sideways at Caroline, his eyes trying to communicate something that Olivia can’t decipher. Caroline grabs hold of her sons’ hand and pulls him, a little too aggressively, away. Jack waves to Olivia as they pass towards the door. “Bye, Olivia.” He calls.

“Bye.”

“Jack!” His mother scolds him as she tugs him out of the doors and away, giving Olivia one final evil eye. Nicole is in front of Olivia. She looks a little sheepish. “It’s okay.” Olivia reassures her. “This job really isn’t for me anyway.”

Nicole nods. She puts her hand in her pocket and pulls out some cash. She hands it to Olivia who, confused, takes it and counts through the notes. “There’s fifty pounds here, Nicole.” Nicole nods again.

“Yeah, it’s what I would have paid you for the day.”

“I can’t accept this…you threw me a lifeline and I nearly lost you a client. I’ve been around these kids less than three hours and one of them ended up with a bloody nose.” Nicole laughs. “We’re the disaster team, right? You’ve got to come out on top, with a little slap on the wrist. It’s almost a tradition of ours. Besides, we have a contract with the school, it’s all paid in advance. I’ve got a few friends who would be grateful for the experience. I’ll figure it out. Really, it’s fine. Take it.” Olivia doesn’t want to, but she really needs the cash. Nicole can sense her hesitation. “I get why you’re hesitant, I would be, but look at it this way: Caroline is a self-entitled bitch, with some serious, deep seeded issues. In my class, a child has broken their arm because they were messing about instead of doing the lifts properly and their Mum and Dad were really understanding about it. Kids trip, they fall, they break bones and loose teeth. It happens. This way, I get to help a friend out and stick it to Caroline at the same time…she’s an odd one. I can’t quite put my finger on why…but yeah, she’s definitely odd.” Olivia giggles. She puts the money in her coat pocket and throws her arms around Nicole.

“I’m a train wreck.” Olivia is surprised to find herself believing these words. Self-doubt rears its head and, for the third time today, she finds herself wondering if she should have more of a plan.

“You are.” Emily admits. “And it’s very cool. Don’t ever change.” With that, they part ways.

Olivia leaves the school, with the satisfaction of having earned fifty pounds, despite the stress of being yelled at. Not that she’s looking to pursue such a career full time, but it’s nice to know some good came from the ordeal, and it was certainly good of Nicole to look after her the way she did. She is fully aware of her potluck for having a friend who could sort her out with a job like that, but she won’t be disheartened and is planning on searching for another job at the first opportunity.

As she struts towards the exit of an adjoining carpark, next to the school, she takes in a light bird song coming from a nearby tree. Olivia smiles to herself. What a weird day. She feels a little hazy. It’s as though she hasn’t slept for days and someone doped her up on a massive amount of coffee. Did all that just really happen? How random. What now? All these questions float around her brain. She has an instant replay going through her head of the events in the school. Olivia knew Mothers were protective of their children, but that lady seemed…almost…Olivia doesn’t want to think it, but her behaviour was so beyond what was just “a protective, egotistical Mother.” Olivia has only ever seen someone so erratic, once in her life. That was when a girl she went to college with, had taken a line or two of cocaine before a night out and instead of having a good time, she had ended up peeling her friends’ body away from a very concerned bouncer. It’s possible, she supposes, that little miss Caroline had been under the influence. Olivia is just about to turn and go back into Nicole, to discuss the idea that “miss mother of the year” has a potential drug problem, but instead, something catches her off guard. A fist connects with her face, sending Olivia crashing to the ground.

It takes her a second to gather her surroundings. It’s possible she blacked out for a second and she half expected to open her eyes and find herself in a hospital bed. It is only as she shifts slightly, that she feels the gravel of the carpark beneath her body. The tiny stones are carving away at her bare legs and arms. She groans and lifts a hand to her face, she opens her eyes, and squints a little at first, but then sees the red liquid on her hand. There’s definitely blood. She can’t be absolutely certain where it’s coming from, only that it is somewhere on her face. A foot sweeps into her vision and winds her as it collides with her stomach. She crunches over in pain, just in time to take another kick to her face. There is a high pitch ringing sound. She rolls over to the direction of the kick, desperate for a peek. There’s no need. The assailant is already crouched over her, hand in her pocket. It’s at this moment, Olivia realises she’s being robbed of her wages. “No.” She manages to sputter out. A trickle of something warm leaks from her mouth, down her cheek and rests on the hot floor. Hair tickles her face, that is not her own. She looks and sees the face of Caroline. “Trampy, trashy bitch. That’s what happens when you mess with my son.” Caroline snarls into her ear. Caroline is grabbing hold of a clump of Olivia’s hair and lifts her head, just as she is about to slam it down, Olivia gathers every ounce of strength she has and grabs hold of Caroline’s wrist, she twists hard causing her attacker to cry out, then she kicks out, harder and manages to land her knee between Caroline’s legs. Not the sweetest spot, but certainly not a pleasant place to find a knee. Caroline topples to the side and Olivia stumbles to her feet. She is gasping for air as she limps away. She is full of rage. Red swims before her eyes, her heart pounds in her chest like a drum calling her to battle. She has visions in her head of stamping on her face and choking her attacker. Pure malice is pooling around her body. While she lays there on the ground, Olivia steps forward and lifts her leg back, ready to return the favour, but upon lifting her head she sees poor Jack, with his nose pressed up against a car window in the distance. He has seen the whole thing. Olivia decides right now, that’s not who she wants to be. Instead, she half runs, half hobbles as far away as she can get from the crazy mother on the floor.

She’s not certain how long she has been walking as she stops against a wall to catch her breath. There’s not much air in her lungs and she’s growing concerned that she may have cracked a rib. Olivia tries to take in her surroundings, but it’s like everything around her is in hyper reality. The adrenaline is still coursing through her body and her mind can’t focus on all the little details. She takes as deep a breath as she can manage and tries to steady her heart. She’s passed some concerned faces and worries that the police have been called. Does she need the police? Does she need an ambulance? If an ambulance comes, it’ll take her to hospital. The closest one being Fairfield where her mother works. No! No. Her mother can’t see her like this. She takes out her phone. Does she want the police? Does she want an ambulance? No. She needs someone, though. Her eye is throbbing, her insides are screaming and whatever the hell is gushing on her face is sending blood trickling down her neck and onto her once white shirt. How hard did she hit her? Olivia’s hands are shaking, she can barely compile one coherent thought. She makes some recollection of a street name. She looks left and sees a street sign next to her: Buxton Street. Okay. Olivia takes out her phone from her back pocket. The screen is not cracked. It still works. Lucky. She inputs her password to unlock the home screen. There are no apps, there’s no battery percentage or time. Olivia sees nothing but numbers on a keypad. She doesn’t think about who to call, instinct just takes over. She dials without really seeing the phone. It rings. Someone answers. She gives a street name. There’s an upheaval on the line. A few different voices speak to her. One voice, in particular, breaks through a little of her fog with reassurance and Olivia hangs up the phone, with the belief and comfort that she will be taken care of. She leans back against the burning wall and slides down to the ground, resting there a short while as she waits, her head throbbing. The sky could be pink or orange or purple for all she knows. The only sense Olivia is really aware of, is the pain radiating across her face and stomach. She rests a hand on the floor by her side and finds a pebble there. It’s smooth, but she can feel a small crack. A slight indented sliver. She runs her thumb over it, picturing the pebble in her mind’s eye. Imagining the colour. Imagining the crack. It helps, to have something to focus on. Something else to think about. She can’t have long to wait.

Surely enough, ten minutes later, a black Land Rover rolls up and out pours Emily and Nick.

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