Word count: 1,741
Estimated reading time: 8 minutes
My mum is the kind of mother that doesn’t call and doesn’t ask questions.
She desperately wants to be the cool mum that respects her only daughter’s privacy, especially now that said daughter is a university student, but I also know that if I don’t call her for a few days, she goes crazy with worry. And then when I do call her, although she doesn’t ask, she wants to know everything, especially the things she doesn’t ask about.
Right now, I can’t even remember when we last spoke. I don’t even know what day it is, although if I count down from Summer Ball I realise it must be a Monday, which means that the first week of summer holidays has officially begun.
The absurdity of the last few days aside, the reason I haven’t been calling home much is because I know my mum and dad have enough on their plate right now without having to hear about my stupid problems.
My lovely, fluffy-white-haired maternal grandma is not well. Mum hasn’t really said why (she probably didn’t want to upset me during my exams) but I think it must be her Alzheimer’s acting up.
Granny lives way out in the south west, in a pretty, tiny village by the seaside near to where my mother and aunt grew up, in the same house she has been living in with grandpa ever since his retirement, and all on her own ever since he died a few years ago.
I know it hasn’t been easy for her. Auntie Cynthia still lives nearby and visits her almost every day, but despite the adults trying to shield me from the truth, it has been impossible not to notice grandma’s steady decline. At first it was silly things: she’d phone us in the afternoon, forgetting that she had already called in the morning.
Then it started getting more serious. She stopped cooking, which had always been one of her greatest joys, ever since she forgot the oven on and almost burned down her house. Sometimes she can’t tell mum and Auntie Cynthia apart. And it isn’t getting any better.
Mum confirms it when I call her. Her voice sounds tired, older.
“Sorry I haven’t called in a few days, mum.”
“You know I don’t mind, Mimi, as long as I know you’re okay. In fact, I was glad you didn’t call in the past few days. It’s been a bit of a nightmare.” She tells me that Auntie Cynthia and her husband, Uncle David, have rented a summer house in Portugal for the next four weeks, which means they won’t be able to look after Granny.
“What are we going to do? Why didn’t they tell you sooner?” I ask.
I can hear my mother sighing. “I think it was a last-minute deal or something. The point is, Cynthia has been doing so much for mum that it’s only fair I do my part.”
“Does that mean you’re leaving? You’re going to stay with Granny?”
“Can I come too?”
“No, I don’t want you to, Mimi. This is the summer of your second year of university. You’ve done well in your exams—”
“Don’t jinx it! We don’t know that yet.”
“I’m your mother, I know you have. You deserve to have an amazing summer. This time next year you’re going to be looking for a job, and then say goodbye to two months off in the summer for the rest of your life.” She’s trying to make light of it, but I can tell from her voice something is very wrong.
“But what about Granny? How is she?”
She exhales. “Not well, Mimi. She needs somebody to be with her day and night now. I have to go, and I want you to stay right where you are, with your friends.”
“Well, what about Dad?”
“Dad’s going to be working all through the summer, as usual. He agrees you’re better off staying put — no point coming home when there’s nobody to come home to. I’m sorry, honey.”
I will miss them, but I don’t want to say it in case I start crying. Suddenly I am gripped by the urge to tell my mum everything about Adam, about what happened in the last two days. As if reading my mind, she says, “Maybe you can stay with that, um, friend of yours, Alan or something?”
“That’s right. I thought maybe you’d be happy to spend some time with him over the summer.”
I clear my throat. “Oh, sure, that will be great.”
“So, I don’t mean to pry, but does this mean things are finally going well between the two of you?”
I don’t know if she’s hoping for an answer in the positive or in the negative, but she’s definitely hoping for something, otherwise she would have never asked. I can omit, but I can’t lie. “It’s actually over with Adam, mum. Like, over over. But I’m okay with it. It was my decision.” In a way, I guess.
As we chat I make a coffee, grab a cushion from the sofa and plonk myself down on the grass, which is starting to look more and more like hay. The heatwave is not waning. Although I don’t give her any more details, mum and I talk about Adam, and she tells me she thinks that he never made me happy, and that over the course of the past few months I’d gotten more and more miserable. If I think about it, she’s not wrong.
“If it hasn’t worked itself out yet, it was probably a good time to let it go, Mimi. So, whatever happened with him, leave it behind you. One day you might have to spend your summer looking after me, changing my diapers. Enjoy yourself, do something crazy, or do nothing at all and just relax. Just make sure you’re with people who make you happy, okay? Life is too short to be with an Adam.”
Life is too short to be with an Adam, I reflect, as I lay in the backyard catching the last rays of sunshine. I’ve been outside all day chilling with Jessica, resting, telling herabout my conversation with mum, talking about the past and the future.
Despite the initial disappointment, I think it will be okay to spend the summer here. We’re keeping the house through third year, so I’d be paying rent anyway. I might as well make the most of it. Maybe I can even find a part-time job or something. And I could learn how to do some gardening, and fix up the house before the girls get back in September! There’s so much I could spend my time on.
Jessica is lying down on a cyclamen-pink sarong, a straw hat beside her and sun-bleached hair like a golden halo around her head. Tonight, we’ve decided to treat ourselves again and ordered garlic bread with cheese, two pizzas, cokes and melt-in-the-middle chocolate puddings. After our sunset picnic out in the backyard, we’re going to spend the rest of the night watching something really trashy on tv.
I hear Jessica snoring softly and decide to let her sleep. I go back into the house, which feels cool and dark compared with the outside world, and take a quick shower just to rinse off the day in the sun. My freckles are coming out, and I definitely don’t look as pale as I did yesterday. I can feel myself going back to normal.
When I go back downstairs, I grab our picnic blanket, coloured plastic glasses, cutlery and a jug of water, and set up the makeshift table for dinner. The food should be here any minute.
Earlier, when I was telling Jessica about the conversation with my mother, she immediately offered to delay her own departure and stay here with me for a few more days. I insisted she didn’t, but she wouldn’t budge. “Why would I be in a hurry to go back to my mum and her stupid new boyfriend? Or my dad and his stupid new wife? I’d much rather stay here. They’re definitely not going to miss me, anyway.”
The doorbell rings. I go and get the pizzas, tip the delivery guy and take the steaming hot boxes out to the backyard, where Jessica is just beginning to wake up.
“Jess, your face is literally the colour of the sarong,” I laugh.
Jessica smiles happily. If there is one thing that girl hates it’s being pale. “Thank you for setting everything up. I’m famished. Okay, so this must be the garlic bread…” She looks up at me. “Wait a minute. Don’t think you’re getting away with this. Have you called Liang? What did he say?”
“You should go and put some aloe gel on that forehead,” I say, trying to divert her attention to the fact that no, I haven’t called Liang because I’m too shy and I don’t know what to say. I’d just end up messing it up somehow, as I always do.
“Don’t change the subject, Mila. You still haven’t called him, have you?”
“Wait a minute… This isn’t…”
“I said, stop changing the subject. It doesn’t work on me.”
“But really, look!” I say, pointing at two of the boxes I’ve just opened up. “These aren’t our pizzas.”
Jessica’s face is horrified as she peeps into the third box. “And the garlic bread doesn’t even have cheese! They must have messed up our order.”
“Maybe the delivery guy got our it mixed up with somebody else’s.”
“Ugh, and the cokes are not sugar-free.”
Just then, the doorbell goes again. “That must be him coming back to give us the right food. Let’s pack everything up, I’ll go to the door.”
“I’m coming with you. You’re way too nice. I’m at least getting a free garlic bread coupon out of him or something.”
We march through the sitting room, takeaway boxes piled high in our arms, hungry and impatient. I open the door. “Yes, hi there, there must have been a problem with our…”
But the words get stuck in my throat and I can’t speak anymore. Suddenly I’m noteven hungry. As I look up, the tall man standing in front of me, wearing an elegant light linen jacket and tailored khaki pants, is definitely not the pizza delivery guy.