Long ago, back where January meant sunshine, the Mothership was slumped in her armchair. At her feet was her school basket, stuffed with Christmas gifts from adoring students – padded coathangers, Cadbury Roses, pot-pourri. Beside her was a pile of romance novels with heroes named Thorne or Lord Swarthy. A great deal of her summer holidays were spent in that chair, drinking tea and consuming all the trashy books she didn’t get time for during the year.
It was an exhausting business. Before long she’d nod off, book splayed out the armrest, fingers still curled around the mug. Soft snoring was our cue to run amok. But her Scary Teacher Radar was always at work. Just as we’d tiptoe past on our way to the fridge, she’d give a mumbled order without even opening her eyes: “Put the kettle on,” or “What about those dishes” or “Water the dogs”.
I hated Water The Dogs. We had six of them on our farm, all stationed at different points around the base of a hill. Lugging buckets of water through waist-high dry grass filled me with both fear and apathy. I’d ponder the probability of the dogs’ water bowls being empty on a 40’C day, versus my untimely death by sunstroke or snakebite. I had imagined conversations with the dogs to ease my conscience, “Hey boys, do you need more water?”, “Oh no, we’re fine! We’re just snoozing here and enjoying this sultry day. You stay inside!”
Just when it seemed my laziness would prevail, The Mothership would stir and give a one-eyed glare, “I thought I told you to water those dogs.”
January afternoons were long and dull. Once we had built a Lego city in my room, a Lego city in Rhiannon’s room, and a connecting freeway down the hall complete with truck stops, what else was there to do? We sprawled out on the carpet and bitched about Town Kids and how they could go to the pool. They had bikes that they rode to corner shops to buy ice creams.
We had no pool. Just a dry creekbed choked with mosquitoes. We had ice creams, but they were Home Brand Choc-Coated Ice Creams and only distributed for good behaviour.
“Our life sucks.”
“Do you want to nick a Choc-Coated Ice Cream?”
We sneaked down the hall. The Mothership was most definitely asleep. Her head rested on her shoulder, mouth open. We noted the rise and fall of her stomach, the china rattling softly in the cabinet as she snored. The coast was clear.
We made it into into the kitchen. The lid of the freezer gave a tiny groan as we prised it open. We carefully rummaged through the great chunks of ice and onions and lamb chops until we found the booty. We cackled quietly at our genius.
But just as we were making our escape, delicately tearing the generic wrapping from our frozen treats, The Mothership gave a sudden twitch and opened one eye.
“Get me one.”