Love You, Mummy

‘Love you, mummy,’ he said, and threw his chocolate-covered arms around that most favoured parent. It was snuggle-time – a time they both loved, chocolate arms or not.

Trudie tickled Alex’s feet, sang ‘The Wheels on the Bus’ a couple of times, and gave her son exactly what he needed and what her loving heart happily granted: time, attention, love and cuddles. And Alex spoke back to her as if she were the silliest but most adorable pet – a naughty puppy, perhaps, or a cat that had insisted on scratching the leather sofa. ‘Mummy, silly sausage,’ he gurgled. ‘Lalalala, mummy moo, mummy moo, mummy mummy mummy poo!’

It was mother/child bonding at its best. Trudie knew it. Alex knew it. But somebody else was not so sure. Trudie knew that because of the smashing sound that shocked mother and child out of their reverie. Shocked but not entirely surprised by the noise, Trudie turned and followed the eyes of her son to look towards the source of source of the smash – her husband, and Alex’s dad, Mark.

‘What’s going on?’ Trudie shouted. The vase he’d smashed against the sideboard was scattered in sharp and dangerous pieces all over the floor, and Alex had already jumped off his mum’s lap and was making his way curiously towards the mess. Trudie began to rise to retrieve the brush and dustpan, but Mark pushed her back down.

‘I’m sorry,’ he said, ‘I’ll do it. I’ll do it. I was just… shocked.’ Mark scratched his beard and looked down at the mess, shaking his head.

‘Shocked? Why? Nobody was doing anything wrong.’

Why could this man never talk to her about anything?

Mark said nothing, just pointed to little Alex who toddled over to his daddy with arms outstretched.

‘What’s Alex done that’s so bad? What on earth could a little boy of two years old do that was so bad? I know I’ve not done anything wrong… so it’s obvious,’ said Trudie. ‘You just can’t bear to see us happy.’

He shook his head. ‘No. No, it’s not that. It’s just… inappropriate.’

You snowflake, Trudie thought. In what way was it EVER inappropriate to hug your baby, specially if he was gurgling happily in his loving mum’s arms, as Alex had been?

Mark was just so different. So irritable. So annoying and so incredibly annoyable – and a victim of his own restrictive thoughts. Nobody could get anything right. Not ever.

He didn’t like Alex’s bedtime routine. Apparently, it was wrong to give and receive kisses and hugs between parent and child. It was also not right to hold that child’s hand in public, or to affectionately ruffle his light brown curls.  

‘Why are you like this, Mark? It’s got worse every month since we got together. Is there something I should know?’

‘What do you mean?’ Mark turned his back to her.

‘Well, you know, some reason why everything about me and Alex irritates you?’ It was a question often asked and never answered, not even in part.

‘It isn’t you. It isn’t him. It’s just…’

‘Just? Just..? Come on man, look at him. He’s just a little boy. He needs his daddy to hug him sometimes. To play games. To laugh a bit. To tickle him. Why don’t you? Why can’t you?’

Mark walked back into the kitchen. Trudie glanced at their son who was transfixed by Cbeebies on the television, and made the decision that he would be safe from the broken vase for a moment.

She followed Mark and stood in the doorway, leaning against the raw, unpolished wood marked with the growth record of their home’s previous residents.

Her hand automatically went to her hip in a ridiculous representation of her own mother. ‘Well. Why can’t you? Why won’t you?’

Her husband stood, clearly shielding himself from her inquisitions with the fridge door. Nothing. Just a deep, agonised sigh.

‘Come on, Mark. Why? Please…’

The door was slammed, and for the second time that evening, Trudie jumped.  ‘Mark, stop slamming, and just talk to me. Talk to me. Tell me.’

And that’s when it all came out. After all their years together. Her big, tough man. Her sheltered, physically hung-up man. Her man without positive loving feelings towards either her or their child.

Mark cried. Trudy cried. Alex rushed to comfort them, and fell, cutting his knee, just a little on the shattered vase.

‘Mummy moo,’ he cried, and his mum scooped him from the floor, placing him straight into the arms of his daddy.

‘Do it,’ she said. ‘Feel it… Be the dad you know you should be.’

Mark’s body, overtaken by tremors caused by thirty years of backed-up tears, shook and near-collapsed, but Trudy gently guided him up to the wall, supporting the weight of her two loved ones.

‘Go on,’ she said. ‘Comfort him… your past isn’t your future.’

Mark looked at his ever-patient wife and then to his beautiful son. The pair of them slid to sitting position on the floor of the kitchen, and Mark’s arms wrapped round his little boy for the first time ever. Both sobbed quietly till the sobs transformed to giggles and tickles.

‘Love you, daddy,’ said Alex. Another first.

And somehow, something was healed.

‘Love you, mummy,’ he said, and threw his chocolate-covered arms around that most favoured parent. It was snuggle-time – a time they both loved, chocolate arms or not.

Trudie tickled Alex’s feet, sang ‘The Wheels on the Bus’ a couple of times, and gave her son exactly what he needed and what her loving heart happily granted: time, attention, love and cuddles. And Alex spoke back to her as if she were the silliest but most adorable pet – a naughty puppy, perhaps, or a cat that had insisted on scratching the leather sofa. ‘Mummy, silly sausage,’ he gurgled. ‘Lalalala, mummy moo, mummy moo, mummy mummy mummy poo!’

It was mother/child bonding at its best. Trudie knew it. Alex knew it. But somebody else was not so sure. Trudie knew that because of the smashing sound that shocked mother and child out of their reverie. Shocked but not entirely surprised by the noise, Trudie turned and followed the eyes of her son to look towards the source of source of the smash – her husband, and Alex’s dad, Mark.

‘What’s going on?’ Trudie shouted. The vase he’d smashed against the sideboard was scattered in sharp and dangerous pieces all over the floor, and Alex had already jumped off his mum’s lap and was making his way curiously towards the mess. Trudie began to rise to retrieve the brush and dustpan, but Mark pushed her back down.

‘I’m sorry,’ he said, ‘I’ll do it. I’ll do it. I was just… shocked.’ Mark scratched his beard and looked down at the mess, shaking his head.

‘Shocked? Why? Nobody was doing anything wrong.’

Why could this man never talk to her about anything?

Mark said nothing, just pointed to little Alex who toddled over to his daddy with arms outstretched.

‘What’s Alex done that’s so bad? What on earth could a little boy of two years old do that was so bad? I know I’ve not done anything wrong… so it’s obvious,’ said Trudie. ‘You just can’t bear to see us happy.’

He shook his head. ‘No. No, it’s not that. It’s just… inappropriate.’

You snowflake, Trudie thought. In what way was it EVER inappropriate to hug your baby, specially if he was gurgling happily in his loving mum’s arms, as Alex had been?

Mark was just so different. So irritable. So annoying and so incredibly annoyable – and a victim of his own restrictive thoughts. Nobody could get anything right. Not ever.

He didn’t like Alex’s bedtime routine. Apparently, it was wrong to give and receive kisses and hugs between parent and child. It was also not right to hold that child’s hand in public, or to affectionately ruffle his light brown curls.  

‘Why are you like this, Mark? It’s got worse every month since we got together. Is there something I should know?’

‘What do you mean?’ Mark turned his back to her.

‘Well, you know, some reason why everything about me and Alex irritates you?’ It was a question often asked and never answered, not even in part.

‘It isn’t you. It isn’t him. It’s just…’

‘Just? Just..? Come on man, look at him. He’s just a little boy. He needs his daddy to hug him sometimes. To play games. To laugh a bit. To tickle him. Why don’t you? Why can’t you?’

Mark walked back into the kitchen. Trudie glanced at their son who was transfixed by Cbeebies on the television, and made the decision that he would be safe from the broken vase for a moment.

She followed Mark and stood in the doorway, leaning against the raw, unpolished wood marked with the growth record of their home’s previous residents.

Her hand automatically went to her hip in a ridiculous representation of her own mother. ‘Well. Why can’t you? Why won’t you?’

Her husband stood, clearly shielding himself from her inquisitions with the fridge door. Nothing. Just a deep, agonised sigh.

‘Come on, Mark. Why? Please…’

The door was slammed, and for the second time that evening, Trudie jumped.  ‘Mark, stop slamming, and just talk to me. Talk to me. Tell me.’

And that’s when it all came out. After all their years together. Her big, tough man. Her sheltered, physically hung-up man. Her man without positive loving feelings towards either her or their child.

Mark cried. Trudy cried. Alex rushed to comfort them, and fell, cutting his knee, just a little on the shattered vase.

‘Mummy moo,’ he cried, and his mum scooped him from the floor, placing him straight into the arms of his daddy.

‘Do it,’ she said. ‘Feel it… Be the dad you know you should be.’

Mark’s body, overtaken by tremors caused by thirty years of backed-up tears, shook and near-collapsed, but Trudy gently guided him up to the wall, supporting the weight of her two loved ones.

‘Go on,’ she said. ‘Comfort him… your past isn’t your future.’

Mark looked at his ever-patient wife and then to his beautiful son. The pair of them slid to sitting position on the floor of the kitchen, and Mark’s arms wrapped round his little boy for the first time ever. Both sobbed quietly till the sobs transformed to giggles and tickles.

‘Love you, daddy,’ said Alex. Another first.

And somehow, something was healed.

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‘Hot and Cold’ – short story by Lesley Atherton

Perfection. That’s what she was, and I was sure that today would work out just the way I’d planned.

I first saw her on the castle walls and our eyes met, just for a second.  I yearned to catch up and not to lose sight, but her tour party was turning the corner, and mine was five minutes behind and still being forced to listen to the John Major impersonator who masqueraded as a tour guide.  I knew the history of the King’s Tower as well as he did.  When you live in a tourist location and have a season pass, you tend to come every day, just for somewhere funky to eat your lunch. This is my place, and I knew she’d come today.

But I stayed with my group of misfits for a little longer: the elderly and the bored, the kids who wanted to be on the beach, and the mums who wondered if incorporating education into their annual vacation was necessarily a good idea.  As if to answer, a boy of about six elbowed his mother in the thigh. She turned to glare as he moaned ‘This is boring’ at the top of his little voice. Donald, the tour guide pretended not to hear, but I knew how often such things happened, especially to Donald.

It didn’t matter. She was the one, and today was the day. My shoulders hunched as the tour guide droned on about the monks who had built the castle’s brewery and had supported their order with the proceeds. I followed each word, and mouthed them along with him.

I adjusted the hoody around my face, then smoothed it down around my waist. It was of a snorkel style that wasn’t at all appropriate for a summertime holiday destination, but it suited my needs.

Pushing a black curl behind my ear I tried to disregard the heat emanating from beneath the matching fleecy black fabric of my hoodie. It was too bad that the day of her visit was also the warmest day of this Welsh summer, but I had coped with worse in my life, and for worse reason. 

Walking like a drunken crab, I followed the tour party, while poking my head round each gate and turret and wall to catch a glimpse of the girl and ensure I didn’t lose her.  I thought I’d been mistaken and she’d gone already, but no. We arrived at the second west-facing tower as the girl’s tour party was just leaving. She lingered, just a little, at the rear, and I took advantage of the crowds to change my tour group allegiance. It went without a hitch.

There were only two more stops to go on the tour. We’d just been to the north tower with views over the kelp-covered rocks of the defended coastline, and our group were passing in and out of the gatehouse dungeon, before being directed to the inevitable gift shop and tea shop. Never a café.  Always a tea shop.  I moved closer to the young lady, and we stood alongside each other at the entrance to the dungeon. I nudged her Indian-cotton-clad arm with intention.

She turned, expectant, and smiled at the face inside my hood.

‘You’re Tarim.’ More a statement than a question.

‘Marta,’ I said. ‘Shall we do it?’

She nodded with vigour. ‘I’ve built myself up to this for weeks and can’t change my mind now. It’s the right time.’

The tour party had already begun to move off, and I could see my original party leaving the north tower to walk over to join us at the dungeon. We didn’t have long but I was ready. My camera was ready. Marta was also ready.  Allowing the remainder of the earlier party to leave ahead of us, I stood with my back against the now-closed heavy wood door and sighed deeply. We’d be lucky if we got a couple of minutes. As agreed, Marta moved to the far end of the underground room – the end with the wonderful sunlit rays emerging through the skylights – and speedily arranged herself on the straw-covered stone slabs. She placed the chains next to her arms and legs.  With just a little Photoshopping, I could make it look just as it should.  I took photograph after photograph, as I walked over to Marta and gently pushed up her skirt.

‘Tasteful, Tarim,’ she said, posing as I clicked.

Suddenly, the dungeon’s door creaked open and a Scottish couple giggled about finding us alone in there.

Marta raised herself from the straw bed, brushed down her skirt, and in a calm, unflustered voice announced to the couple ‘Sex pics. For an art magazine. We pose somewhere different every day. You should try it’. She winked, and the bearded, anoraked man watched with clear admiration as she left the dungeon. ‘Lucky sod’ he said to me as I followed Marta out. For that he earned a slap on the head from his lady.

But I was not lucky. Things weren’t as Marta had said.

In 1998, precisely twenty years earlier, the body of Marta’s mother had been discovered in the dungeon, bloodied and beaten. Marta had been five then, and a little girl, but now, as a young woman, she was the spitting image of her lost parent. We’d met on a cold crime web forum and it didn’t take long before we got talking properly. Eventually I persuaded her to meet me, and she agreed to come to the castle on this special day. She’d wear her mother’s clothes, and style her hair just as her mother had. I’d dress myself in a black hoody because, on the murder day, there had been a man creeping about in one just the same.

The murder had quickly sunk to the realms of forgotten and unsolved, and not even into infamy – as not once had any of the tour guides mentioned the fate of Marta’s mother or responded to questions asked by the tour parties. A woman’s death had been forgotten and a little girl was forced to live her life without her mother. No cold case team had ever been assigned to discovering more. So it was down to us. The pair of us would make things right.

For the first time in years, I was putting my journalistic skills to good use. My article was written and scheduled for publishing the following day, and the reconstruction photos would be a perfect accompaniment to the headline: ‘Who Can Solve This Twenty Year Old Mystery?’

Marta and I walked together towards the exit, flushed with excitement at our recent activity and with anticipation of tomorrow’s headline . ‘Fancy joining me for tea and a scone?’ I asked. ‘A tribute to your mum?’ She nodded with enthusiasm. ‘I’ll pay,’ she said.

‘Make Something’ – a story for children

‘Do you want to make something?’ Mum asked.


‘We could make a cake. Or some cupcakes?’ Shelby looked hopeful… ‘We could ice them with that bright blue frosting and white chocolate chips…’

Mum interrupted.  ‘Dinner is cooking in the oven, Shel. I don’t think we’ll be able to fit anything else in there for quite a while.’

‘We could make a fruit salad,’ suggested Shelby, who was almost always hungry.

Mum looked away and Shelby suspected that she was trying not to laugh – she suspected this because Mum’s shoulders kept jiggling up and down. When she turned back to look at her daughter, Mum’s eyes were watering and a little bit pink round the edges.

‘What about making something that isn’t food, Shel?’

‘Pompoms?’ suggested Shelby.

‘No wool.’

‘Birthday card for Auntie Jackie?’

‘We used the last of the card sheets for Uncle Daniel’s birthday.’

Shelby was silent for a moment.

‘Mum… do we have to make things all the time? We could just take the dog for a walk, or I could go to my bedroom and practice my dancing?’

Mum scratched her chin.

‘Well we could, but…’

And then Mum’s face lit up so bright and shiny that it reminded Shelby of the biggest and brightest glittering bauble on the Christmas tree.

‘I’ve had a brilliant idea,’ Mum said as she rushed from the room.

Shelby stayed where she was. Her mum was always doing this kind of thing. She’d get excited about a most ‘brilliant idea’ then would tell Shelby about it. But then Shelby would always think it was boring – or disappointing. Might it be tissue paper, dried flowers, ripped up newspaper, or air drying clay and wallpaper paste? Shelby was prepared for all those things – and more – but she wasn’t prepared for what her mum brought into the room a few minutes later.

Mum returned holding what looked like very old clothes. She held up one of three dresses in front of her daughter.

‘This dress was Grandma’s favourite,’ she said, stroking the stiff curly collar.

‘What’s so special about it?’ Shelby asked, in genuine wonderment. How could something so stiff and weirdly coloured that stuck out in such odd places, ever have been grandma’s favourite dress?

The Grandma that Shelby knew had worn long stretchy trousers in very dark colours, and simple t-shirts in colours she called ‘lemon’ and ‘mint’ and ‘rose pink’. She wore bright coloured soft cotton socks on her feet in winter, and added extra-thick handmade ribbed socks when the weather was really cold. She wore gloves without fingers even when it wasn’t cold outside, but when it was frosty she wore them under her mittens too. She wore furry scarves and bobble hats, and even her hair was fluffy and bouncy – just like a cotton wool puff.

All of that was Grandma. This dress definitely was NOT Grandma.

Mum put the small pile of clothes onto the sofa and took a large padded book from the bottom shelf of the bookcase. It looked to Shelby as if the book was made of the same thing as the huge Valentines cards that Dad bought Mum every year – only this one was dark green with words and pictures on the front in gold.

‘Made of leather,’ said Mum. ‘And very old. Over 100 years old. It belonged to Great Granddad and then Grandma. Only the best and most important photos are allowed in it. There’s one of the dress in here somewhere.’

Shelby took the photo album from her mum and ran her finger round the edge. Leather crumbs were falling off from round the edges and it smelled like the mothballs she remembered from Grandma’s wardrobe. The writing was fancy and surrounded with spirals and flowers. It simply read ‘Our Family Album’.

‘The photo is about halfway through the album,’ said Mum. ‘It’s one of the first colour ones.’

But Shelby opened the album at the beginning. After all, it was a rainy day and she had nothing else to do.

At the beginning of the album, the photographs were small, square and brown, then later most of the pictures were rectangular in shades of grey, black and white.

It was half way through the album when that changed. Suddenly the dark greys were replaced by faded yellow and pinky-red colours.
And there it was. The dress.

And there she was. Grandma.

Holding the hand of a very young looking Granddad.

Shelby pointed at the photo.

‘Mum, look, the horrible dress. All the girls in the picture are wearing it. Was it school uniform?’

‘No, love, it was a wedding. Grandma was a bridesmaid. But it wasn’t like now when everything is fancy and is only worn once. Back then, Grandma and her friends were poor, so they all saved up to buy matching dresses that they could wear afterwards.’

Shelby stroked the dress. It was as stiff and scratchy as it looked. She held it up in front of herself and examined the design closely.

The colours were brown, mushy yellow and orange, and the pattern was made out of hundreds of nasty circles all bumping into each other. The buttons were enormous and the dress’s whole shape reminded Shelby of a clown wearing a very tight nightie.

‘What do you think?’ asked Mum.

‘What about?’

‘About the dress. What do you think?’

‘It is kind of horrible. But…’

Mum nodded.

‘Yes. I know what you mean. But Grandma said it was “all the rage” when she bought it.’

‘What?’

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‘All the rage. Like the glittery tops that are in all the shops at the moment. Fashionable. Everyone wearing them.’

‘Everyone wore that?’

Not just those five ladies in the photograph? Shelby found it hard to believe.

‘Yes. Well, that kind of thing.’

Shelby let go of the dress, dropping it to the floor at her feet, and lay down on the sofa. She thought about her own clothes. They were comfy and soft. Her t-shirt was stretchy and her leggings were warm, fluffy and so comfortable. She could kick her legs up like this and roll around on the floor like this.

‘I bet Grandma was always cross when she wore that dress. I bet she couldn’t even move!’

Mum agreed.

‘I thought it might help you understand what life used to be like. I thought that instead of making something, you could maybe play dressing up. I could take some photos and we could make a scrap book.  I’ve got a spare one here. What do you think?’

‘You always have to make something,’ protested Shelby, but she had to admit that the idea did sound as if it might be fun.

Like most nine year olds, she wasn’t so grown up that she couldn’t enjoy dressing up.  She ran up to her room, clutching the three dresses, and in just a few moments she was downstairs parading in the first one – a dress in the brightest pink you could imagine. It was the kind of pink that even Barbie would think was a bit too bright. Round the waist was a thick white pretend belt, and an enormous pretend bow. The collar was long and pointed and white. 

Shelby was big and tall for her age, but the dress fitted her. 

‘Grandma must have been tiny,’ she said.

‘Well, yes, but they were very short dresses, and very tight. Not loose like the clothes we all prefer now.’

Shelby paraded up and down the living room, posing in front of the fireplace, stroking the dog and scratching where the label was sewn into the collar.

‘Scratchy,’ she said, as Mum finished taking photos. 

‘Try the other ones,’ suggested Mum.

Shelby ran upstairs and had removed the pink dress even before she got into her room.  It wasn’t long before she was downstairs again. This time the dress she wore was black and stretchy with a very high neck and a triangle-shaped, far too short skirt. The material glittered in the dull light of the living room.

‘Like it’s made of tinsel,’ said Shelby as she posed for a photograph pretending to eat an apple, and another few sitting on the sofa and standing by the window.

‘I think it’s called Lurex. That’s itchy too.’

‘Yes,’ agreed Shelby.  ‘I can’t wait to take it off.’

It wasn’t long before Shelby was downstairs again. This time she’d come down the stairs quietly.

‘Look, Mum,’ she said, in a quiet whisper of a voice.

Mum got up from her position in the armchair, saw Shelby in the doorway and gasped. Shelby had combed her hair and styled it in the same manner as Grandma’s had been styled in the photograph. It was parted in the middle, with two long plaits.

‘Wow,’ exclaimed Mum. ‘You look just like her. My Mum. Your Grandma.’

And Mum began to take photographs. She even took a few selfies of herself and Shelby.

‘Peas in a pod,’ Mum said. ‘You and Grandma. Peas in a pod.’

Shelby went upstairs after a little while to get changed into her own fluffy, comfortable clothes. When she came down, Mum was at the computer with slightly pink eyes.

‘Are you alright, Mum?’

‘Just a bit overwhelmed. I hadn’t realised how much you do look like her.’

‘Yes. What are you doing?’

‘Printing.’

And out of the colour printer came a large sheet of paper. In the centre was one colourful photograph. It was one of the pictures of Mum and Shelby snuggling on the sofa together.  Shelby was wearing the horrible dress and Mum was kissing her cheek.

‘We can still do the scrap book, but this is definitely one for the family album,’ said Mum as she began cutting around the photograph.

‘Definitely one for the family album.’   

Eric, the X-ray Fish

Eric is a x-ray fish.  Just in case you were wondering, yes, he is transparent and looks like an x-ray of a fish, where you can see his bones and little else.  So unusual.  He couldn’t pretend he hadn’t just eaten a sweetie – it would be visible right there in his tummy.   


Eric is one of those fishes you only hear about in children’s stories.  He is more like a person than a fish, which is odd, because I’ve never met a fish who is like a person (though I have met people who were like fish – but that’s a different story).  Eric even wears clothes.  He wears a beanie hat with holes for his gills (without those holes, things wouldn’t work properly. He’d probably drown).  He wears a red belt and blue braces but no pants or shirt.  I find myself asking why would an x-ray fish need pants or shirt.  Yet I don’t question his need for the red belt and blue braces. I guess it is all a matter of style. 

Like human beings, Eric has many personality traits: things he is and things he isn’t.  Unfortunately for Eric, he’s unpopular, scared of strangers, invisible, small, sneaky, bossy, and he always feels cold.  I suspect the cold thing is because you can see right through him.  Can you think of anything transparent that’s warm?  I can’t, apart from bath water. 

And Eric never settles or fits in because everyone sees the belt and braces and beanie hat, but otherwise just sees right through him.  All apart from Connie, his best friend.  She’s a sea urchin, of course, with her punk rocker tentacles.  But Connie and Eric aren’t the easiest of company, even for each other.  Let’s just say that positivity doesn’t exactly abound when those two are around. Most of the time they’re bored and grumpy. Together.

Stella, a fairly wise mermaid, tells them both that they will find unheard-of treasures if they go and swim round a haunted shipwreck to look for treasure chest.  They do this, under some pressure from Stella who refuses to have them around anymore if they don’t buck up and cheer up.  Eric does, in fact, manage to swim into the treasure chest through its damaged lock.  Inside is a mass of plankton who can change its form into anything at all…

Eric, of course, is unsure.  Suspicious.  Hateful.  The Mass is weird and odd.  He’s not sure.  So he shuts the plankton back into the treasure chest and swims away. He got in trouble later.

When he’s asked what went on in the shipwreck, he cannot lie. That’s the problem when you’re totally transparent.