The end of her good fingers were numb and felt like useless stumps. In the darkness the cold lay thick over everything, on the surface of the table, on her little bed out in the back room, even the rest of the sofa. If she moved from where she was sitting the cold would bite her hard, so she had to stay where she was. She had missed Coronation Street as well. Friday’s double bill had promised to be a good one; a wedding and Janine had said something about there being a murder as well. But she had missed it. She thought herself quite stupid; crying real tears at missing a television program. The emergency credit on the electricity meter had cruelly lasted until a few minutes before it started. There had been no power in the little bungalow since then.
The front door wrattled in the hallway then unlocked and in came Janine carrying the dress, makeup and what-not from her big weekend in a large bag. Her breath smoked white and pure in the gloomy cold but she never said anything about it. ‘Hiya mam’ is all she offered.
‘It’s freezing.’ Maureen shivered through blue lips.
‘Yeah, it snowed all weekend.’ Janine replied brightly setting about unpacking her bag. She pulled out her red heels then her black dress which she folded up and took away into her bedroom.
When Janine came back to the living room she clicked the light switch but it didn’t work. ‘Oh, that’s right.’ She clicked it back off and went to her handbag. She rummaged inside and then went out to the hallway. A beeping sound could be heard and then the television and Maureen’s little lamp clicked on. ‘That’s better, isn’t it?’ Janine called pleasantly from the hallway before returning to the living room. She must have topped up and put in the gas card as well because now she was turning the knob on the gas fire to the full. There was a metallic clank before heat poured into the bitter cold room.
Janine warmed her hands on the fire. Now everything was all better again, back to normal. Now, she dared mention the temperature. ‘Nippy isn’t it?’ She offered.
Maureen looked at her daughter. ‘Did you have a good night on Friday?’ She asked.
Janine eyed her back then said, ‘not bad. Nice to get out for a bit, you know?’ She smiled.
‘You were gone all weekend.’ Maureen said.
Janine sighed heavily and pursed her lips but she said nothing, she looked up at the small clock with the spinning orbs. ‘Oh, better get sorted, Carol’ll be here in a bit.’ Janine said and swept into the kitchen. Maureen felt a warm blast from the fire and it felt like heaven. Sometimes when Janine did this and she had no heat she wondered if she would ever feel warmth again.
‘I missed Coronation Street again.’ Maureen called through, her frustration rising within her ‘It’s all I ever want to watch and I missed it again.’
Janine opened the fridge door. At last, it seemed Maureen was going to get fed as well as a little bit of warmth. Janine said nothing and started buttering bread.
'Did you even check the meters before you left?' Maureen asked.
Janine turned and glared at her through the kitchen doorway. ‘What then!?’ She yelled. ‘You expect me to wash you, feed you, take you to the bloody loo and have a crystal ball to let me know about things like the electric dropping?’ Janine’s eyes bulged in her head and her arms flailed as she spoke. ‘Why don’t you go out and do something about it then? Why don’t you go and get another carer?’ Janine asked petulantly.
‘It’s been freezing all weekend!’ Maureen shouted. ‘It’s not too much to ask to be left with some warmth and some electricity is it? Why’s it always dropping?’
‘Money doesn’t go as far these days.’ Janine answered curtly.
Maureen knew why it didn’t go so far. It powered and heated the house while Janine was here. The rest of the time it went on weekends like the one Janine had just had.
Janine brought in a ham and salad sandwich.
‘Janine, I think…’ Maureen hesitated and wiped her lips. ‘I want my bank card back.’
Janine laughed. ‘You what? Are you going to go and draw your own money out? Pay your own bills? Go down the high street and get the groceries in, all on one leg?’ She put down the sandwich on Maureen’s bad right-hand side and she watched her Mother struggled to reach it. The daughter laughed again. ‘I didn’t think so.’
‘I’m just tired of being cold.’ Maureen said and she bit into her bread with embarassing gratitude. She could feel cold tears tickling her face.
Janine saw the tears and flew into a rage. ‘You dare sit there whinging on? You know I could have been away this week? Everyone else is off to Ibiza tomorrow. I can’t go though, no, I’ve got to stay and look after you. Do you see me crying and whinging on?’
‘No, but you don’t mind spending the extra money and using my bank account, do you?’
Janine took her mother’s face between forefinger and thumb and twisted it toward her. ‘You ungrateful cow. Don’t ever imply that I’m ripping you off again, do you understand me?’ She said. ‘Do you!?’ She bellowed one final time. She let go and walked away. The hum of a car engine filled the room. ‘Now sort yourself out, Carol’s here.’ Janine said tossing a hanky to her Mother.
Maureen wiped the useless tears away with her good arm. Grim determination and an acrid frustration filled Maureen and she vowed that when Caro the care worker came in here, she would tell her everything. But seconds later, Janine’s words from so many similar arguments over the past year came flooding back to Maureen; ‘It would be really easy to OD on these drugs they’ve given you, mam.’
‘Hello?’ Carol's voice came from the front door.
‘Hiya Carol, come on in.’ the dutiful daughter smiled. She flashed a menacing look at her Mother; a warning. As the living room door creaked and the uniformed Carol came in, Janine jumped up with the innocence of a child and smiled. 'I'll stick the kettle on.'
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