Peter’s thoughts were interrupted by the children’s arrival home from school. Putting the kettle on, he settled himself to half an hour of catching up on their day and a chance to sit down and glance at the newspaper.
“He tripped me up deliberately, Dad, it’s not fair! I’ve got a huge hole in my school trousers, look!” Andrew shrieked at his most piercing. He aimed a blow at his brother, David, two years his senior, who seemed to believe that he had been put on this earth to torment people. Or so it seemed, for much of the time.
“It’s only a wee hole, Andrew. I’ll mend it later.” Peter said, moving his chair away from the kitchen table and pulling the squirming boy onto his knee. He smelt of soil and chocolate and there was a smear of something yellow and sticky down the front of his navy blue sweatshirt. “Did you have custard at lunchtime?”
“Yes, how did you know? With syrup sponge, it was yummy, even better than Mummy’s.” There was a long pause. Andrew bit his bottom lip and buried his fair head into Peter’s ancient brown pullover.
“You don’t know how to sew Dad!” Laura said, eyebrows raised, her hand on the fridge door.
“Well, actually, I do, you know. Granny taught me so if I never got married I wouldn’t look like a tramp.” Peter held Andrew tightly in his lap and felt his chest grow damply warm with tears and snot.
“He’s such a cry-baby, isn’t he dad?” David said, drying his hands on a grubby blue towel on the rail in front of the range.
“No, David, he’s not. No matter what anyone says, it’s OK to cry. It’s better for us to cry than to bottle everything up.”
“So why do you never cry, Dad?” Laura was so sharp she’d cut herself one day, as his mother was wont to say. She pulled a large container of milk from the fridge and poured three mugs.
“How? How is it different? “ Laura pushed a blue striped mug towards David and gently laid the Mrs Tiggywinkle one on the wooden table beside her father. She took a sip from one with “Laura” painted in rainbow colours on the side.
“Well, I suppose I loved Mummy in a different way to the way you three loved her,” Peter signalled to Laura to pass the box of tissues from beside the big tin bread bin.
“Different? You mean, like, more?” David took a gulp of milk, both elbows leaning on the table. Edward was curled on his lap.
“No, not more, just differently,” Peter said, holding several tissues over Andrew’s nose while he blew noisily and messily.
“I loved Mummy the most,” said Andrew in a shaky voice.
“How could you, that’s just stupid!” David slammed his mug down on the table, spilling milk onto the newspaper. “Stupid baby, Mummy’s baby! Well, you’re Daddy’s baby now, look at you!” he shoved back the wooden chair, tipping Edward roughly onto the floor, and stumbled out of the kitchen. His feet thudded on each tread of the stairs. His bedroom door slammed. It was not the first time something like this had happened and Peter was quite sure it would not be the last.