It was early evening and there was an element of clutter and disorder about the house. The dirty dinner plates and serving dishes still lay on the table, coats, bags and shoes lay scattered over the furniture and floor and the twins were squabbling over something trivial and mindless. The TV evening news played to itself and Susie was starting to iron the pile of laundry.
The sitting room door opened, Johnny stepped in, red faced and flustered. “Mom.” he began.
“Mom, eh? Long time since I heard that word. This is going to cost me something!” she quipped, with an edge of sarcasm.
He stepped closer. “It’s Frankie,” he mumbled, with a rare hint of seriousness.
Sue stared at him with a look of indifference.
“I think, erm, she thinks she’s erm pregnant, Mum. You know, having’ a baby, like.”
“Oh, I see. I wonder how that happened,” she replied, with a mockery that was totally lost on the feckless youth.
He paused, then he said, “I was, erm, wondering if she could move into here, with me.”
“No she can’t,” came the terse reply.
“Just ‘til we get things sorted out. A couple of weeks maybe. We, I mean, I wondered if we could have your room and you have mine.”
“No you can’t.” she said, simply.
“It’s just that her Dad will go bananas when she tells him about the baby and he’ll probably chuck her out.”
“It won’t work Johnny. Your blackmail and little boy lost won’t work on me. You and she got yourselves into this; don’t expect me to get you out of it.”
He threw up his arms in frustration. “What are we gonna do, live in a shed or sumpthin’?”
“I give in. I don’t know. Not my problem.” She shrugged, neatly folding another school shirt.
“You gotta to help me,” he raged, “You’re my Mum, you’re supposed to help sort things out!”
“You haven’t spoken a civil word to me since your Dad left, Jonathon,” she said in an even voice. “You’ve done just what you wanted to do, when you wanted and how you wanted. Whilst I’ve been at work, you’ve laid in bed all day, emptied the fridge, smoked pot, played loud music and contributed nothing towards the household budget and done precious little housework. You have failed to find work or even tried to find work. You’ve ignored everything I’ve ever said to you. Don’t you dare tell me what my parental duties are!”
He slumped into a chair then, momentarily defeated.
He jumped up and stabbing his finger at her, “You’re going to be a gran, you can’t refuse your grandchild somewhere to live.”
“Won’t wash, Jonathon, not my problem, you have created this trouble; you get yourself out of it. Get off your backside, go and find a job, then find a flat and furniture and fittings, then see if you can earn enough money to feed all three of you.”
“But mum,” he pleaded. “Where are we going to live?”
“Buckingham Palace, Taj Mahal, Never-never land, the world’s your oyster. Or you could try asking your Dad and his girlfriend if you can stay with them. You can go anywhere you like Jonathon, anywhere at all, except here.”
“I thought you would help me, stand by me and give me your advice.”
“I’ve just told you that you’ve ignored everything I’ve said to you this last year. Why should I bother trying to help you now?”
He spun around, slammed the back door shut and stormed into the garden.
“Jill, Coleen, clear the table and wash the pots please,” she asked.
“It’s Jonathon’s turn,” they echoed. “We did ‘em yesterday.”
“I did ‘em yesterday,” she replied. “Clear the table and do the pots!”
“We got homework to do,” they announced in unison. Gathered their bags and disappeared through the hall door and upstairs. One – nil, again.
Susie sighed. She’d just lost another skirmish with the junior army, yet another attempt to persuade the offspring into a chore sharing arrangement which they cleverly dashed against the rocks. Out smarted, out witted and out manoeuvred, again. She gazed resignedly through the patio doors and watched Jonathon pacing the garden, mobile phone glued to his ear and his other arm waving wildly in the air.
She switched the iron off and lowered herself into the fireside chair. She had struggled to hold the family together ever since Peter had left. Struggled to pay the bills, struggled to maintain the house and struggled to keep three surly teenagers in check. She realised that she had been unable to communicate, let alone control, Jonathon, without Pete around but she was determined that she was not getting involved with this business. Time he learned something about responsibility, time he faced up to adulthood, time to grow up. How quickly they come running to mummy when their recklessness catches up with them. How convenient to expect the ‘grown ups’ to step in with a solution to mop up their spilt milk.
For a second, she tried to imagine the scenario with another moody teenager in the house, another bone idle mouth to feed, to wash for and tidy up after. And worse a teenage pregnancy as well, jeez, the girl was only seventeen, from a dysfunctional family of hopeless, inadequate, ne’er do wells. Let her move in with Jonathon? Let them have her bedroom? Let them lounge about the house all day, eating pizza, watching TV? Not likely, no way Jose.
She felt better for her new found resolve and determination. She felt stronger, more single minded and for once, not to be put upon. She stared at him through the patio doors, pacing the lawn, his mobile phone glued to his ear as he tried to deal with his own homemade crisis. She bit her lip and for a moment she wavered, dithered and weakened. She wanted to rush into the garden and pull him towards her, tell him that she loved him, that she was proud of him and tell him they would work something out, find a solution, find a way of looking after Frankie and the baby when it arrived. Then, common sense intervened and she found a new determination and a backbone and a second wind to fend them all off.
The door opened and Jonathon walked in, his face pasty white and twitching with a look bordering on horror, as if his escalating crisis had descended into disaster. Twins, perhaps? His mouth opened and closed but nothing emerged as he stared, shell shocked at his mother. She looked at him with a patient innocence, waiting for the next instalment and bombshell.
“It’s.....it’s,” he began, struggling to find the words. “It’s....” and he held on to the back of the couch for support. “It’s not mine!” he announced, his voice full of injustice. “She says it’s not my baby. It’s Craig Simpson’s, who she was going out with before she met me. They are going to live at his Mum’s house and they can have the front bedroom and their own sitting room, a colour telly and...” He tapered off as the first tears began to roll.
“Come here,” she said, rising for the couch with open arms. “Life’s just not fair sometimes. It draws you in with empty promises, and then drops you down without a care. There, there!”
Tomorrow, she would lay down some new ground rules, read him the riot act and show him no mercy. Then she would embarrass him with a detailed and grown up lesson in maturity, responsibility and parenthood. But for now she pulled him towards her and rubbed his back. She caught a glimpse of herself in the mirror and couldn’t remember the last time she’d had something to grin about.