The house burbles around us. The water chokes out of the tap. She doesn’t catch our eyes. She washes and then passes things to me and I dry them and then give them to September to put in the cupboard. I want to tell Mum how we’re sorry, really sorry, about what happened at the school and that maybe we could go to the beach together or have dinner. I want September to say it too and when I look at her she shrugs and says, Mum – I just need some time, Mum says. I feel the words breaking through the quiet. I feel them against my arms and face. She puts the dishcloth down and turns toward us. I will always love you, she says. And if you need me you come get me. But I need some time. OK?
We nod and then she is gone.
* * *
I drink the juice out of another peach tin and September makes me pasta and butter, which I eat sitting on the counter. September says she doesn’t want any, but I am still so hungry.
Is there anything else?
She tuts but hacks open another tin, of pears this time, which I eat all of. My skeleton feels close to the skin, rubbing painfully at the joints, my cheekbones grating.
We watch an episode of 33 we must have seen twenty times with the sound on mute so that the characters’ mouths open and close but their voices are stolen away. It is our favorite series. An early January Hargrave – our favorite director – creation in which two women, one a pathologist and one a librarian, known only by their surnames, Hadley and Bell, track strange goings-on in remote locations, date unsuitable people, and, a few times a season, die and then come back again. When we are bored we watch nature programs. We like the lizards, the reptiles, the snakes that move across the sand with their heads and stomachs raised up. We like the fleshy massacre scenes, herds of lions taking down gazelles or leopards in trees with their prey slung over the branches. We like Attenborough’s calm voice, as if he controls everything that happens, no animal moving without his say-so. The animals run and stop and swim and burrow and feast and die. We stay still on the sofa, breathe and digest and tingle and grow warm and then cold.
I’m bored, September says, pinching my arm, the skin turning momentarily white. Only boring people are bored, I say, parroting Mum, and September pinches harder and then points over my shoulder.
Let’s fill that.
I look where she is pointing. The ant farm is on the table where we left it.
It’s got holes in it.
So? We’ll find some tape. Come on.