Excerpt for This is Not a Fairy Tale by , available in its entirety at Smashwords






This

is

Not

a

Fairytale








Nina-Gai Till









Copyright © 2010 Nina-Gai Till

Edition 2/2017

www.ninagaitill.com


No reproduction without permission.

All rights reserved.


Cover art by BC and NGT © 2010


978-0-557-39769-3



This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are a product of the author’s imagination or used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual people either living or dead, events or locales is entirely coincidental.












Acknowledgements





To my own angels,

Jillian, Lily-Mae and Cara Grace.































1


Unlikely angels



This is not a fairy tale. It’s the truth, my truth, and you’re lucky I’m going to share it with you, because it’s not the kind of topic I would normally get into with just anyone.


In fact, if it were up to me, I’d just be kicking back poolside, reading a trashy novel and smoking illicit cigarettes while my children weren’t looking. But, to my great consternation, I have recently learned that it’s not up to me at all. Not a scenario that fills me with joy, let me tell you. I mean, would you like to be obliged to share your deepest darkest secrets with the world at large? Honestly, if I’d known that things were going to end up so, well, so public, I wouldn’t have gone to the tattoo parlor in the first place.


Of course, it’s all the fault of my ex-husband. Things are generally the fault of ex-husbands; all of my divorced friends say the same thing. The car broke down on the way to work? His fault because a) had he still been around, he would have understood when the mechanic charged for an overhaul that turned out to be replacing old spark plugs with older ones, and b) he would have been on the way to work, not you. Ditto for every other household, mechanical, garden and electronic problem. Not to mention the psychologically disturbed kids, the over-stressed dog and the under-paid electricity bill. All his fault.


And needless to say, I wouldn’t have found myself in a tattoo parlor at the age of 41, lining up to get my kids’ initials inked about four inches above my coccyx if he hadn’t run off with a teenage gym instructor, leaving behind only a pile of debts, two upset daughters and some snide comments about stretch marks.


I can hear you already, sighing and getting ready to put the book down, wishing you’d picked up yet another Grisham because even if you knew how the book was going to end, at least the storyline was going to be original. Not another whining treatise by a bitter ex-wife.


Did you know there’s a club of second wives, on the Internet, dedicated to bitching about us first wives? Seriously. I wonder if they realize that one day, they will probably be bitter ex-wives themselves. It’s not like the guys they married are paragons of loyalty, after all. If this were the case, why would my ex-husband make such a huge deal of leaving me for a “fresh, young body, unmarked by the passage of life”? His words, not mine. When he called to cancel yet another weekend with our daughters, knowing full well that it was my forty-first birthday and that I couldn’t afford both a babysitter and the luxury of going out, I was angry enough to remind him that he was an arsehole, but when he uttered that fateful phrase about my body, the body that had worked like a lunatic for him in our - now his – landscaping business for twenty years and borne his two beautiful if big-boned daughters, well, something in me just snapped.


Fast-forward to the tattoo place. I’ve walked past it every day for thirteen months now. Nestled in between a bank with a squirrel on the front and a white goods store run by a large sweating man in a beret, it’s the third shop I pass when I walk out of the front door to my apartment building.


At first I took it as a personal insult that, due to someone else’s sexual proclivities, my real estate quality of life had been downgraded from a nice house in a good suburb to a crappy apartment in an even crappier suburb. You wouldn’t have found a tattoo parlor in my old street, hell, the neighborhood watch probably didn’t even let people with tattoos onto the block. But all of that changed when the father of my children decided to get a move on with his mid-life crisis and now I live within spitting distance of a place that marks people for life. I’m sure there’s an irony in there somewhere but I’m in no mood to search for it.


And so it was that fateful night when I walked in and demanded a tattoo, right then, right now, for God’s sake, and watched a couple of hairy bikers fall off their stools in hysterics. Perhaps it was my nice Burberry raincoat – that outward symbol of prosperity worn by all school mummies with something shameful to hide. Or the fact that I had mascara streaks down my cheeks from crying like a banshee as soon as I’d bribed the grandmotherly woman next door to watch my kids for an hour while I ran an errand, which at that point was either getting drunk or committing suicide (I didn’t have time for both).


Just as the bikers were stumbling to their feet, still laughing and pointing at me as if I was some kind of freak, the big black door at the back of the shop groaned as it opened and a flash of light illuminated the shop and its customers, just like in those tacky stairway-to-heaven-on-velvet pictures they used to sell in the seventies.


I held up my hand to shade my eyes as the bikers fell silent. As my sight began to adjust to the light, I saw an elderly man standing in the doorway. He raised his arm and pointed to the door, and the bikers moved to leave as if in a trance. I desperately wanted to follow them but my feet were stuck solidly to the floor. I wasn’t afraid, although I was terrified. It wasn’t until the door had closed behind the last biker that the man spoke.


“I’ve been waiting for you.”


His voice was calm and posed, with the trace of an accent lingering behind in the air, giving a certain weight to his words.


I looked at him curiously and cleared my throat to speak.


“Why would you be waiting for me? I don’t even know you.”


I didn’t think he was a serial killer but then again, I’d once trusted a man who stood in front of two hundred people and God and promised to love and honor me, so I wasn’t going to let this stranger off so lightly.


He turned away from me and walked back through the doorway to another room. I stood for a minute, thinking I should just leave, but then I followed him into the light, feeling somehow reassured that at least he knew where we were going. And thus begins my story.


Now I’m certain that at this point, you are seriously regretting the Grisham. You don’t do mystical books or crystals or any other of that new age crap, so why the hell should you consider continuing this book? And you’re probably so annoyed with yourself for buying this book – a book whose title specifically states that it is not a fairy tale – that you won’t believe me when I tell you that there are few people in the world more pragmatic than I.


Honestly. I’ve never had my fortune read. I am proudly agnostic, totally pro-science. I don’t follow my horoscope, read the runes or believe that everything is pre-ordained. Especially that last part, because if it were true, and everything that had gone wrong in my life was destiny, I would have had some serious words with the one responsible for all the planning. I mean, what kind of a sadist would set people up like that?


So when I tell you that I followed the pale little gent into the backroom, and that in doing so, I felt like I was taking the first steps on an incredibly and profoundly important journey, you’ll just have to set aside your sniggers for a moment and read on. I’m not going to say “trust me”, because I’m not selling used cars, or indeed, anything else. But at least read on a little way, because things are about to get interesting.


2


Talking unicorns and
mystical televisions



My eldest daughter has a thing for unicorns. She loves them. It’s not just a childish fixation. She’s always adored them, and now that she’s older, she not only collects them in every shape and form, she also has become a font of unicorn lore. It’s uncanny but some days she even looks like a unicorn. Minus the horn, of course.


She’s tall and colt-like, in the way that only pre-teens can be, and with amazingly large dark-blue eyes that stand out all the more against her pale skin and white-blonde hair, a throwback to some Icelandic gene lurking in our family pool. There’s something otherworldly about her, accentuated by adolescent hormones and the faint aura of tragedy that has surrounded her since her father left.


All of which to say that I am used to seeing unicorns about the place, granted, usually in a two-dimensional format, so when I saw a horse-sized unicorn standing proudly in the corner, its breath as sweet as hay from across the room, I didn’t think anything of it. I was more interested in what the old man had to say.


But it wasn’t the old man who spoke.

The unicorn eyed me suspiciously and then nodded.


“Yes, you’re right. It’s her.”


The unicorn looked at me again and I could have sworn I saw a flash of disdain.


“All the signs are there, including those buffoons who hang around outside all of the time. Three bearded beasts bearing the mark of the wanderer, Ulysses.”


Its voice was soothing, like waves on the shore at night, even though I felt that it did not approve of me but that wasn’t helping me with the idea – yes, I’m a little slow sometimes but it had taken me a moment to realize that I was listening to a talking mythical creature.


The unicorn shook his head despairingly and whinnied, a sound like tinkling silver bells that sent shivers down my spine.


“I must go and warn the others. You know what to do.”


Another whinny and he was gone. I turned to the man.

“How do you do that? Was it a hologram? And why all of this trouble for me?”


The man laughed briefly, gestured to a chair and told me to sit down. Once I was seated, he wheeled his cart of inks and needles over and sat down on a stool, opposite me.


My voice had lost a little of its resolve; I was less than certain that this circus was the right place to get the tattoo that would show my ex-husband that I was still wild and young and carefree, and that my body still had some mystery to it.


“You will not be tattooed today. First you must embark upon the quest. If all goes well, then you will join the brotherhood of the ink, but not before.”


I hadn’t asked a question but this was clearly an answer of some kind.


His words swirled around my head and for a moment I thought that I might have been dreaming. Or maybe I’d had an aneurism and was in fact lying in a medically induced coma, in a nice firm hospital bed with clean white sheets. But the old man laughed and poked me in the arm, none too gently, and offered me a cigarette.

I took it and breathed deeply when he held a flame to the tip.


“Look,” I tried to sound like the kind of woman who knew her mind. “This is all very amusing and I’m sure that your other clients get it. But I don’t, and all I really want is a small tattoo on my back.”


I shook my head and stood up, dropping the cigarette on the floor and grinding it under my heel.


“And now I’m not even sure I really want that.”


As I reached the door, the old man coughed gently. I turned around and saw that he was standing, seemingly taller than he had been only a moment ago. In his left hand, he held a set of scales of a kind, not unlike those used by penny dealers in gang movies. His right hand, however, held a smallish television set that appeared to be showing my life. I took a step closer, suddenly breathless.


“That’s me, that’s my family…but how? What did…?”


He waited patiently while I tried to finish a sentence. A million thoughts rushed through my mind, not the least of which was that I had finally flipped my lid and gone crazy. How on earth did this strange little old man happen to have a video of my whole life, and why was he running it backwards? As the images flashed before my eyes, I could see myself becoming younger and happier. When had I stopped smiling so much, laughing so freely?


The old chap let his arm slide and the television disappeared into thin air. I sank heavily onto the rustic old lounge behind me, my head spinning. I sneezed as the old man sat down next to me, raising another cloud of dust.

“Confusion is the first step towards clarity.”


He nodded as if his words of wisdom could be of some assistance to me but all I really wanted was to go home and have a large glass of wine, and forget what was clearly an episode of drug-induced paranoia, sadly without the drugs.


He patted me softy on the arm and continued.


“Otherwise said, you haven’t lost your marbles; you have only misplaced your life. And now you are being given the gift of finding it, and yourself, again.”


None of this was making sense, but he wasn’t finished.


“Do you know what déjà vu is?”


I nodded. I might only be a lowly advertising copywriter and frustrated housewife, but I had spent one of the most amazing years of my youth working as a software writer in Paris. So, in addition to destroying large chunks of my liver in the semi-permanent happy hour of Café Monparnasse and stocking any number of wild memories to keep me warm during the last days of my life in some gray nursing home somewhere, I’d also accumulated a reasonable bit of French.


The old guy interrupted my musings.


“Not the literary definition,” he said impatiently. “Any fool knows that. I mean the true sense, the meaning behind the words.”


He shook his head when he saw the look of incomprehension on my face.


“Déjà vu is that which is already seen, in this life or others. It is a gift from those who know you best, to remind you of that which you have forgotten.”


He smiled at me suddenly, and I began to feel warm again.


“That you saw the parts of your life that were shown to you a moment ago is the final sign, the signal that you must begin your quest. Had you not seen, then we would know that you are not ready to go forth.”


It seemed as if I were in some kind of surreal psychological maze, a place where information kept arriving, only serving to lose me further.


“You keep mentioning this quest. It seems like a lot of hassle, just to get a tattoo.”


My voice sounded petulant and I looked at him suspiciously.


“You don’t have any tattoos. For a man who runs a tattoo shop, that’s not a very good sign.”


He smiled sadly at me.


“Not everyone is worthy. Many people seek the true ink, very few receive it. It is my destiny to assure the decoration of others when they have completed their journeys. That is my journey. Perhaps one day I shall be blessed, but until then, I must guide people like you, as I am instructed. Now come.”


He picked up a small book from the table beside the couch.


“Follow me. I have much to show you before you can begin.”


I crossed my arms and refused to budge.


“I’m not going anywhere,” I insisted stubbornly, “until I know what all of this is about.”


He stared at me and I stared back. With one husband and two kids behind me, I was good at staring and by now the fires of righteous anger were well stoked. I wanted to run but there was an undeniable force keeping me there, a strange and enticing energy that made me want to find out exactly what was going on. I’d stomped out of my house in a fit of fury, now, I realized, not only directed at my ex-husband but also at the absolute frustration of a life spent putting out fires and making beds, and yes, raising children, but doing nothing exceptional, nothing worthy, it seemed, of a life well lived.


“Seriously, you’d better sit back down and tell me what the hell all of this mystical blah blah is about or I’m going to go home and skip the tattoo. Or better still, go find another tattoo artist.”


The old man raised his wrinkled hands to the sky and muttered “why me?” under his breath and then looked at me and nodded, and I exhaled slowly, not realizing that I’d been holding my breath.


3


Commandments, sins
and signs



The story would have been better with popcorn and beer, but as it was, the old man moved over to the ancient kitchenette and made, with much clanging and muttering, a pot of tea.


When he had finished mumbling under his breath about the sheer incompetence of disciples these days, and how was he supposed to get anything done when he was obliged to teach such imbeciles, he brought the tea over, handed me a crusty, chipped cup and looked at me severely over the top of his mug. I took a sip and sighed. This was undoubtedly the most amazingly wonderful tea I had ever had the pleasure of drinking in my life.


“Right,” he said briskly. “It’s as simple as this. You have been chosen to go out into the world and teach our message…well, not just our message. The universal message.”


I choked on my tea, and he shook his head despairingly.


“Yes, I know,” he continued. “You wouldn’t have been my first choice either. But they do know what they are doing, and if they’ve chosen you, it’s for a good reason.”


“Who are they?” I wondered aloud. “And what is their message? I mean, I don’t even believe in God, let alone angels or whatever the hell you’re talking about.”


The old guy looked profoundly shocked.


“How can you NOT believe in angels? They’re everywhere!”


“Where, everywhere?” I countered. “Are they here now? Can you see them, because I sure as hell can’t?”


He smirked at me.


“Then you’d better get your eyes checked. Not to mention your parenting skills. Who do you think is taking care of your children right now? And why did you leave them with Mrs. Brinkley so confidently, you who never leaves her children with strangers? And don’t tell me that Mrs. Brinkley is not a stranger. She’s your neighbor, yes, but how much do you really know about her?”

I thought about it for a moment. Effectively, Mrs. Brinkley was no one more than a little old woman who had moved into the apartment block just after I had. Our paths crossed when we went to collect our mail or throw out the garbage, but that was about it. She seemed clean, and she had a lovely soft air about her, but for all I knew, she could have been the devil incarnate. Or one of those dreadful witches who lured children into their homes and then sold them to pedophile networks for retirement mad money.


“Haven’t you noticed how she’s always there, just when you need her? How many times has she given you a helping hand, without ever asking for anything in return?”


It was true. The day I’d dropped my keys down the elevator shaft and found myself blocked in the lobby, unable to go out or in, let alone go get my spare keys from the super, Mrs. Brinkley had just happened to pop down to check her mailbox and was more than happy to loan me her pass key.


Another time, when I was running against a pressing deadline, complicated by a sick child demanding constant attention and desperately waiting for a letter that hadn’t arrived, she came knocking at the door with the said letter, which had just happened to fall in with her mail. And when she’d seen the pale little face of my feverish daughter, she’d popped back almost immediately with a large mug of hot lemon and honey as well as a book of enchanting fairy tales that she proceeded to read to my child while I finished my work.

Effectively, if an angel there was in my life, then Mrs. Brinkley might be one, but that was it.


“No, no,” said the old man furiously, reading my mind again. “Keep looking! The guy who blocked your garage exit the other day so you couldn’t get out? He prevented you from being part of the huge accident that killed six people further down the road. And the electrician who shorted the power and made the blackout that lost you half your work last week? Well, didn’t you do a better job, starting all over again, and get a raise because of it?”


He shook his head.


“Honestly, miracles are wasted on you people.”


I wasn’t prepared to concede him any ground.


“Angels, shmangels. Kind people and strokes of good luck.”


“Chicken and egg,” he shot right back. “Where do you think luck comes from? Or kind people, for that matter?”


“OK,” I smiled winningly at him and he looked at me suspiciously. “If there really are angels, then why don’t they teach this great message?”


I smirked triumphantly.


“Why choose a dumb human when angels can use all their powers to convince the world of their magic?”

He looked at me pityingly.


“We’ve tried that, obviously. But you humans are an obdurate lot, and you just won’t listen. We’ve tried everyone from Krishna and the Vedic chronicles to Jesus and the Red Sea scrolls but you guys just won’t hear a word. We’ve thrown all kinds of miracles at you, and you haven’t even noticed. It’s very frustrating, enough to make you want to give up, really.”


I laughed out loud, not very polite but given the circumstances (freaky old men reading my mind, mystical creatures postulating on my usefulness, a televised version of ‘This is My Life’), it seemed that a little impolitesse was acceptable.


“Right, so you’re telling me that Jesus, Mohammed, Krishna, all the great prophets, were angels? Sent to earth to teach us all some extraordinary message?”


The sardonic tone melted away as I realized what I’d said.


“Have you finished now?” asked my strange mentor. “Ready to listen and learn?”


I sank back, defeated and not a little confused.


“As I was saying, we’ve used some of the best angels we have but it hasn’t done any good at all. Some of the marketing has stuck, but basically, you’re all still out there, making wars and mistreating each other. Not sharing the wealth of the earth. Spending your lives chasing after things while children starve.”


He shook his head at the sheer hopelessness of it all.


“There are only ten rules to follow, seven if you adhere to the simplified system. How difficult can it be?”


He caught my confusion and scowled at me.


“The ten commandments? The seven deadly sins? Don’t you know anything?”


I did a quick count-off in my head. It was more difficult than trying to remember the names of all Snow-White’s dwarves. I gave up at six commandments and five deadly sins. Not too bad, and if I couldn’t remember the others, that was probably because I was so pure of mind that…

The old chap slapped the table with the little book he was still juggling about.


“Will you stop it? This is not a parlor game. It’s very serious. The world is going to hell in a hand basket and you’re the one who’s been chosen to stop the spread of Chaos.”


By now I’d had more than enough. If I’d wanted to be ridiculed, I could have stayed at home and called my ex-husband. I had books of fairy tales at home too, and if there was one thing I knew, it was that fairy tales were just nonsense, nothing more than words put together to explain away man’s rampant imagination. There was enough craziness in my life without taking on the starring role in someone else’s fantasy life. Not to mention the fact that the old man’s metaphors sucked. I stood abruptly and made my way towards the door. The old man breathed out as if he was trying hard to keep his patience.


“Promise me one thing,” he called as I reached the doorway. The gravity of his tone made me turn to look at him.


“The only thing that we ask is that you watch for the signs. Just keep an open mind, because this is the most important thing you’ll ever do. Watch for the signs.”


I closed the door to the tattoo parlor behind me and stood for a moment in the bright, late afternoon light before I looked at my watch. I’d been gone an hour – twenty dollars worth of babysitting fees - and I had nothing to show for it. I decided to cut my losses and go home. I’d had enough silliness for one day.


4


Dancing plates and
big questions



As I put my key in the door, I noticed a wonderful scent wafting out from my apartment. It smelled like the best meal my mother, or indeed anyone’s mother had ever made. Suddenly I was ravenous. I opened the door and my youngest daughter raced up to greet me with a huge hug.


“We’ve been having the best time, Mummy. And we made you a surprise. Almost all by ourselves.”


She tugged my arm and I followed her into the living room.


“Surprise!”


My eldest daughter jumped up from the table where she was adjusting a place setting.


“This is your happy birthday dinner.”


She was practically glowing with excitement.


“We told Mrs. Brinkley that it was your birthday and she helped us to make all of your favorite foods. We even made a cake.”


“A cake that you’d better get back to decorating if you want your mother to eat it tonight, my little angels.”


Mrs. Brinkley stood in the doorway, wiping her hands on a floury apron. The light from the kitchen cast a halo-like glow around her head and I smiled inwardly. Of course. Now I was seeing angels everywhere. My daughters rushed off to the kitchen and my benefactor gestured to the table, set with an unfamiliar but beautiful china and strewn with gardenias and white roses.


“I hope you don’t mind but the children were quite desperate to make a special treat for you and I just didn’t have the heart to say no to them.”


Her kindly eyes surveyed my face with a touch of concern.


“No, of course not, it’s a lovely surprise,” I lied, wishing the children were in bed and I could just sit down and dwell on the injustices of my life.

I reached for my purse.


“But you must tell me what I owe you for the flowers and the dinner ingredients, and of course the babysitting.”


I knew full well that a bit of leftover roast chicken, some mango yoghurt and a mangy salad – the contents of my fridge the day before shopping day – were hardly likely to be the basis of the mouthwatering scents that were wafting into the living room and making my stomach growl in anticipatory delight.


Mrs. Brinkley looked horrified.


“Of course not, my dear, it’s only some things I had floating around at home. And I hope you don’t mind but the girls asked me if I would join you tonight.”


She looked wistful for a moment.


“But perhaps you’d rather be alone with your lovely little family?”


I smiled at the sweet old dear who had clearly gone to a lot of trouble, suddenly happy that for once we would have another adult at the table with us, not just me and the girls.


“I would be thrilled if you would join us. I hardly know how to thank you for taking the girls this afternoon, let alone cooking us what smells like an amazing meal.”


I looked at the table.


“And loaning us your crockery. It’s absolutely gorgeous.”


She fussed with the front of her apron.


“It’s very precious to me and I’m thrilled to have a reason to use it. I’ll tell you about it later but for now I must go and supervise my charges. Why don’t you sit down and rest until dinner is ready?”


The idea was so alien to me that I obeyed out of sheer curiosity. This was the evil hour, when my body was normally running on third or fourth steam. The hour of cooking dinner while making school lunches for the following day while emptying the dishwasher whilst supervising homework and piano practice whilst answering emails from clients whilst washing sports uniforms for last minute soccer meets. A single, working mum always had something to do, even if it was just watering the plants, but as I looked around me, it seemed that I had suddenly been made redundant.


The kitchen was clearly out of bounds and anyway, dinner was being made by someone else. Due to a school trip to the museum the next day, lunches were unnecessary. The washing was in the machine – I could hear it running. I’d finished the ironing last night. We’d done the homework and piano practice earlier that afternoon. I could have sworn that the house had been vacuumed and dusted. I stuck an experimental finger into the soil of the house plant next to my chair and was surprised to see that not only was the earth damp, the leaves had also been polished and trimmed.


I sat back in the lounger and closed my eyes for a moment. “Look for signs,” the crazy old tattoo man had instructed. But this wasn’t a sign, it was a blessing, and I for one was grateful. Only this morning, in a moment of soul-shredding frustration, hadn’t I begged the powers that be – the ones I didn’t believe in – to send me someone to lighten my load and share at least one dinner with, someone who would help instead of add to my current exhaustion levels. Hey, maybe I should have asked to win lotto too.


A gentle kiss on the cheek and a faint giggle dragged me out of a strangely deep dreamy doze in which I was being pursued by a crowd of unicorns screaming “you can do it, you can do it” while I ran as fast as I could up the mountainside.


“Mummy, it’s dinner time. You have to wake up.”


My youngest daughter, Grace, now dressed up in her ballet clothes and a pair of white feathered angel wings, pulled gently on my hair. I stood unsteadily, still a little in the grip of my dream, and walked over to the chair my eldest daughter Lillia was holding out to me. She too, was dressed in a long, ethereal dress of some gossamer material, and wearing angel wings with a silvery white glitter on them.


I gazed down at the gorgeous plates, set traditionally for a multi-course meal. They were really elegant, very simple, very good china with only a faint decoration around the outside of the plates. I looked again. Unicorns. Lots of elegant little unicorns dancing around the edges of the plates and bowls, the light catching the silver of their horns. I could have sworn they were moving, but then again, I thought I’d seen my life on a television in a tattoo parlor that very afternoon, not to mention a rather large unicorn that spoke to me. All this without wine, too.


As I was contemplating the mysteries of the dishes, Mrs. Brinkley bustled in, carrying a largish crock-pot with steam billowing out from under the lid.


“The girls told me you adored lobster bisque, my dear, and so that’s what we made.”


She placed the pot gently in the middle of the table and laid an intricate silver ladle next to it.


“Just as well I had some lobsters at home. Imagine if you’d preferred steak, we would really have been stuck then.”


She laughed merrily and the girls joined in, as if everyone kept fresh lobster in their kitchens in case a neighbor suddenly needed a birthday dinner. As Mrs. Brinkley sat down next to Grace, I noticed that she too had angel wings on her back. Small, elegant ones made from tulle and lace, but angel wings nonetheless.


Before I could ask the silly question, everyone raised their glasses to me.


“Happy birthday Mummy,” cried the girls, as Mrs. Brinkley beamed her benevolence.


I looked at their joyous faces and every bit of tension in my body melted away. Who cared if the world was going to hell in a hand basket? I had my magnificent, healthy, happy, loving daughters, and that was truly all that mattered.


By letting us down yet again, my ex-husband had done me the greatest favor of all. He’d given me the opportunity to enjoy my children, something I did so very rarely these days. I cooked for them, cleaned up after them, worried about them, helped them, took excellent care of them, but I couldn’t remember the last time I simply spent time being with them. Not the quality time accorded by my driving them somewhere whilst hectoring them about piano practice or good manners. Just sitting, listening, talking, sharing a meal. Allowing them the joy of doing something for me.


I listened to them chattering away about how much fun it was cooking and cleaning, especially knowing it was all for me. How come I didn’t feel that happy when I was cooking and cleaning for them? Pushing the vacuum cleaner around generally involved fantasies of full time help or lottery wins for me – I don’t think I had ever once run around, overflowing with passion, simply thrilled to be removing the dust and toast crumbs from the rugs of our lives.


More often than not, I did my daily and weekly chores in a fit of barely suppressed fury and resentment. Certainly because I generally had far too many things to do to actually spend time doing any one thing properly. And perhaps because I resented doing the grunt work that I had once paid someone else to do for me. But that wasn’t the real reason. The real reason was that I had forgotten for whom I was doing all of this. I remembered back to those extraordinary, unforgettable days when I’d discovered I was pregnant, and how I swore to myself and my unborn children that I would willingly give my life over to taking care of them for as long as they desired. I was the one who offered, I was the one who brought them into the world. So why the bad attitude now?


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