OPENING MY EYES VERY slowly, I’m greeted by the glare of the mini Christmas tree lights (which I forgot to switch off before I fell asleep) and a hot body pressed up against me, with one arm draped heavily over my chest and the other digging a little painfully into my back.
The first week of January is supposed to feel like a fresh start. This one really doesn’t. I’ve barely slept these last few days, even though I’m exhausted, and when I do close my eyes, I dream of falling into nothing and then wake up with a start.
As my bedroom comes into focus, I roll over and ever so gently stroke her hair. Her lashes are longer than mine but her little nose is the same. I watch her breathe for a few moments and wonder how someone like me managed to have such a perfect daughter. Six years feels like six months. It’s true what they say about them growing up too fast. I’m delving into thoughts of how this tiny person makes my life what it is when I’m jolted back firmly to reality. There’s a rustling in my kitchen.
I check my phone: it’s 7.45 a.m. I stagger downstairs, leaving a half-asleep Lyla where she is, to find my Auntie Kath in the kitchen surrounded by every single thing that lives in a cupboard or drawer. No longer in their assigned place, all my culinary possessions are strewn across every inch of counter surface available. This is a reasonable-sized kitchen and though the counters are scratched and the breakfast bar is a slightly wobbly stub of counter offcut and the dining table cost £4 in a charity shop, I love it. I love my cool mint tiles that Dad helped me put in last year (Granny, who lived here before me, had this waterproof floral wallpaper that even Dad agreed was hideous) and beach-themed art. In the summer, when the light streams in through the glass doors, this kitchen is the brightest, freshest room in the house. In the winter, when there’s less light and we string lights over the cabinet tops and make mulled wine (‘Mummy’s special Christmas Ribena’), it’s a great place to sit at the table and wrap presents or make cards. I love this space even more when everything I own isn’t stacked up on the worktops or in piles on the off-white lino (OK, my limited funds haven’t stretched yet to anything nicer, and, really who wants to spend money on flooring?). Instantly I wish I hadn’t given Auntie Kath a set of keys. And I really should have wiped down the surfaces before I collapsed into bed.
‘My New Year’s Resolution is to declutter!’ Auntie Kath says, with way too much gusto for the time of day.
It’s six days into the new year and Kath is ready to go. I’d love to be that ready for anything.
I’ve been alone with Lyla now for four years (and two months and twenty-four days). Fifty-one months. It’s my fifth new year as a single mum, and my fifth new year with my child being my midnight kiss and cuddle. I’m not alone alone, obviously. I have Kath and I have my friends. I do normal things like work and go out; I went to a great party at my best friend Lacey and her husband Karl’s for New Year’s Eve … but I’ve lost my pep a bit. I smiled politely a lot, and tried to have fun, but I left the party as soon as was socially acceptable (twenty past midnight), claiming I had ‘a lot on’ the next day. I never have a lot on, though. I’m not sure I could handle a lot right now. I just about manage with ‘some’, unlike Kath, who is a walking whirlwind of positivity and getting things done.
I stare blankly at her, wondering what planet she’s from. A pause. Then she continues: ‘You really shouldn’t keep sweet potatoes in a cupboard, love. They keep better in the fridge.’
There’s no explanation as to why she’s decided to declutter my kitchen. I chalk it up to a ‘Kathism’ and decide to let her be.
‘Right, yeah, thanks, Kath,’ I muster as I go to answer the door. Why is the world starting before 8 a.m. on Lyla’s first day back at school? Didn’t anyone get the memo that it’s Teacher Training Morning, and therefore my last lie-in for months? What is this fresh hell?
Paul from over the road is plodding in with his toolkit and a ‘youallrighthow’sitgoingwhere’sthebrokenswitchthen?’. I realise he’s not fully awake yet either. Kath is, though. She’s all over it. You would be, if you were the kind of woman who’d arranged a handyman to call round at 8 a.m. to fix something that nobody needed fixing. The switch is fine; you just have to push it super-hard in the left-hand corner and it works a dream.
‘Hello, Paul! I do love to see a man with a well-packed toolkit in the morning!’ Chortle, chortle. Someone please make her stop.
Paul heads off to the front room to fix the switch and, assessing that everything is under control, I head back upstairs. I can hear Auntie Kath talking at – not to – Paul.
‘How’s the missus, Paul? And how are those gorgeous kids? Ooh, I took Mollie to the vet last week. Terrible, she’s been. Off her food, off her walks – not like her.’ Paul interjects with a series of yeahs and oh reallys? as Kath chatters on. ‘Gallstones, they’ve found! Two! Poor thing, no wonder she’s been off her food, I wouldn’t want two little balls inside me either …’