“Your brother was very mean to me while you were away,” Mother tells me while I scrub the blackened insides of all my mugs. Were they incapable of washing anything?

“He threatened to put me in a home.”

“You are in a home,” I snap. “My home. You’ve been here nearly ten years. Didn’t Charlton wash these mugs? I’ll need to bleach them now.”

“Is it really nearly ten years?” she asks and she does that little staggering movement as though she might fall at any moment and reaches to steady herself on the counter. “I didn’t know that. My mind is going, you know. Probably due to my condition.”

Her mind is not going. A daily diet of Countdown, Fifteen to One and Pointless keeps in sharpened. It’s a formidable tool and always has been.

“You see,” she says dolefully. “Charlton is always such an angel, utterly selfless. It’s come as quite a shock to have him fuss about me. It wasn’t fair to ask him. He’s got more pressing things to do. Now with you I don’t care in the slightest that you’re always mean to me. That’s the natural order of things, daughters being such frightful bitches to their mothers. I expect your daughter will be just as vile to you.”

She’s said her piece and off she totters, and I know that there is so much resentment brewing inside her from having been left behind that I can expect a month of reprisals.

Peony will never ever have to live with me. I love my daughter far too much for that.

*

“Right then, Charlton,” I tell my brother when we meet on the landing. “I expect you’ll be getting home.”

“That’s the problem,” he shrugs. “I have no home. I stepped into the breach to help you out while you went gadding off on your cruise and my lease expired and they said I had to be living there to get another lease and so I had to let it go. You made me homeless.”

“What do you mean, help me out? She’s your mother, too. For two weeks I thought you could do your share.”

He doesn’t answer because he’s Charlton and a charming smile usually suffices for an answer.

“But that’s Peony’s room,” I point out.

“She’s twenty and has left home. She doesn’t need it.”

“You’re forty five. Why would you need it? Yes I know you’re not going to answer. You never do. You just smile like an imbecilic dog.”

“God, Mother’s right,” he says, shaking his head sadly. “You are a heartless cow. Would it hurt to be nice for a change?”

I jam the tips of my fingers into my eye sockets until the world goes queasily orange. When the blur subsides I see he is still there.

“You can stay for a fortnight maximum. That gives you time to find somewhere to live, get a job and grow up.”

“Don’t talk bollocks,” he grins. “This is London. Flats are like men’s teeth.”

“Hen’s teeth,” I tell him.

“Hens don’t have teeth,” he corrects me.

“Ten days,” I tell him. “You now only have ten days to get out.”

And he saunters back to Peony’s room and I remain standing there on the landing wondering how I could possibly have been so stupid as to have let either of them in, mother or son. Because I very much doubt now that I will be able to shift them.

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