I wish Mommy would wake up. I listen carefully as she huffs out tiny breaths. Her skin is grey like clouds on a winter morning, grey like our apartment building, grey like the old sheet on my bed.
She looks like Snow White, lying on the couch with hair spread like melted chocolate. I know about Snow White because Bessie read me her story. I know she became sick from eating a poisoned apple and then the prince came and kissed her.
“Wake up, Mommy.” I kiss her gently, hoping she will open her eyes.
She’s still wearing her work clothes. A sparkly shirt and a tight skirt but she’s taken off the high-heeled shoes. Mommy only works at night. She thinks I’m asleep when she leaves but sometimes I peek out the window. She stands on the pavement among the broken bottles and old newspapers and waits for cars to come along. Fancy cars driven by men.
The lamp-light is pale and cold air tickles my arms. I fetch my favourite pink blanket and tuck it round Mommy’s legs. On the table next to the couch sits a beautiful, red cake tin shaped like a treasure chest. Mommy keeps her special things in there and I’m not supposed to touch it. She calls it her treasure and says it costs a lot of money. The things inside are shiny like treasure: little squares of tinfoil, a silver mirror, a razor-blade, white powder and a syringe. I often wonder if it’s real treasure, though. The treasures in Bessie’s books are diamonds and rubies and make people happy and rich.
I don’t think Mommy is happy. Some days she comes home shaking and sweating and in a bad temper. She only calms down when she plays with her treasure. I don’t like those days as I often go to bed with nothing to eat. That happened tonight. The only food in the apartment is a lump of hard cheese, a brown apple and a little sour milk.
I wish she would wake up. She’s been asleep since lunchtime and should have left for work hours ago. I’ve been to bed already but woke up with my tummy growling.
“Please wake up, Mommy.” I pat her cheek and it feels hot.
The clock on the table says 2:07am. I’m glad I can read numbers. I should have started school this year but Mommy says I can only go next year. That’s alright, though. Bessie has been teaching me and I can count to one hundred and write whole sentences already. Bessie lives next door to us and she’s really kind. I had a fever last week and threw up in the middle of the night. Mommy was at work so I went and called Bessie. She was so sweet and gave me medicine and put me in her bed while she cleaned up my mess.
Maybe I should call her to help me. Mommy doesn’t look well. Maybe she has a fever and needs some of Bessie’s medicine too.
I look again at the treasure, spread like shiny toys on the table. Mommy really loves that stuff but I wonder if it’s good for her. The more she plays with it, the less food we have and the less time she spends with me. I wonder what would happen if I threw it away and got her some real treasure. Something that would really make her happy. But where would I get it from?
My head is all muddled and I feel faint because I’m so hungry. Mommy didn’t used to be like this and I miss her cuddling me and taking me to the park. It’s only since she got this treasure that things have changed.
I put my arms round her neck and feel tears leaking from my eyes. “I’m sorry, Mommy. I’ll try and get you some real treasure.” She moans softly as I pack her stuff into the cake tin: the tinfoil, the mirror, the razor-blade, powder and syringe. “Please don’t be angry, Mommy.”
I close the lid and tuck the treasure chest under my arm. Bessie will know what to do with it. I unlatch the door and creep quietly down the passage. Although I feel weak on the outside, I feel strong inside. Bessie opens her door and with shaking hands I give her the tin. “Mommy’s sick, Bessie. She needs your medicine and some real treasure. Will you help me?”
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