Seven

‘Get up! Get up!’ Cal shouts. I pull the duvet over my head, but he yanks it straight off again. ‘Dad says if you don’t get up right now, he’s coming upstairs with a wet flannel!’

I roll over, away from him, but he skips round the bed and stands over me, grinning. ‘Dad says you should get up every morning and do something with yourself.’

I kick him hard and pull the duvet back over my head. ‘I don’t give a shit, Cal! Now piss off out of my room.’

I’m surprised at how little I care when he goes.

Noise invades – the thunder of his feet on the stair, the clatter of dishes from the kitchen as he opens the door and doesn’t shut it behind him. Even the smallest sounds reach me – the slosh of milk onto cereal, a spoon spinning in air. Dad tutting as he wipes Cal’s school shirt with a cloth. The cat lapping the floor.

The hall closet opens and Dad gets Cal’s coat for him. I hear the zip, the button at the top to keep his neck warm. I hear the kiss, then the sigh – a great wave of despair washing over the house.

‘Go and say goodbye,’ Dad says.

Cal bounds up the stairs, pauses a moment outside my door, then comes in, right over to the bed.

‘I hope you die while I’m at school!’ he hisses. ‘And I hope it bloody hurts! And I hope they bury you somewhere horrible like the fish shop or the dentist’s!’

Goodbye, little brother, I think. Goodbye, goodbye.

Dad’ll be left in the messy kitchen in his dressing gown and slippers, needing a shave and rubbing his eyes as if surprised to find himself alone. In the last few weeks he’s established a little morning routine. After Cal leaves, he makes himself a coffee, then he tidies the kitchen table, rinses the dishes and puts the washing machine on. This takes approximately twenty minutes. After that he comes and asks me if I slept well, if I’m hungry and what time I’m going to get up. In that order.

When I tell him, ‘No, no and never,’ he gets dressed, then goes back downstairs to his computer, where he taps away for hours, surfing the web for information to keep me alive. I’ve been told there are five stages of grief, and if that’s true, then he’s stuck in stage one: denial.

Strangely, his knock at my door is early today. He hasn’t had his coffee or tidied up. What’s going on? I lie very still as he comes in, shuts the door quietly behind him and kicks his slippers off.

‘Shove up,’ he says. He lifts a corner of the duvet.

‘Dad! What’re you doing?’

‘Getting into bed with you.’

‘I don’t want you to!’

He puts his arm around me and pins me there. His bones are hard. His socks rub against my bare feet.

‘Dad! Get out of my bed!’

‘No.’

I push his arm off and sit up to look at him. He smells of stale smoke and beer and looks older than I remember. I can hear his heart too, which I don’t think is supposed to happen.

‘What the hell are you doing?’

‘You never talk to me, Tess.’

‘And you think this’ll help?’

He shrugs. ‘Maybe.’

‘Would you like it if I came into your bed when you were asleep?’

‘You used to when you were small. You said it was unfair that you had to sleep by yourself. Every night me and Mum let you in because you were lonely.’

I’m sure this isn’t true because I don’t remember it. He may have gone mad.

‘Well, if you’re not getting out of my bed, then I will.’

‘Good,’ he says. ‘I want you to.’

‘And you’re just going to stay there, are you?’

He grins and snuggles down under the duvet. ‘It’s lovely and warm.’

My legs feel weak. I didn’t eat much yesterday and it seems to have made me transparent. I clutch the bedpost, hobble over to the window and look out. It’s still early: the moon’s fading into a pale grey sky.

Dad says, ‘You haven’t seen Zoey for a while.’

‘No.’

‘What happened that night you went clubbing? Did you two fall out?’

Down in the garden, Cal’s orange football looks like a deflated planet on the grass, and next door, that boy is out there again. I press my palms against the window. Every morning he’s outside doing something – raking or digging or fiddling about. Right now he’s hacking brambles from the fence and chucking them in a pile to make a bonfire.

‘Did you hear me, Tess?’

‘Yes, but I’m ignoring you.’

‘Perhaps you should think about going back to school. You’d see some of your other friends then.’

I turn to look at him. ‘I don’t have any other friends – and before you suggest it, I don’t want to make any. I’m not interested in rubberneckers wanting to get to know me so they’ll get sympathy at my funeral.’

He sighs, pulls the duvet close under his chin and shakes his head at me. ‘You shouldn’t talk that way. Cynicism is bad for you.’

‘Did you read that somewhere?’

‘Being positive strengthens the immune system.’

‘So it’s my fault I’m sick then, is it?’

‘You know I don’t think that.’

‘Well, you’re always acting as if everything I do is wrong.’

He struggles to sit up. ‘I don’t!’

‘Yeah, you do. It’s like I’m not dying properly. You’re always coming in my room telling me to get out of bed or pull myself together. Now you’re telling me to go back to school. It’s ridiculous!’

I stomp across the room, grab his slippers and shove my feet into them. They’re way too big, but I don’t care. Dad leans on his elbows to look at me. He looks as if I hit him.

‘Don’t go. Where are you going?’

‘Away from you.’

I enjoy slamming the door. He can have my bed. Let him. He can lie there and rot.

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