“So who’s this story gonna be about?” I say as she slowly moves a hand over one of her sleepy, puffy eyes – why do all kids have such stubby little hands? It’s a miracle they can pick anything up. I wonder: had she been drinking her hot milk with one hand or two? I cast my mind to us all sat in their modern kitchen: Neil and Bonnie suitably dressed up for their evening of pleasure: Stinking of expensive aftershave and perfume.
“Mummy always tucks me in before I sleep,” she mumbles.
“Mummy’s not here right now,” I reply, willing the tiny, sleepy, puffy little eyes to shut up shop for the night. “Your mummy’s with Daddy, filling her tummy with lots of yummy curry.”
“How do you know Mummy’s eating curry?” she says, slurring her words sleepily.
“’cause I know everything… I’m a witch, like in Harry Potter.”
She stirs in a moment of interest. “What’s she drinking?”
“Pink champagne; with lots of bubbles.” Beautiful champagne; delicious champagne. Rich Mummy and Daddy with their lovely champagne.
“I’m not allowed champagne,” she says, facing away again, hair spread over the pillow, clutching her strange one-eyed dolphin. One eye open, one eye sneaking a glance in my direction.
“How about dolphin here; is he allowed champagne?”
“He’s just a toy, he can’t drink.”
Such a cute little dolphin. She yawns a cute little yawn. I picture the flat screen TV downstairs, the big soft springy sofa.
When Neil and Bonnie had gone through a few basic rules my gaze had been fixed upon the huge screen showing “Who Wants to be a Millionaire?” I remember the presenter asking an old man: Which of the following phrases was Mother Theresa most famous for? And the old man was phoning a friend who couldn’t be certain.
I’d taken in as much as help yourself to hot drinks and she usually likes reading in bed but it’s lights out before eight-thirty. Bonnie talked more about what to do in the case of something or other but my attention was flailing as I noticed the plate of cookies Neil was preparing.
Just a little snack for later! How old did he think I was?
At the door Neil said they’d be back before midnight and I’d only have to check on her once because she’s no trouble at all and usually goes to sleep right away.
As soon as they left I phoned Dave.
“Come round at nine?”
“You don’t really wanna story do you?” I say hopefully.
“No I want a story, really…”
I tell her a story about a dolphin: A dolphin that swims around all day saving kids from drowning. She’s asleep before I’m finished. I’m a professional.
Dave knows the new address. He’s been reminded not to ring the bell this time. I hear him scratching at the door as I descend the stairs.
“Babe?” he whispers.
I hiss back at him: “I’m coming Dave, I’m coming.”