ThunderClaw (Alien Warrior #2)(9)

By: Penelope Fletcher


Opening the drawer closest to me, I found a ballpoint pen to scribble a pay now note to myself. I slapped the bill under a fridge magnet before warily sifting through the rest.

Water bill, council tax, gas bill. A leaflet for a new water heater I badly need, but would never be able to afford. Phone bill, broadband bill, and an unpaid reminder bill for satellite television I’d been meaning to cancel.

‘Many bills.’ I rubbed my forehead. ‘Single paycheque.’ A part-time, minimum wage one at that.’

I flicked on the kettle.

‘Mammy?’

I fixed my expression as I turned.

A baby the splitting image of me, but with flawless, porcelain skin tottered into the room, eyes brightening at the sight of me.

I knelt on the faded linoleum and opened my arms.

My daughter curled her cotton-scented body into my chest, laying her drool-smeared cheek on my shoulder.

She sniffed my hair then mumbled, ‘Want chicken,’ as she burrowed closer.

‘You’re always wanting chicken, Fergie.’ I rubbed her back, circles between her shoulder blades. ‘Eat too much,’ mouth falling open, I widened my eyes, ‘you’ll turn into a chick.’

She squealed, hands flying to her cheeks. The happy sound died faster than it should. ‘Ye dinnae tuck me in.’

Pain stabbed my breast. ‘I had to work late.’ My tone grew soft. ‘I will no miss story time tomorrow.’

She tugged on her ear, gaze drifting.

I scooped my child from the floor and carried her back to her bedroom. Her space was painted in pink and white, with thick fuchsia window drapes to keep out the chill.

I lay Fergie on her duvet; its puffy squares encased in a bright cotton cover with purple flowers. I pulled it over her plump body. Babbling sleepily about her day, she stuck her thumb in her mouth, beloved pacifier on the pillow.

I was not looking forward to weaning her off it. Parenting books claimed I should have started the process when she reached two years, but damn, I hated to remove one of the things that brought her comfort.

I already had so little to give her.

Drowsy eyes came to mine.

My heart twisted.

A replica of her father’s, hazel irises were tinged with a hint of my family green. They shone, even in the dark and misty with slumber.

She smiled. ‘Love ye, Mammy.’

I pushed fat, copper ringlets from her brow and kissed the crescent of her forehead. ‘Love you more, wee bit. Sleep now. I’m home.’ I switched on her night light and closed the door behind me, a signal she knew meant no more getting out of bed until morning.

Switching lights off as I went, I slouched down the hallway back to the kitchen. Steam rose from the kettle. I fixed myself a dark brew.

Sipping on hot tea, I dragged off my worn baseball cap. It smelt like fried chicken and vegetable grease.

Gagging, I tossed it onto the Formica countertop then pulled off the netting containing my hair, a necessary workplace item that made me feel a hundred. A ginger mass unfurled in a tangled monstrosity down my sore back.

I shook my head to break it up, but the hair just moved in one big clump. I sighed. It needed a conditioning scrub to get it manageable.

Curly hair was a gift from my sperm donor, the only one he’d given me.

I chewed my bottom lip.

My mind veered back to finances, or rather, my lack of them. My eyes dropped to the pile of opened letters.

Working everything out, food, bills, money to pay for Fergie’s after pre-school babysitter, the indomitable Ms Tait, I’d have sixty-eight pounds for the rest of the month.

A month with three weeks to go.

I twisted a hand in my hair and shut my eyes. My lips folded into my mouth, and I exhaled in a slow gust of air.

I fished out my mobile. I unflipped the cheap device, scrolling to find the right contact. I put the phone to my ear convinced he wouldn’t pick up.

I almost dropped the damn thing when the line connected.

‘What do you want?’

I licked my lips. ‘Hello, Liam. Long time no speak.’

‘Get on with it, Sìne.’

‘It’s Fergie’s birthday Thursday next week. She’s three.’

‘You want money?’

My cheeks burned. I did. I needed money for nappies, clothes, and food, educational toys and childminding.

Oh, yes, I wanted money.