Who's Who 2: For Disaster

The morning had been rough. Not for any definitive reason, beyond the cigarettes. Although things had gotten off to a bad start when Elaine was forced to go and wake Sarah up. She hated the slow trudge upstairs. The moment before she knocked on her daughter’s bedroom door, praying she’d hear movement inside. Not that she ever did.

“Okay.” Sarah had twisted the word out of shape, resenting her mother from her first breath.

As Elaine had turned to walk towards the stairs, she’d caught the mutter dispensed in her wake. A parting shot to add to the collection.

There were photos running up the stairs. The evolution of Sarah. When she went downstairs, she could reverse time. Go from awkward pre-teen to fidgety middle school girl. From nursery nativity darling to pudgy toddler. From first birthday to hospital bundle.

Elaine could remember resenting her own mother, but she wasn’t sure she’d ever been so bitter about it. So unable to contain the burning fury. Then again, she was far closer to her daughter than her mother had ever been with her. Even before the hormones had kicked in.

Maybe that was why she’d dug out the old family cookbooks. Sarah had loved baking when she was little. Back when she’d needed the steps to reach the worktop. When every spoon and mixing bowl had dwarfed her.

Was it so wrong to miss that little girl? She’d been a walking ray of human sunshine back then, before she’d mutated through all those photos to the stranger who skulked at the top of their stairs. The one who’d dyed her hair black. The one who’d come home with a piercing hidden behind that long, back hair. The one who’d left cigarettes in her coat last night, thinking inside pockets were invisible to parents.

“You can’t tell her,” Aaron had said before setting off this morning. “She’ll only accuse us of invading her privacy again.”

“Do you want her smoking?”

“I’m just saying we have to be careful.”

Maybe that was why she’d thought of baking. They could stand in the kitchen tonight, mother and daughter. Back amongst the scales and the ingredients. They’d make one of Grandma’s cakes and she’d find a way to ask Sarah how she was without accusing her. She had to stop doing that. Although they kept slipping past her defences. A reaction to the attitude Sarah wore at her hip.

At six, Elaine walked to the school and waited, ready to meet her after Drama Club.

Drama Club, she thought as she waited in the crisp, winter gloom. Isn’t that her whole life now?

She knew the walk straightaway. Infuriated by the very presence of the world. Hunched shoulders, head down. A whole body taut against the gravity of its own growth.

“What’re you doing here?”

The tone leant heavy on ‘you’.

“I thought we might bake one of Nanny’s cakes tonight. We’ve not baked in ages and your dad’s out. We’ve got the house to ourselves.”


The word was blunt, applied with force.

“You used to love baking.”

Sarah was already walking away. She had no choice but to scurry after her.

“I used to shit myself too.”


The hunched figure kept walking, offering only a shrug. Panic rose, flustered, seized the wheel.

“I found your cigarettes.” The words were blurted out in an attempt to provoke. A chance to stop Sarah in her tracks.

She did stop, but the victory died there. She turned slow to reveal narrow eyes, bared teeth, tight fists.

“You. Did. What.”

Elaine’s heart sank. It looked like her evening was going to match her morning.