‘How many times do I have to tell you kids?’ Mother snarled. We always called her Mother with a capital M, because she did not deserve her human name. The title she had been given by her mother at birth had ceased to exist when she had become the monster under our beds. Other kids were afraid of what was lurking in their closets, but we knew better: the creepy looking clown doll Aunt Melody had got me for my tenth birthday was just a silly toy. Mother was real and she could do so much more than an ugly doll.
She backhanded my sister, who fell to the floor and began to sob. Before Mother could strike again, I stepped in the way to receive the full force of her blow. It only made her angrier when I stood up for my sister, but I had seen on the television that this was what big brothers did. Mother hit me twice and bared her teeth like a wild animal.
‘How dare you,’ she said. I stood my ground. I was not willing to move out of the way, but I did know better than to answer back. If Mother locked me in the pantry again then that would leave my sister alone to face her rage. ‘How dare you both come in here treading mud into the carpet! You filthy, disgusting little brats! Do you know how much I slave over keeping this place tidy every day? Do you?’
We were eleven and eight years of age. There was vomit splattered on the bathroom door where Mother had thrown up in her drunkenness the night before. Dead flies littered the windowsill. We shook our heads like we were supposed to, and Mother looked somewhat pleased with herself.
She handed me a broom. ‘If you don’t get the mud out, I’ll give you a good whacking.’ Mother was good at whacking. I did not ask where the hoover was or if I could use it instead of the broom. She handed my sister a second broom and threatened her with a whacking, too. We worked as though we were slaves and Mother settled on the sofa with a can of lager and a cigarette.
Later on that night, my sister cuddled into me on my bed and listened to one of those fairy stories about children who were treated badly by their evil stepmother but manage to escape and find a family who truly loved them. I had to keep my voice low, because Mother did not like it when I read those stories to my sister.
I had to, though. I was the big brother and although I no longer believed in happy endings, my sister did. One of us had to keep believing.