They can’t find us a new mummy, so we decide to make our own.
We live with Aunty Linda – who is not really our Aunty – in a tidy house that we pretend is ours.
The social worker says ‘it’s taking a long time because we are trying to find just the right mummy for you both.’ Kai, who is two years older than me, says they can’t find any mummies because we are not babies, and because I haven’t talked since our old mummy went away forever.
Linda likes to cook. She has big soft hands that are good at mixing and rolling. Linda does not have any story books, which she says are for old ladies with cats. But she has lots of cookery books. Probably a million. They all have pictures so you know what your dinner will look like.
It is Kai’s idea to make a recipe for a new mummy. I squiggle my finger in a circle at the side of my head to show he is bonkers. But really, I feel as excited as pocket money day. I wait to see what Linda thinks.
Linda does a ‘humpf’ noise that means she is thinking. She says ‘what a marvellous idea,’ and me and Kai bounce up and down like our shoes are trampolines. Linda gives us gel pens and posh paper that doesn’t tear when you scribble. First, we must write down what we want our mummy to be like.
Kai likes to talk not write, so he says I can be the secretary. I am happy because I love to write and it has the word secret in. I put a heading that says ‘What Type of Mummy We Want’. I look at my brother.
‘She must be lovely, happy, strong, and healthy.’
Kai keeps pushing his fringe out of his eyes, which means he is trying not to be sad. I write each word down on a new line. Then it’s my turn. Everybody has got used to me not talking, so Linda and Kai look at the paper not my face. I write cuddly, fun, curly hair.
‘That’s silly Ellie, you can’t have food that is cuddly.’
My cheeks get hot and I move my hand to scribble out the last three lines, but Linda takes the pen off me.
‘Kids, you are underestimating the power of food. Of course it can hug you! It can wrap you up tight, or tickle you, or surprise you like hide and seek.’
We start the next morning by finding ingredients. We need a mummy who is lovely all the time, not like Mrs Logan up the road who changes from sweet to sour when she drinks too much wine at the weekend.
We are making trifle. Linda says magic happens when you put different things together cos you get out more than what you put in. Me and Kai nibble a bit of sponge before we put rectangles of it into the bottom of a big bowl.
The sponge is bouncy in my mouth. I remember jumping up and down on a big bed with Kai a long time ago, in a different place. Next, the jelly wobbles about on our tongues. It’s nice when mummies have wobbly bits to lean on. Then we spoon strawberries onto the jelly. They slurp down into the mixture which holds them and keeps them safe. While the trifle waits in the fridge, we make custard. The vanilla pod looks like a stick insect, but smells like a person who is kind. Last of all we whip up the cream. We make it stick up in funny little shapes on the top of the trifle. It stays just how we want it
It’s getting dark when Linda says it’s time to plan the pasta dish. Pasta is good for energy so that you can look after your children even when you’re tired. There are lots of different shapes and each has a name that sounds like a girl from far away. I have already spotted the curly shape that looks a bit like my hair. Kai eats one that looks like a little dicky bow for a guinea pig. He flaps his arms and runs around the kitchen being a butterfly. I shake my head; we don’t want a mummy who flies away. Linda lets me choose the curly-hair pasta and then shows us how to make a tomato sauce.
The next day, Linda takes us to the supermarket to buy healthy food. I drag my shoes on the shiny floor because I don’t like the taste of vegetables. Kai says I’m a mardy-pants, so I pull the elastic on his shorts which twang his bum. Then Linda sends me to stand outside. My throat feels like it’s getting smaller so I can’t swallow. If healthy food is yucky then we might make a mummy who is yucky. But if we don’t use healthy vegetables, then we will have a mummy who will get very poorly and leave us. I cry until snot bubbles out of my nose. Linda comes out of the shop and drops all the bags on the floor, then rubs my back around and around in a circle like I’m runny cream that needs fluffing up.
Back at the house, Linda says she has an idea about how to use the vegetables that I will be happy with.
‘Now then Ellie, we have to plan our starter. A starter is like when you have your little presents in your Christmas stocking before you come down for the big ones under the tree.’
Small glass jars on a spice rack look like a tiny sweet shop. Linda picks three and clicks the lids open. Kai tells me to wear Linda’s sleep mask for the smelling test cos it’s something he saw on telly once and it means your nose pays more attention.
‘We’re going to make a soup for starters. Smell each herb Ellie and put your thumb up when you find the right one.’
Linda brings each jar and leaf up to my nose. I smell curry and pizza and one new smell that hugs me. I show her my thumb.
We plop vegetables into the whizzer. I’m a bit scared of the loud noise, but Linda says the rule is that while the whizzer is on we can say any rude words we want. My lips make the shape of bumhole-stinky-pants and I wish I could tell what Kai was saying. Linda is doing a lot of ‘f’ and we know that is the naughtiest word of all. She switches the whizzer off and we laugh until we need to wee.
Kai makes a recipe book by folding some paper. I write ‘Recipe for a Mummy’ on the top. Then I write all the ingredients out for vegetable soup, pasta and trifle. Linda puts the recipe into a big white envelope and licks it shut.
I get ready for bed first because I am the smallest. Linda comes up to the bedroom with me and kisses me on the top of my head.
‘You’ve done a great job this weekend. Your new mum will be here when the time’s right.’
I lie with my eyes open until Kai comes to bed. He swishes open the door and gets into bed. I twist and turn about. I hear Kai sigh and turn to face the wall.
‘Ellie, you do know that we were just playing a game this weekend, you can’t really make a mummy. Now stop wriggling and go to sleep.’
I let tears drip down my nose and smell herby love on my fingertips.
I don’t know where the envelope went. We had summer holidays, then Christmas, then daffodils in the garden. Now Linda smiles like she is in an advert.
‘They found you and Kai a new mummy. She can’t wait to meet you both.’
I sit on the bottom step and wiggle my toes while my heart jiggedy-jigs.
The social worker comes up the path with someone. Linda opens the door. Kai is doing gymnastics in the hall to show off. The social worker brings the new lady in front of us. She is looking at us like we are made of chocolate. She is wearing a big fluffy coat so I can’t see if her arms are huggable.
‘Here’s our Kai,’ says Linda, putting her arm around my brother. ‘And here’s little Ellie. This is Rosemary, she’s going to be your new forever family.’
I shuffle over to the lady. She bends her knees so her round face is near mine. Her hair is in a bun.
‘Hello Ellie, I’m very happy to meet you.’
A bit of hair pings out from the bun. It curls around and around. I lean forward and sniff her.
‘Hello mummy,’ I whisper, and lie my head on her soft shoulder.
All illustrations by Robert Mclysaght
Stephanie Hutton is a writer and clinical psychologist in the UK. She has been shortlisted for the Bristol Short Story Prize, Bath Novella-in-Flash Award and Bridport Prize. Publications include Gravel, Mechanics Institute Review and Atticus Review. Her novella Three Sisters of Stone is published with Ellipsis Zine.
Stephanie is on Twitter here.
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