Katey stretched up, thin wrists popping out of frayed cuffs, enquiring fingers brushing the soft claret blooms of a wildly overgrown rose bush.
‘Careful, careful. Mind the thorns.’
Katey snatched her hand back. Grandma was always telling her to be careful.
‘It’s called Rosa Superhero,’ Grandma said.
Katey shrugged. She flopped down on the lawn on her back, limbs splayed out. Syd danced around, his tail thumping both sides of his ribs. Labrador breath tickled Katey’s cheeks.
Mummy had come out of her bedroom earlier that afternoon, dark lipstick and her special red dress on. Perfume oozed from her skin. Katey sneezed as she always did, the scent was so overpowering. Dave had emerged too, smelling sweet and sickly, a silly grin showing through scraggy facial hair. They were going out on the town. Katey knew this meant that she would be sent for an evening and night stay over at Grandma’s. She did not mind. Grandma always sang songs with her, played pretend games and Guess Who. Sometimes they baked biscuits and scoffed them all in one sitting. Sure enough, Mummy had packed her pyjamas and a change of clothes in her pink-striped backpack. Dave got in the way, jangling car-keys. He was not really called Dave. Katey called them all Dave. She could never remember their real names.
‘For goodness sake, try,’ Mummy said.
The Daves didn’t care. They just tickled her tummy and called her things like ‘Katey-Matey.’
Katey tolerated them. She was actually waiting for Daddy to come home. She had never met Daddy. He had taken off before she was born. But he would come back. Her hero, her knight in shining armour like in all the books she loved to read, but in a sports car rather than on a horse.
When she asked Mummy about Daddy and when he would be back, the reply was always the same.
‘Don’t you even be thinking about him.’
So Katey would try asking Grandma.
‘What is my daddy like?’
She said things like, ‘he was no-good-layabout,’ and ‘I hope he never darkens our door again.’
Katey did not really understand what they were saying.
Katey rolled on to her tummy. Syd bowed down, a game on his mind. All that was on Katey’s mind was Daddy. Perhaps he would be back tomorrow when she got home. He would be tall and dark like her. He would smell of soap and chocolate, not cigarettes and pies like the Daves. He would swing her up in his arms like all the fathers in story books.
Water dripped on Katey. Grandma always watered the garden just before dinner. The roses bobbed down towards her, the flower-heads heavy with moisture.
Katey watched Grandma towering-tall, silhouetted against the evening sun, as she stood above her. Katey giggled. She looked like an elongated monster, albeit a smiling leisure-clad one, with hair in a messy bun, dangly earrings and jangling bangles.
Rainbows danced through the arc of droplets from the hose.
Katey rolled up onto a standing position.
Dimly she was aware of Grandma saying, ‘A wind is due through tonight. Probably shake all these petals off.’
Katey was not listening. She ran around the lawn, grass-seeded hair flying, whooping, Syd barking and bounding inches behind her.
Katey hovered on the stool swinging her legs, banging her toes into the side of the kitchen-island. Syd flopped on the floor tongue lolling. The pasta they had eaten for dinner had tasted good but Katey much preferred the chicken bites and chips she normally had at home. Grandma had put her old-time music on the stereo and someone called Bob Dylan warbled weirdly in the background.
At home game shows always crashed endlessly in the background.
When Daddy came back, they would play Katy Perry and Taylor Swift all day long and dance, twirling and galloping around, paying no heed to being careful. Mummy got a bit cross when she banged into the coffee-table, dislodging and slopping abandoned curdling mugs of tea. The Daves would crane their necks trying to see the TV around her and scowl, scared of missing an answer to questions they did not understand.
‘What shall we read tonight,’ Grandma asked, clanking dishes into the dishwasher. ‘Winnie- the-Pooh?’
All the kids’ books at Grandma’s, in the room Katey slept in, had Belinda Jones written on the inside cover. That was Mummy’s name. Daddy would be Ryan or Chris. Katey liked the sound of Ryan, Belinda and Katey. Katey also liked the sound of Grandma’s voice when she read to her. Soft and lilting.
Mummy said she didn’t have time to read to Katey, ‘what with work and doing all that other crap.’ Katey assumed ‘all that other crap’ was looking after her and Dave. The only reading that Dave did was off the internet news sites, stuttering over the words about giant octopus that ate random swimmers.
‘Be careful when you are next at the beach,’ he snorted at Katey.
Katey reckoned that as they never went to the beach and she hated swimming there was little chance of her being gobbled up by a rampaging octopus.
Katey did choose Winnie-the-Pooh that night.
After Grandma kissed her goodnight, she imagined her Daddy reading about Tigger and Piglet, his voice rumbling in the night air.
Katey did not hear the wind come through. Rose petals swooped and swirled in the air, then settled on the garden paths.
‘Go get in the car, I want to talk to Grandma.’
Katey knew that was code for argue. Mummy and Grandma always argued at drop off and pick up.
Katey wrapped her arms around Syd’s chunky body, kissed him on his flat head then scuffed her way to the car, clambering in and sliding down in the seat, wriggling her bottom and shutting her eyes. It could be a long wait if Mummy and Grandma got going.
There was no sign of Dave. That meant Daddy might be back. He would be waiting in the kitchen leaning back against the bench clasping a cup of coffee in his long fingers with his special smile on his lips. The one he had kept for when he met Katey. Dave would have been sent packing. Katey knew Daddy would not tolerate Dave hanging around.
Luckily Mummy was not long.
Katey felt the car reverse and swing around. She heaved herself back upright, flicking her eyes open. She knew not to speak till Mummy did. Grandma always seemed to put her in bad mood.
Katey hummed. Humming was good for filling silent patches. Mummy didn’t like having music on in the car. She couldn’t concentrate with all that noise going on. Katey stopped humming. Mummy was talking to her.
‘Did you have a nice time at Grandma’s?’
‘But I like home the best.’
‘You will need to take your shoes off when you get there. I don’t need you making a mess on the carpet.’
Katey looked down at her sneakers. Rosa Superhero petals, brown, bruised, clung to the cleats.
Wendy lives in rural New Zealand with her family and a variety of animals. Wendy has worked as a Librarian, Teaching Assistant and Horse Riding Therapy Instructor. She spent her childhood scribbling stories and poems in notebooks but after a long break has only recently taken to the pen again.