On the Good Ship Lollipop by Charlotte Comley
She sat on daddy’s knee while he read the newspaper and I seethed; I was too big to sit on anyone’s lap any more.
‘Mummy, mummy, Eileen is going to beat me,’ she screamed. Beat her? She may not have had Shirley Temple’s looks, but she was an extremely good actress
‘Eileen, set the table,’ mummy said, bobbing her head out of the kitchen. She was pinked-cheeked from cooking and a stray curl from her usually immaculate hair dangled across her face.
‘But it’s Shirley’s turn,’ I whined.
‘Eileen! She’s a baby,’ mummy said passing me a handful of silver knives and forks.
‘She’s not a baby, she’s six,’ I muttered because mummy wouldn’t hesitate to give me a slap if I answered back.
My mood was short-lived when I saw mummy had made a large rice pudding, my favourite and a rare treat, especially when I saw her sprinkle nutmeg on the top.
‘Oh mummy, that looks wonderful!’
My mother beamed.
‘Can I have the skin off the top?’ It was my favourite part of the dessert. Daddy wasn’t keen on the nutmeg and mummy, for some strange reason, thought the skin was more fattening than the rest of the dessert. She was always trying, and mostly failing, to have a Rita Hayward figure.
‘You can share the skin with Shirley,’ mummy said, carefully skimming the golden nutmeg topping and putting it on a saucer, ‘if you eat all your rabbit stew and cabbage.’
‘With rice pudding for dessert, I’ll eat it all, even the pearl barley,’ I laughed, putting the tea cosy over the pot and balancing it on the tray with the cups and saucers.
It was a delicious supper, but Shirley was restless and demanding, insisting daddy cut up her rabbit into smaller pieces. A small pang of jealously stabbed my heart when daddy made an aeroplane with the fork and fed Shirley, but not as much as when Shirley insisted she didn’t want to eat all her cabbage. Mother said just one more forkful but I knew she would make me eat my whole portion.
Tabby our ginger tom cat started to complain at the back door.
‘Eileen be a dear and…’
‘I’ll let him out,’ Shirley shouted and jumped down from her chair.
Daddy laughed and called her, ‘Good girl’.
My parents started to gently argue about whether to catch the tram or walk to Aunty Dot’s after supper. It was a lovely evening and I hoped we’d walk. Aunty Dot worked in a canteen and she always managed to magically get sweets when there were none to be had.
I ploughed through my cabbage and wondered how long it could take to open a door to let a cat out. I didn’t dare interrupt my parents. What could be taking Shirley so long? I wondered.
Finally, I had a clean plate. I coughed gently and for once mummy took the hint. She put her knife and fork in a neat diagonal line, and said: ‘Eileen please bring in the rice pudding.’
I smiled for once, eager to oblige and skipped into the kitchen just in time to see Shirley eat all the delicious nutmeg-filled skin from the top of the rice pudding.
‘You greedy beast!’ I shouted and lifted my hand. I’m not sure if I would have actually brought it down on her leg, my sister didn’t give me a chance.
‘Mummy, mummy, Eileen is going to beat me,’ she screamed. Beat her? She may not have had Shirley Temple’s looks, but she was an extremely good actress.
As my mother stepped into the kitchen, Shirley darted past and hid behind her skirts crying.
Daddy stood up and picked Shirley up, who cried even more.
‘She ate all the rice pudding skin,’ I said pointing to the empty saucer.
‘Shame on you,’ mummy said, ‘you were going to hit the child over the skin of a pudding?’
‘I didn’t eat any of the big pudding mummy, I saved that for Eileen,’ Shirley said between sobs.
‘See, she didn’t eat it all. Now bring in the dish and we’ll have no more of this,’ mummy said.
I picked up the large blue oval dish my mother loved and faced with my parents standing in the doorway, my younger sister in my father’s arms, I lifted it and dropped it on the floor. I had never seen my parents so angry.
Legs stinging from a sharp slap, I was sent to my room. I flopped to the bed and cried. I wasn’t allowed to go and visit Aunty Dot. Everyone hated me. It was obvious that my parents had never really loved me. I remember thinking I would run away, I didn’t of course, and I cried myself to sleep.
When I heard footsteps on the stairs I started to cry again, maybe mummy or daddy would come into my room and tell me everything was okay, but it was Shirley who pushed open the door.
‘What do you want?’ I demanded.
Shirley approached the bed still in her duffle coat. She pushed her hand into the deep pocket and pulled out a small brown paper package.
‘Aunty Dot had treacle toffee,’ she said the word treacle and toffee as if they were magic words. ‘Mummy and daddy wouldn’t let me bring you some so I saved mine. I’m sorry I ate all the skin Eileen.’
She handed me the home-made treacle toffee.
The paper was stuck to it and I could see brown stains around my sister’s mouth, a tell-tale brown tongue showed that she hadn’t managed to resist tasting the treat, she had such a sweet tooth. She looked hopeful, obviously thinking that such a big sacrifice would make things better.
I pulled my little sister on my lap and kissed her sticky cheek.
‘Thank you Shirley,’ I said, and I meant it.
•Charlotte Comley is a local writer and professional storyteller. She has an MA in Creative Writing and runs The Writers at Lovedean writing group thewriterslovedean.co.uk/