Charlotte is faces the crypocalypse.
London – 1841
‘Mummy, when will Pappy be home?’ Mary asked. She was perched on my hip tugging at one of my curls that had escaped to make it bounce, though she didn’t she didn’t seem impressed by the amount of bounce my loose curls had.
Meredith was laced around my legs pressing her face against my dress occasionally trying to wrap herself round me and dangle like she was climbing a pipe, but she wasn’t strong enough. It was lucky I was stronger than most women, she was getting big. People were giving us disapproving looks as if I didn’t know how to keep my children under control. Which I didn’t, but they weren’t doing anything wrong.
‘I don’t know, but he won’t be away long,’ I said.
‘But it’s been aaaagggeeees,’ she replied. ‘He always gets sad when he’s away ‘cause he misses us.’
As far as the children knew he’d been called away on urgent business, I wasn’t going to tell them he’d been taken away by one of his maker’s minions. I frowned at the shop window, it was full of wooden toys the uses of which were a mystery to me. Mary couldn’t pass a toy shop window without peeking in.
‘Miss Pappy,’ Merry mumbled into my skirt. ‘Want Pappy.’
‘He’ll be home soon,’ I repeated and stared at the toys hoping the crypocalypse wasn’t about to happen. Mrs Stapleton was with Millie getting her fitted for new clothes after a growth spurt, I was supposed to be entertaining the children not making them cry.
Merry rubbed her face against my skirt and I tried not to think about it, adult clothes seemed to be giant handkerchiefs to children.
‘Where’s Pappy?’ Mary asked again.
What would Bran do? I wondered. I had no idea, his parenting skills still seemed like magic to me. I considered picking them up, running to Mrs Stapleton and setting them in front of her. She’d know what to do. God knew why they didn’t call her mummy.
‘I miss Pappy too,’ I said.
Mary sniffled. ‘Mummys have to miss pappys, it’s the rules.’
I nodded. I couldn’t argue, it was a sensible enough rule. I wondered about buying them a toy each but it seemed like a dangerous strategy, they’d expect a toy every time they got upset.
‘You need to learn to read stories properly and play games properly. Pappy knows.’ Mary rubbed her eyes with the sleeve of her dress.
I sighed and looked towards the sky, it was a warm day but the factory chimneys were filling the sky with black and grey smoke that hid the blue like storm clouds.
‘And you need to tell Pappy you love him,’ she continued. ‘It’s rules. Princes and princesses always say “love you”, kiss and live happily ever after. Ask Uncle ‘Sef, he told us a story ‘bout it. You only say it when Pappy asks, don’t you love Pappy?’
‘Of course I do,’ I replied still scowling at the sky and its dirty clouds.
‘You’re not a good princess,’ Mary said.
I considered pointing out I wasn’t a princess but she might be a little young to know that sort of things I really got up to.
Merry looked up at me with big disapproving eyes, Father Brennan’s blue eyes, I realised. I’d never thought about it before, but she’d never been so close to his perpetual expression of disapproval before. Something told me I was going to get that a lot. I was failing as a mother, I was sure.
‘Muuuummmmyyy, where’s Papppppy?’ Merry sobbed.
Then Mary started crying.
I closed my eyes for a moment waiting for God to strike me down for my failure. I should’ve been prepared, their biological father had died, it made sense they’d worry about Bran after he mysteriously disappeared. It made sense if you were inclined to think like that, which I was not.
People walked passed tutting and commenting loudly about what a terrible mother I was. I patted Merry’s head and stared at the toys in the window while they cried loudly. Give me a hoard of vampires and I knew what to do, two screaming children and I was defeated.
‘Make Pappy come home, Mummy,’ Merry wailed, turning red in the face. ‘Want Pappy.’
I patted Merry’s head and shushed Mary soothingly, I hoped, but they went on. I crouched down, no mean feat in a dress and corset with a four year old on my hip. ‘Your Pappy, is coming home if I have to go and fetch him myself, understand?’
They nodded but their crying only lessen to hiccoughs as if having started they couldn’t stop until they ran out of tears. I drew them into a hug and they sobbed into my neck. At least Merry rubbed her nose on her sleeve, not my bare shoulder.
‘I’m sorry if I’m not very good at being your mother. I love you and your pappy very much and I want to be a good mother but I never had a mummy and pappy so I don’t know how to play games and read stories,’ I said. ‘So, I need you to be big girls and help me learn, alright?’
Merry nodded and wiped her eyes on Patches.
‘You were all alone, Mummy?’ asked Mary.
I dug out a handkerchief and wiped her face and nose. ‘Until I met your pappy.’
‘And you take care of Pappy,’ she said.
I wiped Merry’s nose even though I was sure most of it was up her sleeve. ‘I will always take care of all of you and I’m going to try to do better.’
They nodded, lips still stuck out and eyes shiny.
Merry patted my head and Mary squeezed my neck.
‘We’ll teach you to be the best Mummy,’ Mary said.
That sounded ominous.
Part of Jesse’s Studio’s Fiction Frenzy there will be a new episode of Victorian Mistress everyday from 4th June until 17th June 2017.