Ryan Ancill via Unsplash

Hold Tightly


min read

This piece was awarded first place in the Swinburne Sudden Writing Competition

The delivery-person appeared as a dark shape against the brilliant setting sun at the front door. The last time people had come to the door silhouetted like that, I was 4 years old, making Mum a tea. Apparently, that’s not what 4-year-olds do, which is why those people had come to take me away. At the time I couldn’t understand why it was such a big deal. I’d done it so many times. I was used to it. I even had my own ritual.  

I’d go into Mum’s room first, and lightly pat her cheek. If her eyelids fluttered and she groaned, with furrowed brows and a huff of stale breath, I’d go to the next step. If she was out cold, I’d go to the window and daydream through the sheer-white curtains until I almost forgot. Then I’d check again.   

Next, I’d drag the kitchen stool to the stove. I liked to do it quietly, a surprise for her. Stretching up on my tip-toes, I’d motion the mug with my fingertips from the bottom shelf into the palm of my hand.   

The trickiest part was filling up the kettle and putting it back on its base to boil. After dropping and spilling it many times I learnt to fill it up only with what was needed, so it wasn’t too heavy.  

Then, still on my stool by the stove, I’d put the teabag in, wrap the label around one, two, three times. Mum showed me how to once, on a good day, when she smelled like laundry powder and let me huddle into her warm side. To keep it all tucked in and safe, she said, we don’t want it to fall into the water I’m pouring, see, and she hoiked me up by the armpits to place me on the stool. Together we watched the bag flutter against its restraint while the hot water flooded in. We lost each-other for a moment, in the lemon and ginger steam. Then she looked at me. ‘If it falls in, you could burn your fingers trying to get it out.’ 

The morning the people came, I was making Mum a milky tea. Creamy like the colour of her sheets. Around that time I’d been making them often. I had been in the middle of my favourite part, watching the bag dance in the emerging milk clouds, then vanish.

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