Taking A Breath

My alarm went off at 6.30am. At least, I think it did, because one talent I’ve developed during the Covid-19 lockdown has been the superhuman ability to turn my alarm off without actually waking up. By pure luck, in my zombie fumbling, I managed to push the sleeve of my pyjama top almost all the way up my shoulder – and considering it was just short of freezing this morning, the cold woke me somewhere between 6.30 and it’s-still-dark-what’s-wrong-with-you-people o’clock. (It’s an actual time, I promise.)

Swearing under my breath, (how I start almost every day, honestly,) I staggered down the hall, turned on the heater, staggered to the bathroom, turned on THAT heater (which doesn’t actually work, but I like to live in hope) shut the door to contain the not-heat inside, stripped (fripples anyone? Why am I awake again?) and showered, all without opening my eyes. (This isn’t a new talent, I’ve been cultivating what my mum calls the resurrection shuffle for years. Just ask anyone who’s ever seen me pre-coco pops.)

It’s been, what… ten weeks, or something, since I last did this? And though it feels like nothing’s changed, in a lot of ways, everything has. I’m not just talking about in the wide world, but rather the happy little environment within the four walls of my house.

By the time I get out to the kitchen, Orion’s also showered and dressed. (We won’t talk about his inhuman ability to be alert at stupid-o’clock.) He’s turned on the frypan, got oil in it, and is cheerfully (jerk, it’s still dark outside, stop smiling already) cooking wraps for Piper’s school lunch. He’s still offended that he doesn’t get to go to school and she does, but he’s decided to work that rage off by cooking. Last I checked, he was still nine years old. As I watch him flip wraps and start grating carrots, I wonder if I accidentally slept through a decade instead of just my alarm. Kid won’t brush his hair, but damn does he know how to make a mean ham and salad wrap.

Piper rocks out in her school uniform. It looks weird. Everything is borderline too short. (Where did those legs come from, and why aren’t they in my DNA? I need to hunt down whoever is genetically responsible for those legs and wave my finger under their nose.) I brush and braid her hair; it’s twice as long as the last time I did this. She and Orion bicker about Pokemon through breakfast but I let it go, because I can tell the difference by now between their usual I-hate-you-except-I-don’t-really banter, and the true pre-punch-on sparks.

The drive in the car to school is appropriately foggy and eerie. Orion stays home with Marshy, so it’s just me and Piper. She’s chatting at the top of her lungs in the backseat to nobody (aka, Dante) and peppers her dialogue with occasional questions for me that I manage to answer while being blinded by the sun off the fog, and trying not to look at the thermostat which tells me it’s 6 degrees outside the car. (Thank your god of choice that my heater works perfectly.)

We’re not allowed to walk into the school grounds any more, as part of the new rules, so I stop in the car park and turn to look back at my daughter. Her eyes are huge. As a baby, I always thought she’d grow into them, but so far it hasn’t happened. They’re borderline too big for her face, perfectly shaped, and crushingly blue. (Once again, I need to find the family member responsible and demand to know why I missed out.) She looks out at me from those enormous blue eyes while I explain (again) that I can’t walk her down into the school grounds, I have to stay by the car. After a couple of slow, deliberate blinks, she just shrugs. “It’s fine, I can do it by myself.”

Well, all I’m going to say is, someone stole my kid while I wasn’t looking, because that’s not her at all – unless Orion is with her, she’s normally pretty clingy. But sure enough, she opens the car and gets out, puts on her school bag, and starts walking towards the principal, who’s waiting by the gate to greet the kids as they arrive. I throw myself out of the car and run after her, realising she’s leaving without so much as a backwards glance, let alone a good-bye or an I-love-you.

I pull her close, hug her tight and pepper her with kisses and she rolls her eyes. I ask if she’s going to be okay. She raises a single eyebrow (Uncle Cam, I know exactly whose DNA that one is) and says, “Of course, Mummy. Mr. Barkley is right there. Stop freaking out.”

“I love you,” I said. “I’ll be right here this afternoon when you’re done.”

Piper just nods, pats me on the cheek with her delicate little fingers, and saunters off as though she owns the place. Unlike Orion, who’s a serial wave-and-smile kid, she doesn’t so much as even pretend to look over her shoulder, nodding politely to Mr. Barkley as he escorts her down the path. I keep forgetting (or maybe she hypnotises me with those eyes – either one is possible) that beneath that sweet exterior is a core of cool steel, and that if you are dumb enough to get too close uninvited, Princess Piper of the giant, crushingly blue eyes and immaculate eyebrow (uh huh, still looking at you, Uncle Cam) will cut you without so much as a flutter of her dark lashes.

Not sure if I should be proud or not, I fill my lungs with freezing air (then wonder why I did, because it’s cold, dammit) and get back in the car, alone in my own company. (Translation: Dante is grinning at me like an idiot in the passenger seat, but I ignore him) After a few sips of tea (which isn’t as good as a sleep-in, but helps), I crank the music up loud enough to drown out my other thoughts, and turn the car for home.

Today is going to be so weird.

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