“Hill Top Farm, Near Sawrey, Cumbria England -Home of Beatrix Potter”
“Mo-omm,” I moaned, in pitiful voice. “I don’t feel well today.”
Tossing all night, I felt like one of Mom’s dishrags tumbling from the dryer. I wasn’t really sick. I just couldn’t face school today. Not another pop quiz from Mrs. F. Not another volleyball game I always fumbled at during recess. Yet – I’d never fibbed about being ill before. And it made me feel guilty. I wasn’t sure I could really fool my mother the way other kids bragged of doing. Or if I really wanted to.
She stretched her cool palm across my forehead. Looked down my throat. “You seem okay,” she said. “Does it hurt anywhere?”
“Have a headache?”
She gave me her “hmmm” look. The kind that always seemed to look right through to my thoughts. For just a minute I thought she was going to scoot me out of bed, but her expression changed suddenly and she only tucked the blankets around me. “Okay,” she said. “Just rest a bit… then we’ll see if you feel up to eating a little something.”
I leaned back into my pillow, listening to the sounds of my sister and brother brushing teeth, getting dressed. To Dad calling, and car doors slamming. Then… quiet.
I couldn’t really pinpoint why I thought so exactly, but there was a different feel in the air about weekdays at home that I never felt on weekends. Sort of like even the sunlight casting dancing shadows on my walls was different, softer somehow. A peacefulness that cocooned every room. Still… beneath it all, a tingling of – what? Maybe… an undercurrent of adventure in just being home alone with Mom at a time I normally would not be?
I could hear Mom humming as she cleared breakfast dishes. I could also hear birdsong waking the neighborhood and a workaday truck rumbling down the street. Then… the click of toast popping up in the toaster, and footsteps coming down the hall.
“How about a little toast and tea?” Mom smiled, bringing in a small tray for my lap.
I sat up. “Yes, please,” I said.
She perched on the bed, watching as I ate.
“Y’know…” she began slowly, as if figuring out some plans, “I was just thinking – it’s nice to have someone around today. Maybe you could help with the dusting. Would you like to work out with me when the exercise program comes on later, too?”
I eyed her, trying to decipher if this was a trick.
“Okay,” I said.
“Join me when you get dressed, then,” she invited.
As I pulled my sweater over my head, stepped into my jeans, I heard the stereo go on. One of Mom’s favorite singers was belting out her beloved “Spanish Eyes.” In the living room, I found her dancing the dust cloth to rhythm of the beautiful tune. Her own dark eyes sparkled as she handed me a cloth. The song ended and another, livelier one about dancing on Sunday in Greece came on, urging our feet and hands and transforming the work to fun. Soon we were singing loudly as we ran the cloth over each piece of furniture in two rooms, giggling together and pretending to sing into a hand mike.
Mom glanced at her watch. “Time for Jack!” she said, flipping on the well-known TV exercise show. “Hello there,” the host’s friendly voice seemed to boom just to us. “Glad you could join me today… let’s warm up with a few jumping jacks…” Soon we were stretching, jumping, and laughing as we tried to imitate his more complicated moves. Stepping on each other’s toes occasionally or slapping one another by mistake as we moved only made us crack up a little more.
“Whew!” Mom said, when the 30-minute show ended.
I fell into the chair and blew out air.
“Do you do this every day?” I asked, thinking how school always made us exercise on the playground. I never thought of Mom doing that too. Or of taking her own kind of “recess.”
“Mm-hmm,” she answered. “Only its been more fun today with you.”
“I’m thinking we’ll do a touch more work, eat lunch and then maybe a take a ride this afternoon,” she told me.
“You’re going to take me out on a school day?” I gulped in surprise. What if someone saw me outside of school?
That idea didn’t seem to phase Mom. “Well, I need to run over to the “Prima Dona” store and pick up a gift,” she said, “and I think you seem well enough to get some air and run an errand with me…”
Mom’s best friend Kathy, who was also the mother of my sister’s and my best friend, worked there. What would she think of me being out of school today? It was a really nice children’s clothing shop where people often dressed up just to come in there — one of those places that was especially fun to visit because of all the lovely things and the grownup way they treated even the kids as exclusive customers, though we rarely stopped by.
Again, I slid Mom a sidelong glance, but she just seemed – happy.
Me on the other hand… well, guilt was tinging the fun with uneasiness.
A jolly bell tinkled over the doorway as we entered the quiet shop. Only one other customer browsed in a corner. Looking around, I spied an array of inviting cookies, little plates and sturdy disposable cups on a side counter. I wondered why they were there.
“Hi guys!” Kathy greeted us, stepping out from behind an array of pastel dresses on a rack. “What a nice surprise!” She bustled around hanging a few stray pieces, then led us over to the cookies. “Like some hot chocolate?” she asked me.
I looked at Mom, and she nodded.
“A few cookies to go nicely with it too,” Kathy said, handing me a plate and steaming cup. The other customer left and soon we were sitting on some stools just chatting and visiting. I munched silently, enjoying being in on the grown lady talk, as if I belonged here. It reminded me of another time when Mom and Kathy had treated us and her daughter to a fashion show lunch at a fancy department store downtown. Just one of the ladies together.
On the way home, I could stand it no longer. “Mom,” I said, “you figured out I wasn’t really sick, didn’t you?” I watched her mouth twitch a small smile. “I’m sorry I lied.”
“Mm… I knew,” Mom said.
“Why did you let me get away with it?” I wondered.
“Because… I saw something in your eyes that made me remember – everyone can use an unplanned jolly holiday occasionally. Even moms.”
“Like Mary Poppins and the Banks children?” I asked, remembering that joyful movie scene.
“Exactly,” she sparkled. “Only remember… such a day comes only like rare treasure. School is important.”
“Yes,” I sighed. “But I’m so glad you’re a mom who knows about jolly holidays!”
“Mums the word,” she grinned, making our special just-the-two-of-us day as warming as that cup of “Prima Dona” hot chocolate between my hands.
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© Pam Depoyan
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