Sunday 18 February 2018


by Carolyn Belcher

warm milk 

Jemima was sitting on the bottom step of the stairs. She had her ‘hopeful’ coat on. It was the coat she hoped her mother wouldn’t make her take off. Her mother didn’t like the coat. Jemima did. It was red. Red was Jemima’s favourite colour. Mummy had said the coat was too small. It was to be put away for the baby who was in her mother’s tummy. Sometimes Jemima wondered how the baby had got there. Mummy had said something about eggs. Jemima liked eggs, particularly a dippy egg with soldiers.
‘Please can I come with you?’
‘Do you promise to be good?’
‘Yes?’ There was a question in Jemima’s voice as though she wasn’t quite sure what good meant when you went shopping. Jemima liked shopping. The supermarket was full of exciting things to buy and interesting people to help. Jemima liked helping people.
Her mother didn’t seem to notice the question in her voice. Nor did she notice the coat. She was too busy looking for her car keys. ‘Where did I put them?’ she said in her impatient voice.
‘Daddy says--’
‘I know what Daddy says, put them on a hook in the key cupboard. But sometimes my mind doesn’t work like that, especially when I’m in a hurry.’
Jemima knew all about minds working in one way and then another. One day, Jemima’s mind told her she did like brussel sprouts and the next day it said, ‘yuk.’
‘Oh here they are.’ Her mother pulled the keys out of her coat pocket. ‘Right, we’re ready.’
‘Are you going to do a big shop or a small shop?’ asked Jemima.
‘What day is it?’
Jemima screwed up her face. ‘Now let me see,’ she said. ‘I’m going to nursery school this afternoon, so that means,’ she ticked the days off on her fingers. ‘Monday, Wednesday or Friday.’ On Tuesdays and Thursdays I go to nursery school in the morning. I think Monday was a long time ago.’ She put her finger on her lips. ‘Is it Wednesday? No. On Wednesday I went to Sarah’s house for tea. It’s Friday. And on Fridays you always do a big shop. Am I right?’
‘You are a very clever four year old, Jemima Wiggins. Get in the car, please.’
‘Which shop are we going to, Mummy?’
There were two supermarkets in the town where Jemima lived. One was near all the other shops. The other was near lots of houses with very small gardens. Jemima was glad that she, her mother and father didn’t live there. Her house had a long garden with a tyre swing hanging from a tree at the bottom. Nana said there were fairies at the bottom of the garden. Jemima hadn’t ever seen one. But sometimes she saw grasses or leaves on bushes move when there was no wind, and she thought, that must be the fairies. They’re hiding from me.
‘We’re going to the supermarket where they sell clothes, Jemima. I could do with some new leggings for pilates and you could do with some pyjamas.’
‘Can I choose them?’
‘Of course.’
‘Can I choose your leggings?’
‘Yes, as long as they’re black.’
Jemima pulled a face. I don’t like black. I like red.’
‘I need black,’ said her mother.
In the supermarket Jemima said, ‘Can we do jamies and leggings first?’
‘I think that’s a very good idea,’ said her mother, and pushed the trolley over to the aisle where they sold trousers.
Jemima hung back. She had noticed a woman looking at some tops. The woman picked up a white top. It had lacy sleeves. It was pretty, but Jemima knew that it wouldn’t look nice on the woman. She had to help her. The woman would be sad and cross if she bought it. Jemima didn’t like feeling sad or cross. She felt sad when Sarah didn’t want to play with her. She felt cross when her father wouldn’t push her on the tyre swing. He told her she had her, worm, face on. Her worm face was the one in the rhyme.
Nobody likes me. Everybody hates me.
I’m going down the garden to eat worms.
She went up to the woman and tapped her on the arm.
The woman jumped. ‘Are you lost, dear?’ she said.
‘No,’ said Jemima. ‘My mummy’s over there.’ She pointed to the trouser aisle. ‘I like helping people to choose. That top is nice but it won’t look nice on you.’ She shook her head. ‘It will make you look--’
‘Jemima come here at once. I am so sorry,’ said Jemima’s mother. Her mother had her cross face on. She took Jemima’s hand. ‘You’re going to help me look for leggings. That lady wants to choose her own clothes without your help.’
‘That’s alright dear. I wasn’t sure about it. She’s helped me make up my mind.’
‘See Mummy?’ Jemima had her happy face on. ‘People like me to help them. That lady has a big bottom and a big tummy. Her tummy is bigger than yours. The white top will be here.’ She pointed to the middle of her mother’s belly. ‘She would show people her big tummy. I don’t think people like seeing big tummies.’
Jemima knew that her mother’s tummy was big because of the baby in it. Sometimes the baby slept in her mother’s tummy and sometimes he kicked. You couldn’t see the baby doing that, but her mother let her feel the baby moving and said, ‘there. Can you feel that kick? I think he’s going to be a footballer with a kick like that.’
The first time she had felt Tyler, that was going to be his name, kick, she had asked her mother if it hurt? Her mother had shaken her head and said, no. Jemima wondered why. When James kicked her leg it hurt. James was a boy in nursery school.
‘The lady should buy the red or blue top.’ she squirmed round. ‘Perhaps she’s got a baby in her tummy, or her bottom. Can babies be in bottoms?’
Her mother squatted down. ‘No, babies can’t be in bottoms, and you promised to be good, Jemima.’
‘I am being good. I was helping. I wanted her to buy the blue one or the red one. They are better for people with big tummies and bottoms.’
‘It isn’t good to tell people that the clothing they want to buy will make them look fat?’
‘Because it’s rude. Come and choose your pyjamas,’
‘I thought we were going to choose your leggings first.’
‘We were. But I think we’ll do that after.’
I’d like red jamies.”
There weren’t any red pyjamas. But they found some pink ones with red hearts on them and pink was almost as good as red. Then they found her mummy some black leggings and made their way to the groceries’ aisles. Jemima’s mother told her to stay close to the trolley. ‘I don’t want you to get lost,’ she said. Jemima liked the word, groceries. It was a growly word. Sometimes, when she was on her own in her bedroom, she practised growly words, making them sound like a lion. Grrrroceries, grrrapes, grrrrumpy, grrrrizzle.
‘Can we buy some growly grrrrapes?’ she said.
‘What are growly grapes?’ her mother asked.
‘Green ones, red ones.’
‘But why growly?’
‘Because of the grrrrr,’ said Jemima. ‘Buy grrrreen grrrrapes.’
Her mother laughed. ‘You funny ha’p’orth? Did you hear what I said about staying close to the trolley?’
‘Yes. I won’t get lost.’ She wondered why her mother thought she might get lost. The grrrocery aisles went up and down. It was very difficult to get lost.
‘Fruit and veg first then.’ her mother said.
It took time. Jemima’s mother was a careful shopper. She checked everything she picked up before putting them in the trolley. When she was buying packets of things like biscuits, she always checked for e numbers. Jemima knew what e numbers were. They were things that were added to food or drinks in packets or tins or bottles or ready meals. Some e numbers were good and some were bad. Some made children too excited and silly.
Because Jemima’s mother took her time shopping, it was easy for Jemima to look around to see if there was anyone else who needed help. Soon, she wasn’t at all close to the trolley. She was near a lady who looked as though she was as old as Jemima’s great-granny. The old lady was looking at apples. Red apples, green apples, yellow apples and apples that were all three colours. Apples were not Jemima’s favourite fruit. She liked satsumas and grrrapes and strawberries best. Satsumas didn’t growl, but strrrrawberries did.
Jemima decided that the old lady would find it difficult to eat an apple. Satsumas would be better. Satsumas were easy to peel and felt soft and juicy in your mouth. Jemima’s great granny liked satsumas. She popped a bag of satsumas into the old lady’s trolly when she wasn’t looking and then skipped back to her mother feeling very pleased that she had helped another shopper.
In the next aisle Jemima helped a man to a packet of sausages. He had eggs and bacon in his trolley. Eggs, bacon and sausages were yummy together, especially when Jemima was allowed to help herself to tomato ketchup. If the man had children, they would be happy that Jemima had helped him to sausages. Perhaps she ought to go to the sauce aisle and find the ketchup? But she saw that her mother wasn’t in the meat isle any longer. Hunt the mummy, she told herself and skipped to the end of the aisle. ‘No, she wasn’t in the next aisle, nor the next, then she saw her in the aisle where there were lots of disposables. That is what her mother called nappies and things like that.
‘What are you looking for, Mummy?’ she asked.
‘Pads.’ said her mother.
The only pads that Jemima knew were pads to draw on. Nothing on the shelves in this aisle looked like a pad you could draw on.
‘Pads are near crayons,’ she said.
‘Not drawing pads. Pads for older people.’
Were drawing pads for older people in plastic packets that looked like packets of nappies, only smaller? ‘Pads for older people,’ said Jemima in a thinking voice.
Her mother looked at her. ‘Your great granny needs pads like this,’ she held up a packet. ‘They’re to keep her dry. Sometimes when you’re old you wet yourself a bit if you cough or laugh.’
‘I don’t wet myself when I cough or laugh. I sometimes wet myself if I forget to go to the toilet because I’m happy playing.’
‘Yes you do,’ her mother said. ‘And that reminds me, do you need to do a wee now?’
Jemima shook her head. She decided to look for an old person who might need pads. She glanced round. An old man was pottering down the aisle towards them. Did old men need pads? She decided to help him, just in case. She chose a packet, one that she could reach and when he was looking at toilet rolls she popped it in his trolley.
Her mother studied her list. ‘Right Jemima, we’ve finished. Let’s pay and go home. I’m ready for a cuppa.’
‘Can I ride on the trolley now?’
‘Ok.’ Jemima’s mother lifted her into the trolley and pushed it to a till that had just one person ahead of them. My old man, Jemima thought.
He began to put the items from his trolley onto the belt. ‘What are these? I didn’t want to buy these?’ The old man was peering at the packet of pads that Jemima had popped into his trolley.
‘They’re sanitary towels, Mr Rose. You certainly don’t want those. If you have a problem--
‘I don’t.’ said Mr Rose. ‘And I don’t need… whatever it is you think I might want to buy. These… whatever you called them must have fallen off the shelf into my basket.’
Jemima’s mother looked at her. ‘Did they fall off the shelf, Jemima?’ she whispered.
Jemima pulled her lips inside her mouth to stop words that might get her into trouble, escaping.
Her mother gave her a, we’ll talk about this later, look.
When they got home, Jemima carried the toilet rolls and kitchen rolls into the house while her mother dealt with the bags.
‘Milk and a biscuit?’ her mother asked.
‘Could I have an ice lolly, please?’
‘When do you get ice lollies, Jemima?’
‘When I’ve been good. I have been good.’
‘Have you? What about the lady and her white top? What about the packet of sanitary towels in Mr Rose’s trolley?’
Jemima knew it was wrong to lie. Jemima wanted a home made orange lolly. She looked at her mother. ‘I put the pads in the man’s trolley because I wanted to help him,’ she said.
‘What have I told you about helping people?’
‘But sometimes you tell me I’m good when I help. I helped you with the toilet rolls and the kitchen rolls. That was good, wasn’t it?’
‘That’s one being good and two being naughty.’
‘What if I put the toilet rolls in the bathroom cupboard? That’s two being goods.’
‘Okay minx. But next time--
‘No helping people in the supermarket?’
‘When you go shopping with me, no helping people in the supermarket.’
In her mind, Jemima skipped up the stairs to the bathroom. Really, skipping would have been impossible with the packets of toilet and kitchen rolls.
Mummy said, ‘shopping with me.’ That meant, if she went shopping with Daddy or Nana she could help lots of people. Perfect. Perfect was a new word. It was a growly word.

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