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“Come on honey, finish that up.  I made pudding for you,” I bring a bowl out from behind my back – magician style, “ta-daaah.  It’s your favourite – raspberry jelly and custard.”

I think it’ll cheer him up but he just looks at me.  My smile isn’t returned.  Poor little tyke, he’s been through so much. He looks back at his plate.

“Must I finish all of my peas Megan?”

“You know the rules sweetheart.  You have to eat everything before you can get the good stuff.”  I waggle the bowl of Jelly to make it wobble under its viscous yellow tablecloth, “the peas are the best bit. They’ll make you big and strong.”

“But there’s so many of them.”

“You should have eaten them before the sausages.  Saved the best for last.”

I relent.  I can’t deny the boy.  I reach forward, take the knife from his hand and separate the pile of peas down the middle and push half to one side.

“There.  You can have pudding if you eat that much…you know, my angel, I have said it before.  You don’t have to call me Megan.  It seems so formal.  You can call me Mummy.”

“But you’re not my real Mummy.  I want my real Mummy.”

I feel actual pain in my heart, genuine pain.

“Oh my poor poor darling.  We have talked about it this.  Your real mother and father couldn’t look after you anymore.  Of course they loved you,” loved the drugs and alcohol more-like, “Just like Daddy and I love you.”

He set to his peas without speaking again.

The poor boy couldn’t understand.  What did he understand about the dangers of drugs at his age?  About how they become more important than looking after your own child?  About why his parents slept so much of the time?  I have spent hour after hour with my husband, Jerry, scouring the internet researching separation anxiety and other such stuff.  So many theories and so much advice but honestly I think patience and nurture will do the trick eventually.

I sit next to Rory, his attention so focused on the offensive vegetables.  My heart is still aching.  ‘All you need is love.’  I think.

“So. when you’re done with lunch would you like me to read you a story?”  I gesture to the groaning bookcase.  “Or maybe we could play with trains together?”

I stand again and walk over to the model railway that Jerry’s been building.  He’s so good with his hands is Jerry.  He works on the diorama evening after evening, weekend after weekend.  The hills are perfect with their tiny trees and shrubs.  The little houses are incredible, so intricate and detailed.  He’s an amazing father.  I know he always wanted kids of his own and feel bad that I couldn’t have them for him.  We’re so lucky to have Rory in our lives now so he can lavish so much love and affection on him.

“That reminds me darling.  Daddy says he’s bringing home a new engine after work tonight.  Isn’t that a nice surprise?”

“Yes Megan…I mean Mummy…Thank you.”

He’s never said it before.  He’s never ever called me Mummy.  My heart is going to explode.  I don’t think I have ever felt so happy.

“But…Mummy.  Instead of story or trains maybe I could play outside today?”

What’s that look in his eyes?  Is he trying to be clever?  Is he calling me Mummy just to butter me up?  I make for the stairs trying to control myself.  I don’t want him to see me angry, it’ll slow down the healing process.

“Not today darling. Soon though.”

Soon, when you’ve stopped talking about your junkie parents and they’ve fallen back off the wagon and stopped pretending they care.  Soon, when your hair has grown longer and your picture is out of the news and they’ve stopped putting all those ‘missing’ posters on all the lampposts.

I close and lock the cellar door behind me.

Dame Barbara