Lynn always kept the biscuit tin full of Jammie Dodgers, like edible chunks of the past. She took one now.
This was always the hardest time, when Rob had gone to bed and the house was silent. She made tea, to pass the time, even though she didn’t want it to pass at all. She wanted it to stop, and turn back.
She sipped her tea slowly, gazing at the painting stuck on the fridge door.
Annie’s painting. Annie’s crooked house, her button-petal flowers, her orange-spike sun.
Rob had gently suggested to her many times that maybe it was time, now, to take the painting down. Just like he’d suggested that perhaps they should think about dismantling the climbing frame in the garden, and donating Annie’s toys to charity.
Lynn shuddered, and bit down onto her Jammie Dodger.
She never told him. He wouldn’t understand. But sometimes, Lynn still saw her, sitting at the kitchen table. Their perfect little girl, golden in the morning sun, her miniature hands busily creating a world where the sun shone in orange and flowers bloomed in candy-pink.
“I did everything right,” Lynn whispered, desperately grasping another Jammie Dodger, “and still…”
A noise fell into the silence of the house. Lynn froze. She heard the front door closing quietly, and the sound of muted footsteps in the hallway.
And Lynn had no bright paint to hide behind, now; no small feet descending the climbing-frame and running to stand beside her. She had nothing except the Jammie Dodger in her hand, and it could not save her from the sound of creeping footsteps, and what she knew was about to happen.
She snatched open the kitchen door. She saw a young woman, framed by the hallway; a beautiful, distant stranger, her high heels hanging from one hand.
“Honestly, mum,” Annie said. “I told you not to wait up.”
“But it’s nearly midnight!” screamed Lynn silently, as Annie turned away, and began to climb the stairs.