By Emma Phillips
Your mum says you shouldn’t keep your troubles inside because they stay down for a while but have a habit, like smoke, of rising. If you don’t deal with them, they’ll get bigger until you’re like that bottle of Coke in the Mento experiment, and the more you try to push your feelings down, the more they’ll rise. But the people round here aren’t big talkers, so you’re not too sure your mum is following her own advice, and you catch her sometimes, staring out the window with a look like that painting of Atlas carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders that you saw at school, and when you ask her what she’s thinking about, she says, “nothing,” and looks at you sideways.
Since your dad lost his job, worries have come to live in every corner of your flat and they multiply like spiders when the bills come, so you try your very best to do what you’re told, earning gold stars in your book bag, and you know they’re not money, and you can’t eat them, but they make your dad smile, and though the heating’s off to keep costs down, you can feel the warmth in his eyes.
Christmas is coming, but you won’t ask for much. Lucy Cartwright has written a list as long as Rudolph’s reins, and you try really hard not to hate her for it because at church they say you have to love your neighbor like yourself, and she sits next to you in class. Her mum drives a Range Rover like you’d imagine people have in the country, and she never gets the Tube because of all the germs, and she buys her clothes new in the West End without giving it a second thought.
You know she’s the one they’ll cast as Mary in the Christmas play, even though she can’t sing, and her family never go to church. The only time you ever went to her house was when she invited all the girls for a pamper party, and you sat in the back of the car with her dog, while she bagsied lipsticks in the front with Rebecca Brown and Victoria Lilley, and you listened to them giggling, as you watched the roads get wider, gardens appear, and her dashboard Jesus nod between pauses as they all made plans. You chewed at your nails while they fizz fizzed like champagne at your uncle Paul’s wedding, and you wished your words would pop out like a cork instead of sticking at the back of your throat like a confession.