NO PLACE LIKE HOME
Sammy’s dad came in through the front door, shaking the rain from his umbrella onto the doormat. He closed the door behind him, put the umbrella in the stand, and hung up his coat. When he saw Sammy, he stopped.
Sammy smiled and got up off the sofa.
“What are you doing here?” he asked.
“Mum’s going out tonight. I thought I could stay over, play with Ryan.”
Ryan was on his belly on the sitting room rug, building a house for his dinosaurs out of plastic bricks.
“Oh,” her dad said. “Where’s Tracy?”
“Upstairs on the computer.”
“What’s for dinner?”
“Pasta with tomato soup and grated cheese. It’s in the microwave.”
Her dad groaned and rolled his eyes. “It’s Saturday night and I’ve got pasta and tomato soup for tea. That lazy skank.” He kneaded his eyes with his thumb and forefinger. “Can you get me a beer out? United are on in a minute. I’m going upstairs to get changed. Ryan, tell your lazy mother to quit messaging her boyfriends and get you ready for bed. If you’re quick you can watch the game with your old man.”
At three nil down and with fifteen minutes to go, Sammy’s dad clicked off the telly. He reached for the beer on top of the stack of Tracy’s TV guides, slugged back the remains, and crushed the can
in his hand. Then he got up, collected the other empties from the floor, and carried them through to the kitchen.
“Bedtime, Ryan,” he said, as he dropped the cans in the bin. He turned to Sammy. “You’ll need to shift the washing off the futon. Just stick it on the floor.” He switched off the kitchen light and walked down the hall. “You know where the sheets are.”
“Dad,” Sammy said, as she followed him, “I met an old woman today. She said she knew you.”
Her dad’s eyes narrowed. “I don’t know any old women.”
“She gave me a bracelet …”
“I don’t know her. If you see her again, tell her to sod off.” He nudged Ryan up the stairs in front of him and trudged up behind.
He stopped, shoulders slumped. “Sam, I just want to go to bed.”
“I was only going to say goodnight.”
Her dad carried on up the stairs, taking Ryan to his bedroom and switching the hall light off as he went. “Goodnight,” he said.
“Love you,” Sammy called up.
The bedroom door clicked shut.
Sammy trudged along the dark hall to the study. There were no curtains in the window and light poured in from the off licence next door. The desk was covered in paperwork and the futon against the back wall was covered in laundry. Sammy set about clearing the clothes and setting up her bed.
Two hours later, she was still awake, staring at the ceiling.
A group of students were hanging around in the carpark outside her window. They were passing around a cheap bottle of vodka, whooping loudly, and kept repeating the same joke. Sammy hadn’t thought it was particularly funny the first time they told it, and unsurprisingly it got less funny with each retelling.
As she watched a spider slowly make its way across the ceiling, there was a smash outside.
Sammy sat up and peered over the sill. The bottle of vodka was on the floor in pieces, and two of the students were drunkenly fighting. They grappled with each other, throwing lazy punches that didn’t connect properly.
Sammy got out of bed and tidied away the futon. Five minutes later, she was dressed and quietly pulling the front door closed behind her.