The Nicklebys: A Story for Catholic Children
by: Sue Felton

CHAPTER EIGHT: The Disastrous Day

Mum is tired. She had to get out of bed three times last night because Annie kept waking up. Each time, Mum had to sit by Annie's bed and sing softly to her until she went back to sleep.

Mum is still snuggled down in her bed. She'd like to sleep for hours and hours but she can hear the children. They are all up. The day has begun. She struggles out of bed.

Already Mum can hear squabbling in the kitchen. She ignores the noise and heads into the bathroom. She turns on the shower tap and soon she is stepping into the steaming hot water.

"Mum! Mum!" shouts Celeste from outside the bathroom door. "Joe has eaten the last Weet Bix!"

"I'm in the shower, Celeste," yells back Mum. "Eat something else. Make some toast."

"But I don't want toast," replies Celeste.

Mum wants Celeste to disappear so she can enjoy her shower. "I can't talk to you at the moment. I'm having a shower. Sort it out yourself."

When Mum is dressed, it is time for her breakfast. On her way to the kitchen, she meets Kate. Instead of wishing Kate a good morning, Mum says instead, "What are you wearing Kate? Surely that orange T shirt does not go with that green skirt?"

Kate looks upset. She mumbles that she likes her outfit and she stomps into the kitchen ahead of Mum.

Mum stops at the kitchen door and stares. "What a mess," she says, "What happened?"

An empty milk bottle is lying on its side. Milk is flowing all over the kitchen bench. Drip! Drip! A big puddle is forming on the floor. Bread crumbs are floating in the milk and there is a strong smell of burnt toast. Two knives are standing upright in the jam jar. Cupboard doors are open. Drawers are open. Dirty plates and bowls and cups are everywhere.

"Whose job is it to wash the dishes this morning?" Mum asks. She forgets about making herself some breakfast and instead she grabs a cloth to mop up the milk.

Finally, the kitchen is tidy. Mum looks at the clock. It is morning prayer time. She calls the children and everyone gathers in the lounge room. Mum leads the prayers. First they say their morning offering. Now it is time to say three Hail Marys.

Suddenly Lizzie screams, "A mouse! A mouse! I saw a mouse go under the sofa." Lizzie shoots through the doorway. She doesn't want to stay in a room with a mouse. Nor do Annie and Celeste. Kate hesitates a moment and then she too runs out of the room. Mum would like to follow but someone has to appear calm and in control. Dad is at work so it's up to Mum. She tells Joe to fetch the broom and then she and the boys chase the mouse all round the room.

After a long and strenuous chase, the mouse escapes into the hollow base of the bookcase. The boys can't get to it because the bookcase is too heavy to move.

"Maybe it will come out later," says Mum hoping the mouse won't reappear before Dad arrives home. "Call the girls. I think it is time we started our school work."

So everyone tries to forget about the mouse. They try to ignore the scratching noises coming from under the bookcase. They head off to the family room to get out their school books. They try to think about learning. It is time for maths. The children turn the pages of their books looking for the right lessons. Then the phone rings. Mum disappears into the kitchen to answer it. It is Mum's friend.

Mum is gone a long time. Mum's friend talks and talks and talks. Mum doesn't want to interrupt her and appear rude. Finally, the friend says she must go as she has a very busy day ahead. Mum likes talking to friends but today she sighs with relief. She has a busy day ahead too.

Mum hurries back to the family room. Even before she gets to the door, she knows the children are being naughty. She can hear giggles and screams and shouts even though the door is closed. When Mum opens the door, she can see the children bouncing all over the room. It looks like they are chasing each other. Lizzie sees Mum. And then Joe notices Mum. One by one the children sit down and the room becomes quiet.

"When the phone rings, you are all supposed to find something useful to do," says Mum quietly, trying to stay calm. "I am very disappointed." She looks at the clock. It is almost morning tea time. Mum knows she should start the maths lessons but suddenly she feels very tired. A cup of coffee might make her feel better. "Kate, go and put the kettle on. Joe, pour some milk but make sure you don't spill any. Edward, slice some apples," she orders.

After morning tea, the children complete their maths lessons and Mum starts to feel better. She decides to read to the children. Mum picks up her book and opens it at the right chapter. She is just about to start reading when she notices Annie is missing. She is no longer playing with her dolls in the corner of the room. Mum sends Kate off to find Annie and Kate is soon back. She is dragging along a very dirty little girl. Annie is covered with Mum's make-up. She has bright pink lips and bright red, powdery cheeks and there are all sorts of colours around her eyes. Her fingers are black and her clothes are dirty. She needs a bath. Kate is sent off to fill the bath and Mum peels off Annie's clothes.

Annie is clean again. She is wrapped in a towel and Mum is drying her. Mum is feeling very, very tired. She decides the children should go outside and get some exercise while she dresses Annie and cleans up the bathroom. So everyone troops into the garden.

All of a sudden, there is a huge ear-piercing scream. Mum runs outside still holding a partly dressed Annie. There on the ground is Celeste. She has fallen off her bike. She is holding her ear and tears are pouring down her face. Also on the ground is Joe. He has fallen off his bike too.

"What happened?" demands Mum. She hands Annie to Kate and picks up Celeste.

"Joe ran over my ear," sobs Celeste.

"They were riding their bikes around the house in opposite directions and crashed into each other," adds Kate.

"Oh my darling girl," croons Mum as she rocks Celeste in her arms. "Are you all right?" She speaks to Joe, "Couldn't you have been more careful, Joe? How many times have I told you to ride in the same direction as your sisters?"

Mum takes the still crying Celeste into the house. Joe struggles up and follows her. The other children come too. There doesn't seem to be much wrong with Celeste. Her ear is a bit red but it is not bleeding. "It looks like Celeste will be all right, Joe," says Mum turning to him. Then she notices that Joe is looking deathly pale. He is clutching his arm and trying not to cry. His arm is hurting a lot. Suddenly Mum is worried. Perhaps Joe has broken his arm.

Mum thinks she ought to take Joe to the hospital. She tells Edward that she is leaving him in charge of the children. "Mrs Kerry is next door if you need any help while I am out," says Mum. "I'll get her to pop in and check on you from time to time."

Mum and Joe are at the hospital. They have waited for a very long time. A nurse has taken an X-ray of Joe's arm. Finally Joe is called into a room where a doctor examines him.

"Did you put ice on the arm?" the doctor asks Mum.

"No," replies Mum. She didn't think of ice.

"Did you give Joe any medicine to take away the pain?" asks the doctor.

"No," says Mum. She didn't think about any medicine.

The doctor sighs. He tells Mum he will put Joe's arm in a plaster cast. It will take six weeks for the arm to heal.

It is almost dinner time when Mum and Joe arrive back home. Mum is exhausted. As she parks the car, she wonders what she can cook for dinner. But as she walks through the front door, she notices a delicious smell wafting out of the kitchen. Kate is taking a casserole dish out of the oven. Kate is no longer wearing the orange and green outfit. She is wearing one of the dresses that she knows Mum likes.

"Mrs Kerry came over," explains Kate. She helped me make a beef stew for dinner. Celeste has laid the table. Dinner will be ready to serve by the time Dad arrives home."

Mum sinks onto a chair with relief. She doesn't have to cook. And then she notices how clean and tidy everything is. "We did some housework for you," says Edward. He is handing Mum a cup of tea. "And Annie and Lizzie are in their pyjamas. There's nothing else to do."

At that moment Dad comes through the door. He is home from work. He kisses Mum and asks, "How was your day, dear?"

Mum thinks about the mess at breakfast time. She thinks about the mouse that interrupted morning prayers and the phone call that interrupted the school work. Mum thinks about Annie and the make-up, and Joe and Celeste's accident. Then she looks around the clean kitchen and sniffs the delicious smell coming from the casserole dish. She glances at the clean scrubbed girls in their pyjamas and poor Joe holding his arm carefully. She sips her tea before saying, "Well, the day didn't go to plan but everything is fine now. In fact, things couldn't be better."

Later that evening, Mum and Dad are sitting in the lounge reading. All the children are in bed. Dad suddenly asks, "Did you hear that noise? It's a scratching noise. It sounds like it's coming from under the bookcase."

"Oh that's the mouse," says Mum. She doesn't move. Dad is home. He will catch the mouse. She doesn't have to do anything. She leans back, closes her eyes and leaves everything to Dad.

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