‘And don’t forget,’ mum was yelling on her way out, ‘you both have appointments at the dentist on Friday!’
‘Just go, already!’ we yelled back in unison from either corner of the house. We heard the door slam, then calm slowly descended as the dogs and the dust settled.
‘Don’t forget,’ I grumbled, heading downstairs, ‘Half-bowl morning and night for Hector, full bowl for Hutch—’
‘—but only in the morning.’ Drew met me in the hallway – my twin, non-identical but still able to complete my sentences, and not just those drummed into us rote-fashion by a mother leaving on the trip of a lifetime.
‘Blah, blah, blah,’ I added for good measure. We laughed at her, though really we were proud: last year, the news of her disease had transformed her. Where others would have crumbled, she became a fearless explorer. She’d already travelled to The Yukon to witness the aurora borealis; now she was on her way to Arizona for the American Astronomical Society’s Annual Meeting, telescope in tow. Her flight to a Nagano observatory to see the Andromeda in a few weeks would complete her Trio, and then, she said, she would settle down and deal with her final months in a more conventional manner.
Her example was impossible not to follow: insistent, infectious positivity. We’d grown up on it, but last year she’d lit the nitro and really kicked it up a gear. At only fifteen, we’d been praised by the doctors for our outlook. But to be honest, now it was mostly her meticulous planning that was holding us together: there was simply no time for misery.
* * * * *
Later, the kitchen TV was droning the early evening news while we messed around with dinner, a die-hard habit from when granddad was still with us.
‘Where’s the appointment card?’ Drew asked me. He was at the fridge, leafing through the thousands of notes and reminders stuck to it.
‘No idea,’ I replied absently, following recipe instructions with a floury finger.
‘Need to know what time on Friday.’ He always was the more organized one.
‘…continues on whether Russia’s democracy—’ sound from the TV cut suddenly.
‘—We’re just getting news in of a train crash near Heathrow,’ a familiar news anchor’s face appeared. I froze mid-stir, looked across at Drew to see that he, too, had paused to stare at the TV. I went cold as footage of a mangled train rotated on the screen. The reporter was talking over pictures of a battered, shredded tube of metal, bent up unnaturally like a broken bone poking through skin.
Drew cleared his throat, tried to speak. ‘Where did mum put her itinerary?’ His voice came out much more quietly than usual.
We looked at each other. Then I dropped my spoon, and we were scrabbling through the papers on the fridge, emptying drawers, frantically trying to find the detailed plan of her journey that she said she’d leave us.
And just then, the telephone rang.
This story was written as an inspiration piece for Mash Stories, a short story competition which gives writers 3 random key words or phrases, and a 500-word limit, to create their best pieces of flash fiction. The key words for this piece were: Andromeda – democracy – dentist.