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I surveyed the picturesque scenes displayed before my eyes. Basking in the mesmerising glow of a raging heart was the plush, inviting lounge and its sole occupant, a portly tabby cat. The partially open curtains revealed the dense layer of snow on the manicured lawns which lay beyond the frosted window pane. Its pure, glittering, unrefined whiteness was magnified by the subtle shades of winter which dominated the room; exquisite poised Tiffany lamps with olive and raspberry hats, beaded cushions on opulent armchairs upholstered in burgundy and ruby Paisley prints, and an elegantly moulded, mahogany mantle, strewn with shiny holly branches and polished picture frames. An ornamental Oriental rug completed the ensemble.













IN the kitchen adjacent sat a serene, symmetrical unit of four, perched on strawberry-and-cream striped chairs and gazing at the sumptuous, gargantuan banquet lying before them. The gilt-edged table strained wearily under the hefty weight of plump pork chops, meaty mince pies, bright brass boats filled to the brim with glistening gravy and cranberry sauce bejewelled with soft peaks, and a vegetable medley beaded with droplets of steam, embedded in a fluffy mountain of mash. The airbrushed figures grinned effortlessly as they nibbled at their formidable feast. The adults sported manicured nails, chiselled cheeks, coiffed tresses and a designer wardrobe, while the children sat stationary at the table with widened eyes of forced enchantment, and digitalised dimples in their cheeks. They smirked silently at me from within their Polaroid palace; the picture of perfection, but not reality.













A tinny screech and an urgent tug on my arm transported me back to my senses. “Sarah, Sarah, tie Sindy’s ribbon!” my little sister squealed. I threw the catalogue to the carpet, adorned with telltale signs of gourmet mudpie making (dried-in dirt), artistic endeavours (felt-tip scribbles) and indoor picnic sessions (Ribena splotches). I hushed my midget gatekeeper and surrendered as she grabbed my bony wrists and led me through the poky hallway, like a fearless tugboat guiding a helpless ship to shore. I snatched a glance of my drowsy father as I passed by the den; his face was hidden by a well-thumbed newspaper and his belly, soft with middle age, rose and fell with each gentle, wheezy breath. The twins bolted over the tired chintz sofas, jam smeared across their appled cheeks like Indian war paints, and Mam’s best napkins tied at their necks as substitutes for bandanas. Somewhere, amid piles of broken and boring toys, canopies of freshly ironed sheets and a jungle of books of every description, a television blared with the hallmark sounds of an old Western. I chuckled as I was pulled along once more. We skipped through the cluttered kitchen, and I marvelled at the furore here, too. A radio, its dial permanently tuned to that old 70’s station, tinkled out the sweet noise of some dredged-up one-hit-wonder. The Formica-topped counters were stacked high with dirty dishes, and the aroma of another spag-bol dinner hung in the air. Evidence of yet another sweet raid by the twins was plain to see, as the cupboard doors were all ajar, their contents painstakingly scrutinised. The fridge, far from its original white sheen owing to years of wear and tear, was festooned with finger-paint masterpieces and compassionate cards for all occasions. The lino squelched beneath by bare feet, as I took my sister to her room.












AFTER I’d given Sindy a complete facial overhaul and tucked both her and my sister into the ancient bed we shared, I tiptoed down the groaning stairs to attempt to tackle the masses of homework that taunted me. As I trudged dejectedly past my parents’ bedroom, a beautiful sight caused me to pause in the doorway. It was my mother, perched on the unmade bed, cradling the youngest of us kids in her strong, supportive arms and still retaining some amount of serenity and nobility in spite of her stale hair, sweaty brow and snug floral leggings. Her eyes locked on mine, and we shared a smile which needed no forethought, no explanation. When I returned to the front room, I tossed my catalogue in the fire.



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