This is the first part of a fiction serial, in 775 words.
Gillian had always felt happy at home. There was something about the familiarity that made her feel safe and content. Everything in the same place, the same dinner to look forward to on each day of the week, and settling down with mum in front of the TV to watch their favourite shows.
She couldn’t remember her dad, and only had the old photos of him to remind her of the man he had been. Many were in his fireman’s uniform, looking smart and proud. Some others showed him holding her as a baby, and one was in a swimming pool on holiday somewhere.
He had been killed at work fighting a fire, along with two of his colleagues. Mum said it was an explosion that collapsed the roof and trapped them.
As Gillian was just eighteen months old at the time, she had grown up only knowing her mum. And mum had been great.
With no grandparents to help, there had been baby-minders at first, then nursery so mum could carry on working. The life insurance had paid off the mortgage, and left a good amount besides, so mum told her. Although they never had a car, as mum couldn’t drive, they had a very comfortable life and were a lot better off than many in the town.
There had never been another man, no chance of a step-dad coming on the scene to change their routine. And friends were few and far between too. They liked to keep their own company, and didn’t feel the need to have anyone else around. Besides, with Gillian tending to be very overweight from a young age, she had never found it easy to make friends at school. Once she was home and changed out of her uniform, she never wanted to go out again anyway.
When it came time to think about a job, mum arranged that too. She worked at the unemployment office, and that was always busy. She got Gillian a start there at the age of seventeen, with a decent salary and a good Civil Service pension scheme. And they could travel into work together on the bus too. Mum wouldn’t take any housekeeping money from her. “You save it carefully, love. Put it away for when you are older”. So the savings grew and grew over the years.
Life couldn’t have been better, as far as she was concerned. Okay, she never had a boyfriend, but that only mattered if you wanted one to start with. And she could talk to mum about anything, so not having friends of the same age didn’t matter either.
Getting used to using computers at work made Gillian interested in them. She used some savings to buy a laptop, and paid for the Internet connection through the house phone. Mum thought it was a lot of nonsense. “Encyclopedias were good enough in my day. How much stuff do you need to know about anyway? It’s not like you’re still studying for exams or anything”. But she would sit watching TV with the laptop next to her, and she soon found she wasn’t really concentrating on the programmes like she used to.
Not long before her twenty-eighth birthday, Gillian got ready to do something nice for her mum’s fiftieth. Mum had scoffed at the idea of going out to a restaurant, but had agreed to a special Chinese takeaway, and a bottle of sweet white wine. Gillian went to H. Samuels jewellers and bought her a gold bracelet with a charm showing the number fifty. Then in Clintons card shop, she found a huge card with the number on it, and it played Happy Birthday when you opened it.
It was a great night, and she laughed at mum getting tipsy on two small glasses of Sauternes.
The next morning, mum was up early. She said she hadn’t been able to sleep because of indigestion. She had taken some Milk of Magnesia, and still felt a bit queasy. “You will have to tell Mister Bell I’m going to be off sick today, love. Say I should be a lot better by tomorrow”. Mum hated going sick from work, and Gillian couldn’t remember the last time she had ever done that.
The traffic was bad on the way home, and it was pouring with rain. Gillian got in soaking wet, hungry, and fed up. She was looking forward to meat pie night, and getting into her dressing gown. But mum was still in bed, feeling no better, and her face was so pale, Gillian was scared.
Despite mum’s protests, she rang the number for the emergency doctor.