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by Stephanie Hutton

I get ill, so mum can get better.

She is drinking-in-the-morning-again-ill, pills-to-get-through-the-day-ill, you’re-better-off-without-me-ill. She stays in her room and whispers to the walls.

I cough. Then I sleep. When I turn yellow, I peek around the door of her bedroom and tell her I need to go to the doctor. She doesn’t move until I flop like a fish and her face looks all strange through my glass bowl.

I’m medicine-ill, needles-ill, then hospital-ill. Sometimes I drift up to the ceiling and watch the nurses busying about, all knowing just what to do. Mum comes every day on two buses. She hates buses — being so close to other people.

I get dead good at swimming through the air around all the other beds. I visit the other kids at night. Some are scared or lonely. I stroke their cheek like their mummies did in the daytime. I tell them they are going to be okay. I tell them the name I would give to a kitten if I had one, and that my favourite colour is sometimes green but sometimes gold, and not to be sad if their mummies cry because it just means they are loved. The smallest ones curl up and suck their thumbs. The big children laugh and whisper back. The very poorly ones float up with me and we swish around the room without saying another word. One girl with no hair and eyes like marbles glides past me and straight through the closed window into the night. She turns and looks at me but doesn’t wave goodbye.

Then I notice that I’m giving my wellness to mum.

I’m thin, but she has a full face, made of circles not triangles anymore. The light hurts my eyes but mum now has pupils that can see in the daytime. They give me medicine through needles, but I know that mum’s stopped spiking her arms. I don’t talk, but she has my voice and talks and talks about the weather and television and describes all the people on the bus like we both know them. And I’m too tired to look after her anymore, but she wipes my head and holds my hand and says to the nurses be gentle, let me do it. She tells me about what colour she is going to paint the living room and how she has learnt to crochet and that she has saved some money for us to have fish and chips when I get home.

Now mum is better, I can get better too.

Stephanie Hutton is a writer and clinical psychologist in Staffordshire, UK. In 2017/18 she was shortlisted for the Bristol Short Story Prize and the Bath Novella in Flash Award, and a finalist in the Aesthetica Creative Writing Award. Her debut novella, Three Sisters of Stone, is available from Ellipsis Zine.