Must label the pasta containers and rearrange the cans, Ella thought as she sat on the floor of the pantry. The terracotta tiles were cold and the light flickered as if it might expire. She hugged her legs and counted to twenty, the shrill wails of her children far away. I’m alone, she mused. All alone. No children. That’s just an alarm.
The cries encroached, came closer. Behind the door.
‘Mummy!’ It was Claire, her voice plaintive and small. Her little fist knocked on the wood. ‘You there? Harry crying.’
Ella felt as if her insides were a void. She touched her cheek and was shocked to find it wet with warm tears.
‘Clairey?’ She croaked and tried to push herself up. The light went out. Claire slid the door open and stood before her, her chubby form outlined in golden light. Her rosebud mouth opened and closed like a fish. She hiccup sobbed and wiped her eyes.
‘You okay, Mummy?’
Ella’s instincts kicked in. She launched herself at her daughter and drew her close, stroked her feathery blond hair and pink cheeks.
‘Where’s Harry?’ she asked.
‘Climbing his change table. He standing on top like a King.’
Ella gasped and ran, her heart pounded. As she entered his room she saw him teeter on the edge of the table. He smiled, his eyes swollen from tears. Ella caught him as he tumbled. They lay askew on the floor, and all three cried again.