By Elisabeth Alain
Kate sits directly in the February sunlight, settling awkwardly in the crack between the sofa cushions. The TV screen is unwatchable, glare obscuring the picture almost entirely. Closing the curtains for a better view would mean sacrificing the slim strip of warmth, so they stay open. Besides, Kate knows these faces, having seen them on darker days. She follows dust dancing in the brightness, absently listening to the presenters discussing the dangers of unregulated collagen lip fillers, before debating whether school children should be allowed chocolate & crisps in their packed lunches. Kate’s stomach rumbles, but if she eats now there’ll be nothing left for dinner later, so she makes do with her mug of weak tea.
Zipping up her parka against the draft, Kate pulls the furry collar close around her neck. She worries a hang-nail on her thumb until a red droplet forms and she blots it away with a fingertip. Pinching a loose hair from her lap, she holds it out and lets it drift slowly to the laminate floor, on top of fluff, crumbs, and more hair. She really needs to clean; will definitely get around to it later.
Kate looks at the pile of paperwork beside her and takes a bill from the top. She picks up one of Archie’s felt pens and his colouring book to lean on. Turning it over to the blank side, she scribbles down numbers, adding up food shopping, school trips, rent, council tax, gas, water. She folds out her last supermarket receipt, marking it with Es and Ns - milk, bread, baked beans and apples making the ‘Essentials’ list, while cordial, Chocco Pops and sanitary towels each get an N. She works out what they can manage without, just for now, just until she gets work, just until the weather’s better and they don’t need the central heating on, just until the Job Centre sorts out her first payment.
Clouds gather and the temperature drops. Kate puts down the pen and pulls on thick gloves, just for a minute, just until the sun comes out again, just until her fingers are warm enough to carry on with the budgeting. She can see the TV clearly now, a perfect couple on an orange sofa, the green banner beneath them. ‘UP NEXT: BENEFITS TOO HIGH? CALL 0856 456 456 TO HAVE YOUR SAY’.
Her cheeks flush hot and she grabs her mobile, but decides against using her remaining credit to call. She puts down the phone, and watches the faces talk about talented cats, celebrity couples and this season’s must-have handbag.