Katie’s teeth are unbrushed
and she can’t find legal school shoes
but there are other priorities.
She tugs Geography from her rucksack -
deadline the day before yesterday.
The last paragraph now,
then check for mistakes on the school bus?
‘Katie, Katie.’ Her mother’s voice,
thin with effort and gratefulness.
The last detention for late homework –
an hour in a classroom
cold under the glare of Mrs Cartwright -
meant finding Mum spread-eagled,
still clutching a saucepan handle,
her palm and fingers blistered.
Katie mopped up chicken soup,
tears, and adult dignity
while her friends’ eager Snapchats
stayed futile monologues.
She persuades her pyjama-clad mother
back into the rumpled downstairs bed
where she’ll be still and safe
while Katie learns the algebra,
coastal erosion and social care policy
her teachers say are essentials.
Out of the window, she watches
the school bus rumble past,
her classmates pressing gurn-faces
to its steamed-up winter windows.
Her mother’s expression is guilt-grey
as Katie tucks and smooths sheets,
says, ‘Spit the toothpaste into this glass,’
and lays pills in a row by the lamp.
On the doormat, a curt envelope
with the school’s frowning logo.
Katie slips it into her blazer pocket
and shoulders her rucksack
feeling its weight as she calls goodbye
and waits for an answer she’s happy with.
© Fran Hill
Fran Hill is a writer and English teacher based in Warwickshire, UK.