Thursday, April 15, 2021

Stolen Warmth by JY Saville

"But everyone else will have it the day it comes out."
Leanne stopped short of stamping her foot, but she wanted that New Kids On The Block album next month and she wanted her mum to know it.
"I said, we'll see. Now go wash your hands and sit down."
They ate in silence. Leanne pointedly pulled her cardigan sleeves over her hands and hugged herself as she waited for pudding.
"If you'd eaten your stew while it was hot instead of pushing it round the plate for ten minutes, you wouldn't be so cold," her dad said.
He pretended not to notice Leanne stick her tongue out at him. He was impervious to pleas, threats, insults or ridicule in the annual battle for when to turn the heating on. It was switched on only when he deemed it proper and whatever the weather, that never happened between April and September.
"Everyone at school's got central heating."
"So have we," said her dad.
"What's the point if it's never on?"
"Shall I fetch you another jumper, love?"
"She can fetch her own, Maureen. If she'd any sense she'd have left her school jumper on."
Leanne's school jumper was screwed up on her bedroom floor, stinking of sweat and waiting for the weekend wash. Cold yesterday morning, she'd worn a T-shirt under her uniform shirt and been told off by a teacher when she'd taken her jumper off in the afternoon. Wear a vest if you're cold, he'd said in front of the whole class. We can't have Garfield on show. Leanne didn't own a vest and wouldn't wear it under her semi-transparent school shirt if she did, so today she'd simply kept her jumper on to mask the T-shirt. She'd spent the afternoon in the full sun from the art room window and now her jumper would be unwearable for the rest of the week.
"The first of October's an arbitrary deadline," she said. "It's cold now."
Her dad put his spoon down and turned to face her.
"Do you know how much it costs to run the heating for half an hour?"
"She doesn't need to," her mum said. "At her age."
"If she's old enough to use words like arbitrary," said Leanne's dad, "she's old enough to know about household budgets."
He droned on long enough to let his sponge pudding go cold, Leanne could see the custard congealed round the edges.
On Saturday while her parents were out, Leanne studied the control panel for the boiler and realised there was no great trick to it, she could flood the house with warmth by pressing a single green button. Her finger hovered over it, then jerked before she'd made up her mind. There was a loud clanking followed by a whoosh and some distant gurgling. She had to sit on the kitchen floor with her head between her knees till she was sure the house wasn't going to blow up or be deluged with water from a broken radiator. She took to switching the heating on whenever she was alone in the house, opening the windows and wafting the warm air out before her parents got home, the way her older friends vented illicit cigarette smoke.
"I can't understand it," her mum said for the umpteenth time, looking at the bill on the kitchen table. "We must have a leak."
"Talk sense, Maureen. You'd smell a gas leak."
"Well, I can't understand it."
Leanne nibbled her cardigan cuff and tried to become invisible. The album she'd been so looking forward to had been released the day before, and her mum had been about to give her the money to buy it when Leanne's dad brought the post in. The deal was, Leanne didn't get regular pocket money like most of her friends, but she could make a case for treats now and then, and in practice they were rarely refused.
Her dad picked the bill up again as though it might show a different amount this time, and ran his fingers through his hair.
"Oh, Leanne." Her mum looked like she'd just remembered Leanne was in the room. She pulled a fiver from her purse. "There you go, love."
Leanne reached out to take it, then rested her hand on the chair back instead.
"Karen said I could tape hers," she said, hoping Karen would say that once she asked. "Got any blanks?"

© JY Saville

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