I could hear the alarm ringing from somewhere in the house, and it felt like with every pulse it grew louder. NEE-NAW. NEE-NAW.
‘Seriously. What did you DO?’
I’d been stood in my parents’ bedroom, straightening my hair at the mirror. My visiting friend Vanilla Toes sat on the bed behind me, taking in the Derbyshire scenery with her American eyes. After a week in London and a jaunt up to Edinburgh for the festival, we were at my mum and dad’s for the weekend.
I hadn’t noticed her stood beside me, and it took me a moment to realise that she’d been tapping my arm and saying my name, over and over. Laura. Laura. Laura. Tap. Tap. Tap.
That’s when I heard it. NEE-NAW. NEE-NAW.
‘I… I thought it was a pedometer,’ she said to me, holding up Mama Janie’s safety bracelet. Mum wears it when she’s alone in the house because she’s unsteady on her feet. If she falls, she can press the red button and a speakerphone hooked up to the house can ask if she’s okay. If she isn’t, an ambulance comes.
‘You pressed the button?’
‘I thought it was a pedometer!’
Suddenly the door to the bathroom swung open, where Mama Janie sat on the loo. With her legs a-kimbo and her knickers around her ankles, from her seat on the throne she squealed, ‘WHAT THE FUCK HAVE YOU DONE?’
Vanilla and I froze as Mama continued, ‘Are you joking me? Are you FUCKING joking me? GO AND ANSWER THEM. GO AND TELL THEM YOU’RE AN IDIOT. Answer them!’
Mum and Dad’s new bungalow is small and perfectly formed, but I’m not there enough to know my way around the place very well. I had no idea how to tell “them” that it was a mistake, that they didn’t need to send an ambulance or police and that mum was fine and oh, god- where the hell was that nee-naw noise coming from?
‘THE STUDY!’ Mum cried.
We ran to the tiny room in time to hear, ‘Jane? Jane can you hear us? Jane are you okay? Jane? Jane?’
I followed the sound voice and located a big box hidden behind a picture frame, a white square thing with buttons that looked like a fire alarm.
‘We’re here,’ I said, breathless from the excitement. ‘We’re here. This is her daughter, and it was a mistake, and we’re fine, and I’m really sorry. It was my fault. Everything’s fine.’
The voice said happily, ‘Well, as long as she’s okay. Have a good day!’ and with the sudden silence that descended across the house, I knew it’d be anything but.
Vanilla and I crept back into the bedroom, and we heard the toilet flush, the tap run, and then… nothing. Mama would be mad. She’d be really mad, I knew. Vanilla’s whole body was shaking violently from holding in a guffaw of a laugh, and I clenched at my tummy and pinched my nose, half in fear, half in total hysterics.
The door to the bathroom opened. Mama appeared.
‘As if,’ she began, calmly and deliberately, ‘as if you see a red button and press it. Who, in their right mind, sees a red button and pushes it?’
She shook her head. ‘You don’t push a fucking red button, do ya? You don’t see a big red button and think “Oh, I’ll push that to see what happens”, do you? DO YOU?’
‘Who sees a red button and fucking pushes it?’
She warmed to her theme, jabbing her finger into my face as Vanilla stood to my side, looking at the floor. She’ll own up to it being her in a minute, I thought to myself. She’ll admit fault, and Mama will stop yelling at her 27 year-old daughter for being an idiot. Any minute now, she’ll speak up. Just wait… see- now. She’s going to interrupt right now.
‘I have seven year-old Max over and not even he pushes the red button!’ Mama said. ‘YOU DON’T PUSH RED BUTTONS. Would you go to the White House and push a red button there? Eh? Would you? Would you push a red button in Obama’s house? NO. NO YOU WOULDN’T. BECAUSE YOU DON’T PUSH RED BUTTONS!’
She turned to Vanilla Toes. ‘Can you believe it?’ she said. ‘Would you push a red button if you saw one?’ Then she suddenly thought, ‘OR WAS IT YOU?’
Vanilla looked at the floor, in silence, still keeping schtum. That spineless bitch.
‘I’ve raised you better than that,’ Mama said, returning to me. ‘Better than to push a red button when you see it. Let this be a lesson to you. YOU DON’T PUSH RED BUTTONS. You twat.’