“Because it won’t bloody turn off, that’s why!”

She switches the phone to her other ear, holding it in place with her shoulder. While she picks up Emma and checks
her. It is her youngest girls first full week out of nappies and she has to keep watching for accidents. The flat is
cramped, too small for a woman with three small daughters, but where else could she go?

“I mean it will turn a little bit, but it won’t go all the way… What?...I must have tried it a dozen times. Alright, alright
just stay on the line” She does not want the plumber to hang up on her because it took three days to get hold of him.
Annie sets down the baby and the phone and tries the tap again. It makes a horrible squealing sound like tyres on
wet tarmac, but it won’t turn off. Water is churning around the U bend with a low buzzing sound that suggested that
something metallic had entered the pipe work, probably a fork again.

Annie picks up the phone again. “Well of course I don’t want to keep it running, it’s emptying my hot tank. No, I don’t
know what the other noise is, that’s something else”. She scans the kitchen for children, her gaze sweeping like a
prison guards searchlight. Emma is sitting on the floor, hypnotised by a tangle of tinsel. Victoria is sitting at the table
quietly colouring in a Christmas angel, her pale legs swinging under the table. Melanie is helping Mummy with the
laundry. This involves pulling clean, wet towels out of the washing machine and dumping them on top of the dogs food
bowl.

Annie had not intended to name her children after the Spice Girls, but nobody pointed it out until after Tim died, and by
then she was so embarrassed that she decided to keep it quiet.

The kitchen is a hopeful yellow, but the hope has started to peel and needs repainting. An imbecilic DJ chatters on the
radio, something about Santa being an alien, but it’s too far to switch off from here. Someone in the upstairs flat is
hammering. Annie pushes a dangling strand of tired chestnut hair from her line of sight and peers down the plug hole.
“ I just told you, the clanking sound is something to do with the washer, I think one of the kids put something… No, I
want you to fix the leak. I need to run baths and I am sick of boiling kettles, and…yes, I know what the date is but
when could you come”

Melanie is dragging wet towels across the room, but they are caught on the side of the dogs bowl, which promptly
overturns, sending water and ripe jelly-caked meats across the tiles. Annie snatches the towels from her and nearly
drops the phone as the call waiting signal sounds in her ear. “I’ll have to ring you back, give me your number”…
She throws the towels into the corner, they will have to be washed again, and takes a crayon from Victoria’s box
causing the girl to scream in annoyance. Annie writes the number in magenta on the white Formica counter beside the
sink and takes the other call.

“Lauren? No, of course it wasn’t. I don’t even want to think about dating again, it was the plumber. Well that’s
because I was holding for a long time. I’ve got no hot water and he says that his van has broken down, plus
Christmas eve makes it double time. I wish they would admit they have taken too much work instead of going for
sympathy…..are you crying?”

Her older sister is often crying. She only exists in two states, tears or joy, both in the land of hysterics. Lauren is
“unlucky with men”, that’s how their mother describes it. What this means is that Lauren, who is forty three, hefty and
panicking about her baby clock, loves men so intensely that being with her can suck all the air out of a room, and her
partners leave in order to start breathing again. “Why, what did he do to you?

Uh….huh, I’m listening, go on.”

Annie throws the crayon back into her middle daughters box in order to stop the yelling. She tries to concentrate on
Laurens problems, but they are always the same, and their conversations remain stubbornly circular. She watches
little Emma as she listens. Emma worries her. She isn’t noticing things the way she should, and sits far too still. The
paediatrician said to give it a few more weeks before running tests but…………..

“Yes, I am still here. Perhaps he needs a break, you know , a little space. No, he won’t leave you for good. He’ll
probably be glad of a ….”

Her mobile goes. It’s set to vibrate and ring, and the resonance sends it skittering along the counter so that she only
just manages to catch it before it falls into the sink. “Lauren, let me call you back. Five minutes, I promise. Make
yourself some tea. Try some of that herbal stuff”. As she switches phones, she looks under the sink. Water is pouring
from the white plastic U-bend all over the detergent boxes,

“Mummy” Melanie points to her nose. It has pine needles sticking out of it.

“How did you do that?”

“I looked inside the tree. What can I do now?”

“You’re supposed to be changed , both of you” But the childminder’s not there yet so she relents. “Alright then you
can help me wipe down” She hands Melanie a sponge and returns her attention to the phone.

“Mrs Doyle?”

“Who is this?”

“Mrs Annie Doyle” “Yes, who is this?”

“I was with your husband, Tim”

“Oh” Her voice shrinks. She waits for more while she watches Melanie set about her task with a furrowed brow and
great seriousness, “Dying in the line of duty like that, it’s a noble thing”

“He was chasing a car thief. The guy stood his ground. He had an iron bar”

Eighteen months ago. Can it really be that long?

“ I bet he left you short of money”

Suddenly the call bothers her. “What did you say your name was?”

“I am the man your husband arrested”

The house phone rings sharply making her jump. She can’t take the call right now. It’s either Lauren or the plumber,
and she can call the plumber back. She looks at the sink, where Melanie has just finished carefully wiping his mobile
number away.

“Oh Mel! Look what you did!” The number has gone. Lauren called on the house phone since, so can’t use the redial.
The house phone stops ringing.

“What did you say?” she asks her mobile.

“He arrested me, so I hit him”

“How did you get this number?”

“I hit him and he just went over. You know all about that don’t you, because you were in Court. I could see you”
Startled she shuts off the mobile and throws it down onto the counter. Emma is launching herself across the floor in
that strange ways babies have of running with arms held high, staring delightedly down as though balancing on the
brow of a hill. Annie scoops her up because she is heading for the wet patch beside the washing machine, and there
is dog food everywhere. The dog is threading its way through them all, trying to lick the floor. Victoria is cutting star
shapes from a large sheet of multicoloured paper, but she is not allowed scissors, so what is she using?

“Vicki, show me your other hand”

The house phone rings, and Annie slips it under her ear as she advances on her eldest daughter. “Four eight double
three. What? You’re speaking to her. Wait” The voice goes on in her ear reading something from a card. She can tell
instantly that it is a cold call.

“Bugger off, I’m not interested in your UPVC windows, please do not ring me again” She puts the phone down. The
moment she does, it rings again

“Lauren, I said that I would call you back” She pulls an adjustable spanner from the tool box beneath the sink and
fixes it around the base of the tap, trying not to drop the phone in the water. Upstairs the hammering doubles in
intensity. “Things are very difficult right now, that’s all” An understatement, she is supposed to be at work. Christmas
Eve is always busy but the childminder still has not turned up. Annie was already one hour late for work. She is careful
not to mention the call that she had received on her mobile. Like many people on the Police force, Tim had made
enemies. It was part of the job. “No, I’m sure he did not mean it. Men can be very cruel sometimes, they don’t think. I
am sure he is not going to break up with you”

She wishes she believed her own words. Tim had always been so wonderful. Lauren’s boyfriend had been with her for
ten months and now wanted out. There was no use telling her. It’s like pointing out bright red patterns to someone
who was colour blind. Her sister is crying again, great hacking sobs of self pity. Annie can see her now, sitting on the
edge of a pink bedspread surrounded by the kind of large cuddly toys that give men the creeps.  

“Lauren, I really have to go” as she listens, she urges Victoria to give her up her cutting instrument. Where the hell
did she get scissors from? The sewing basket in the living room, but that meant she must have smuggled them into
the kitchen, the little madam!

Annie needs to take them from her. Her right hand is still pushing against the spanner. It slips against the serrated
base of the tap and bruises her knuckles. A horrendous screaming noise comes from the radio, followed by the
guffaws of the DJ, who says: “Isn’t the worst noise you have ever heard?

She gives the spanner a thump with the heel of her hand and the nut shears, freeing the tap from its mooring on the
sink. A fierce two foot plume of water rises out of the hole and splatters everything. Behind her, the two older girls
scream in delighted horror. Even Emma looks up and grins. The mobile phone rings and Annie grabs it, praying to hear
the plumbers voice.

“Don’t hang up on me again” It is her husbands` attacker. She’s supposed to call a direct number to the police station
if she ever hears from him, what the hell did she do with that piece of paper? The children are dancing and screaming
under spraying water while the DJ tries out other annoying noises.

“I’ve been away for nearly two years, I only hit him”

“I remember. I was in court” Tim’s arm had been broken but the suddenness of the assault had caused him to slip
over in the rain slicken alley. According to the Coroner, he had ruptured a vein in his head. It was the fall that killed
him. They also discovered that he had been drinking. A few beers with his mates, somebody’s birthday. Alcohol
renders you more susceptible to rupture. The thief got off lightly. His mother slapped Annie’s face outside the
courtroom. The shame was transferred to Martin`s family. In their eyes, drinking on duty caused his death not some
nutter with an iron bar.

“You were pregnant. I remember the look on your face when I was sentenced”

“I remember you too” with the phone under her chin, she tries to Melanie out of the waters path. “You better get off
the phone, I have nothing to say to you” Grabbing a frying pan from the cupboard, she inverts it over the fountain,
wedging the handle under the tap. The girls moan in disappointment.

“I am near your block of flats. What a crappy area. He didn’t leave you much of a pension, did he? I’m calling by to pay
my respects”

“You stay away from here!” She shouts.

“I’ve paid my debts. I`m a decent citizen, not his like lot around here. I’ll be there in a minute or two.
Annie throws down the mobile and tries to smack Melanie across the back of her legs, but the girl darts out of the
way. Now that the drama at the sink has subsided, Victoria is back at the table, scissors in hand. Melanie starts to
grab the back of her sisters chair.

Annie sees the accident coming before it takes place, but she is powerless to prevent it: the chair tips back taking
Victoria with it, and then there is a scream of pain, matched by Annie’s scream as she reaches for them. The dog leaps
away with yelp. She pulls the girls apart looking for the scissors. The points have jabbed Victoria’s forearm. The cut
isn`t deep but both girls are shocked into silence by crimson droplets on white skin.

“First aid box, over there, get it!” For once Melanie does as she is told. Victoria starts to whimper. Annie wipes the cut
dry and is putting a plaster on when the house phone rings.

“No, I did not hang up on you Lauren. I dropped the phone. Listen, do me a favour – the child minder has not turned
up, could you ring her for me?...Because I’ve got three hungry kids here and Vicki’s cut herself and – its not my fault
for having kids as you put it. All I am asking is that you make one lousy phone call. God, I listen to you all the time
without complaining…” She is talking to a dead line, Lauren has hung up in anger. She thinks everyone’s actions are
deliberately planned to cause her anguish..

The water is not draining from the sink. Now it has reached the top and is flowing over the edge of the counter onto
the floor where Emma is sitting.

“Oh shit”

She roughly hikes the child up, but its too late to prevent her from getting wet. The DJ on the radio says “ Mandy from
Willesden has just sent us this annoying sound” The tip of a knife on a plate skids across a china plate, magnified a
thousand times. Melanie is unwinding a length of sticking plaster around Victoria’s arm, which is turning blue. The dog
is licking the water creeping across the floor tiles.

“You’ll cut off her blood supply doing that” snaps Annie “Unwind it at once and do it slowly. Victoria, don’t just sit there
like a lump, stop your sister.”

Annie has always been the unflappable one. She does not like public displays of emotion. She did not cry at the
funeral because she was too busy trying to organize the seating arrangements for the cars. She still has not cried.
This, in her parents eyes, makes her hard hearted.

She is not hard hearted, she just copes instead of falling apart.

“What did I tell you about touching the scissors? You’ve seen how sharp they are” She snatches them from Melanie
and throws them across the room.

Behind her, the frying pan slides off the tap stump and the geyser resumes at a higher pressure. Annie grabs the
frying pan as water splashes up onto one of the lights under the kitchen cabinet, exploding it with a pop and
scattering tiny shards of broken glass everywhere.

“Nobody move” warns Annie grimly, frying pan in hand.

The house phone starts to ring again. The DJ on the radio is playing the most annoying noise in the country. Emma
starts to cry. The hammering upstairs gets even louder. The doorbell rings.

Annie reaches the door in three strides. She yanks it open. A well fed man with a familiar tattoo on his neck stands
before her. “So how are you keeping? Are you coping alright?” he says taking an arrogant step into her hallway.
“I am coping very well” she explains through clenched teeth, glancing back at the children. Emma is back under the
table squeezing the dog. Melanie is winding plaster around Victoria’s face squashing her nose.

“I think its payback time” he looks past her to the children, infecting them with his stare. He bounces on the tops of
his trainers, withdrawing something from his pocket. Almost without thinking, Annie swings the heavy frying pan with
both hands. The pan makes a cartoonish gonging sound as it connects with his head. Wide eyed and opened mouth
he falls backwards out of the door and collapses against the wall.

“Victoria, get the dog away from Emma” She says with determination, “Put the plaster roll back in the first aid box, and
go and get changed” A list appears in her head, each item supporting a tick box. Cancel the child minder, call the
plumber, dress the children, call her sister, phone work and tell them that she is not coming in.

Annie looks past the dripping curtains, out of the kitchen window and shakily adds one more item to the bottom of the
list.

The pale, still body is cleansed by the hard rain. In the back pocket of the
jeans is the cheque made out to Annie that no one will ever cash.
It is the evidence that can prove the policeman’s wife was not attacked.
It is the start of another situation she will have to deal with. Annie can
do it now. She can do anything.
COPING

by Simon Leyland