Plenty of Water in the Tap

20 Nov

The two children were sat with their legs curled up on the settee, watching Fun House. Their wet school bags and shoes sat on the mat just inside the back door. They were hungry. The kitchen cupboards were empty but for a tin of beans, and the only thing the fridge housed was a bit of margarine. Mum was working her part-time evening job, cleaning at the hospital, and wouldn’t be home until late; dad was due in the door any minute. Tom and his sister were home alone for the couple of hours after school every afternoon of the week, as they waited for dad to come in from work with dinner.

They each got up to greet their father as they listened to him close the  front door and shimmy past the excited dog in the hallway.

“In you go, boy. Get down.”

The blue carrier bag was placed down on the table; rain drops running down its plastic and depositing on the wood. Tom didn’t need to open it fully, he just pulled the two handles apart and saw that the only thing his dad had picked up on his way home had been four cans of super strength lager and a couple of dirty old potatoes.

“Can we go to the shop and get some squash, please, Dad?”

“Nope.”

“Oh, please, Dad! We’re thirsty.”

“You know what I’m going to say, don’t you? What am I going to say?”

“There’s plenty of water in the tap.”

“There’s plenty of water in the tap,” the dad repeated back.

Tom and his sister were both fed up of only ever having water to drink. And of only ever having jacket potatoes for tea. They knew that the other kids at school didn’t live like this. Whenever they went to their friends’ houses for tea, they drank squash, sometimes even proper juice; they ate sausages or burgers; and they had ice-cream for pudding. Or cake. Or both. So why at home was it always potatoes and water?

Each morning at school, at 11, all of the children would pause their learning for a milk break. Their teacher carried the crate of full bottles into the classroom and handed them out, along with straws. A few of the kids, the fortunate few, the ones whose shoes had the Swoosh on the side, or the three stripes, they didn’t drink milk like everyone else. Instead, they were given cartons of fresh orange juice. How the other half live, eh? But the majority of kids drank milk. Tom wasn’t in the majority. Nor was he in the priveleged minority that quenched their thirst with juice. Tom was the only kid in the class who took a plastic cup to school every day so that he could drink water from the tap. He may not have known or understood much, but he did know that almost all of the other kids got their milk for free, and that he didn’t because unlike the others his dad went out to work.

Conversation at home always revolved back to the same loop of dialogue.

“Why can’t we have milk, Mum? Everyone else gets milk apart from us two. And school dinners, Mum. How come they all get free milk and free school dinners, and we have to make do with a Marmite sandwich and a plastic cup?”

“Because your father goes out to work and I work and we’re not scumbags like them over the road.”

“But we’re poorer than them! They go on holiday every year. They go to Spain!”

“That’s just the way it is. I’m sorry, you know if we could afford the milk and the school dinners you would have them. Anyway, you never starve, do ya?”

“Dad, it’s not fair. How come you’ve always got a drink, but we haven’t?”

“You have got a drink. There’s plenty of water in the tap.”

“Dad! You know what we mean! How come you’ve always got something with flavour, but we haven’t? Why can’t we drink squash? It’s not fair!”

“When you go out to work, son, then you can drink what you want. Until then, I’m the one earning the money and I’ll be the one who chooses what we drink in this house.”

Tom was eight years old.

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