Authors: Deb Fitzpatrick
I drag my purple beanbag out onto the lawn and flumph down into it.
The clouds shift lightly like big steam in the sky.
I imagine all the places I've been â all the friends' houses, holiday places, cafes for mango smoothies and restaurants with Mum and Dad for family birthdays â and I can't think of a single time I've arrived on my own anywhere.
I imagine standing in front of a stranger's front door, hearing Mum drive off, not knowing where she's going or when she might be back to collect me, or why I'm here.
Even thinking about it makes me swallow hard. Mum and Dad would never, ever do that. They might shout and threaten to send us to our rooms
for the entire weekend if we're not careful
, but they never have. And I know they would never, ever do anything like what's happened to Mei.
Mei's family must've been really scared, I reckon, to have left her on our doorstep. Do they know us somehow? Are they neighbours we haven't met, or do they live in the area? I've never seen Mei before, but I haven't been looking for her, either.
Maybe Mrs Mei has no money left and can't look after her anymore? Or maybe someone kidnapped Mei, like in the movies, then changed their mind and dropped her here!
I think about that for a minute, and then shake my head. Nah. This actually isn't the movies â that's what's so yucky about it.
I go back to brainstorming. Maybe Mrs Mei's
sick and needs someone to look after Mei while she gets better? Or maybe she has cancer â like Ms da Costa at school did â maybe she knows she's not going to get better, and wants to give Mei to a new family, before she gets too sick to do it?
Yes â that makes sense! I launch myself out of the beanbag to tell Mum.
Mum has found my old baby spoon, with Peter Rabbit hopping up the handle. I watch as she plops the porridge into a bowl and drizzles honey on top. She blows the steam away gently and sits in the chair next to Mei.
Mei squiggles in her seat.
âDo you like porridge?' Mum asks, offering her the Peter Rabbit spoon.
Mei looks into the bowl.
âPorridge,' Mum says.
âPozzage,' Mei says, grabbing the spoon and flicking the contents over her shoulder onto the floor.
âWhoops!' Mum says, laughing. âLet's try that again, shall we?'
âPozzage,' says Mei, and this time Mum hangs onto the spoon and helps guide it towards Mei's mouth.
Mei is silent while she mushes the mixture through her mouth.
Harry pokes his head in. âCan I watch some TV now, Mum?'
âSo long as you don't turn on any news,' she says, helping Mei with another spoonful. âI don't want any news on
in this house, thank you. Until further notice.'
âO-kaaaay,' Harry says, widening his eyes. âAnd â¦ why's that?'
Mum tilts her head slightly towards Mei. âBecause there are photos of
on the news that might upset
of this household.'
âAh-ha,' Harry says, nodding. âGot it. That's cool, I wanted to watch sport, anyway.' He
turns back to the lounge room.
âDo you like it, Mei?' I ask, pointing to the bowl. âDo you like the porridge?'
âPozzage,' she says again, nodding, and grabs the spoon. Some splats on the table as she guides another spoonful towards her mouth.
A little milky dribble creeps down Mei's chin. Mum leans forward and gently wipes it away.
âOh, Pops, this reminds me of when you were little. You ate porridge every morning for breakfast. Someone gave you this little Peter Rabbit spoon when you were born, and it was your absolute favourite. You wouldn't eat from anything else.'
I smile at Mum. She looks really happy remembering our porridge sessions. I wish
could remember back that far.
âPozzage,' I say, grinning at Mei. âYum.'
âYummmmmm,' she says, smiling and dribbling.
It'd be fun to have her stay with us for a while longer, I reckon.
Bob the Builder
song wafts through from the lounge room, Mei goes nuts trying to get down from her chair and to the TV.
âBob! Bobby!' she yells.
âI didn't know you still watched this, Harry,' I laugh, following Mei in.
Mei squeals with joy.
âI was just trying to avoid
,' Harry groans.
âRight,' I nod. âSure. Secretly, though, you've got a thing for Wendy, haven't you.'
Mei bounces up and down in front of the
screen, and shouts âLofty!' when the blue crane appears.
The phone rings. I see Mum cross the kitchen and snatch it up.
Today, Roley and Lofty have a job in a nearby village because there's been a storm overnight. Bob is getting everything ready and Mei is bopping around like a popcorn kernel about to go off.
I look across at the kitchen and see Mum standing at the counter, her shoulders sagging.
I go over. âMum? Are you okay?' I move around so I can see her face.
âYes, love, I am.' She looks at me and takes in a slow breath. âThat was the Department. Of Family Services.'
I nod. âThe people who were here this morning.'
âYes. They've found a family to look after Mei. A foster family â¦'
Dad comes in. âWhat's up?'
âThey've found a foster family for Mei,' Mum says. She looks upset. âThey're coming at four o'clock to collect her.'
âWell â¦ that's good,' says Dad, gently. âThat's how the system is supposed to work.'
âI know, but â¦'
âThey'll look after Mei in a way that we can't, Jess,' he says. âIt's fine to have her for a night or two, but we can't have her forever â you know that.'
âI wish we could,' Mum says. âNow she's got to get used to a whole other family. Can you imagine how confusing and unsettling this is for a child of her age? Of
âIt'll be very hard, no doubt about it,' says Dad. âBut at least she'll be safe, and that's got to be the main thing.'
âImagine having to move in with a family that's not your own,' I say. âIt's so scary. She must be wondering where her mum is.'
âYes, so am I,' Mum growls.
âThere's got to be a really good reason,' I say hopefully.
She looks at me, reaches over and pulls me in for a huge hug.
In the next room, Harry and Mei are singing loudly:
Bob the Builder, can we fix it? Bob the Builder, yes we can!
Mei's not so much singing as making noises at the right time. Approximately.
Scoop, Muck and Dizzy, and Roley too, Lofty and Wendy join the crew
âYou guys are
embarrassing!' I groan.
Harry runs in, still bopping. He goes to the sink to get a drink of water and turns the tap on so hard the water spurts into and then straight out of the glass and sprays all over his face and clothes, and down the cupboard doors onto the kitchen floor.
âNice one,' I say.
âThat tap is
badly designed!' he exclaims, shaking his head. He flaps his t-shirt out and sprays more water everywhere.
âIt's hardly the tap's fault, Harry,' Mum says, giving him a dark look, then raises her voice. âCould you just settle down a bit, please!'
âIt's only water, Mum,' Harry says as she gets up and leaves the room.
âHarry,' I say, turning back, âyou are
a pain. The
coming to get Mei in a little while, okay? Mum's really stressed about it.'
, you doofus!'
âWell that's hardly
fault. And don't call me
, Floppy. And don't be such a pooncy bossy-pants.'
âI am not pooncy! And
don't call me Floppy!
âOkay, bossy-pants,' he says quietly.
I decide it's time to reveal my Ultimate Poppy karate move. I wish so much I could actually hit my idiot brother, but Mum says if I touch anyone, ever, with my karate chops, then lessons are over.
âWhat's going on, you two?' Dad says. âWhere's Mum gone?'
Harry gives me his
Do not dob on me
âI know that look, Harry Joseph Campbell.
Why don't you take yourself off and disappear for a while. Go and read in your bedroom, or something.'
âI don't feel like reading!'
to refrain from stirring things up just now. There's a lot happening and it's important we keep things
âI'll go and r-e-l-a-x in the 98-storey treehouse, then,' says Harry. âThat's where I hide my spa.'
âAlways the joker, Harry,' says Dad. âMaybe take Pixie with you. She might be willing to fan you and peel you some grapes.'
âAnd afterwards you'll be able to find me in the magic faraway tree, where I hide my own personal masseur.'
He heads out, shoelaces flicking about like little vipers as he goes.
Bzzz. Bzzzzzzz. Bzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz. Bzzzzzzz. Bzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.
The intercom. I run to my room and jam my thumb on the receive button.
âWhat?' I say, still feeling dark about being called Floppy and pooncy and bossy-pants in the one conversation.
âHello Mei,' I say, grinning. âAre you in Harry's room? Does it smell, like it usually does?'
âIt does not smell,' Harry's voice growls. âAnd yes, Mei's in here. She's found my Simpsons figurines.'
âWhat do you want, Harry?' I say. âAren't you meant to be in the solarium, keeping out of trouble?'
âHave the oldies calmed down yet?'
I pause, wondering how much of what we're saying Mei can understand. Then I say, âI think Mum's still feeling sad about â¦ what's going to happen. And Dad's trying to protect her from it, or something.'