I saw you today, in a packet of peas.
Well, in a way, at least. It was a new pack I'd taken from the freezer, because we were having a roast, and you know how Sophie is - a roast meal just doesn't cut it without peas.
When I pulled them open the plastic bag exploded, sending frozen green bullets everywhere, under the bench and the table, even out into the hallway. They started melting straight away, each pea spreading its own little puddle. I was kneeling down to brush them up, then, out of nowhere, your feet were there, standing in the middle of the mess, in those ratty old trainers I asked you to get rid of hundreds of times. Above my head, I heard you laugh.
"Clumsy," you said. Just that one word, lilting, mocking. You were always calling me "clumsy", or "butter-fingers" every time I spilled, or knocked, or dropped anything.
It's not as if you didn't break as many things as I did, and I swear more of the wine stains on the carpet are yours than mine, but somehow, whenever I had any kind of accident or disaster you were always there watching, and laughing at me.
I felt your shadow fall on me, as I brushed around your feet, and I looked up, seeking for your face, but of course, you weren't there. You'd never been there. Back on the floor, your trainers had gone, and I'm sure I was only imagining that there were no peas in the places I'd seen them stand.
I finished clearing up, and poured the last few peas from the packet into the pan, because you have to go on, don't you? I made gravy, stirring away any lumps, and I set the table. It was only when Daniel asked "Mum, what's wrong?" that I realised I was crying.
I shook my head at him. I'd have liked to say "nothing" but my throat had closed up too tightly to speak. I went on serving the meal; chicken first, hacked rather than carved, then the vegetables, piles of roast potatoes, stuffing and gravy. Daniel smiled at me. "This looks great!" he said, far too enthusiastic, trying to dam the flood with cheerfulness.
I managed a watery curling of the lips in acknowledgement.
"Sophie," he called, "dinner's ready."
Sophie bounced through, dressed in the height of fashion - which means as hideously scruffy as usual. "Why's Mum crying this time?" she asked. Daniel shrugged. They don't probe very deeply when I cry, these days. The tears dried up as we ate, leaving my cheeks tight, but no other trace.
"How was school?" I asked, and let them chatter about unfair teachers, too-hard tests, goals scored in soccer and knees grazed on the all-weather hockey pitch. I promised to write a note giving permission for Daniel to go on camp. I served pudding - apple crumble and ice-cream - and smiled at their delight.
They washed the dishes without complaint - I bet you don't believe that. But since ... well, you know ... they've really been much more helpful. And then I helped Sophie with her English homework. It was fun explaining how a haiku flowed, and watching her pull it together. When we were finished, she made me a coffee, and disappeared to watch TV.
So I sat here alone in the kitchen, cradling the mug in my hands, and staring at the spot on the floor where you stood-but-didn't-stand. I jerked my hands, deliberately spilling the coffee, scalding my fingers, trying to bring you back to me to mock my clumsiness again.
But you didn't come. Nobody came to lift my fingers and kiss them better.
And so, now, I walk to the sink and run them under cold water. Because you have to go on.