Sarah catches the attention of her stepmom’s expert nose

Karen Madej

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After Sarah learned to wash dishes and started smoking like Holly Golightly, the Wimpy Grill had a change of management.

A new chef who worked nights called Mo appeared one Saturday in a suit instead of chef’s whites. He announced he had taken over and asked that we all carry on in the same way.

By this time, Sarah had become the waitress who was in charge of the floor and the drinks. Everyone else went on their thirty-minute break at ten.

Mo taught her how to use the till. Mum had shown her the ropes in the drinks and desserts dispensing area, and Sarah’d even tried out on the grill. But she didn’t have to cook. Drippy David flipped meat patties for the early morning burger lovers.

Towards the end of his first month, Mohamed asked me if Sarah would be the Sunday supervisor. She said, “yes.” She knew she could wear her own clothes instead of her loathed neon orange perspiration tube.

Her first Sunday, she wore a long, gathered at the waist, black needle cord skirt. Teamed with a thin woollen burgundy v-neck pullover. On her feet, she had on her Ravel, burgundy with black toes, patent pumps. Black tights completed the ensemble.

Sundays were slow and boring. The traditional Sunday roast won. Most potential customers stayed at home, or anywhere else other than the Wimpy Bar. But she saved her pay and put more effort into her job than she did to studying.

Smoking was something she did outside of the Wimpy and inside. She sat at the back in a cloud of smoke on the top deck of the double-decker bus, on the way to school and on the way back.

On cross-country runs, Sarah hung back with the other girls who smoked. They knew a shortcut to catch us up with the back of the main pack of runners.

In the month before ‘O’ Levels, the fourteen, nearly fifteen-year-old crammed. She took the month off from work and spent every evening and many hours she should have been sleeping, revising.

The second Saturday of that month Sarah’d taken a tea break and found Mummy and Daddy asleep on the sofa in the lounge. She crept back upstairs and went for a sneaky cigarette in the bathroom.

She opened the head height window and stood on the avocado-coloured toilet seat. She lit her fag and dragged in her first lungful of smoke of the day. About halfway through her pleasure, the doorbell sounded.

Shit, shit, shit! Sarah flicked the cigarette as far as possible to avoid it falling on the flat roof of the extension or the garden. By sheer luck, it landed in the field.

She flapped at the air. Left the window open. Washed her hands. Brushed her teeth. Then ran downstairs to see who was at the door.

She met Mummy coming up the stairs from the living room. At that time, her sense of smell had not dulled from excessive whisky. It was akin to a perfumer’s professional nose. Sarah stood back on the landing for her to pass, and then carried on down the stairs to the living room.

Sarah could hear Dad speaking to Mason, Tracey’s dad, at the front door.

Should she await her bollocking in the lounge or retire to her bedroom? She chose the couch.

Mummy came back down and walked straight past me to the kitchen. Dad said goodbye to Mason, then went into the kitchen.

A few minutes dragged past until the door handle turned. Mummy and Daddy came into the room. They flanked me in the armchairs on either side of the sofa where I perched.

“You were smoking in the bathroom, Sarah,” Dad said. “We want you to stop smoking. If you don’t, we will stop you working.”

“Yes, Dad, I promise I will stop.”

“You’re to stay in your room for the weekend, except for mealtimes.”

“Yes, Dad.” She knew she’d only be revising for her exams, anyway. Her face flushed and her eyes welled. Then the tears fell over the lower lids and trickled their way down her cheeks. “I’m sorry”, she said.

“Go to your room, Sarah,” said Dad.

She stood up and went to her room.

Sarah spent the next two weeks memorizing as much useless information as she could keep in her head.

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Passionate about climate change and living a debt-free, sustainable life. Determined to learn how to and build an adobe house or Earthship. The goal is to live off-grid and off the land. Energy for heat and to power electrical devices and appliances will use solar, wind, and hydro-powered electricity. No trees will die to make my home.

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