Alice's older brothers, Peter and James, were crouched on the kitchen floor playing with their toy farm. Turning to check on them, Paula realised that they’d started to argue. Their voices grew steadily louder; the precursor to physical violence. If the dispute wasn’t resolved soon, weapons would be deployed—and she could do without having to confiscate whatever farmyard worker, animal, or machinery, they chose to use as missiles. She had enough to deal with already. Easter Sunday was almost here, and her extended family were expected for the day.
Why did I invite them again? It’s Janice who’s the whiz at entertaining, not me.
It wasn’t that Paula didn’t enjoy baking, or being with family, but it was her sister who thrived off the whole hostess experience. It was as if Janice had been born with a wooden spoon in one hand, a mixing bowl in the other, and the need to entertain hardwired into her DNA. If she knew that Paula took days to plan for a family gathering, she’d laugh her socks off.
The boys’ argument was growing in volume… Perhaps, if she could keep them occupied (and quiet), she could come up with a list of the food needed for Easter day?
“Give me back my tractor! It’s MY tractor!” Peter screamed at James.
“But you don’t need it,” James replied. His voice was reasonable enough to impress the Pope. But when Peter grabbed James’s trailer in retaliation, and chucked it across the kitchen floor, all reason went out the window. “That’s MY trailer! I’m going to tell Mum—Muuum!”
Paula sighed, and dried her hands. The washing-up would have to wait. She needed to come up with a distraction—fast. Her gaze fell on the hollow ceramic chicken sitting on the kitchen work surface, and inspiration struck. She’d boiled some eggs the day before, with the vague idea of using them in a salad or for egg sandwiches.
Clapping her hands, she grabbed the attention of her children. “Who wants to decorate some Easter eggs?”
Alice was bouncing in her seat in a split second, shouting, “Me, me, meeee!” but it took the boys a little longer to respond.
“Chocolate Easter eggs?” James wanted to know.
“Do we get to eat them afterwards?” Peter asked.
Paula shook her head. “No, not chocolate eggs: hard-boiled eggs. I’ve got some in the fridge. We can fetch your craft box and decorate them with whatever you want. Crayons, felt-tips, paint…”
“Bows and flowers?” Alice prompted.
Paula nodded, even as the boys pulled faces at their sister behind her back. “Yes, if you’d like. I thought you could decorate them, and then I’ll hide them around the garden for you and your cousins to find on Easter day. Afterwards, we could take them into the field and roll them down the hill. Whoever rolls their egg the furthest, without breaking it, will get a prize.”
“A real Easter egg—a chocolate one?” James asked.
Again, Paula nodded.
It was all the incentive they needed. A shout of “Yay!” was followed by the sound of running feet, as Alice, Peter and James disappeared from the kitchen in search of craft supplies.
* * * *
“I don’t like it.” Alice said, scowling down at the egg in her hand and sticking out her lip.
Paula, who was trying hard not to mourn for her kitchen table (now swathed in sheets of newspaper, and covered from end-to-end with shredded, coloured tissue, glue, glitter and paint), stared at her daughter in surprise. She thought Alice’s egg looked wonderful.
All three of children were wearing bright plastic aprons, and had their sleeves pushed up above their elbows as they worked. James and Peter wore almost identical expressions of fierce concentration; brows scrunched-up and tongues stuck out—and though their eggs were definitely neater in appearance; that was only to be expected. At four, Alice was two years younger than Peter and almost half James’s age. But what she lacked in dexterity, she made up for in enthusiasm and imagination.
The egg Alice was currently decorating, like the two already completed, was covered in strips of blue and white tissue paper and liberally enhanced with glitter and splodges of paint in the same colours. There was a theme to what she was doing; a sense of vision.
Having trained in art as a teenager, Paula recognised the talent her daughter already displayed. It tugged at her heart. She didn’t want Alice to go through the same disappointment that she had.
The truth was sometimes hard to accept, but that didn’t change reality. For those wanting to earn a living from their art, there were few opportunities.
“Well, I think it’s beautiful,” Paula said truthfully. “I love the colours you’ve used.”
“But it doesn’t look like the plate, and that’s what she’s after,” James pointed out, in a voice that suggested this should have been obvious.
“She is?” Paula stared at her sons in astonishment. Both were nodding their heads.
“Yeah,” Peter replied, before putting his just-finished masterpiece to one side and sliding off his chair. Crossing to the oak dresser at the end of the kitchen, he carefully removed one of the plates displayed there, and carried it back to Paula. “She likes the patterns on them,” he explained.
“Because they’re so pretty!” Alice said. She reached out towards the plate that Paula now held. One glitter-coated finger carefully traced the outlines of houses, people, birds, and foliage. “Willow…” she sighed, as she reached the sweeping curves of one particular tree.
Paula nodded. “Yes, it is. That’s what this pattern is called: The Willow Pattern.” She turned back to her sons. “How does Alice know that? Did one of you tell her?”
“No,” James replied. “Well, not really. She worked it out for herself. She said the tree looked like the one outside; the one with the yellow catkins. I told her it was called a willow tree—but I didn’t know that was what they called the pattern too.”
Paula looked down at the plate again. Alice was right—the tree did look like it was made up of catkins, and even though she knew that this part of the pattern was meant to represent leaves, she could see how her daughter had drawn her own conclusions. Fascinated, she refocused her attention on Alice. “Tell me what else you can see. Why do you like this pattern so much?”
Small fingers pointed to one picture after another. “Home,” Alice said of the largest building; “Me, James and Peter,” of the figures on the bridge. The simple structure the figures were heading towards turned out to be ‘Grandad’s shed’, and the man on the boat was ‘Grandad’ himself.
“But Grandad doesn’t go fishing,” Paula reminded her.
Alice giggled. “It isn’t a fishing boat, Mummy, it’s a house boat. Grandad built it in his shed.”
Paula grinned at that. She could see how that would work—Alice’s Grandad was a dab-hand at woodwork. “So, there’s Grandad, you, James and Peter on here… but no Mummy and Daddy?”
Alice tipped her head to one side as she stared at the plate. “You’re the birds,” she finally replied. Then she looked back at her blue and white eggs. “Still don’t like them,” she said. And just like that, her lower lip was back out, and her expression sad.
* * * *
It was ten o’clock at night by the time Paula got round to clearing the kitchen table. They’d finished decorating the eggs, just as David had arrived home from work. His children had welcomed him loudly, grateful for a new face, and with no time to sort out the mess they’d made, Paula had decided that tea in the dining room was probably best.
After the cooking and eating, bathing and bedtime stories had stolen the hours; and the last of everyone’s energy.
David had already gone to bed. He’d urged Paula to do the same, and leave the kitchen craft-table until the morning. But she couldn’t do it; waking up to that much chaos was never a good idea.
Having placed the finished eggs in a basket on the dresser, she fetched a bin bag. Anything that was still useful would be returned to the craft box, but she suspected that most would be beyond saving. Sweeping a pile of paper scraps and ribbon to the edge of the table, Paula realised that there was something hard, hidden inside the mound. Disposing of the shredded mass with more care than she’d intended, she soon discovered what the object was: they’d missed a boiled egg.
She stared at the unadorned shell, wondering what to do with it. Put it back in the fridge? It didn’t seem right to add it to the basket of decorated eggs. She glanced at the dresser, filled with blue and white pottery, and a vision of Alice’s disappointed face popped into her head. “Or I could just decorate this one myself?” she mused out loud. It had been a long time since she’d tried her hand at anything like that. Too long.
Oh, why not?
Settling herself on one of the kitchen chairs, Paula reached for the single blue and white plate that was still on the table, and a tin of pencil crayons and felt tipped pens.
It might even be fun…
* * * *
“Mummy, Mummy!” The sound of Alice, shouting in her ear, and the knowledge that her and David’s bed had been invaded by their children, drove the last remnants of sleep from Paula’s mind.
“Hmm? What is it, baby?” she whispered. With eyes still closed, she reached out drowsily, to offer her daughter a morning cuddle. But Alice was having none of it.
“Careful, Mummy, I don’t want to drop it,” she scolded, in a voice that was a perfect mimic of her mother’s.
Confused, Paula opened her eyes. James and Peter were bouncing on the bed, but Alice stood beside it, with her hands cupped around something, and a huge smile on her face.
“Look!” she demanded, opening her hands.
A single egg, with elements of The Willow Pattern carefully drawn on its surface, came into Paula’s view, and she returned her daughter’s delighted smile. “Ah, you like it then? I hoped you would. I haven’t drawn anything for such a long time…”
Alice’s smile dropped into open-mouthed wonder, and even James and Peter stopped bouncing. “You mean you drew this, Mum?” James asked, reaching out a hand towards the egg. But Alice pulled it back towards her, covering it protectively once more. “No! It’s mine. And I’m going to find somewhere safe for it…” she said, before running out the bedroom door with James and Peter close behind her.
Closing her eyes again, Paula felt the bed move behind her. David’s chin came to rest on her shoulder, and his arm curved around her waist as he snuggled against her back. “You really did that?” he asked sleepily.
“Yeah,” Paula replied. “I enjoyed doing it, too. I’m thinking of getting myself some proper art supplies and trying my hand at some bigger pictures for the house.”
“Well, it’s about time,” David murmured. “I never did understand why you stopped painting.”
Paula thought about that. “I’m not sure I understand either. Perhaps I just needed some time away from it?”
“Hmm... maybe,” David agreed. “Guess it’s true what they say about Easter though…” He dropped a kiss against her ear. “It really is a time for new beginnings. Who knows? You might even start getting the urge to throw huge parties.”
Paula chuckled at that, and burrowed further under the duvet. “Don’t bet on it…”