Inexplicably, from Penny’s point of view at least, it takes Sander a full eight days to move the twenty-two boxes of random junk and clothing back from the spare room to the walk-in wardrobe of their bedroom. Eight days, at – she works it out on her iPhone – two point seven five boxes per day.
Though the evidence – random items from the boxes appearing around the house – would appear to suggest that the principal reason is Sander’s capacity to become distracted by the contents of said boxes, he denies this. He has fixed the washing machine (again), he points out. He did the food shop (undeniable, but why does it take Penny thirty minutes, and Sander seemingly a whole day?). Plus his favourite excuse of the last fifteen years: he has, of course, been thinking about ideas for a painting.
Whatever the reasons, by the time the room has been emptied, only three days remain for Penny to paint it.
Max, bless him, offers to help, but Penny prefers that he work on his physics project. Thirteen-year-old Chloe could be pressed into service, it’s true, but Penny knows that sorting out the half-hearted adolescent mess she would leave behind would take longer than doing it herself. And as for Sander, well, three days has never been enough for him to do anything.
So between working full time and mopping up cat sick (and how can it be that no-one else ever comes across the cat vom’ first?), between taking the car for its MOT and hunting for the lost guinea-pig (Beethoven is found alive and well and living beneath the kitchen sink), and between braiding Chloe’s hair and then un-braiding it again when she changes her mind, Penny somehow finds the time to paint the spare room.
Yes, it looks a little uneven in the daylight, but well, that’s just what happens when you finish up at midnight and when ten litres of emulsion paint on special costs seven pounds ninety-nine from Lidl. But Sander says he’ll put pictures up in carefully selected positions to hide the brush strokes. And Penny just about believes that he might.
“Can we turn the heating up?” Chloe asks.
It’s a cold, windy night outside, and they are eating Lidl pizzas in front of a film that no one is really watching. Penny’s too tired to cook tonight, plus she’s saving herself for the hosting marathon which begins tomorrow.
“It’s on full blast I’m afraid,” she replies. “It’s because of the window upstairs. I’m trying to get rid of the smell of that paint.”
Chloe rolls her eyes. “Maybe you shouldn’t have painted it the night before they arrive,” she says – an indisputable truth.
“Just… eat your pizza, OK?” Sander, who is feeling guilty about the paint thing, says.
“So is Christmas going to be here?” Max asks.
“I don’t know. We’ll be able to talk about it tomorrow won’t we? But I expect so.”
“Cool,” Max says, through a mouthful of pizza.
“You’d rather it was here?”
Max nods. “It’s all about how little mess we can make at auntie Vicky’s. And those airbed things are rubbish to sleep on. Mine kept going down.”
“How come they live in a flat if uncle Martin’s so loaded?” Chloe asks.
“Houses are very expensive in London. Their flat is probably worth twice what this place is.”
“Almost three million, I should think,” Penny says, glancing at Sander who shrugs.
“They should sell it,” Chloe says, “and go shopping.”
“Wow,” Max says. “That’s a brilliant idea Chlo. They could buy a tent and live in that.”
“Oh, shut up,” Chloe says.
“Anyway, Christmas is boring in London,” Max says.
“Christmas is boring everywhere,” Chloe offers, picking the olives and slices of red pepper disdainfully from her slice of pizza.
Sander laughs. “Wow, you’ve added Christmas to the list of things you don’t like?” He winks at Penny. “You won’t be wanting gifts, then. That’s a few quid saved, huh?”
“It is,” Penny agrees, grinning. “I might even be able to buy myself something for once.”
“Oh, Mum,” Chloe says, her face suddenly lighting up. “I was thinking, if I, like, only have one thing for Christmas, could I, like, have a makeup box subscription?”
“How about we try that phrase without all the ‘likes’, huh?” Sander says, but it’s too late to force a more elegant repetition because at the same time, Penny is asking, “A makeup subscription? Is that even a thing?”
Chloe nods. “Siobhan gets a really good one from Glossybox. It’s only ten quid a month.”
“Ten pounds a month?” Sander says. “For makeups? You must be joking.”
“And they send you what for ten quid? A box of random makeup you don’t even want?” Penny asks.
“No, it’s really good, Mum,” Chloe says, earnestly. “And the stuff’s worth way more than a tenner. And if there’s something I don’t want – because some of it is going to be old… I mean, grown-up kind of stuff. Well, then you can have it, can’t you.”
“Wow,” Penny says. “My generous daughter. Thanks!”
“I don’t get it,” Sander says. “What’s the point of that?”
“Anyway, it’s not going to happen,” Penny says. “That’s one hundred and twenty pounds a year. It’s way too expensive, Chloe.”
“I don’t care about Siobhan,” Penny interrupts. “That’s a no. But if you’re pleasant from now until then (Max raises his eyebrows at this – he doesn’t believe in miracles) we might see about putting together some makeup that you’re going to use and that I actually approve of. But you’ll need to make a detailed list for Father Christmas. So we can see what kind of thing you want.”
“What she wants,” Max says, “is to look like a chav.”
Chloe punches her brother in the arm. It apparently doesn’t hurt much because Max just grins. “It’s emo, you dork, not chav,” Chloe says. “Tell him, Mum.”
“What’s emo? Wearing makeup?”
“Black nail polish,” Chloe says. “Dork thinks it’s chavvy.”
“Ah,” Penny says. “Well, I thought black makeup was goth, so…”
“Goth?” Chloe says. “Like, that doesn’t even exist anymore.”
“Chav does, though,” Max says under his breath.
“Max!” Sander admonishes. “Stop!”
“At least I don’t want to look like a suit,” Chloe says.
“Maxey boy wants a suit for Christmas,” Chloe says in a childish, taunting voice.
Penny and Sander turn to face their son. Penny looks confused yet hopeful while Sander simply looks horrified. “A suit?” he says. “Why would you want a suit?”
“I don’t,” Max says. “She just saw me looking at a website where–”
“He does,” Chloe insists. “He wants a tie and stuff. And a suit. He wants to look like those twats on Suits.”
“Oh, shut it, Chloe,” Max says, now punching his sister back.
She rubs her arm and pushes her bottom lip out. “It doesn’t matter what you wear,” she says. “You’ll still look like a dork.”
END OF SAMPLE #5
Let the Light Shine will be published on the 30th September
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