‘The trouble with Jacob’

Melissa watched her son attack the pyramid of oven chips on his plate.

‘What on earth are we going to do now, Jake?’ She pressed her forehead into her palms. ‘Auntie Sho was the only one left who’d look after you.’

‘I dunno,’ he replied, his mouth spilling half-chewed potato onto the kitchen table. ‘Maybe if you stopped going to work, you could look after me.’

There had been countless friends, childminders, nannies. An au pair from Latvia lasted less than a week. Mrs Hunter next door offered to help, but after two hours with him, it turned out her back was really much worse than she’d thought, and she was under doctor’s orders to rest. Melissa’s sister Shona was the only one she could rely on to pick him up from school when she was held up at work. But after what happened tonight, even she refused to look after him ever again.

***

Once, Shona crept upstairs and found him rubbing her Chanel eyeshadow into the wall. ‘You’re seven, Jake. You’re not a baby any more. You know better than this,’ she shouted. ‘Seven and nine months,’ he muttered under his breath, without even glancing in her direction. He drew a thick black line over the top of the skirting board in kohl. Another time, he managed to free the vacuum bag and distributed its contents from the kitchen to the lounge. With a paring knife, he crudely carved his initials into every floorboard. The final straw: he stabbed Shona’s sleeping cat with a fork.

‘You’re going to have to apologise, Jake. We’ll write her a card. You can tell her how sorry you are, and maybe she’ll agree to look after you again.’

‘I’m not sorry. Mister Wong’s a stupid cat. I hope it dies.’

‘You don’t really think that, do you Jake?’

He had too many chips in his mouth to answer.

***

Shona read the card, with its adorable back to front letters and dozens of kisses falling off the bottom. She wiped away a tear.

‘See, I knew you didn’t mean it. I know you’re not a bad boy. I forgive you. Come here.’

She reached out to hug him and Jake put his arms around her neck, because there was nowhere else to put them. A wry smile rose into his cheeks. How stupid she was. They were all so, so stupid.