Beth Chandler poked the last of the licorice tails into a prune and stood back from the bench to survey her collection of edible mice. So cute, with those little musk lollies as eyes. Twenty-two, she counted – that would be enough for the kids of Cuthbert Close. What was the collective noun for a group of mice? A nest? Yes, nest. A nest of mice for the nest of kids in her street. Perfect.
‘These aren’t for the party, are they, Mum?’ Twelve-year-old Chloe sidled up beside her.
‘What do you mean? The prunes are seedless, if that’s what you’re worried about. None of the kids could possibly choke.’
‘It’s not that.’
‘Then what is it?’
Chloe bit her lip. ‘It’s that they’re kind of gross.’
‘Rubbish. Kids love my mice. We had them at all your parties when you were little.’ Beth wiped her hands on the tea towel.
‘But that was before we knew they were made from prunes.’ Chloe picked one up and held it between her fingertips like a piece of toxic waste. ‘Only old ladies eat prunes.’
Beth did a quarter turn and drew herself up. ‘What rot. Prunes are for everyone. They’re full of fibre and vitamin K and they’re as sweet as a lolly.’
Chloe dropped the mouse back to the tray and wiped her hands down her sides. ‘They’re disgusting.’
‘What’s disgusting?’ Ethan sat up from where he’d been lying on the couch and removed his earbuds.
‘Mum’s made the prune mice,’ said Chloe.
‘Yeah, sure.’ Ethan went to put the buds back in.
‘No, seriously. They’re here.’ Chloe wrinkled her nose.
‘Oh, Mum, you haven’t, have you? They are all shades of wrong.’ Ethan leapt up. ‘Remember the effect those things used to have on me? I’d be on the toilet for days after my birthday.’
Beth started to wash up the pots and pans that had accumulated during her preparations for the neighbourhood party. As well as the mice, she’d elected to make a range of other treats for the kids, figuring that as she was one of the few stay-at-home mothers in the close, she had the most time to give. And besides, she did enjoy cooking.
‘That’s a complete lie, Ethan Chandler. You were not.’
Her son came to the sink and put his hands on her shoulders. At seventeen, he’d well and truly outstripped her in the height department. ‘Mum, please tell me there’s going to be something else for the kids to eat at this thing. It’s not just prune mice, is it?’
‘Of course not,’ said Beth in a huff, wriggling out of her
son’s condescending grasp and opening the fridge door.
‘Look, there’s fruit kebabs, mini quiches and cheese-and-
vegemite sandwiches.’ She’d even used her star-shaped cookie
cutter. ‘Healthy and delicious.’
Chloe and Ethan exchanged glances.
‘Mum, it’s a party. The food’s supposed to be … like … good, you know?’ said Ethan.
‘Yeah, like chips and pizza – that kind of thing.’ Chloe leant her elbows on the bench.
‘I think I know what little children like to eat, thank you very much. I’m not sure if you’ve forgotten, but I actually raised two of them, and anyway, Cara’s little Poppy loves my vegemite sandwiches and Alex’s little boys will love the mini-mice. They look just like that new guinea pig of theirs.’
‘You really think a kid wants to eat their pet?’ Ethan shook his head and Chloe giggled.
‘They wouldn’t be— Oh look, never mind. It’s too late now to do anything else, and besides, your father’s going to be cooking up some sausages, so there’ll be plenty of food if no one likes what I’ve made.’
Ethan exhaled with relief. ‘Phew. Those beef ones are pretty good with heaps of sauce.’
Beth went to open her mouth but thought better of it. They’d find out soon enough that the sausages were of the chicken variety – so much lower in saturated fat than beef or pork.
‘Speaking of Daddy, has anyone seen him?’
Chloe smirked. ‘I think Daddy is in the garden.’
Beth glared and handed her the tea towel. ‘Thank you, Chloe. You can finish the washing up for me.’
The near-teenager took it sullenly. ‘What’s the point in having a dishwasher if we never use it?’
Beth held up a finger. ‘Ah, but that’s where you’re wrong. We have two dishwashers. They tend to moan quite frequently and they cost a lot of money to run, but we just can’t bear to get rid of them. You never know, one day they might just do the dishes without an argument.’ She went to kiss her daughter lightly on the forehead, but Chloe feinted and ducked.
‘This family sucks,’ she said under her breath.