Today's Reading

So, in the meantime, she was doing agency work, filling in for sick or absent auxiliaries wherever she was required, often at only minutes' notice. It had a reputation of being easy money, but Rosie knew now that it was the opposite of that. It was a grind—everyone used the agency staff to do all the absolutely worst, crappiest jobs that they might ordinarily have done themselves. The traveling was murder, she often worked double shifts with no days off in between, and every day was like the first day at school, when everyone else knew where things were and how everything worked and you were left scrabbling behind in the wake, desperately trying to catch up.

Then, that day, the phone rang. "DARLING!!!"

Rosie's mother, Angie, still, after two years, found it difficult sometimes coordinating telephone calls from Australia (there were only twenty-two years between them, so sometimes she was Mum and sometimes she was Angie, depending on whether Rosie felt like the younger or older person in the conversation). Early in the morning was usually best, but sometimes Rosie caught her mum and her younger brother Pip at the thin end of a long afternoon's barbecuing and beer-drinking in the sunshine, and with the children yelling down the phone too. Rosie felt sorry for them—she'd only seen Shane, Kelly, and Meridian once, and they were constantly forced to make conversation with their Auntie Rosie, who as far as they knew or cared had a huge wart and gray hair. It was tricky to chat. But now—Gerard was having his dessert, a large bowl of Frosted Flakes—wasn't a bad time at all. She picked up the phone.

"Hi, Mum."

Four, Rosie had found herself recently thinking darkly to herself. Four. That's how many of her friends had met someone and gotten married during the period she and Gerard had been dating, before they'd even moved in. And she'd ignored every single alarm bell. She'd been twenty-three when they'd met; young and carefree, it seemed now (though at the time, she'd been desperate to meet someone). Looking at it now, from the wrong side of thirty, the idea that all that time and all that love might not be leading anywhere sometimes gave her vertigo.

Rosie had heard them all talk about the good life down in Oz, the swimming pools in the back gardens and the lovely weather and the fresh fish. Her mother, whose patience was constantly stretched by Pip's three children and whose unflattering opinions on Gerard (not Gerard himself—he was perfectly pleasant—but his seeming unwillingness to marry, provide for, and impregnate her only daughter, preferably all by last Thursday) she rarely hesitated to share, was always trying to persuade her down under for a year or so, but Rosie loved London. Always had.

She loved its bustling sense of being in the middle of things; its people, all nationalities, jumbled together on the crowded streets; exhibitions and theater openings (although she never went to any); great historic monuments (although she never visited them). She just had absolutely no desire to give up her life and move halfway around the world, where, she was sure, cleaning old people's bums was much the same and cleaning her nieces' bums for free would just be thrown in.

"Darling, I have a proposition for you."

Angie sounded excited. Rosie groaned mentally.

"I can't work down under, remember? I don't have the qualifications or the points or whatever it is," she'd said.

"Ha, oh well, who cares about that," said her mother, as usual as if there were no connection between her dad leaving and her failing half her exams that year. "Anyway, it's something else."

"And I don't want to...nanny."

According to comprehensive emails from her mum, Shane was a thug, Kelly was a princess, and Meridian was developing an eating disorder at the age of four. And since she'd moved in with Gerard and they'd gotten a mortgage, Rosie hadn't been able to save even the tiniest bit of her salary. She couldn't afford the ticket in a million years.

"I don't think so. Mum, I'm thirty-one! I think it's time I stood on my own two feet, don't you?"

"Well, it's not that," Angie said. "This is something else. Something quite different. It's not us, darling. It's Lilian."

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