- Helen Dunmore - Orange Prize winner - Childrens books - Brother Brother, Sister Sister - Extract
Helen Dunmore
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Chapter 1

Sunday 7th June

I’ll tell you the worst news first. Dad’s lost his job. He fell asleep at work for the zillionth time, and when Mr Berger came in with an important client he found Dad with is head on the desk, snoring. Mr Big Berger didn’t say he was giving Dad the sack, of course, in case Dad went to the local newspaper. That wouldn’t look good. ‘BERGER’S SACKS MILLER QUADS DAD!’ Mr Berger said he was going to give Dad some time at home to get things sorted out. Unpaid leave, he called it.
‘The sack. That’s what it is, all right,’ Dad said. He put his head down on the table again, in our kitchen this time.
‘Rubbish!’ shouted Mum. ‘He wouldn’t dare.’
Dad groaned. ‘I’m so tired, he said, ‘I could go to sleep again right ... now.’
Then the babies began to cry.

You don’t know about the babies yet. Let me tell you. I’ll just shove about half a million vests and sleep-suits off my chair first. And I’d better tuck my feet up because of that nappy on the floor. I think it’s a clean one, but it feels a bit squidgy. Yuck. Open the bin, drop it in. The bin’s nearly full. Four babies times six nappies equals twenty-four dirty nappies a day. Twenty-four times seven equals one hundred and sixty-eight. One hundred and sixty-eight nappies a week! How many rain forests does that make in a year? Having four babies in the house is excellent for my maths.

Brother brother, sister sister. That’s what Dad told me when he came out of the operating theatre after Mum had the babies. Dad had a mask on, and a gown and funny plastic boots. He looked like a doctor until he pulled off the mask and I saw his face. He was all shiny and astonished, as if someone had just turned on a bright light inside him. Next minute he gave a whoop and squeezed me so tight I couldn’t say anything, then he whirled me round and round till we were both dizzy.
‘Unbelievable!’ Dad said. ‘It’s unbelievable! Wait till you see them, Tanya!’
‘Can’t I see them now?’
‘They’ve just gone into the Special Care Unit. You can see them later.’
‘What’s wrong with them?’ I asked quickly.
‘Nothing’s wrong with them! They’re fantastic! They’re unbelievable! Two boys and two girls and they’re all perfect.’

‘Two brothers and two sisters,’ I said, trying out the words slowly. ‘I’ve got two brothers and two sisters.’ I couldn’t believe it, even though we’d known for months that mum was having quads, ever since her first scan.

For years and years I’d had to say ‘No’ whenever anyone asked if I had any brothers or sisters. I remember one old lady in the paper shop who said, ‘Oh, you’re a lonely only then, are you?’ But I wasn’t lonely. I had Mum and Dad and my friends.

And now I had two brothers and two sisters. More than anyone else I knew, and all at once. Brother brother, sister sister.
‘Oh Dad,’ I said.


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