On the phone Natalie laughingly asserted that I could help her with Pass the Parcel and so on. 'Not me,' I said. 'Pass the Parcel brings me out in a cold sweat, I can't bear the tension.'
But I feel a bit guilty, as I do: she's a single mother, not in a position to be hosting birthday parties financially, I should be jumping in and helping, to pay the world back for the fact that I'm in the privileged position of being married, and in a household with an income and a half, and I don't have to worry about maintenance payments, paid or unpaid.
When I get there, I apologise, and say I won't be staying. Being menstrual, and the morning I've had with Olivia, and the two kids taking turns to have hysterics, I could no more stay in a house of hepped up girlies without seizing on the floor than I could gnaw off my own arm.
That's fine, that's fine, but you'll come in for a cup of TEA, at LEAST.
And an egg and spoon race.
Natalie has a go, playing competitively with her 11 year old son. And then, surprise, a mum's egg and spoon race! Yay! And I feel something inside me sicken and turn over, that old old feeling.
But I laugh, it's fun, the egg drops. I scrabble to pick it up, ha ha. There is is, that shutter of shame and helplessness slamming down, I'm the clumsy four year old again, struggling, clinging on to the door handle, refusing to go to sports day, torn between fear of the humiliation and fear of my father if I don't go when he tells me. I laugh, it's fun, but I can't do this. I can't.
Olivia approaches, disappointment and disapproval on her face.
'You didn't run fast enough'.