Authors: R.T Broughton
Copyright 2015 R. T. Broughton
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced by any mechanical, photographic or electronic process, or in the form of phonographic recording, nor may it be stored in a retrieval system, transmitted or otherwise be copied for public or private use, other than ‘fair use,’ as brief quotations embodied in articles or reviews, without prior written permission of the publisher or author.
All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
At six years old Josh still wasn’t quite big or clever enough to defeat his older twin sisters in the battle of the Wendy House and so here he was again, sitting in a baby chair that was too small for him, in a nappy they had fashioned from a doll’s blanket, with a bow in his hair, being fed imaginary food from a pink dinner set. The Wendy House had been built at the bottom of the garden when the twins were tiny and the pink painted walls were bursting with the three of them inside. With one eight-year-old sister on either side of Josh, who had started the day with visions of enjoying the sun in his new football shorts and digging a massive tunnel in the dry dirt, there really was no hope for him.
feed the baby and you can do the washing up after,” Tiffany announced. Most sentences started with a broad, high-pitched ‘No, Sarah’ and were followed by silence as Sarah tried to think of a winning answer and usually failed.
“But you always feed the baby.”
“That’s because I’m ten minutes older than you, Sarah. And I’m gonna get his burpies up after.”
“I don’t have burpies,” said Josh gloomily, showing the cute gap in his teeth from his first encounter with the tooth fairy and trying to pull himself out of the chair, but he was forced back with both sisters’ hands on his chest. Individually, each twin was small for her age and extremely girly looking with long, blonde plaits, a cute lispy smile and a fondness for Disney T-Shirts. Individually, Josh stood a chance against them, but together they were a pink, undefeatable force and as he folded his arms, Tiffany forced an empty spoon into his mouth.
“Urggh! ‘S dirty, Tiffy.” He knew because he had been digging in the garden with it when his sisters abducted him.
“Shhhh!” Tiffany told him. “So I’m the Mummy, Joshy’s my baby and you can be the social worker, Sarah.”
This was a new game.
“What’s a social worker?”
“It’s a lady what comes to do the washing up. My friend told me.”
“But I want to be Mummy. Why do I have to be the social worker?”
“Because you can be Mummy tomorrow.”
“But you won’t let me.”
“We’ll talk about it tomorrow, Sarah. Now open wide, Joshy.”
“No Tiffy! Please! ’S dirty.”
“I want to be Mummy now.”
“’S dirty, Tiffy! I’ll get an ’fection.”
“What about if I let you be the health visitor?” Tiffany bargained, sitting up far taller than her sister, queen of the game as she always was.
“What’s a health visitor?”
“Urgh! Stop it, Tiffy!”
“It’s a woman what comes and tells the Mummy that she’s a really good mummy and does the washing up for her.”
“Oh!” Sarah thought about this new job offer for a few moments while Tiffany continued to feed the baby imaginary food with a dirty spoon.
“Urgh! Stop it, Tiffy!” Josh flicked his tongue at his lips to get rid of the dirt and felt the tears collecting just behind his eyes. But he knew that tears did no good. Tiffany would say something like, “There there, Baby Joshy! Let’s get your burpies up” or “Joshy’s tired. Let’s put him down for a nap.” Tears only served to reinforce his baby role and so this time they didn’t come. This wasn’t a decision he had consciously made; it was as if his body had taken over his mind and they just didn’t come. In their place he felt something unfamiliar rising in him—something powerful that he didn’t quite know how to operate yet.
Meanwhile, Sarah had considered her options. “Actually, I’m going to be the babysitter because Mummy has to go out on her job,” she suddenly announced victoriously, sitting almost as tall as her sister.
“No you will not!” Tiffany demanded and forced the spoon into Josh’s mouth once again.
“Stop it, Tiffy!”
But Sarah was already in character. “Knock! Knock! Knock! Hello, Mrs Mummy. The agency sent me. I’ve come to look after Joshy for you to go to your job.”
“Well … er … Oh, you’ve had a wasted journey I’m afraid, babysitter.” They were both now performing in the full American accent that they adopted when their storylines were in full swing. “I just called the agency. Joshy’s not well so I can’t go into work after all.” She smiled a victorious smile at her sister and then pushed the dirty spoon into her brother’s mouth one last time—an action that she would live to regret as the fury rising within Josh was waiting for it. ‘Do it one more time!’ It was screaming. ‘Go on, one more time!’ And when she did, Josh had little power to stop himself picking up the pink, plastic teapot that was also dirty around the edges, and cracking Tiffany on the head with it. “I told you to stop it!” was the scream that accompanied the attack. And then silence.
Josh and Sarah’s eyes were so wide, staring at their big sister, waiting to see which way she would turn. Was she hurt badly? Would she kill Josh? Was this the end of playing as they knew it? And then all questions were answered as Tiffany’s blank expression of shock cracked back into life with a mighty, “Muuuuuuuummm!” Her face puffed out, bright and tomatoey, an explosion of tears and snot. “Muuuuummmmmmmm!” and she dragged herself up and out of the Wendy House.
And then Sarah suddenly looked almost as distraught as her sister. “You’re in trouble now,” she said firmly and she, too, ran away and back into the house, leaving her little brother alone.
It took no more than a few minutes for the real Mummy—a twenty-eight-year-old teaching assistant—to march along the war path (the garden path), past the roses and chrysanthemums, dragging the slightly older twin behind her, who was now sporting a trickle of blood from her wound.
“This is not the way we treat our sisters!” she boomed as she pushed her head into the Wendy House… but Josh was nowhere to be seen. “Come out here right now, young man!” she said as she pulled herself back onto her feet. “You can’t hide forever,” she added and began to look around the garden, but there really was nowhere for him to hide. Behind the Wendy house was the only real option. The fences on either side of the garden were far too tall for him to have climbed over and the gate was padlocked shut so that the three of them could play safely together without their mum and dad having to worry.
“Josh! Josh!” she now screamed, letting go of Tiffany’s hand.
“What is it?” a booming voice demanding, and Josh’s dad’s head appeared suddenly out of the doorway, the lower half of his face covered in shaving foam, his chest bare.
“Call the police!” his wife cried. “Joshy’s missing.”
It was 3 p.m. exactly and as the afternoon sun cast its hazy glow down onto the sloping roofs of St Andrew’s Primary, reflecting lazily in all directions, it was easy to imagine the building itself throbbing and vibrating with the force of three hundred children bursting to spill out of the doors and begin their summer holidays. As Kathy looked on from the top of the hill, gripping the handlebars of her nan’s ancient bike, she remembered the feeling well; those six weeks went on forever and not a single day was rainy. She was sure that there wasn’t a child in the whole building who didn’t have a head full of rope swings and streams, mown grass and ice lollies, roller skates and butterflies, although she conceded that kids these days probably dreamt of filling their holiday with Big Macs and
Grand Theft Auto.
She looked at her watch then back down the hill at the school—no movement yet—except that pregnant trembling of the building, but it wouldn’t be long. She had to move quickly, but she didn’t seem to be able to will her body into action. She had to move right now, but instead she looked down at her watch again. Why wasn’t she moving? They would be tidal-waving out of the door in seconds, spewing life into the silent, dusty playground and colouring-in the roads beyond the gates with the costumes they were allowed to wear for the last day of school. Why wasn’t she moving?
She gripped the handlebars tighter and fixed one foot on the pedal. The other remained firmly on the ground, taking her weight. The bike had come with her nan’s house and probably should have been buried along with the old woman, but it would do the job for one last mission and then it could be laid to rest. Its diseased body groaned as Kathy shifted her weight, as if it knew that this would be the ride of its life but all would be well after; it would be placed in an earthy bed for heroes, a place where the rot would be forgiven and forgotten.
Kathy looked down at her watch for the third time and then over to the school—still nothing—and then she finally looked down to him. Malcolm Scott was his name and she could smell him even at this distance, some one hundred meters away. She couldn’t quite see the expression on his face, but she imagined his hungry eyes to be fixed on the school gates, his pupils dilated, intoxicated by the mere idea of three hundred children running toward him. His lips would be moist and he would be so fixated on what was to come that he hadn’t noticed the droplets of spit on his chin. They would stay there, dribbling downwards, a visible symbol of the vulgarity existing inside of this man. Sweaty palms, deep breaths, a cap to hide his features, a shoulder bag to hide his erection. Kathy was nearly sick as she considered it all and gripped the handlebars tighter still, pushing her feet hard against the pedal and the floor, ready to push off.
The smell was now unbearable—that was how she found them in the first place. It attacked her full in the face and lingered in her nostrils afterwards. The only way of describing it was to imagine an abandoned house, one that had once been lived in and full of love. Everything is left exactly where it was before whoever lived there disappeared. The beds are unmade and covered in dust, a child’s homework lays unfinished on the dining room table, the TV would be on if the electric supply hadn’t ended some time before; the family who lived there could almost be imagined, frozen amongst their possessions, silenced by the innumerable years that had passed. Now imagine that there’s a fridge in the corner of the kitchen that hasn’t been opened since everybody left years and years before. The food inside has rotted and festered with such commitment that when you open the door, the smell is a whole-body experience that attaches itself to your face and crawls in through the nose, trickling down the throat, choking, strangling the gag reflex and poisoning the body—rancid, thick, green milk and hairy fish. This was what Kathy smelt when she was near these men and it was the first indication that they belonged on her list.