Authors: Siobhán Parkinson
The Moon King
‘Written sensitively and beautifully,
The Moon King
is sure to be another winner’
‘Siobhán Parkinson is a cunning and practiced hand at storytelling, and getting under her characters’ skin, and this is a dead cert for readers from ten upwards’
‘Original and fascinating story … stylishly and thematically, Parkinson’s novel credibly demonstrates the power of the imagination to reshape and transform experience’
THE IRISH TIMES
‘A sensitive portrayal of a child’s struggle to rebuild his life’
Special Merit Award to The O’Brien Press
Reading Association of Ireland
‘for exceptional care, skill and professionalism in publishing, resulting in a consistently high standard in all of the children’s books published by The O’Brien Press’
For Matthew and Benjamin
and Matthew and Benjamin
The moon chair shown on the cover is based on chairs made by the furniture-maker Paul Berg. The idea for this book came from a chance remark made by Cyril Forbes, former chairman of the Crafts Council of Ireland, talking about a Paul Berg chair.
The characters and events in this book are entirely fictitious, but the tall house with the sloping garden and the attic really exists. The real house is in Cork, but the house in the story is in an imaginary town.
Up and up. Pain in your throat and back of your neck from looking up. Can’t see tiptop of roof from here. Tall gate, and thin. Iron. Bars. Like cage. All those steps. So high. Steps climb up through garden. Grass all tilted down, like carpet out to dry. Good for rolling. Terrible for football.
The woman creaked the gate open and beckoned to Ricky to come with her. Reluctantly, Ricky stepped through the open gate, onto a little concrete platform, where the
steps began. The woman pushed the gate closed behind them. She gave Ricky a gentle push, and he started up the steps, toiling up and up through the steep,
garden. He stopped on a little concrete landing, halfway up. Whew! Then came more steps, and more climbing.
At the top, near the front door, the final step opened out onto a smooth area with a park bench and a chimney-pot full of pink flowers – the ones with the musty smell, geraniums – in front of the house. Ricky had never seen such a big high house before, with such tall windows.
He could have stood on the windowsill and his head would still have been lower than the middle bar, where the upper and lower pane met. Not that he would do such a thing. It was probably the people’s living-room window. Or maybe not. It was more like a store-room. Anyway it was full of things, absolutely choc-a-bloc with things – furniture, things that looked like hatstands, things that looked like very large and heavy electrical appliances from the fifties, toys, car-tyres, even a bicycle.
The woman was ringing the doorbell. Ding-dong, said the house, out of its deep belly. Ding-dong. There were noises inside, rustlings, people unwrapping themselves, thumps, shrieks, laughter, shouts. Ricky felt nervous.
Want hide. Look at wall. Wall friendly. White, with cracks. Spider scuts out one crack, into another crack. All legs, spiders. Shoulders hunched. Busy, busy, busy.
Suddenly Ricky crouched down, knees bent, ears hidden, elbows out, facing the wall of the house.
‘Ricky! Stand up, now, there’s a good boy.’ The woman’s voice came from way above him.
Won’t stand up. Not good boy. Spider. Spiderman. No. Spiderboy.
Flap-flap said the door of the house, opening into the dark. Ricky could just see all the dark inside the house from where he hunkered by the front wall. He looked away. He didn’t want to see in. He was Spiderboy. He
wished he had a crack to scuttle into, like the real spider. Then whoof! the woman bent down beside him. There was a smell of lipstick and the sound of beads clicking right in his ear. He clamped his hands tightly over his ears, but he could still hear her voice, the voice of the lipstick-smelling woman, like a voice under water: ‘Come on, now, Ricky. It’s OK. Really it is. This is a nice family.’
Don’t like nice families. Don’t like families. Don’t like big tall houses. Don’t like grass rolls down garden. Terrible for football. Don’t like living room all hatstands. Bicycle OK though. Like bikes.
‘Please, Ricky,’ said the woman gently.
Ricky unbent and stood up slowly, unclamping his ears. Fearfully, he looked towards the front door. A large, comfortable woman, like a well-stuffed sofa in a dress, stood in the doorway. Her fair hair grew at all angles out of her head and went wandering off in every direction, but her eyes were looking straight at Ricky and smiling at him. As soon as he caught her eye, he looked quickly away, and let his gaze wander around and behind her into the house. Like the room he had seen through the front window, the hall was full of stuff. Even the stairs were piled high with things on both sides, with only a narrow channel of space for going up and down. There were cardigans, books, socks, envelopes, a hairbrush with clumps of blond, brown and red hair clinging to it, unidentifiable wooden objects, dog-eared photographs, a biscuit tin full of dusty
sea-shells, roller skates. And the stairs themselves went up and up into the dark. Ricky could just make out a rocking chair at the top of the stairs, but he couldn’t see any further; after that, it was just dark.
The large woman at the door didn’t say anything for a moment, but she continued to beam at Ricky. Then a door flew open somewhere behind her and it was as if somebody had let the lid off a pressure cooker. A riot of children came tearing down the hall, shrieking and yelling, pulling at one another’s clothes, tripping each other up. It looked like some sort of crazy race with no rules. One tall girl kept shouting, ‘Go easy, go easy, mind the small ones!’ but she was sobbing with giggles as she said it and it didn’t seem to make much impact.
Hearing the rumpus, the large woman turned to face the avalanche of children. ‘Whoa!’ she ordered, and the children slithered and slipped more or less to a halt, but they continued to writhe and punch each other and the noise level didn’t go down much. Expertly, the woman, the mother she must be, plucked the smallest children out of the mêlée and pulled them to safety around her skirts. The very tiniest – a little scrap of a boy that danced and jigged in bright green dungarees, with pale hair all fluffed out from his head like a dandelion clock – she scooped into her arms and kissed several times.
By now the babble of children’s voices and the scufflings and thumpings had subsided enough for the mother’s voice to be heard.
‘Come on, everyone. Back to the kitchen. We’ve got visitors to entertain.’
The seething mass of children started to bubble and splutter with excitement as they scrabbled to their feet and turned back the way they had come, the voices of the biggest calling: ‘Biscuits! We’ve got visitors, so it’ll be biscuits.’
The hub-bub died away as the main body of children disappeared into the back of the house, but the littler ones kept up a small, persistent clamour, which rose in pitch at the mention of biscuits. ‘Bikkies, bikkies, bikkies,’ they squawked, as if they only ever got biscuits at Christmas, dancing away ahead of their mother into the dark of the hall.
Ricky and the woman with the lipstick followed the large woman down the dark hall and into a big bright green-and-white kitchen, where the sun came pouring in in such a stream that you felt you could wash your hands in it. There were pools of sun everywhere, and sun squares on the table, warm yellow squares of sunshine.
The mother started making coffee, the warm sweet smell filling the sunny room. The children had suddenly gone quiet, as if they had worn themselves out with their earlier rowdiness. Even the small ones had stopped dancing and had settled quietly on chairs and stools and on the floor, like butterflies with their wings folded. Now that they had stopped knocking each other about and shouting at each other, they seemed finally to notice
Ricky. They were watching him.
‘Sit down, son,’ said the mother, pouring water onto the coffee grounds. ‘Not there. Helen, move those newspapers, like a good girl.’
With a loud sigh, the girl called Helen picked up an armful of newspapers from a chair and dumped them with a thump on the floor. Nobody seemed to mind.
‘Here,’ said the mother, then, swishing her hand across the seat of the chair, as if to dust it off, ‘sit here, Ricky. Now, who’d like a biscuit? One each now,
, do you all hear that?’
,’ the smaller children told each other solemnly, raising their index fingers to one another.
A plate of funny flat biscuits, with shapes on them, like writing, appeared. Ricky bit into his. It tasted warm and sweet, almost like the smell of the coffee. The mother and Lipstick Woman were talking now. ‘Aphasia,’ Lipstick Woman hissed. ‘Dyslexia?’ asked the mother. ‘Dysfunctional,’ whispered Lipstick Woman. ‘Place of safety.’ ‘Of course,’ said the mother with a nod. Ricky looked from one to the other, wondering vaguely what the words meant.
The smallest child, the one with the dandelion-clock hair, offered Ricky another biscuit. He shook his head.
Don’t want no more biscuits. Want go on bike. Want go home. Can’t go home. They won’t let you. Don’t want go home anyway, not really, not now. Home bad place now.
‘This is your home, now, Ricky,’ Lipstick Woman was saying. ‘For the moment. Until … until things change.’
Don’t like change. Want go home. No. Don’t want. What then?
There was that lipstick smell again and the sound of beads clicking as Lipstick Woman bent close to Ricky. ‘I’ll be back to see you in a few days,’ she said. ‘Won’t that be nice?’
No. No. Won’t be nice. This house too full things. Too full people you don’t know. Too tall. You won’t be able to find your way to top. And if you do, you’ll fall. How can it stay standing, up on hill like this? Why doesn’t topple over? It will. It will. It will topple over. As soon Lipstick Woman leaves, it will topple over, crumple up, and all these children and mother and hatstands and hairbrush and Spiderboy will all be squashed to bits, like big heap rubble. Oh no! No! Can’t stay here this big house all strange people. No!
Flap-flap said the door as the two women left the kitchen. As soon as the door closed, the children dived on the plate of biscuits, all jostling for illicit extra goodies. Then, stuffing biscuits into their mouths and into their pockets and up their sleeves and giggling at their own daring, they lurched to the door and followed the two women into the hall. They skipped down the hall and into the front living room, the one Ricky had seen through the
window from the garden, to spy on Lipstick Woman leaving. Ricky trailed after them, watching as they found places to perch between the hatstands and things, all clamouring to get a view. They clustered around the window, like roses around a doorway, watching Lipstick Woman climbing down the garden, nodding and laughing, jostling and elbowing each other and munching their sweet spicy biscuits. Ricky stood miserably behind them.
Then the mother came in and whooshed the children away from the window. ‘Come,’ she said to Ricky, holding out her hand. ‘Come and help me to get your bed ready.’