Thursday, 25 March 2010

A SMALL STEP - a short story by GG

The heavy red curtains were almost closed to keep out the sun but it was still difficult to see the television pictures clearly. He sat on the broad arm of the armchair next to his mother. “That’s the moon, Georgie, that’s the moon. A man is really going to walk on the moon. Isn’t it wonderful?”
The boy pointed at the screen. “What’s that?”
“Rocks. Moon rocks.”
He looked closer. “I’ve got a moon rock.”
“No, you haven’t, darling. No one has ever been to the moon before so I don’t see how a seven year old boy could have a moon rock.”
“I have.”
“Why don’t you go and play and I’ll call you when they get out of the rocket ship. Megan will be here soon.”
“Is she still coming?”
“Yes and remember what I said. She is going to be shy. She’s your age and I want you to play nicely.”
His friends had stopped calling his name from the street. “Please, please, mum, let me go down. I promised I would. Please.”
“I said ‘no’. I want you to stay and watch. This is a day you’ll remember for the rest of your life.”
“It’s because she’s coming. Why does she have to come?”
“Because I promised Megan’s mother I’d look after her for a few hours.”
His bedroom was the smallest room in the flat. After the bed, chest of drawers and shelves, there was only a narrow strip of free space along the wall.
The bed frame was made of light blue painted cast-iron. The mattress lay on top of interlocking diamonds of bedsprings. In its time the bed – he had known no other - had been his trampoline, pirate ship, and most lately a rocket ship.
He was older, braver, and now under the bed held very few fears in daytime. The boy’s eiderdown was intended for a double bed. Crawling under the bed he could pull the cover down until it touched the floor making a tent that still left enough light to see by.
This he did having first fetched his treasure tin from his toy box. It was filled mostly with foreign coins given him by his father but it also contained his moon rock – a small, black skull-shaped pebble brought back from a seaside holiday too long ago to remember. The rock always felt cold. It felt nice.
His mother had a baby growing in her belly. He was going to have a baby brother. “We can’t be certain it will be a boy,” she told him often. But it was too terrible even to think it might be a girl, a sister.
He couldn’t see the point of girls. In school they were all goodies; in the playground they stood together giggling. They cried too easily, didn’t like getting dirty and couldn’t play football for toffee.
He hated the end of birthday parties including his own because grown-ups always thought it a good idea to play music and encourage the boys and girls to dance with each other.
The doorbell rang. He heard voices. His mother came in to the room. “George, Megan’s here. Come out, George. Megan’s brought a book with her.” She spoke to the girl. “George’s being silly. You just sit on the bed and read. Neil Armstrong is getting out of the rocket ship soon. I call you both when it happens.”
The boy couldn’t understand what was happening on the other side of the eiderdown. He knew his mother had gone back to the television but there was no sound from the girl. No bounce on the bed above his head.
To his horror a corner of the eiderdown was lifted and a girl he had never seen before crawled across the lino to join him. She was as big as him and dressed in almost the same T-shirt and jeans. Even her hair was cut short. She could be a boy. “Go away,” he said just the same.
She shook her head. “I’ve got to stay. My mum is going to the baby clinic. To see that the baby in her tummy is OK.”
“My mum is having a baby as well,” he said immediately breaking his vow not to speak to the girl.
“I don’t like babies – all they do is poop and cry,” she said.
“And then they cry and poop,” he said. The girl laughed. He had made a good joke.
“When my mum gets back she’s bringing us some ice cream. What you doing?”
Whether it was the promise of ice cream or the common cause of babies, George showed her his treasure box. He let her touch the moon rock and examine some of his foreign coins.
“I can burp,” she said and proceeded to give some impressive examples.
“I can make a clicking noise with my tongue,” he said. She could too but his were louder.
“I can make a bubble,” she said.
“No you can’t.”
“Yes I can. And I can make it blow away.”
“Go on show me. I dare you.”
Megan wet her lips and then shaped her mouth around a glob of spit as though she were blowing a kiss.
A tiny bubble formed between the girl’s lips but it burst the several times she tried to launch it.
“I can, I can.”
George watched the girl lick her lips again. He hadn’t noticed her face before. The shape of her eyebrows, the size of her eyes, the nose that wrinkled, the ears that peeped out from behind her hair, and the lips forming a new bubble.
He had been wrong. She was nothing like a boy at all.
“Look, look,” she said grabbing his arm. “I told you.” A tiny bubble hung suspended in the space between them. When it burst they both laughed.
George didn’t hear when his mother called him to hurry to watch the television.

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