A couple of years ago, I had an adult short story published by Stringybark Press in one of their anthologies. It’s part of the collection of modern fairy tales I’m working on. I thought I’d share it here for you to enjoy!
I watch them every morning from my bedroom window at the front of the house. I kneel on my bed and pull the blind up a little bit so I can see them. They stand between the two cars parked in their driveway. Rob wears a suit with a shirt and tie. Julie wears a pretty dress. Sometimes her hair is in a ponytail, sometimes she wears it loose. They reach towards each other, and he puts his hand on her back and she puts her hand around his neck and they kiss. Kiss, kiss, kiss, for a really long time. Sometimes they say goodbye in a slightly different spot and I can’t see them properly through the bushes between our house and theirs. But I always hear Rob’s car drive off first down the street, then I hear Julie’s car leave. Then I open my blind all the way.
They are so nice, our neighbours. Julie works at the office for a big bakery and always leaves a cardboard box full of bakery sweets, like jam donuts and apple scrolls and custard tarts at our front door on Friday evenings. So now Friday is dessert night. It used to be Saturday, but now it’s Friday.
Fridays are a good day now. They used to be a bad day, because we had sport at school. Well, I have sport at my school. My younger brother, Dan, has sport at his school on Monday and Wednesday. I go to a different school. The sign at the front of my school says it is a special school for children with special needs, so all children can reach their potential. I know this is not true. Because some of the children here have already reached their potential. Sam, for example, is never going to learn any more about maths. He knows some maths, but he’s never going to learn any more and he’s fourteen already. I am only twelve, but my potential for maths is still growing. I heard Mr Tallin tell Mum that I have great potential for maths, maybe up to Year 10. But my potential for sport is not good – I can only catch the ball three out of ten times, and not every sports day. Just a good sports day.
This Friday, when Julie comes over to give Dan and me the box of bakery treats, she tells us she has some news. Some exciting news. She and Rob are going to have a baby. Mum gives her a big hug and makes her come inside to sit at the table and tell us all about it. Dan goes outside to play basketball – he always practises after school until Mum tells him it is homework time – but I stay inside.
‘Is this Julie’s potential, Mum? Is this the best she can do? Is this why it is really exciting?’
Mum and Julie smile a special sort of smile at each other. ‘Well, Pat, having a baby is an amazing thing to do,’ says Julie, folding her hands on our scratched kitchen table. ‘But I think I can have a baby and still do some of my work potential at the same time.’
I open the bakery box to see what Julie has given us today. Lemon tarts, jam donuts and fruit buns. I like the donuts best.
‘Actually, it’s Paddy today. My name is Paddy.’
Julie nods politely but I know she doesn’t understand. My name is very important to me. It’s Patrick David Lamond. Sometimes I like to be called Pat, sometimes Paddy and some days Patrick. Sometimes Boy-o, but only by Dad. Patrick is for a bad day, Pat is for an ok day and Paddy is for a good day.
And I can’t quite work out what Julie means. So I put it in the box in my head marked ‘Adults’ – it’s for things that adults say that I don’t understand. There are a lot of things in that box. But I do know one thing – kiss, kiss, kiss does mean a baby. Lisa in my class told me that. She knows a lot about babies because she has three younger brothers and sisters at her house. And she is always playing with dolls in the home corner. Sometimes she makes me play too. I have to be the dad, and hold the baby while she cooks dinner. She even showed me how to change the baby’s nappy and pat it gently so it would fall asleep. Lisa can’t write very well because she doesn’t hold her pencil properly but she knows how to hold a baby.
‘What about names, Julie?’ asks Mum, bringing two cups of tea to the table.
Julie shrugs her shoulders and laughs. ‘Oh, Rob and I have a list of girls’ names we like, so that’s sorted. But we like completely different boys’ names. So we are just calling the baby Rumplestiltskin for now!’
After Julie has her baby boy, she stays at home and doesn’t go out to work any more and doesn’t give us boxes of bakery treats on Fridays. So Fridays are bad days again because there is sport and there are no treats. Dan thinks Fridays are bad too, because he has no sport and no treats.
Rob goes back to work but Julie doesn’t kiss him between the cars any more. Sometimes I see Julie in her dressing gown holding the baby at the front door, making the baby wave his little hand. Sometimes the curtains are still closed in their bedroom window after I come home from school, and Mum says that Julie might be very tired because the baby might have cried in the night. Julie often comes over to our house with the baby, and sometimes she cries a bit and sometimes the baby cries a bit, and Mum makes her a cup of tea and holds the baby so Julie can go back home and have a shower. She doesn’t wear her pretty dresses any more. Usually, she wears tracksuit pants and a t-shirt.
One day after school I hear Julie’s baby crying and crying. Mum is in the middle of cooking something complicated in the kitchen so she can’t help Julie. I go next door and open the back door. Julie is crying on the couch and the baby is crying, too. She cries even more when she sees me.
‘I can hold the baby for you while you have a shower,’ I say. This is what Mum says.
Julie cries some more.
I walk over to the couch and put my hands out, and Julie gives me the baby. She needs two hands to find the tissues and blow her nose. The baby cries some more but I pat it gently just like Lisa at school showed me. I even sing the traditional lullaby Mrs Blackwell taught us last year.
Sleep, baby, sleep,
Thy father guards the sheep,
Thy mother shakes the dreamland tree,
And from it fall sweet dreams for thee.
Sleep, baby, sleep.
The baby stops crying. Julie stops crying.
‘I think I have good potential to make the baby stop crying.’
‘I think you do, too, Pat,’ says Julie, and she smiles.
‘Paddy, are you in here? You shouldn’t be bothering Julie.’ It is Mum, standing at Julie’s back door.
‘Oh, no, Catherine, he’s fine. Pat’s helping me out – he’s just stopped all the tears!’
‘Well, as long as he’s helping and not bothering,’ says Mum. She uses her strict voice but she smiles at me. It always confuses me when she does that. And usually she does this when there are other people around. Is she happy with me or cross with me? I can never work it out. Something else to go in the ‘Adults’ box in my mind.
Julie rummages around in the pantry and finds me a chocolate biscuit.
It is a good day.
After a week, I go over to visit Julie to see if I still have my baby potential. The baby is lying on a blue and green rug on the floor, and Julie is waving a rattle in front of him. She lets me hold the rattle and I make a jingling noise for the baby.
‘Hi, Rumplestiltskin,’ I say to him. I know Rumplestiltskin isn’t his name but I don’t like his name so that’s what I call him.
‘See? I still have my baby potential,’ I tell Julie.
She smiles at me and starts to say something but the phone rings. When she answers it, she says lots of words like ‘I agree,’ and ‘Mmm,’ and ‘That all sounds possible.’
I don’t say anything because Mum has taught Dan and me that you don’t talk while someone is on the phone. I just sit next to Rumplestiltskin to teach him that you don’t make a lot of noise when someone is on the phone.
When Julie says, ‘Bye,’ and puts the phone down, she sits opposite me on the rug and touches the baby’s cheek.
‘Gosh, that was someone from my work on the phone, Pat. They want me to start work soon, maybe some work from home next week.’
I just keep waving the baby’s rattle in front of him. Sometimes adults talk like this, and I don’t know what to say. I only know what to say because I say what Mum or Dad or my teachers say.
Rumplestiltskin says nothing too but he smiles at me.
‘You will make an excellent babysitter one day, Pat, you are just so responsible.’
‘Thank you. Can I have another chocolate biscuit, please? And can you please call me Paddy today? Today, I am Paddy.’
Julie doesn’t have any chocolate biscuits today but she gives me a lamington. A lamington is even better than a chocolate biscuit because it is bigger and still has chocolate in it.
Later that week, I visit Julie and Rumplestiltskin again. Julie smiles when she sees me.
‘Come in, Pat, come in. I’m guessing you want to see my little man? He’s just lying on his rug, all wrapped up, ready for his sleep. You can have just a little look at him while I check something on the computer, and then he can have his sleep.’
Julie walks into the study and I look at Rumplestiltskin lying on the blue and green baby rug, then I pick him up to make sure I still have my baby potential. He looks at me and does not cry. Then I wonder if he has potential. Will he be a maths potential baby like me or a catching the ball potential baby like Dan or will he have looking after babies potential like Lisa?
I decide that all babies have the potential for walking. Well, except for Olivia and Bella and Luka who come to school in wheelchairs and can’t walk at all. Maybe I should check if Julie’s baby has the potential for walking.
I hold up the baby by his arms and let him dangle down. He is all wrapped up and I can’t see his feet. I lie him down again on the floor and unwrap him – there is a lot of material that is tucked around him. Once it is off, I can see his little feet, sticking out of the bottoms of his tiny white suit. I can hear Julie in the study, talking to someone on the phone.
‘That’s better, Rumple. Now you can walk.’
I stand over him, holding him under his arms, his feet just touching the floor.
‘Come on, Rumplestiltskin,’ I say in a gentle voice. ‘You can walk.’
He starts to cry. I move him around a bit and hold his hands with mine so his little arms are stretched over his head. He is so little, his head doesn’t even reach my knees.
I bend down over him, still holding his tiny hands. I use my really encouraging voice, the voice that Mrs Breen uses with me when she really, really wants me to catch the ball. ‘You can do it, Rumple, I believe in you. You can walk.’
But he doesn’t walk and cries louder.
His hands start to slip from mine. Too late, I remember that catching things is not my potential.
Julie comes rushing in from the study as Rumplestiltskin crumples onto the floor.
‘Oh, what the hell are you doing, Pat? Oh, precious one,’ she cries, scooping the baby into her arms. ‘Mummy’s here, it’s ok, you won’t get hurt.’
‘You’d better go, Pat. You can’t stay here any more.’
‘Actually, it’s Patrick, my name is Patrick today.’