Published in the Brighton Prize Rattle Tales anthology 2017
The thing in her hand stops her looking up. It’s baby’s dog dangling by a red string. Spinning dizzy with its tongue out. Baby likes the way dog waddles like a duck, he likes sucking the dirty orange wheels. He screams when she takes the dog and hides it. Half-scream, half-laugh because baby loves her. She will be in trouble again. She will get smacks.
The waves of noise jerk her head back up. The shouts of brother by her side, Mummy rushing out of the lean-to door, her mouth and eyes, three jolting dark holes in the white face.
High above them all is baby. Baby with his idiotic smile and spit goo dropping down between his teeth buds. Looking down from the bedroom window, over the flaking sill, the little blue trains on his Babygro all puffing away too, pushing him forwards little by little. There is his fat biscuit-smelly finger pointing, look, down at dem in the garden on the rough yellow grass, all hay hot. Dem. Dat. Baby can’t talk yet. Dem. Dat. Dar.
Baby is pointing at his dog, he wants the dog. Look baby, you can twang his twangy tail. You can suck the bobble and taste the metal. Just go inside, go back inside. ‘Go back,’ they shout, ‘go back.’ But baby can’t understand. Baby is still so terribly stupid.
The whole garden is pounding, grass bask and the sunlight setting their heads on fire. Her heart hops about like giggly notes and Mummy’s screaming now and trying to get onto the lean to roof, her skirt up around her legs. But it’s glass, it will break and cut Mummy. She sees the veins snaking green through Mummy's back legs, her grey heels lifting off her slippers.
Above the house the sky is sea blue with one aeroplane streak cutting it in half. It’s like the book, Henny Penny Mummy used to read to her before baby came. Henny Penny thinks the Sky’s A-Falling-In, so does Cocky Locky, Ducky Lucky and Goosey Loosey. All the worry and upset, all the worry and the upset about the sky, then Foxy Woxy at the end with his big sharp teeth taking the heads off in the dark cave.
Earlier that morning she’d sat on the toilet whispering at baby as he crawled through the wet soaking up the floor muck and grey hairs. His black chick hair, the wrong colour. His smell, the way his mouth wet was on everything, soaking his Babygro, its empty feet trailing behind him over the green lino.
She was telling baby to be a good boy and let Daddy have some peace. Daddy, muttering as he shaved, using the foam roughly on his face and taking off the black sprinkles and then the cough of his perfume in her throat. His suitcase was packed on the bed, its mouth angry with the leather straps tight. He was going away, he was going today.
Then Mummy and Daddy shouting and dancing and falling in the kitchen, baby whining in his high chair and someone taking him and bouncing him down the hall carpet. Boing, boing, boing, in his nappy, flying over the orange and brown crab shapes and then a whump at the front door. It was funny, they all laughed but it made baby yell so loudly Mummy went to check.
The time Mummy poured milk on her head before nursery when she did that thing to baby. The cold waves that went warm on her. The cream in clumps. There was no more milk for breakfast. Better when baby does his hall boing, boing, boing whump.
She tells the other children at nursery what not to do to a baby. You don't put your foot on a baby’s hand, you don't give a baby marbles to eat, you don't shake a baby up and down too hard in his bouncy chair. You don't throw toys at a baby. Not when they are so little.
Yesterday, Daddy was trying to push the stuck window up and he was panting and then he took his fist and smashed the glass and it let the cool air in. A man came to fix it, gently tapping out the chips so they tinkled down onto the floor. Just like music and the man, with his Grandpa face, turned to look at her.
‘Window can open now poppet, at the top and bottom.’ To let the fresh air in.
Now the window is open at the bottom and baby is coming through. Mummy is screaming Daddy’s name. Over and over, the sound of his name echoes all over all the gardens. Where is Daddy? Did Daddy go already? Daddy needs to get here soon. She is yelling too, yelling as hard as she can. She has a loud voice, good lungs Mummy tells her. Brother joins in. He is holding her hand, the wet feels cold. She sees the freckles on his face like rain splotches. She holds his hand tight.
‘Stop, please, stop!’ Baby's chest is now right over the edge, she can see him coming. He's making noises. The kind of noises when he's just had enough, when he starts to cry. Like the time she put baby in a dolly dress and tied him with a rope to the slide. Mummy didn’t laugh then and Daddy didn’t laugh then. All the laughing was locked up. Not like the boing, boing, boing whump game.
‘Poor baby,’ Mummy said, born with his head blue and the rope twice round his neck. Mummy's nipples, jelly red with the clear stuff on, the smell of this birth different and Daddy coming later and boiling angry. Mummy said the nights were the hardest when she heard the foxes blubbering and the milk man, the milk man setting down his bottles. When the baby was crying all night.
And Mummy told her no, no, the baby hasn’t used up all the love. You be a good girl. My best girl. There was all that time to stop, grow up and start being kind, like Mummy said. It was going to happen soon, maybe even tomorrow.
Now she wants baby to go back inside and start playing with his toys. She holds up dog. Look, baby, here's your doggie, you can have your doggie now, Baby's coming too far over the edge, really too far. No stop, baby stop! Baby’s little arms are doing whisks and not touching anything anymore, quick, he’ll drop fast, faster than a stone, faster than a dolly. She puts her arms out like mummy to try and catch the baby. They all put their hands up. Mummy’s on the glass now, kneeling like she’s praying but she can’t reach him and it’s going to crack, it’s going to make the worst noise.
Inside the Daddy turns and staggers upstairs, through the children’s bedroom stink, kicking a doll pram away as he falls to the window to try and catch the edge of his son's Babygro, the little foot loose and dangling, already a phantom in the air.