Mother packs my school lunch, almost as usual. A toasted cheese sandwich, crusty and dry at the ends with a middle that will be soggy when I am ready to eat it. But this time, for Good Luck, she adds a jawbreaker. Ice-cream flavoured. The kind with a bubble-gum centre. She knows these are My Favourite.
Sir calls me from my room. I am looking at Matilda in the mirror.
There is a piece of hair about to fall out of my plait. I wonder how many other pieces are doing the same. Mother has never been very good at lunches or plaits. Jody always has a neat plait. And Pierced Ears. She won a baby competition once. The Most Beautiful Baby. With Pierced Ears.
“Coming, Sir,” I yell. Mother thinks it Silly that I call him ‘Sir’. Maybe most people think so too. Or they think it is Weird. But I like it, and so does Sir, because it is Ours.
Mother gives me my toasted cheese in Clingwrap. This is worse than wax wrap. The sandwich is already sweaty. It will be even soggier today. She tugs my plait and kisses me on top of my head. A piece of hair falls out. She winks. “Behave!” I nod. It is too late to fix my plait now. I put my hand in Sir’s and we go.
Everybody at Sir’s work is very nice to me. One lady lets me play on her swivel chair when I am bored. It is like Sir’s at home but faster. She has just unpacked some Important Boxes and gives me the bubble-wrap. Some people like to scrunch it up. So it Snaps, Crackles and Pops. I like to pop each bubble Ever So Carefully, one at a time.
Sir draws the chalk Bible stories for a television show. He is Very Talented. Sir doesn’t read Bedtime Stories like the others. Sir draws me to sleep. He draws the Most Wonderful Things.
When I go to school tomorrow I will stand up in front of The Class and Miss Hatchet.
Everybody will get a turn.
I will tell them what My Father does. I go round and round on the swivel chair. Round and round. And I think. Tomorrow I will stand in front of Jody and tell The Class and Miss Hatchet that my Father wears a Pink Bow.
Sir does the chalk Bible stories but he is also a Character on the television show. It is a show for children and the two Main Characters are fuzzy animals. One is a Boy. The other is a Girl. You can tell which one is the Girl because she has Eyelashes and wears a Pink Bow on top of her head. The costume is Too Big for any lady to wear. So Sir does it.
I don’t want to go round and round anymore. I think maybe I will have something to eat. I find Sir’s Dressing Room where my lunchbox is. Sir is not there. He is getting ready to draw. I take out my wet sandwich and chew around it. The crusty bits first. The jawbreaker I put in my jacket pocket for later. There is a note on Sir’s table. The note is folded and says ‘Andrew’. I know this because sometimes I like to practise Sir’s name.
I go back to the nice lady. The bubble-wrap. And swivel chair. I finish my sandwich. The nice lady gives me a mug with Winnie the Pooh on it. I sip sweet, milky tea. I can see Sir on the Other Side. He is drawing a Bible story. There are little televisions. I see Sir in them too. I am looking at lots of Sirs. Lots of Sirs’ hands. Drawing. I decide I will have my jawbreaker and stuff it into my left cheek. I cannot speak. For now, it is too big. But it will get smaller.
The nice lady wants to show me The Building. She takes my hand. It is still wet from my sandwich but she doesn’t say anything. I suck on my jawbreaker.
Sir waves from the Other Side of the room. I smile my Big Smile. And almost choke on the spit from my jawbreaker. He blows me a kiss. I catch it. Hold it in my fist.
My jawbreaker is getting smaller now. When we get back to the swivel chair I say “Thank you” to the nice lady even though it wasn’t very fun. We had to come back so I could wee. She asks if I would like more tea. I say “No thank you.” I would like to find Sir.
The door to Sir’s Dressing Room is closed. To a peep. I push and bump into something. Not hard. On the floor. I look down. There is the head of a fuzzy animal. With Eyelashes and a Pink Bow. Next to it is the one Without. The Boy head. I hear Funny Noises. Like whispering. I swallow on my spit. It makes me feel sick. There are fuzzy arms. They are too short. They end. And out the bottom stick the Hands. Sir’s hands. Lots of Sir’s hands. But they are not all Sir’s hands. So I look down. At Eyelashes and Pink Bow and Without. Tomorrow I will stand in front of Jody and Miss Hatchet and The Class and my eyes prick. My jawbreaker crunches. Through to the bubble-gum centre. It tastes like metal. Like Monkey’s Blood.
Matilda has bitten her tongue.
In my third year of varsity, I decided I might try my hand at a little fiction, a short story, and submit it to Sharp!, our university’s annual collection of student writing. It was my first ‘adult’ attempt at writing fiction.
As a child, fabulous stories and magical adventures poured out of me. But at varsity, I was introduced to some truly thought-provoking work, immaculately polished and intentional writing. So instead of writing fiction, and enter into this overwhelming world of sublime art, I applied my mind to literary analysis and in a manner of speaking, hid in the shadows.
I was afraid to step out into the light, lest I be called a fraud. No good.
But I have my moments where I decide to do something that terrifies me, and to see what happens. Perhaps it is my curious nature that wins out in the end.
The piece received mixed feelings. One of the students on the editorial board said my story made her feel ‘sick’. I’m not sure if that was meant as a compliment. Probably not. But my humble attempt at fiction made it through the selection process and was published in the annual collection all the same. I think perhaps that I have my friend, Clayton Truscott (now the creator of this fine site, TWB!), to thank for that. Yes, we go way back.
I recently shared my short story again on Facebook. I had gone back to read it. To see what I thought all these years later. I decided it was by no means flawless. But I felt that even the more mature writer that I am today could see the merit in it, moments of something special. And as a full-time writer these days, I am trying to be gentler on myself, to be at ease with imperfections in my work, to remind myself that whatever I have done, at the time, I gave my best. And that is good enough.
But I am by no means a zen master. So when my dear friend asked if he might publish it on TWB, former insecurities crept back in. Should I edit it? And if so, what would I change? What would I do better now as the writer I have become? I ruminated for some days and then I got back to him. I wished for it to be published as is. No changes. Instead, I asked if I might write this ‘afterward’ to you, the readers, once all was said and done.
It is a strange story. Of this, I am well aware. It is not everyone’s cup of tea. Of this, I have no doubt. But I like it. And perhaps some of you have liked it too.