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Verge 2012: Inverse

THE GRUMPY SWIMMER BOOKSTORE PRIZE FOR SHORT FICTION

A DAY IN THE LIFE OF AN
UNFORTUNATE BOY

Peter Dawncy

The unmindful mother

A boy awakes to find a creeper climbing his legs, tangling its leafy shoots about his waist up his body and attaching to his ears. He heads into a kitchen where a mother sits at a dining table.

‘Don’t terrify your mother like that!’ the mother shrieks as she jumps to her feet. ‘Get down this instant.’

The boy picks a biscuit from a biscuit tin and pours a glass of milk. ‘But I’m not climbing anything,’ he replies.

The mother takes a tentative step forward. ‘That tree is not safe – those branches will snap!’ she cries, and extends a quivering hand.

‘I’m not climbing a tree though,’ replies the boy, ‘this creeper thing’s climbing me.’

The mother takes a few more tentative steps forward. ‘I won’t have you climbing to such heights!’ she yells, ‘and I won’t ask you again. Get down this instant!’

‘I told you,’ replies the boy, his brows narrowing, ‘I’m not climbing a tree – this creeper’s climbing me.’

And with that the boy starts stripping the creeper from his body.

The mother screams. ‘Grab onto something! Grab on!’ she cries. ‘Your father’s out and I can’t catch you!’

But the boy just continues to strip the creeper from his body in a whirl of leaves and shredded stalks, and when at last he has torn off the final twisted tendril and thrown it to the ground, the boy returns to eating the biscuit and drinking the milk.

The mother drops to her knees and weeps. ‘What shall the world think,’ she wails, ‘of this unmindful mother who let her child climb so high?’

The dispersion of the future

A boy is walking through a park with a mother when suddenly the mother heaves the boy into her arms.

‘Ahh,’ the mother sighs, twisting the boy about. ‘So beautiful and delicate,’ she says, ‘and so ready for the dispersion of the future.’

‘What?’ croaks the boy.

‘How have you formed so delicately?’ whispers the mother as she tickles the boy’s neck and then taps his forehead. ‘So nuanced, and so clever. I shall never know how you’ve done it – only what to do with you.’

Then the mother blows on the boy’s nose, and when the boy sneezes his head disappears onto the breeze in a hundred little pieces. The mother sighs.

The aged son

One night a boy walks into a kitchen where a mother and a father sit at a dining table.

‘I feel strange,’ the boy says to the mother and father. ‘My tummy feels really bubbly and I’ve got pins and needles all over.’

The mother and father look to one another.

‘Quick,’ says the father, ‘let’s get dinner on before he gets too old.’

‘At last!’ cries the mother as she and the father head into the kitchen. ‘Will he be better with lamb or beef do you think?’ she asks.

‘Beef,’ replies the father. ‘Let’s get it on quickly though.’

‘I thought the day would never come!’ says the mother as she drops a wad of asparagus into a saucepan full of water.

‘Yes,’ replies the father. ‘But let’s get dinner on quickly.’

When the mother and father have prepared dinner and set it on the dining table, the father fetches two glasses and pours the boy into the glasses.

‘This is so exciting,’ says the mother. ‘The day has finally arrived. But now that it’s here I’m not sure how I should go about doing this – my excitement wants me to glug, but I feel that I should be sipping to savour!’

‘Drink at a moderate pace,’ replies the father, ‘that’s the sensible thing to do. He’s too precious to glug, but he’s also too precious for us to sip too slowly and risk him getting any older.’

Verge 2012: Inverse

   by Samantha Clifford and Rosalind Mcfarlane