My Aunt Sally always picks me up, but today my mum is at the school gate instead. I view her in the half-world of sideways glances; she’s a stranger with a title that she doesn’t deserve, my mum. She should just be done with it, give the title to Aunt Sally, she knows more about those things.

The plastic soldier I’m holding seems restless, he’s constantly trying to take the rifle off his shoulder; I think he’s up for a fight.

I look again, but she’s still there, still awkwardly saying hello to the other mothers, this over animation bothers me, gives me doubts.

She looks uncertain. ‘Darling.’ It’s as if I’m suddenly her best friend and she knows me more than she does. Or that I’ve done something wrong and it’s a trap to get me over there to punish me. She has a calmness, like my Aunt Sally’s newly ironed linen, only with my mum there’s always an edge, something sinister hidden in the folds of this moment and I’ll be tempted to reach into and… and what?

Tapping the soldier on the head, I ask it where my Aunt Sally is. ‘She’s only forgotten hasn’t she? I mean nothing’s happened?’ But the soldier’s gone quiet, he’s looking elsewhere now and his body glints wet and humid in the afternoon sun; he can’t quite catch his breath from being held so tightly.

‘Paul, come on darling.’ Again she smiles at the other mothers. She’s guilty about not knowing them because if she’d picked me up just once before, she would. The other mothers start giving her sideways glances like I do, they’re embarrassed too, who is she? They carry on talking.

Twisting the soldier sideways, I make him look, jerk him towards her and then turn him back. ‘What do you think? Would you go with her?’ But he looks dumbly past me, no amount of manipulation will get him to make eye contact. ‘Is this a conspiracy Sergeant? A mutiny?’ But he’ll not look at me. I let him drop to the ground, pressing him with my foot down into the sun-softened tarmac. His plastic stand is angled now like a skateboard. ‘You’re no use to me, a soldier on a skateboard.’

‘Paul, we’re in a rush, I need to talk to you.’ But she’s said too much and she knows it. Now the other mothers want to know what this is all about, why she needs to talk to me and why she’s in a rush. I want to know what this is all about.

My lips seem stuck, unmoving and my voice low. ‘Someone ask her and then come and tell me.’ But of course no one hears, they never do. At times I’ve spoken very loud, I’ve even shouted but still no one hears. ‘Someone ask her if she’s still got that man living with her, because I’ll not go back if he’s there. Not ever.’

 

If you like Flash Fiction, you might want to read The Lollypop Man by Karen Elizabeth Miller.