Fledglings, Families and Feelings

Parenthood is an expensive, glorious, heart-breaking, exhausting, rewarding, demoralising, satisfying and confusing state. There is the fever of anticipation [whether planned or not], the anxiety, the draining tiredness, the anxiety, the frustrations, the pleasures and the…yes…anxiety. And then just when you think you have safely despatched your duty, done your best, got them to fledge, downsized, bought the yacht, booked the world tour, had a lie-in,the inevitable happens-they return!

There is no model for this in nature-although I believe female elephants stay in their families [the boys must go and fend for themselves and prepare for fighting and finding mates]. Baby birds do not return to their nests when they are unable to find worms for themselves, young lions must go out and seek their own gazelle to slaughter and sheep may safely graze unaided once weaned.

The returning, grown-up offspring is a double edged sword. You can no longer gripe about never hearing from them or seeing them. On the other hand you must reclaim the room they once slept in, played and made a mess of, which may now be a beautiful guest room, study, motorbike disassembly workshop, dressing room or pottery studio [or simply a repository for all the items you have no idea what to do with]. You may no longer choose to loll around on the sofa with a bowl of cornflakes and watch ‘Eastenders’ rather than making dinner. You cannot slouch about upstairs ‘au natural’ as the unedifying sight of your [=my] ageing physique is likely to be frightening, and/or sick-making at the very least.

If you are lucky enough to possess multiple rooms with TVs you can avoid conflicts over programmes, although you still can expect scoffing over your choices and disbelief over your ignorance on the subject of films/actors/music from any time from the last twenty years [or more].

There will also be stashes of the kind of snacks you had sought to avoid since children no longer shared your house. You open the fridge and the shelves are stacked with chocolate. The cupboards house multi-packs of Cheesy What-nots or Monster Crunch.

Over time you adapt. You squidge up. You make room on the sofa, in the wardrobe and at the table. You increase your grocery shopping, attempt to avoid the chocolate and try to remember who is the current Dr Who. You begin to appreciate the benefits of having an on-site computer technician who can reclaim lost documents, eradicate malevolent, lurking viruses and show you for the hundredth time how to play your music, not to mention the opportunities to gossip about other members of the family and take girly shopping trips with intermittent coffee and cake.

One day, though it is ended. That’s it. You’ve removed the stabiliser wheels and let go of the saddle.  The room is cleared, cleaned of belongings and fluff; reverted into its original ‘guest room’ status. Bare, clean and sad.

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Fiction Month 4

This week’s contribution to Fiction Month is a flash fiction-a short story in its entirety.

Alfie’s Monster

On the landing, between Alfie’s bedroom and the bathroom there is a monster. He thinks the monster must be nocturnal, because he has been learning about nocturnal animals at school. Alfie has needed to go for a pee for about the last ten minutes, but as yet has been unable to muster the nerve to cross the landing under the monster’s menacing eye.

“I’ll count to twenty” he murmurs “then I’m going.” Proud of his newly acquired skill in counting, remembering that until recently he’d have had to count to ten twice, he begins as slowly as the urgency allows.

A shaft from the landing nightlight illuminates where Alfie’s door is ajar, so he darts first to the edge of the shaft before steeling himself to leap across, hurling himself into safety and slamming the bathroom door. Despite having taken a mere fraction of a second to get there, he catches a glimpse of the fiend that has been threatening to overwhelm him; a huge head balanced upon an open, slavering jaw that mocks him with a rictus grin.

The pounding in Alfie’s chest has subsided by the time he is ready to make the journey in reverse. This time, having opened the door he keeps his eyes screwed shut and launches himself in the direction of his bedroom, knocking his elbow painfully on the bedroom door handle in the process. He dives into bed, plunging beneath the duvet and rolling into a ball like a hedgehog into its daytime nest.

Next morning, as Alfie conducts yet another extensive inspection of the landing, hoping to discover the burrow that the monster is using during daylight hours he can see nothing to suggest a hideaway but for the third time in a week he trips over a plastic sword, shield and helmet that are part of his brother Callum’s medieval knight outfit.

“Watch out!” Yells Callum emerging from the bathroom. “I need that stuff today for my history project.”

Rubbing his knee, Alfie frowns back at him. “Well don’t keep it here then. I hurt my knee on it.”

The period after supper is dominated by an animated account of Callum’s day as a medieval knight, including a reprise of the outfit, during which Callum, in a spasm of over-excitement leaps upon Alfie, shrieking, “Die infidel!” and in wielding his sword manages to capsize a vase and several family photographs. The boys roll together on the carpet, locked in mortal combat, Alfie banging his head on the coffee table and Callum losing his helmet. Their mother comes in to remonstrate, rights the vase and the photos, lifts the helmet from the floor, its visor hanging open. From his vantage point where Alfie sees the helmet’s silhouette on the wall he gasps. The monster!

In the warm, safe haven of his bed, as Alfie reflects on his foolishness the tousled head of his brother peers around his door. “There’s a snake living under your bed. A huge snake! It’s coming to get you!”