Breath & Shadow
A Journal of Disability Culture and Literature
A Man was unconscious on his kitchen floor when a boy walked in expecting the usual mixture of song, humor and breakfast.
An upset stool was lying next to the man, but his black Labrador looked on without concern.
"Oh my God, no, Dad."
As the boy rushed over to the telephone, the man's red cheek was pressed hard against the cold black and white tiles. It was only a matter of seconds, but he resisted laughter for as long as he could and then leaped high into the air.
"I got you this time Master Jones, I got you this time well and truly."
Not laughing but crying, got that time the boy well and truly was.
Perhaps this was a practical joke too far, but it should be emphasized that before leaving for school the boy calmed down completely and ate a bowl of milky muesli and two rounds of brown toast with plenty of honey.
Brampton Junior School was probably best known for the way it overlooked a wellkept park that featured a museum, a miniature railway and a children's play area. On the day in question it was the park's suntraps that prompted the teacher to consider the benefits of alfresco learning.
"Please, Miss, me." said the boy whose name must have been something like Donald or Derek if the large imaginary D on his large imaginary hat was anything to go by.
"Come on, someone," said the teacher, apparently unable to hear or see the loud, pointyhatted pupil who was sitting crosslegged at the front of the class.
A frequently noted fact about the teacher was that she appeared to be ten years younger than she was. On the day in question she looked younger still because she was wearing sunglasses. The few lines that her thirtyfive years had given as a punishment for bad behavior were hidden.
"Oh, please, M M Miss Duncan," said the boy. Relentlessly he began to wave both hands in the air, as if attracting the pilot of a circling helicopter, while his friends or enemies enjoyed their ice lollies in sweet, orange, strawberry, lemonade, cola and even ciderflavored oblivion.
The teacher had become increasingly irritable this term, but was due to holiday abroad in two days time, or rather, she had two more days to work. The day was Wednesday and she was going to travel on the Saturday.
"Oh, go on then, but keep it simple, Simon," said the teacher to a momentarily united group of brightlycolored, sticky grins from which there came icecold chuckles.
"Please, M M Miss? I mean, thanks, Miss Duncan. Look at me, everybody," said Donald or Derek or Simon or whoever he was as he stuck his lolly stick into the dewy, tussocky ground. "The world is my lolly."
For a few long seconds the teacher was puzzled, and then a few skipped by in which she seemed genuinely impressed by this contribution to the lesson.
"Well, Simon," she sighed, "what on earth can one say to that?"
The ambiguity of the teacher's gentle but sarcastic tones prompted the other pupils to quickly crunch through the remainder of their lollies, so that they too could stick sticks into the ground.
"No, no, Miss Duncan," said a wellspoken girl, "you can't say what on earth, now, you must say what on my lolly."
The remark was received well by all but the teacher.
The teacher had become quite good friends with Alisonís mother, friends who sometimes met in the local wine bar.
"Alison Khan, I'm surprised at you. Would you like me to have a word with your Mother when I see her later?"
At this the girl became more aesthetically pleasing than ever, taking on the form of a fluttering butterfly as her face merged with a bright red teeshirt, in harsh contrast with her brilliant white trousers and the long black hair that was combed a hundred times each and every night.
"No, Miss Duncan. Sorry, Miss Duncan."
"I should think so, Alison. Now, collect all the sticks together and put them in the bin."
"Yes Miss Duncan."
"Now, Simon Simon Simon," sang the teacher in descending tones, "what am I to do with you? I had thought, foolishly perhaps, that by bringing you all outside we could have enjoyed the lovely sunshine together. More foolish still was my idea to take money from the school's limited funds to buy each of you a lolly. But most foolish of all, Simon Jones, was the idea that you should join us!"
Still seated, the teacher lifted her dress above her knees, determined to catch as much sun as possible before Saturday.
"Sorry, M M Miss."
"I'm afraid it's too late for that. You can take yourself back into the classroom so you don't disrupt the lesson for the rest of us."
"A planet, wait one minute Simon, that's the answer I was looking for, the world is a planet, not a lolly, but I want everyone to write something about what this might mean to different people. Okay?"
Without exception, every child affirmed.
"Now, Simon Jones, take a piece of paper from the pile and off you go."
The boy had no real objection to working indoors, nor to doing so alone, but when both sides of his paper were full, there was still half an hour before home time.
Though his writing was in black ink, he underlined his name and class in red.
After a few minutes he did the same again.
After a few minutes more he returned to his black pen and drew a third line between the other two.
Impressed by the way in which red and black complimented the white paper, he considered using his two pens to draw a globe just above his name and class. The land could be black and the sea red.
He thought of the girl with the long black hair.
The window was open and he could hear the other children shouting and screaming. Now and again he recognized someone's voice, but mostly the noise just sounded like fun.
"Weeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee. Round and round and round and round and weeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee."
When there were only ten more minutes to wait, he gave in and went to the window. He longed to join the other boys who were pushing the roundabout, to run the very same circle while the girl with the long black hair and all her friends were spinning and clinging and screaming and laughing.
When the boy arrived home from school the black Labrador always created a moment of absolute chaos, sniffing, licking, jumping and wagging his tail so hard that ornaments and things were frequently knocked over.
"Hello Rexy boy."
Though weighing nearly a hundred pounds and approaching tenyearsofage, when not in harness the dog's behavior was that of a small puppy.
"Go and lie down now," said the boy after a few minutes of fuss, first encouraging and then shutting the dog into the front room.
At this time of day there was always a plate of salmon spread sandwiches and a packet of cheese and onion crisps waiting on the table in the living room.
"Hello Master Jones. Come in, sit down, eat up and enjoy."
Perhaps it should be emphasized that this was not the boy's tea, that it was not his evening meal. He would eat the requisite number of vegetables just as soon as his mother came home from work. That is to say, despite the report of neglect, which was made after he showed his teacher a pair of feet that were said to be so filthy that they made his toenails appear as tombstones, he was loved and cared for by his parents. Nevertheless, not until the voice of the computer's screenreader fell silent did he have his father's full attention.
"C'n have a drink of milk?"
"Certainly, Master Jones, one milk coming up."
While his father worked from home, his mother worked in a local factory and did not get home until after six.
"C'n have it in my red plastic beaker, Dad?"
"Certainly, Master Jones, one tall glass coming right up."
Starting on the day she was taken on at the factory, his mother insisted that the family all sat together for tea. This had gained new significance due to the visit from Social Services, even though the conclusion was only praise for the parental skills of Mr and Mrs Jones. It turned out that what the teacher perceived as filth was in fact coal dust, that the boy had got into the habit of taking the NCB scenic route to school.
"Red plastic beaker, Dad."
"Sorry, Master Jones, one red plastic beaker of ice cold milk coming up."
Though the boy's father looked forward to this break from his computer, looked forward to preparing a meal of sausage or bacon or chicken and vegetables or rice, the slight complication was that there were near on three hungry hours between the boy's arrival and the designated teatime.
"There you go, Master Jones, drink and enjoy."
"I'm thinking of going as a penis."
"To the fancy dress, I'm thinking of going as a penis, so I'll need some white gloves."
"White gloves and a white shirt and black shoes and black trousers and a black jacket and a black tie with piano keys all down the front."
"I've seen 'em Dad, ties with piano keys down the front."
"Simon, what on earth are you on about?"
"I could take a music book, too, and get my photo taken at the piano."
"Piano? Oh, piano. S S Someone, someone who plays the piano, Master Jones, is called, is called, someone who plays the piano is called a p pianist, not a penis, a pianist. You want to go to the fancy dress party as a pianist. Try to remember that, son."
The boy said nothing for a little while. Instead he sat eating and drinking and wondering about the confusion and why his father was now crying and shaking with laughter.
"M Master Jones?"
"Please stop calling me Master Jones. I don't like it."
Because it was summer, and therefore still light, the boy's mother had been able to take the shortcut home. She walked along the partly concreted, but generously dogshitted entry that led to her back gate.
The boy was screaming with unmistakable playground joy.
"Weeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee. Round and round and round and round and round and round and round and round and round and round and weeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee."
Family meant everything to the boy's mother, so to hear this sound, to open the creaking gate, to be greeted by the everhappy Labrador, to smell the tea cooking, to be home at last was just about as good as it got.
The gate had to be lifted slightly in order that it could be bolted.
"Can you get my bags love?"
The boy held the two carrier bags while his mother lifted and bolted the gate. He was not selfless enough to take the shopping into the house, and she was too much so to imagine that he would.
"Playing Pet's Playground."
The boy was smiling up at his mother as she turned around, as her face, indeed her mood, changed from one extreme to the other and she yelled his name at the top of her voice.
"M M Mum? W What's up, Mum?"
She threw down the bags and reached for an upsidedown pet tortoise that while admittedly decreasing in speed was rotating on the flagged yard. She made shrill references to animal cruelty, early bedtime and the fact that she had been to work all day, but the boy was not listening. He looked from the black Labrador to the red wooden gate and then to the white plastic bags. He closed his eyes and gently fell to the ground. As his mother rushed over to him he thought about the girl with the long black hair and smiled.
Dr. David Bolt is a sessional lecturer in creative writing at NewcastleunderLyme College and the editor of the Journal of Literary Disability. As well as writing a series of short stories for Breath & Shadow, one of which was a runnerup for the 2007 Pushcart nominations, he is a published poet and lyricist, and has authored, edited, coedited, broadcast, and peerreviewed dozens of articles on the literary representation of disability.
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