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Friday Fiction: If That Looking Glass Gets Broken
"Hush little baby, don't say a word"
Here’s this week’s Friday Fiction. Thanks to my paid subscribers, this post is open to everyone. Note that I’d like to eventually feature short work by other people. I will give further details at a later date, but you can always reply to this or contact me if you’d like to know more.
This story was included in They Move Below.
If That Looking Glass Gets Broken
Her son. Her son! He was the best one in the world. She knew. She had a few, and had known others; she could see and hear, not senile yet, she had her senses. She loved him.
“He’s so good,” she said, almost purring satisfaction while slurping tea in hands still steady enough not to spill it into the saucer.
“Shut up mumbling, woman,” said her husband, an automatic snap, like a leg-hold trap buried in leaves. Couldn’t resist catching her words, teeth digging in and weakening them.
So she just nodded while he read the newspaper; she smiled, let words run through her head instead of from wrinkled lips and across the cracked lino surface to his hairy ears.
Best son in the world? Maybe best listener in the world was more accurate. He never made her shut up. These words in her, wriggling below the surface – they always welled up and had to spill over. That good son! He let her speak. He didn’t stop her as words flooded out, crimson and shining and alive. Yes, old woman nonsense her husband might call it, but words must flow; mouths are cuts in our faces aren’t they, blood flows, it has to. Her son was a lifeline.
She looked at the clock, lovely big grandfather clock, dark stiff wood that perseveres, keeps on ticking and tocking, feet darkened from years of mopping, only a few minutes now.
Oh, her boy!
Of course it’s natural that sometimes when you’re talking your child seems distracted; momentary thoughtlessness crossing a face as if they’re not listening, just making the noises. You can’t hold it against them. Times when they’re not really there, bound to be. Still, a good listener.
The best of all her sons.
The clock would chime the hour soon. She was excited. She wanted to say so. She slurped cold sweet tea instead, noticing the taste less than the moisture of it, and watched her husband over the delicate cup’s rim. He shook the paper dismissively, he hated crinkles in it, crinkles and wrinkles, yet he was so frinkle-frowny, grumpy puss, ooh she wanted to say that, quick, another sip of tea, drain the dregs –
The clock gave a ting, such music in one note!
Not too eager, can’t be, he’d say no just to be stubborn, old frowny face. Wait, calm the hands, count: one, two, three.
“I’ll go and feed him,” she said. “I’ve finished my tea.”
He stared at her, pierced her, those murky grey eyes weren’t soft, they were hard, could see every detail. Could he perceive the trembling excitement inside? Would he crush it with hammer words, bludgeon her enthusiasm into submission, oh unbearable if –
“Okay,” he muttered, returning to the printed words with another rustle of the paper. “Soup. He shouldn’t have solids.”
“I know,” she said, pretending to chide and moving before he changed his mind.
As she warmed the soup she felt safe to hum part of a song, her husband wouldn’t hear it from the parlour. The sweet, sweet words rose and fell in her mind, a natural pulse to flow with the notes.
“Hush, little baby, don’t say a word, Mummy’s going to buy you a mockingbird.”
The soup was warm now, and she sprinkled in some of the powder they kept in an old spice jar, stirring until it dissolved.
Oh, son! Best of all her children. She would tell him. She would sing to him. Oh, baby!
She unbolted the cellar door and balanced the tray in one arm while she switched the light on. It really needed a clean, she thought, eyeing up cobwebs and coal dust. Baby didn’t mind, though.
She took each step down carefully, the smell of damp tickling her nostrils.
God wanted people to have children. The priest said so. She knew anyway. It was obvious. The shops full of baby things. Children on the TV during the rare times her husband could put up with the noise. The government, helping families out with money and nice laws. Oh yes, everyone knew. Children were from God. Praise God! He gave her another son, the best of all sons! He listened.
She opened the door to the fire room, and saw her son, lovely son, squatting near the crunchy coal pile; he tried to stand because he was well mannered but the chains stopped him moving much, so good, and he made noises but without a tongue they were quiet ones, now it was healing, like the ragged calf-wound from the trap, and she began to talk, to tell him everything, and maybe his eyes glazed, not tears, no, he was a good son, he would last longer than the others, and she wiped dried blood from around his mouth and wondered if she should shave him and cut his matted hair again, and she sang to him, “Hush, little baby, don’t say a word,” she would spoon him soup, oh, her son! The best of all her children so far.
Some readers assume he really was her son, but perhaps she isn’t a reliable narrator? Her language and metaphors hint at the truth ...
Fun fact from Wikipedia: “The lyrics are from the point of view of a parent trying to appease a crying child by promising to give it a gift. Sensing the child's apprehension, the parent has planned a series of contingencies in case their gifts don't work out.”
"Hush little baby, don't say a word"
Hush little baby, don't say a word,
Papa's gonna buy you a mockingbird.
And if that mockingbird won't sing,
Papa's gonna buy you a diamond ring.
And if that diamond ring turns to brass,
Papa's gonna buy you a looking glass.
And if that looking glass gets broke,
Papa's gonna buy you a billy goat.
And if that billy goat won't pull,
Papa's gonna buy you a cart and bull.
And if that cart and bull turn over,
Papa's gonna buy you a dog named Rover.
And if that dog named Rover won't bark,
Papa's gonna buy you a horse and cart.
And if that horse and cart fall down,
You'll still be the sweetest little baby in town!