Joey’s hand reached out. He watched as it trembled, struggling to grasp the brown paper bag. He was afraid, horribly afraid, but he must wrap the ice cube before it grew into an iceberg and sank, dragging him down with it. He knew he needed medication, but the medicine bottle was empty. Mary would bring more; if he could only stay calm until she came. Joey took a deep breath, thrust a hand into his mother’s oven mitt, moved as close to the fallen ice cube as he dared, closed his eyes and grabbed. With his eyes open and arms outstretched, he dropped the cube into the bag. Using the gloved hand, he wrapped the paper over and over until the square piece of ice was transformed into a damp ball of paper. Joey breathed out. He wrapped elastic bands around the parcel and threw it into the kitchen pedal bin. Would that be enough to hold it?
He picked up the newspaper and sat with it, on the bin. He tried to read. He mustn’t let Mary know he was afraid. He took his lucky pen from his pocket. He’d started the crossword by the time Mary came home.
“I’ve got your medication, would you like some now?” she asked. “It’s okay, you needn’t get up, I’ll bring it over.”
She poured some chilli sauce onto a plastic measuring spoon and handed it to him. As he swallowed and coughed, she filled a tumbler with water.
Joey began to cry.
“Drink it as it is then, Joey. Drink the water and you’ll feel better.”
He sipped and sobbed alternately. As he drank the last few drops, he was once again almost under control.
Did you have to put something in the bin?” Mary asked.
Joey nodded. He didn’t look at his sister.
“That’s okay, Joey. If you don’t want something, then you should put it in the bin.”
“It was an ice cube, Mary, should you put ice cubes in the bin? Do other people do that? Do you?”
“I might, if I dropped it on the floor, or if there was something wrong with it.”
He looked at her now. “There was, Mary. There was something wrong. It was bigger than the others.”
“Maybe the tray was filled unevenly?”
“I hadn’t thought of that.” He dropped his gaze, and began to fidget.
“What did you think of?”
“I don’t know.”
“Yes you do, Joey.”
“I can’t remember.”
“Joey, look at me.”
He glanced up, she smiled and he tried to do the same.
“Joey, I’m your big sister, I remember when you jumped off the roof with an umbrella, thinking it would be your parachute. I remember when you tried to paint the dog orange, because Mum said he wasn’t very bright. I was there when you started that fire, the one that scared you. I’ve seen you do lots of daft things, and helped you clear up after them. Joey, trust me now.”
“I feel silly.”
“I thought it was growing, that it would get bigger and bigger. I felt all cold and wet where it touched me. I thought there was bad stuff in it. I was scared, Mary.”
“You’re not scared now, are you?”
“What did you do with it?”
“I put it in a paper bag, so I couldn’t see it.”
“That explains the tomatoes on the floor.”
“Sorry, Mary. I had to do it quick. I thought it was still growing. It felt bigger when I’d wrapped it. I put lots of elastic bands on it and put it in the bin. Then I sat on it, so it couldn’t grow anymore”
“Well, that was clever.”
“Yes, Joey. You got really frightened, but you remembered what you’ve been told. You didn’t keep looking at what made you scared. You know when you’re scared you should go somewhere safe, or get somebody to take away the scary thing. You remembered that.”
“You weren’t here, Mary. I took my medicine, lots of it, but it didn’t help.”
“I’m sorry I wasn’t here, Joey, but you did really well without me. You did everything right.”
“I’m glad you’re back now.”
They hugged each other.
“Joey, shall we look in the bin?”
“Can’t you just take it away?”
“No, Joey. Now you get up and stand over there by the door. I’ll look.”
Mary took the soggy bag from the bin. Joey didn’t watch her, he didn’t like looking at her burnt arms. They reminded him of the fire. He didn’t want to think about the fire. Mary placed the sodden paper on the kitchen table and removed the tightly wound elastic bands. There was nothing inside.
“Where’s it gone?” Joey asked.
“Just an ordinary ice cube then?”
“I was frightened of an ordinary ice cube.” Joey cried.
“You were scared, Joey, but you were brave too, you didn’t know it was ordinary when you wrapped it up.”
“Yes, Joey. I think you’re getting better.”
“Yes, I am.”
“I think we should go back and see Doctor McKenzie. You could tell him how much better you’re getting.”
“I don’t know. He asks funny questions. He wanted to take me away from you.”
“I won’t let him do that. But Joey, will you see him again?”
“I don’t know.”
“I will then, if you’ll come with me?”
“I’ll always be with you, Joey,” she whispered, her words almost drowned by a shout from another room.
“Joey, who are you talking to?”
His mother came into the kitchen. She glanced round at the spilt tomatoes, soggy paper, elastic bands and chilli sauce bottles.
“Are you all right, Joey?”
“I was thinking about Mary.”
“Oh Joey,” his mum hugged him. “You miss her, we all do. I wish I knew how to help you.”
“I’ll go back to Doctor McKenzie, if you want.”
“Thank you, Joey.”
Patsy Collins lives on the south coast of England, opposite the Isle of Wight. Her stories have been published in a range of UK magazines including; The Lady, Woman’s Weekly and My Weekly. Her work has also been accepted by a variety of websites including Every Day Fiction and PatientUK.