A woman breaks from the small group gathered on the corner of Albion Road and turns.
“What is it now, Alfie? Look — ” she fishes under his bottom as he squirms and giggles, “ — here’s your Duplo car, play with that for a bit, eh?” She puts the little plastic truck down in front of him. Alfie throws his arms wide in delight then pounces on it, one hand brrm brrming it all the way up the side of his pushchair. The woman smiles. “Sophie’ll be here soon, pet.” She turns back, picks up the tail of conversation and joins in.
“Sophie gone school,” Alfie says. He wheels his truck back and forth, pushing it over the silvery roads of the handles, across the wobbly bridge of the seat and along the hills of his knees. When he looks up, he sees his sister coming across the playground —
“Go swings. Go swings, go swings.”
“All right, Alfie. We’ll go swings in a minute… with Sophie.” His mummy hasn’t noticed his sister; she carries on chatting with the lady standing next to her.
“Lady,” says Alfie, pointing, “lady.”
He watches his sister skipping with the other children, ‘salt, mustard, vinegar, pepper…’
“Alt, musturd, inniger, pepper,” Alfie chants along with them, keeping time with their bouncy toes. He watches Sophie as she comes through the school gate and goes skip-running up and down the pavement, giggling as she races down to the end of the road. “Sophie clever, Sophie gone.”
Alfie leans out of his pushchair, he can see his sister standing by a big car, “brrm brrm” he goes and starts to push the little Duplo truck back up his trouser legs. He looks at the big car and sees a hand sticking out with a sweetie in it.
“Sweetie, sweetie mummy.”
“Not now, Alfie.”
“Sweetie.” Alfie is starting to fret. He rocks from side to side in his pushchair pouting, his tiny chin jutting for attention. His mother ignores him for a moment, but as he gets louder, and more insistent, she rummages in her bag for a toddler-size packet of chocolate buttons. She finds one stuffed in a corner next to a ball of tissue and a Winnie the Pooh hair toggle. She tears it open with her teeth, spitting the unwanted corner into her palm.
“All right, you monkey. There you are.” Alfie lets go of the little truck and it tumbles, falling to wedge itself in the top of one of his wellingtons. He ignores it, all attention focused on getting his fingers right inside that packet and hooking out its contents.
“Sweetie. Mmmmm.” He shakes the packet, watches the buttons freefall onto his lap; two land inside his other wellington and one rolls off down the kerb. The dog from the corner shop, who has been studying this procedure with a steady nerve, dashes over from the doorstep and scoops it up with a lick.
“Alfie’s sweetie not Sophie’s sweetie.” As he chomps and sucks the chocolate into a sticky brown mess he sees his sister looking out of the back window of the big car, her hands up against the glass as if they have been stuck there. Alfie waves to her. “Sophie gone — ” he watches her skipping rope fly out of a side window and clatter on the concrete, “ — in car.”
As the vehicle starts to pull away from the kerb, the dog from the corner shop runs alongside barking.
Jacky Taylor is an Arts Education professional and lives in Portsmouth, England. The first three pages of her novel won a prize at the Winchester Writers’ Conference and she is working hard on the rest of it. She has just started submitting seriously and her work has appeared in Ink, Sweat & Tears, Foundling Review, The Pygmy Giant and How Publishing Really Works.