by Bob Jacobs
I’m ironing in the front room when the television screen goes blank. Tom huddles into the corner of the sofa sucking his thumb. Ellie’s hand pauses in mid-air clutching a crayon. We wait, expecting the picture to return.
The light on the iron is dead. “Power cut,” I tell them.
Tom sucks and waits. “Terrorists,” Ellie says.
“I don’t think so, darling.”
“They’ve blown up the power station. Samantha’s dad said they would.”
“There’s nothing around here for terrorists to blow up, Ellie.”
“Samantha’s dad is a teacher. He knows everything.” Case proved, Ellie’s crayon sweeps back and forth across her drawing. “It’s the Muslims,” she adds.
“Ellie! Not all Muslims are bad.”
“I know,” she says. The crayon hovers. “There are good Muslims and bad Muslims. The bad ones are terrorists.”
“There are good and bad non-Muslims too, you know.”
Ellie colours in her drawing while she takes this in, then turns to Tom and explains, “Bad people go to prison. Good people go to work.”
“I’m sure the electricity will come back on soon.”
“Samantha’s dad said there’ll be announcements on the radio telling us what to do.”
“Our radio runs on electricity, sweetheart. It won’t work during a power cut.”
Ellie puts her crayon down and wheels herself out of the room. I finish ironing the blouse before the iron cools. Ellie returns with a battery operated Homer Simpson radio. She turns the dial to try to find a station. The volume is high and the static wakes baby Jake, who starts crying.
Ellie says, “Shut. Up.”
“Jake doesn’t understand what shut up means, darling. He’s too young.”
Ellie moves closer to Jake. Her wheelchair bumps into the cot. She leans forward. “Shut up means be quiet!”
I fetch Jake, sit him on my lap and undo my blouse. Ellie watches for a minute then goes back to tuning her radio, but she can’t find any stations and I can see that the aerial has been snapped off.
She says, “They’ve blown up the radio stations so we can’t hear the announcements.”
“Really, Ellie, I’m sure it’s just a power cut.”
“That’s what I’d have done too, if I was a Muslim.”
“And Sainsbury’s,” she says.
I pull Jake closer and think about Ellie when she was younger. A photo on the mantelpiece shows her standing by the river in the Westgate Gardens feeding bread to the ducks.
“Samantha’s dad said it’s a war and that America started it because they need the oil.”
The television flickers back to life. Ellie drops the radio to the floor and puts her head in her hands, squashing her cheeks. She looks at Tom, who stares back, then turns to me and says through puckered lips, “No-one at school likes Samantha.”
Bob Jacobs lives in the south-east of England with his wife and kids and Sony Vaio. In his spare time he likes to lie motionless on his back, whistling and staring at clouds.