by Rhoda Greaves
They had always wanted a brother. Turfing Samantha out of her pram, they stuffed her in the back of the wardrobe with baby Annabel, and their winter school uniforms.
‘Get changed first, girls,’ their mum yelled up the stairs.
‘Okay,’ they both shouted back, but they liked the flap of their wings and the bounce of their tutus so headed straight to Asda with the empty pushchair.
It was a Saturday, so they were spoilt for choice. Except most were swinging in trolley seats or locked into baby-reins. One was being shouted at for pulling down baked-bean tins, and another’s face was spread with sticky chocolate from a ripped open bag of buttons.
They had all but decided to go home and dig out Samantha; maybe feed her some of that pretend food that would make her need the potty. They might even let her join them for bath time that evening, as long as she’d finished her pooping by then.
That was when they saw him, sitting in a navy pushchair, just outside the store. His mother was distracted, rooting in the bottom of her handbag, while a frilly-dressed girl waited for change to put into the Bambi ride.
‘Want a biscuit?’ they cooed at him, giggling when he pointed and called it bic-bic. It wasn’t even difficult to undo his straps. A real baby was much heavier than a doll, they found, and he sagged so low that the fabric of Samantha’s pushchair almost touched the floor.
‘More bic-bic,’ he said to them. And they slotted another into his little fist, then crept past the parked cars in their ballet shoes, the sun-hot tar sticking tiny pieces of gravel to the soles of their feet.
They made their way over the green, taking the long route, around the weed-strewn pavement at its edge, so they wouldn’t make tracks in the freshly mown grass. Past the weekend dads showing off their football skills, they went, past an old lady in too many layers, and past a huddle of teenagers; their tangled legs cluttering the swings.
As soon as they saw the first tree tops peaking out of Hunter’s Valley, they moved a little faster: from this point onwards it was mostly down-hill.
Surrounded by the gently shushing trees, they could fully inspect Samantha’s replacement. He had shaggy blonde hair; a bit like theirs, only the curls were tighter. And when he opened his mouth, a single tooth, like a mint tic-tac, peeped out. They asked him his name, but he couldn’t talk properly, so they told him they’d call him William: after their brother who’d slid out before he was supposed to, and splashed into the water when Mummy was on the toilet. When they’d asked after him, Daddy had told them, ‘That’s enough questions, girls.’
Reaching into the bramble, they picked berries for lunch – but not the red ones their mother had warned them about. They tried to feed them to William, too, but he shut his lips tight and squished them in his fingers till his stubby arms were trailed in indigo.
They made perfume then, crushing rose-petals and mixing them with water. It smelled a bit like Grandma so they put it on their new brother. He didn’t seem to mind though, as long as the biscuits kept on coming.
Next, they spotted a heron. ‘Look,’ they said as it swooped past them, its wings fanning out like pointing fingers. It found a perch and watched on.
William’s nappy stunk worse than the bin men’s wagon, so they took him down to the lake and sat him in the shallows. Neither of them wanted to touch his bottom so they let the sun-sparkled water do its work. Paddling in the rippling waters, they hunted for trout, as all you had to do was tickle one to catch it. It said so in Danny the Champion of the World. They’d planned to get one and cook it for tea, but couldn’t even spot any sticklebacks, so looked for flat stones and tried to skim like Daddy had shown them; the heron fleeing their unsteady aim.
With the gentle drag of the water supporting his fat unsteady legs, they each took one of William’s grubby hands and pulled him to a standing position, rubbing perfume and berries from his baby-soft skin. They formed a circle, laughing as they splashed each other, and barely noticing that their dancing shadows had started to stretch.
They sang ring a ring o’ roses and inched a little deeper. And while the police lights flashed around the neighbourhood, two pairs of silvery fairy wings floated on the surface of the lake.
Rhoda Greaves is a PhD Creative Writing student, short story writer, dog blogger, and mum.