A Heron Watched Me Fall

A short extract from my novel:

A Line of Paper dolls

May 2019


As I look up I can see the mirror of terrace houses identical to ours, a line of them seeming as if they go on for ever. Houses connected, garden walls shared, water pipes heard from one house to the next.  The terraces are like a line of neatly cut out paper dolls, the thin paper holding them in unity. When I was younger, I’d colour in paper dolls each a different colour, giving them different clothes to wear. The dolls would all have smiling faces, I, young enough then not to even consider drawing in a frown or a sad face. Now at 22 years I’d defiantly draw a few sad faces. I remember blue-tacking them to my bedroom wall, where I could often hear the TV of the neighbour behind the bricks. The terraces, just like the paper dolls, attached but all with their own beating hearts.

My boys are digging in our small yard- garden, two little curly blond heads bopping up and down with each thrust of the spade into the mud. One of them is singing, mumbling an unrecognisable nursery rhyme we learnt at the library rhyme- time. It’s Alfie, he’s always singing or making a noise of some sort.

My notebook is on my lap, I’m trying to write a shopping and meal list for the week ahead. I have to keep to my tight budget. My thumbs rotate around one another as I think. Archie disrupts my thoughts; I can see he’s stopped digging he’s picked up a snail. He’s holding it up by the top of the shell close to his own mouth, two little fingers gripping it too hard unaware of his 3-year old strength.

              ‘Archie be careful. You don’t want to squash it. Put it down.’ His brother turns to look at it too.  Eyes wide with curiosity as Archie dangles the snail above their faces. In fear the snail retreats, going into hiding in its shell deep within itself. The boys look perplexed.

‘It’s gone’ Archie shouts. Alfie grunts something back in return.

A breeze ruffles the pages on my note book, as the mid-may sun momentarily goes behind a cloud. It’s getting cooler now, without its direct heat. Early evening is coming. I drop my pen it rolls off the blanket and over onto the uneven patio. Somewhere in another garden close by a man laughs, a loud guffaw, I hear the clinking of bottles and can smell the coals of a BBQ.

‘It’s gone’ Archie repeats. Turning the snail upside down before checking the floor to see if it has fallen out. Alfie already getting bored, starts singing again turning to work on the hole he’s dug. The raised flower bed, now a mass of mud, twigs stones and pine cones, no flowers have risen since the twins turned it into their play area. The small yard walled in with ivy and weeds, Dad would be turning in his grave if he could see how run down or over run I’d let it get. ‘Sorry Dad’, not the first time today I mumble under my breath.

‘Archie No’ I shout, leaping up from the blanket on the floor. It’s too late. Archie has crushed the snail his fingers now full of slime and the snail’s organs. Both his hands are fondling the foul goo and the broken shell. He turns to me startled, then puts out his hands for me to see. Both palms turned upwards, as if offering the snail to the Lord (If you believe in such things).

‘Mummy’ his lips tremble, his face pale, and then he cries. Uncontrollable sobs, starting as not much more than a whimper but slowly escalating into loud desperate crying.

I pick him up from behind so his hands remain to the front of him, I soothe the back of his head with my kisses. ‘It’s Ok Archie, just a little accident, just a little accident.’ I carry him inside, heading for the kitchen where I can wash away his crime.

We return to the garden a moment later Archie now cleaned and wrapped around my arms, nuzzling my neck between tiny whimpers. Alfie is still where we left him, back to us facing the mud pile. I can now make out the song he is singing. He’s got the whole world in his hands, only he can’t remember all the words so is humming only the tune. They sing it every week at the library rhyme-time. I pick him up too cuddling both my boys. My arms firm and strong from the constantly holding them both together.

‘Come on guys, let’s go and have some dinner’ We walk back to inside the house, I step over the now deceased snail remains trying discreetly to kick the large bits of broken shell away. How easy it is to crush a life. Crush the shell that keeps the life inside, gone at the hands of an intrigued 3-year-old. ‘Sorry little snail’ I mumble. I seem to be always apologising to the dead. We head in for a meal of pasta-pesto and carrot sticks, just the 3 of us, my little family.  Behind us a distant hum of an unknown neighbours TV, a couple arguing and guffaws of laughter, the same man as earlier, now louder. The smell of a BBQ reminding me I’m hungry. The life of the neighbours, the blood running through the veins of our little community, our row of Cheshire terrace houses standing together like the paper dolls I stuck on my wall all those years ago.

Published by @NicolaP

Nurse, Mum, nature lover. Sharing memoir extracts of nursing and living through the covid pandemic.

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