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Touch and Go

posted 8 Dec 2016, 11:56 by Fran Brady

 

Today is the slowest day ever. I feel like there’s a sharp smell in my nose, a smell I want to follow, breathe in and taste. Like chips and vinegar in the street when someone passes with a hot greasy handful of newspaper. It calls out and draws you in but it slips away just as you reach it. I am asking questions and getting answers that are no answers. Wait and see. That would be telling. I am catching glances between Mummy and Daddy as they bat a secret back and forward with their eyes. But when I catch the secret mid-flight it dissolves and runs through my fingers. I turn quickly to look but the bats have turned into eyes again, blank eyes that smile and tell me nothing. I am watching the clock. The big hand is like old Mrs Clancy next door who walks so slowly that she takes all morning to get from her door to her gate. The little hand is stuck, frozen maybe like the window that Mummy couldn’t open this morning. I have been watching the clock for hours and hours and it has only changed a very little.

 

It must be bedtime, surely. The window has gone black and I can see the moon. It is like a big silver penny. I go to my bedroom. I take off my clothes and put on my pyjamas. I do it as fast as possible because my room is so cold. There is ice coming on the window again, same as last night. Mummy will have to scrape it off in the morning.

The morning! Christmas morning! I get into bed. It is like sinking into a snowdrift: soft, white and very cold. The moon lights the room, silver streaks and grey shadows.

‘What are you doing?’ Mummy comes in and switches on the top light.

The moon slips out of the window quickly and lets electric yellow have its way. I sit up blinking and blinded. ‘Is it morning? Can I get up? Has Santa come?’

‘It’s only tea-time, you silly thing. And get out of those freezing sheets. You’ll get your death. You know I always put a hot water bottle in long before you go to bed. Come on, tea’s ready.’

I can’t believe it. Only five o’clock. Another three hours till bedtime and the whole night to go before the morning. Today is the very slowest day ever.

 

I am in the sitting-room on the rug in front of the fire. I have had a bath and my hair has been washed. I have to sit here and let the heat from the fire dry it. Mummy and Daddy are in their bedroom and I can hear them laughing and talking. I am not allowed to open the door or to go through to them. The smell of the secret is seeping out under the door of their bedroom, down the lobby and in under the door of the sitting-room. I can see it swirling into the room. It is like the pretend fog that we saw at the pantomime with Granny. It is so thick that I can taste it. It is driving me wild. I get up and grope my way to the door, breathing in its fumes. I press my ear to the door and I hear Daddy say: ‘Touch-and-go. She’ll love it.’

 

Mummy is brushing my hair, tugging the knots, ouching my head.

‘Mummy?’

‘Yes, pet?’

‘What’s a touch-an-go?’

‘A what? ‘

‘A touch-an-go.’

‘Oh . . . well . . . it’s when something nearly doesn’t happen. But then, at the last minute, it does. Why are you asking that?’

‘Is Santa bringing me a touch-an-go? Will he nearly not bring it but then bring it at the last minute? Will it get here in time? Will it be here when I wake up?’

‘Silly! A touch-an-go isn’t a thing. It’s just a saying.’

‘But I don’t want a saying from Santa. I want a present.’

‘Well, you’ll better come and get your cocoa now. Your hot bottle’s been in your bed for an hour so it’ll be nice and warm. The sooner you sleep, the sooner you wake . . .’

‘The sooner it’s Christmas Day?’

‘That’s right, pet.’ She is walking away from me.

I panic. ‘But I don’t want a touch-an-go!’

‘Your cocoa’s ready. Come through to the kitchen and get it.’

 

I am in bed for real now. Mummy says I must not get up before the little hand is at seven.

‘How many hours is it till seven?’

‘Eleven.’

‘Is that a big lot? How long will eleven hours take?’

‘No time at all because you’ll be sleeping.’

If there is no time when I’m sleeping, how does the clock move its hands? How will Santa know when to come? Will he really come down the chimney? Will he burn his feet in the hot cinders? How does he know which house to bring my present to? What does a touch-an-go look like? What if it’s too big to get it down the chimney?

 

How can I go to sleep when I have all these swirly things in my tummy? They keep coming up into my chest and then into my throat. I have to swallow them back down and then they start swirling again. I think I’m going to be sick. I am so worried about this touch-an-go thing. What on earth can it be? Santa must have got me mixed up with another little girl. I never asked him for such a thing. How could I? I’ve never even heard of it. I decide to close my eyes and do some imagining. I imagine up the best present in the world as I snuggle in my snowdrift that has turned into a cosy igloo, imagining and imagining and imagining . . .

 

I am running very fast through a cold, white tunnel. Santa Claus is chasing me and shouting ‘Go! Go!’ and I have to touch the white walls of the tunnel as I run. As long as I keep touching, he won’t catch me. But I am getting tired and he is getting closer. My fingers are so cold because the walls are made of ice. Now he is shouting ‘Touch! Touch!’ I stop running and sit down on the ice floor of the tunnel. I face him and shout ‘GO!’ Then I start screaming very loudly.

 

I wake up and I hear squeaks coming from somewhere. It must be a mouse. Then I realise they are coming from me. My sheets and blankets have almost fallen off the bed. I am shivering. It is pitch dark. I am afraid and I am sad. I don’t want Santa to come any more. He is a horrible, chasing person and he shouts at me. I pull the covers back over the bed and huddle down. My teeth are chattering. I hate Christmas and I hate Santa Claus. There! I’ve thought it. I say it out loud. Then I cry a little.

 

‘Goodness, pet, what have you been up to last night? Looks like you had a wrestling match in your bed!’ Mummy is here and there is bright light poking round the edges of the curtains. ‘It’s a beautiful morning. Freezing hard but very sunny. We can go for a lovely walk later. But first, don’t you want to come down and see if Santa has brought you a present?’

‘I don’t like Santa.’ I sit up slowly. ‘He’s horrible. He lives in a tunnel made out of ice and he chases you and shouts at you if you go in.’

Mummy is getting my woolly knitted dressing-gown off the back of the door. ‘Now what have you done with your slippers?’ She finds them and holds them out. ‘Come on, sleepy-head. Wake up. You must still be dreaming.’

‘No I‘m not. I saw him. He was . . .’

Daddy bursts in, crying ‘Ho! Ho! Ho! Where’s the girl that couldn’t wait for Christmas morning?’

They both have big smiley faces, like the ones I draw on the sun when I am doing sunny-day pictures. They look really excited. And I can smell the secret again, very close now. I suppose it will be safe enough if they are with me. Daddy is bigger and stronger than anyone in the whole world. He won’t let nasty, chasing Santa catch me.

 

We go along the lobby three abreast, hand in hand, with them swinging me off my feet. The sitting-room door is closed. Daddy tells me to wait before I turn the handle to go in. He and Mummy are hopping about like the baby bunnies we saw in the park in the summer.

‘She’s going to love it!’ says Mummy.

They clutch each other and hop some more and then Daddy flings open the door and stands aside to let me go in.

The room is still dark because the thick velvet curtains have not yet been drawn. All I see is a little house in the corner with its two front windows lit up and a tiny lantern shining down on the red door. I stare at it. Can it be what I think it is?

‘Go on, pet,’ says Mummy. ‘Go and see what Santa brought you.’

I lift up the roof of the house and look down on four little rooms, all full of perfect little furnitures. Just like I have been imagining for so long but so much better.

Curtains on the window, cushions on the chairs, pots and pans in the cupboards, fork and knives on the table. Even a bathroom with a real toilet. I pick up the tiny clock and see it has a big hand and a small hand. I touch the kitchen cabinet and the drawers go out and in. The teeny family are all wearing clothes that I recognise, a shirt made out of material from one of my old summer frocks, a jumper knitted from wool left over from my new cardigan. The baby even has a tiny nappy, made out of my old hanky. I pore over every detail. And after a while I remember to breathe again.

 

Later, Mummy makes me come through to the kitchen for breakfast. ‘Before it’s too late and it’s dinner-time,’ she laughs.

I can’t believe how late it is. This is the fastest day ever.

I eat fast too and wriggle into my clothes, impatient to get back to my doll’s house. I decide to forget about nasty Santa. There must be two of them and thank goodness it was the nice one who came to our house.

 

In the afternoon, visitors come and sit around watching me playing. I tune into bits of Mummy and Daddy talking.

‘. . . went down to the workshop every Saturday morning for weeks.’

‘. . . got offcuts of wood from the joiners and scraps from the carpet shop.’

‘And the clock . . . so fiddly . . . littlest things took the longest.’

‘. . . nearly ran out of time. It was touch and go.’

I smile as I set the table for my little family and turn the hands of the clock to teatime. I have decided that a touch-an-go is a great present. I am going to ask for one every year from now on.

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