Saturday, August 15, 2009
No one knew how Mr. Sticky got in the fish tank.
"He's very small," Mum said as she peered at the tiny water snail. "Just a black dot."
"He'll grow," said Abby and pulled her pyjama bottoms up again before she got into bed. They were always falling down.
In the morning Abby jumped out of bed and switched on the light in her fish tank.
Gerry, the fat orange goldfish, was dozing inside the stone archway. Jaws was already awake, swimming along the front of the tank with his white tail floating and twitching. It took Abby a while to find Mr. Sticky because he was clinging to the glass near the bottom, right next to the gravel.
At school that day she wrote about the mysterious Mr. Sticky who was so small you could mistake him for a piece of gravel. Some of the girls in her class said he seemed an ideal pet for her and kept giggling about it.
That night Abby turned on the light to find Mr. Sticky clinging to the very tiniest, waviest tip of the pond weed. It was near the water filter so he was bobbing about in the air bubbles.
"That looks fun," Abby said. She tried to imagine what it must be like to have to hang on to things all day and decided it was probably very tiring. She fed the fish then lay on her bed and watched them chase each other round and round the archway. When they stopped Gerry began nibbling at the pond weed with his big pouty lips. He sucked Mr. Sticky into his mouth then blew him back out again in a stream of water. The snail floated down to the bottom of the tank among the coloured gravel.
"I think he's grown a bit," Abby told her Mum at breakfast the next day.
"Just as well if he's going to be gobbled up like that," her Mum said, trying to put on her coat and eat toast at the same time.
"But I don't want him to get too big or he won't be cute anymore. Small things are cute aren't they?"
"Yes they are. But big things can be cute too. Now hurry up, I'm going to miss my train."
At school that day, Abby drew an elephant. She needed two pieces of expensive paper to do both ends but the teacher didn't mind because she was pleased with the drawing and wanted it on the wall. They sellotaped them together, right across the elephant's middle. In the corner of the picture, Abby wrote her full name, Abigail, and drew tiny snails for the dots on the 'i's The teacher said that was very creative.
At the weekend they cleaned out the tank. "There's a lot of algae on the sides," Mum said. "I'm not sure Mr. Sticky's quite up to the job yet."
They scooped the fish out and put them in a bowl while they emptied some of the water. Mr. Sticky stayed out of the way, clinging to the glass while Mum used the special 'vacuum cleaner' to clean the gravel. Abby trimmed the new pieces of pond weed down to size and scrubbed the archway and the filter tube. Mum poured new water into the tank.
"Where's Mr. Sticky?" Abby asked.
"On the side," Mum said. She was busy concentrating on the water. "Don't worry I was careful."
Abby looked on all sides of the tank. There was no sign of the water snail.
"He's probably in the gravel then," her mum said. "Come on let's get this finished. I've got work to do." She plopped the fish back in the clean water where they swam round and round, looking puzzled.
That evening Abby went up to her bedroom to check the tank. The water had settled and looked lovely and clear but there was no sign of Mr. Sticky. She lay on her bed and did some exercises, stretching out her legs and feet and pointing her toes. Stretching was good for your muscles and made you look tall a model had said on the t.v. and she looked enormous. When Abby had finished, she kneeled down to have another look in the tank but there was still no sign of Mr. Sticky. She went downstairs.
Her mum was in the study surrounded by papers. She had her glasses on and her hair was all over the place where she'd been running her hands through it. She looked impatient when she saw Abby in the doorway and even more impatient when she heard the bad news.
"He'll turn up." was all she said. "Now off to bed Abby. I've got masses of work to catch up on."
Abby felt her face go hot and red. It always happened when she was angry or upset.
"You've hoovered him up haven't you," she said. You were in such a rush you hoovered him up."
"I have not. I was very careful. But he is extremely small."
"What's wrong with being small?"
"Nothing at all. But it makes things hard to find."
"Or notice," Abby said and ran from the room.
The door to the bedroom opened and Mum's face appeared around the crack. Abby tried to ignore her but it was hard when she walked over to the bed and sat next to her. She was holding her glasses in her hand. She waved them at Abby.
"These are my new pair," she said. "Extra powerful, for snail hunting." She smiled at Abby. Abby tried not to smile back.
"And I've got a magnifying glass," Abby suddenly remembered and rushed off to find it.
They sat beside each other on the floor. On their knees they shuffled around the tank, peering into the corners among the big pebbles, at the gravel and the pondweed.
"Ah ha!" Mum suddenly cried.
"What?" Abby moved her magnifying glass to where her mum was pointing.
There, tucked in the curve of the archway, perfectly hidden against the dark stone, sat Mr. Sticky. And right next to him was another water snail, even smaller than him.
"Mrs Sticky!" Abby breathed. "But where did she come from?"
"I'm beginning to suspect the pond weed don't you think?"
They both laughed and climbed into Abby's bed together, cuddling down under the duvet. It was cozy but a bit of a squeeze.
"Budge up," Mum said, giving Abby a push with her bottom.
"I can't, I'm already on the edge."
"My goodness you've grown then. When did that happen? You could have put an elephant in here last time we did this."
Abby put her head on her mum's chest and smiled.
The Dragon Rock
This story begins with Once Upon A Time, because the best stories do, of course.
So, Once Upon A Time, and imagine if you can, a steep sided valley cluttered with giant, spiky green pine trees and thick, green grass that reaches to the top of your socks so that when you run, you have to bring your knees up high, like running through water. Wildflowers spread their sweet heady perfume along the gentle breezes and bees hum musically to themselves as they cheerily collect flower pollen.
People are very happy here and they work hard, keeping their houses spick and span and their children's faces clean.
This particular summer had been very hot and dry, making the lean farm dogs sleepy and still. Farmers whistled lazily to themselves and would stand and stare into the distance, trying to remember what it was that they were supposed to be doing. By two o'clock in the afternoon, the town would be in a haze of slumber, with grandmas nodding off over their knitting and farmers snoozing in the haystacks. It was very, very hot.
No matter how hot the day, however, the children would always play in the gentle, rolling meadows. With wide brimmed hats and skin slippery with sun block, they chittered and chattered like sparrows, as they frolicked in their favourite spot.
Now, their favourite spot is very important to this story because in this particular spot is a large, long, scaly rock that looks amazingly similar to a sleeping dragon.
The children knew it was a dragon.
The grown ups knew it was a dragon.
The dogs and cats and birds knew it was a dragon.
But nobody was scared because it never, ever moved.
The boys and girls would clamber all over it, poking sticks at it and hanging wet gumboots on its ears but it didn't mind in the least. The men folk would sometimes chop firewood on its zigzagged tail because it was just the right height and the Ladies Weaving Group often spun sheep fleece on its spikes.
Often on a cool night, when the stars were twinkling brightly in a velvet sky and the children peacefully asleep, the grown ups would settle for the evening with a mug of steaming cocoa in a soft cushioned armchair. Then the stories about How The Dragon Got There began. Nobody knew for sure, there were many different versions depending on which family told the tale, but one thing that everybody agreed on, was this:
In Times of Trouble
The Dragon will Wake
And Free the Village
By making a Lake
This little poem was etched into everybody's minds and sometimes appeared on tea towels and grandma's embroidery.
The days went by slowly, quietly and most importantly, without any rain. There had been no rain in the valley for as long as the children could remember. The wells were starting to bring up muddy brown water and clothes had to be washed in yesterday's dishwater. The lawns had faded to a crisp biscuit colour and the flowers drooped their beautiful heads. Even the trees seemed to hang their branches like weary arms. The valley turned browner and drier and thirstier, every hot, baking day.
The townsfolk grew worried and would murmur to each other when passing with much shaking of heads and tut tuts. They would look upwards searching for rain clouds in the blue, clear sky, but none ever came.
"The tale of the Dragon cannot be true," said old Mrs Greywhistle, the shopkeeper.
"It hasn't moved an inch, I swear," replied her customer, tapping an angry foot.
It was now too hot for the children to play out in the direct sun and they would gather under the shade of the trees, digging holes in the dust and snapping brittle twigs.
"The Dragon will help us soon," said one child.
"He must do Something," agreed another.
"I'm sure he will."
They all nodded in agreement.
A week went by with no change, the people struggling along as best they could. Some were getting cross at the Dragon and would cast angry, sideways looks at it when passing. The villagers were becoming skinny eyed and sullen.
Meanwhile, the children had a plan.
Quickly and quietly, they moved invisibly around town, picking and plucking at the fading flowers. With outstretched arms and bouquets up to their chins, they rustled over to where the giant rock lay, as still as ever.
The boys and girls placed bunches of flowers around the Dragon in a big circle. They scattered petals around its head and over its nose, then danced around and around it, skipping and chanting the rhyme that they all knew so well.
In Times of Trouble
The Dragon Will Wake
And Save the Village
By making a Lake.
The searing heat made them dizzy and fuzzy and finally they all fell in a sprawling heap at the bottom of the mound. They looked up at the rock.
A dry wind lazily picked up some flower heads and swirled them around. The air was thick with pollen and perfume. A stony grey nostril twitched.
"I saw something," cried the youngest boy.
They stared intently.
An ear swiveled like a periscope.
The ground began to rumble.
"Look out! Run!Run!"
The children scampered in all directions, shrieking and squealing, arms pumping with excitement.
The rumbling grew and grew.
The Dragon raised its sleepy head. It got onto its front feet and sat like a dog. It stood up and stretched, arching its long scaly back like a sleek tabby cat. It blinked and looked around with big kind, long lashed eyes.
And then its nostrils twitched and quivered again.
The older folk were alerted by the screams and shrieks. The ladies held up their long skirts to run and the men rolled their sleeves up and soon the whole town stood together in a tight huddle at the foot of the hill, staring up at the large beast with mouths held open.
The noise erupted from the Dragon.
The families gripped each other tighter and shut their eyes.
The sneeze blasted from the Dragon like a rocket, throwing it back fifty paces, causing a whirlwind of dust and dirt.
The second blast split open the dry earth, sending explosions of soil and tree roots high into the sky like missiles, and something else too ...
The people heard the sound but couldn't recognize it at first for it had been such a long time since their ears had heard such tinkling melody. As their eyes widened in wonder, their smiles turned into grins and then yahoos and hoorahs.
Water, cold, clear spring water, oozed, then trickled, then roared out of the hole, down the hillside and along the valley floor.
The torrent knocked over a farmer's haystack, but he didn't care.
The river carried away the schoolteacher's bike shed but she cared not a jot. It even demolished the Ladies Bowling Club changing rooms but they howled with laughter and slapped their thighs. When the flood sent pools of water out towards the golf course, filling up sixteen of the nineteen holes, the men just hooted and whistled and threw their caps up in the air.
What used to be a dirty, brown dust bowl, now gleamed and glistened in the sunlight, sending playful waves and ripples across the lake and inviting all to share.
"HMMMMM," sighed the Dragon sleepily, and showing his perfect movie star teeth. "Seeing as I'm awake ..."
And he lumbered forward with surprising grace and style and disappeared into the cool dark water with a small wave of a claw and flick of his tail.
They never saw him again.
After the families had restored and rebuilt the village, and set up sailing clubs for the children, and scuba diving for the grandparents, they erected a bandstand and monument in the spot where the Dragon used to lay. Every year to mark the occasion, they would bring garlands of flowers and herbs and arrange them in a big circle. The children would have the day off school, for it was known as 'Water Dragon Day' and wearing the dragon masks that they had been working on all week, would skip and clap and sing.
The Dragon helped Us
As We said He would Do
Hooray for The Dragon
Achoo, Achoo, ACHOOOO!
The Tidy Drawer
One Saturday morning Abby's Mum came upstairs to see Abby in her bedroom. Or tried to. There was so much mess on the floor she could only poke her head around the door. Abby sat in the middle of it all reading a book.
"What a tip," Mum said. "You need to have a clear up in here."
"Why?" Abby asked.
"Why?" Mum repeated. "Because things get broken or lost when they're all willy-nilly like this. Come on, have a tidy up now."
"But I'm very busy," Abby argued, "and it's boring on my own. Can't you help me?"
"No I can't, I'm busy too. But I'll give you extra pocket money if you do a good job."
When Mum came back later all the toys and clothes and books had disappeared.
"I'm impressed," said Mum. "But I'll inspect it properly later."
"It was easy," said Abby. "Can I have my extra pocket money now?"
"All right. Get it out of my change purse. It's in the kitchen tidy drawer."
In the kitchen Abby went over to the dresser and pulled open the tidy drawer. She hunted for the purse.
"Any luck?" Mum asked.
Abby shook her head.
"It must be lurking at the bottom," Mum said. "Let's have a proper look."
She pulled the drawer out and carried it over to the table. Abby kneeled up on a chair to look inside. There were lots of boring things like staplers and string but there were lots of interesting things as well.
"What's this?" Abby asked, holding up a plastic bottle full of red liquid. Mum laughed.
"Fake blood, from a Hallowe'en party years ago. Your Dad and I took you to that, dressed up as a baby vampire. You were really scary."
"I don't remember that."
Abby carried on looking through the drawer. She found some vampire teeth, white face paint, plastic witchy nails and hair gel. Mum pulled out a glittery hair band. It had springs with wobbly balls on the top that flashed disco colours. She put it on her head while she carried on looking through the drawer. Abby found some sparkly hair elastics to match the hair band. She made her Mum put lots of little bunches all over her head so she looked really silly.
"I remember this," Abby said as she pulled out a plastic bag. "This is from my pirate party." Inside there was a black, false moustache and some big gold earrings.
She peeled the sticky backing off the false moustache and stuck it on Mum's top lip then found a paint brush in the drawer and painted a fierce red scar down her cheek using the fake blood. Mum clipped on the pirate earrings.
"Come here," Mum said and smeared white face paint all over Abby's face. She dribbled the fake blood so it looked as if it was coming out of Abby's eyes and mouth. She put gel all over Abby's hair and made it stand up into weird, pointy shapes. Abby put in the vampire teeth and slipped on the witchy fingers. She made scary noises at Wow-Wow the cat. He ignored her and carried on washing himself on the seat next to her.
"Wotch thish?" Abby asked, holding up a flat rubbery thing. It was hard to speak through the vampire teeth.
"It's a whoopee cushion," Mum said. "You blow it up and sit on it. It makes rude noises." She blew it up and gave it to Abby.
Suddenly there was a knock at the back door. A voice called out. "Hello, it's only me. I've let myself in."
It was their nosy neighbour, Mrs Hislop. She was always interfering and complaining.
Mrs Hislop entered the kitchen. Her mouth dropped open.
"We're jush wooking for the change pursh," Abby explained.
"Yes, well, er," Mrs Hislop said, "I just wanted a word about your fence. Some of it's blown down on my side."
At that moment Abby sat on the whoopee cushion and let out an enormous, rude noise. Wow-Wow jumped off his seat and ran away.
"Well!" said Mrs. Hislop and hurried from the room and out of the house.
When the door banged shut Abby and Mum burst out laughing until Mum's moustache hung on by a whisker and Abby's vampire teeth dropped out.
Abby came to sit on her Mum's knee.
"It's fun doing this together," she said.
"Maybe. But we still haven't found the change purse." They both looked at the enormous heap of things spread over the kitchen table.
"Well, you know things will get lost, or broken, when they're all willy nilly," Abby said.
"You cheeky monkey!" Mum laughed. "But what shall I do with it all?"
"I know, it's easy," Abby said and began to scoop everything off the table into her arms. She dumped it all back in the kitchen drawer.
Mum looked at her suspiciously.
"Let's go and inspect your bedroom shall we."
Abby followed her upstairs and into her bedroom. Wow-Wow was sitting in front of her fish tank looking hungrily at the goldfish. He dashed under the bed when he saw Mum and Abby. Mum kneeled down and lifted the bed cover to get him out. Underneath were heaps of Abby's toys, books, tapes, clothes and shoes, empty plastic cups and wrappers and a half-eaten sandwich on a plate.
"Abby! What's all this?"
"It's my tidy drawer," Abby said. She wrapped her arms around her Mum and gave her a kiss. "Let's sort this one out together now."