The latest - and for a good while, probably the last - in my series on childhood.
The house was different that morning,
the shadows darker, highlights brighter,
people quieter, breakfast just a touch
more special, grandad toasting bread,
thick slices on a long wire fork, the fire
too big, the room too warm, dad not at work,
mum still in bed, and gran (who would have
felt a scandal coming on if she had guessed
how I knew - thought I knew - what lay behind
the fuss) with her large saucepan on the hob.
At which point he appears, the doctor,
in the doorway - and me but half-way
through my toast. His bag a disappointing
flat, looks empty - and too small to ever
hold a baby. Manfully I try
to play it like I do not care. Upstairs
a cry. "Good lungs on him!" my father says.
So now I care, with knees red raw from bed
times praying for a sister. Getting wind
of which, the doctor's ferretting for whys
and wherefores - though too subtle, not in
my face enough to break me down. I keep
my counsel, fob him off: "So we can call
her Sylvia," I lie. They all at this
time - doctor, family, the world at large -
are too ingenuous to comprehend
the full extent of that dark place within
my soul. He rolls himself a cigarette:
"Small problem, simply solved," he muses
to himself... "we call the little lad
Sylvesta." "Over my dead body!"
will growl my mother when she hears. It's all
a great distraction from what lies beneath
that off-white lie (mum always says there are
no truly white ones): my first craving
of the flesh, my first illicit itch,
my twice-repeated, horror-greeted plea
(the voice of old Beelzebub, gran says)
to add a dolls' house to the toys I own.
A sister, though, might bring the longed-for
object in her train, might be prevailed upon
to share it with outlandish beings,
dolls of different kind, long raised in
caves and tunnels underground, all sworn
to games of gross and most ungirlish play.
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