Northwords Now Issue 35

The FREE literary magazine of the North

Henry’s playtime

by Marka Rifat

Henry sat on the edge of the hard, slate-grey sofa. His little legs swung over the polished ash wood floor. He wanted badly to play, but that meant washing his hands before he could open his toy box, a bright white chest with a sliding top, because handles and finger marks were not allowed in this house.

Then he’d have to carry the toys up two flights of pale floating steps. The staircase still frightened him, although he considered himself a big boy now. You could see daylight between each tread, while the bannisters and balustrade (Grandma taught him those words) were not like his grandparents’ stairs, all warm, dark brown wood, but were taut wire cords fastened to cold steel poles. The wires were sore to hold and he did not dare support himself by pressing on the wall because, somehow, even his clean hands left a mark.

And when he did reach the top floor, he had to whisper with his toys because the double height atrium (Daddy’s word) carried sounds down as well as up and then Daddy would come and check that Henry was not being conflict-orientated or gender-biased.

Henry decided it would be easier to just stay put. Gradually, the rhythm of his swinging legs became faster and his hands became fists. Then he smiled.

Kneeling on the sofa, he angled a machine gun at the white porcelain on the dining table. He strafed the whole room, silently mouthing the exciting noises. With two fingers of each hand, he shot out the recessed lights and splintered all the handle-less kitchen cupboards. He levelled his aim at the orchids in the meditation alcove and watched the dark soil explode from its cream bowl and settle onto the white carpet below. Finally, he hauled a rocket launcher, from his extensive armoury, into position. He braced himself for the recoil. The staircase took a direct hit. The planks fractured and flew up, some crashing through the triple-glazed windows, some embeddng themselves into the bone white walls, and one smashed into the kitchen sink with its sharp taps, and water gushed out and splattered over the floor, and best of all, the wire bannisters were caught in the blast and they leapt and twisted, screeching in the air like a mad dragon.

Henry rocked back on his heels, panting with exhilaration.

“Henry,” his father called from the upstairs studio. Henry quickly resumed his original seated position and looked up. His father’s head appeared from the first floor gallery.

“You can’t sit there doing nothing. Come up and we’ll do some yoga. Ashtanga or Hatha – you get to choose!”

Henry put a grenade in each pocket and marched towards the stairs.