Bounce

By Pam Keevil

Published on 10th December 2017

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Bounce was highly commended in the Mags4Dorset competition, 2017 and was based on a photo of a flight of steps.

 

It was my magic game. If I could count to one hundred before my red powerball bounced down the wiggly steps, Mum and me could go home and everything would be all right. I threw the ball to the top and counted as quickly as I could. I only reached forty-five. I threw the ball again. Please let me do it this time, I whispered.

‘Sam, come in here, I need your help,’ Mum’s voice called from the kitchen. I stopped counting. It didn’t matter, I’d only got to thirty-seven. I lunged for the ball. Without warning it careered off at an angle. It landed with a thunk in the front garden of Mr Jessops’s cottage on the opposite side of the steps. A red blob nestled between pots of white flowers. One plant flopped sideways. The stem was broken. And there was a huge crack running from the top to the bottom of the biggest pot.
‘Sam. Here. Now.’ I glanced back at the ball. I’d have to sneak back later. I daren’t go and speak to Mr Jessop. He’d know it was me who did the damage. I don’t think he liked children. His lips were always turned down at the edges. If Dad was here he’d know what to do. He wasn’t. Perhaps Dad didn’t like children anymore either. Or didn’t like me. I know Mum still liked him. I heard her crying at night.
I opened the door and stepped inside. It was cold and damp after the sunshine. ‘Take this tea towel and when you’ve dried those glasses, hand them up to me.’ Mum clambered onto a stool and I began. At least the window was open and I could watch the swallows swooping and diving between the cottages along the hillside. That’s when I saw Mr Jessop leaving his house. He went off down the steps rattling his car keys in one hand.
I dried the glasses and shone them with a tea towel the way I’d seen barmen do in films on the telly. I finished the last one and spread the damp tea towel over the draining board. ‘Anything else?’ I said and crossed my fingers behind my back she’d say no.
‘No. You’ve done a good job there. Run along and play.’ She smiled. Except it didn’t reach her eyes. Not the way it had done when Dad was around.
This was my chance. I closed the front door, bent over and crawled forwards along Mr Jessop’s path. I was sure my ball had landed next to the broken pot. Except it wasn’t there. I peered between other pots. Nothing. It had disappeared. I was about to sneak back to safety when I heard a click.
‘Is this yours?’ A hand stretched under my nose. A red ball nestled in the palm.
I looked up. The man who crouched down in front of me was not Mr Jessop. Mr Jessop had wrinkles and a bald head. ‘I didn’t mean to do it.’ I sniffed and wiped my nose with the back of my hand. ‘I’m sorry about the ball and the plant and…everything.’ I started to cry.
Mum must have heard me. Our front door banged and she was by my side. ‘What’s going on?’ She rounded on the man. ‘What have you done to my son?’
He stood up. ‘I’m sorry. I think there’s been a misunderstanding. I found a ball and reckoned it must belong to this young man.’
‘What’s all this noise? It’s enough to wake the dead.’ The real Mr Jessop had arrived.
‘I came out here to find my son in tears and this bully has stolen his ball.’ Mum sounded really angry.
‘Let’s start at the beginning’ said the real Mr Jessop ‘and the young fella can tell his side, eh?’ His voice was quiet and calm, like Mum’s had been when she told me Dad was leaving.
‘Well Sam?’ Mum lifted me to my feet and turned me to face her.
‘I was playing my magic game when the ball bounced into Mr Jessop’s garden.’
‘I found it’ the man who was not Mr Jessop said. ‘That’s when my foot broke the pot.’ He winked at me. ‘I was going to return the ball when this young lad walks up the path.’
I stopped crying. My knees shook. Had a grown up really told a lie? I expected him to fall down dead at any minute.
‘My son has always been a bit of a clumsy one.’ Mr Jessop shook his head.
‘What’s this magic game?’ Mum said.
I didn’t tell them about Dad. Just about wishes coming true if you could count to one hundred before the ball reached the bottom step. They each had five goes and Mum and the young Mr Jessop were laughing. The laughter reached her eyes this time.
‘Phew’ old Mr Jessop stood up after his final turn. ‘I reckon we could all do with a cold drink and an ice cream after that.’
We sat on Mr Jessop’s lawn. I licked my choc ice as the grownups talked. Mr Jessop’s son was called Steve. He’d just come back from Canada and was staying with his Dad until he found a new house. Mum invited them both to Sunday lunch. While Steve and Mum talked Mr Jessop taught me how to play Cheat. I’m sure he let me win loads of times. Later, Mum told me he’d been lonely since Steve had gone away. I felt bad I’d thought such horrible things about him. It’s not nice to be lonely.
****
The ball took pride of place on Mum and Steve’s wedding cake. The guests must have wondered why it was there but I knew. Someone that day must have counted up to one hundred and not said anything. I wonder who it was?

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