by Andy Cocker



Billy is nine today. He isn’t very happy about this because he’s enjoyed being eight. Eight is symmetrical. Nine always looks as if it might fall over. He hopes he won’t fall over. He rushes to look in the mirror and smiles at his plump reflection. It’s okay, he still looks like an eight.

            Is he still special, though?

            “Must be such a burden, Mrs Thomas.”

“Why won’t he do as he’s told?”

            “He’ll never be able to look after himself, you know.”

            And then Mum tells them how special he is.

Mum has arranged a birthday party in the church hall. “Please try to enjoy yourself, sweetie,” she says.

“Make an effort for your mum and dad,” says Grandma, doing the hugging thing.

 At the party, children shout and laugh and slide about the floor on their knees. It makes Billy’s ears hurt so he covers them with his hands and starts to count to block out the noise.

“What a waste of time,” says his dad. “Take the lad home.”

Billy claps his hands. “When we get home can I play with my blocks?”

 “Of course,” says his mum. “Whatever makes you happy.

 Dad isn’t happy. He says he’s sick. And tired. He’s going to the pub. Billy can’t wait till he’s old enough to go to the pub. He’s heard Dad say it’s like heaven compared to this hell. Yes, Billy thinks it must be very nice in the pub.

Back home, he climbs up on the armchair, presses his forehead against the windowpane and watches the children playing out in the street. One of them sees him and waves.

There’s a knock at the door.

“Can Billy come out to play, please, Mrs Thomas?”

“No, I’m sorry, lad,” his mum says. “He doesn’t understand about cars like you boys.”

Billy does understand about cars. In the distance he can hear the sound of a sixteen valve, normally aspirated, internal combustion engine. Possibly a Ford but Honda now uses similar engines and with its anti-lock braking system reducing the stopping distance in dry conditions by eighteen percent, it is a truly remarkable piece of engineering.

Billy also knows that if a child were to run out in front of a moving car, a peach would get squished by a hammer. He’s seen the advert on TV.  He likes peaches.

“I’m sorry, Billy,” says his mum. “It’s too dangerous out there for the likes of you. You stay home and play with your blocks. It’s for the best.”

Billy thinks so, too. His favourite thing is to build a tower with his wooden blocks. He loves it so much that as soon as one is complete, he knocks it down again so he can build another. After the three hundred and forty-eighth tower today, Mum says:

“I’m sorry, sweetie, but if I watch you do that one more time...” And she takes his blocks away.

Dad likes to build towers. He builds stick towers in the garden. But Dad is clever and sets fire to the stick tower before Mum can take them away from him.

Billy isn’t allowed matches.

The lady from next door calls in for coffee. Mum gives Billy his blocks back and goes to put the kettle on.

“You’re a stupid little boy,” sneers the lady when Mum’s out of earshot.

“No I’m not. I can calculate the mass of the earth and the moon and go to the toilet on my own and…” He feels something warm trickle down his trouser leg and form a puddle on the floor. “Sometimes I can.”

After Mum has changed him he goes to sit in a corner and looks at the shadows that his fingers make when he moves them in front of his eyes.

“What’s the fool doing now?” says the lady. “Can’t he stop rocking for five minutes? Big boys don’t do that.”

Yes they do, thinks Billy. Dad likes to sit in his chair and look at the shadows that the newspaper makes. Nobody ever tells Dad off. And Grandma loves to rock. She has a special chair to do it in. Nobody ever shouts at Grandma.


Billy hates being shouted at. It makes his eyes wet. Mum’s eyes are wet, too. Perhaps she should try rocking.


It’s Late Night Shopping at Tesco, now. Mum gives him a kiss and a hug. She knows he doesn’t like it but that’s what mums do before they can go out to Late Night Shopping at Tesco.

After Mum’s gone, Dad goes into the garden to build a stick tower. Billy watches from the window.

Then the bouncing lady appears and waves to Dad. Billy likes the bouncing lady because she always brings him chocolate.

Dad comes in from the garden. His shirt is wet from the rain. The bouncing lady says it’s very sexy. Dad says Billy can watch TV while he and the bouncing lady bounce on the bed. Billy gets shouted at when he bounces on the bed.

He’s eaten all the chocolate so he goes to look out of the window. There’s no orange colour in the stick tower. Billy likes orange. He also knows that rain puts fires out.

“Silly Dad,” he says, as he carries the last of the sticks into the kitchen. Everybody knows that sticks won’t burn in the rain.


Mum says they’re lucky to be alive and she wants to know what Dad was doing while Billy was building a fire in the kitchen.

The doctor says that he thinks Billy might be happier and safer in a special place where he can be with other children like himself.

“There’ll always be somebody to keep an eye on you,” says Mum. “It’s for the best.”

 So that’s what’s happened.

Mum cries.

Dad cries.

Grandma cries.

Billy doesn’t. He looks at the clock and laughs. It’s eight o’clock. Symmetrical.

©2007 Andy Cocker

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