Musical statues

Statue of a child, peeling paint

Image : Pixabay

 

The volume on the radio grows the moment Mum and Dad close the kitchen door. A big band sound, the swing of brass so loud the loose pane of glass in the window rattles. Another day Dad would grab Mum’s hand, pull her close as she laughed, pretended to fight him off, as her head tipped back and the rhythm reached her feet.

But not on Friday.

Friday is pay day. Friday is Dad going to the The Punch and Judy with a full wage packet and leaving with it slim and crumpled. Friday’s the radio getting louder and louder as Mum washes up, dishes slamming, as it grows dark outside and Jack swings on the front gate, waiting, watching for Dad, his easy stride, the plod of dusty boots. Now Dad’s home and he’s using the dresser to help him stand.

Jack tries to think of it like a game, like musical statues in reverse. He stays still as long as the radio plays, heart pumping, pulse loud in his ears. Listening. The moment the radio clicks off and the kitchen door creaks open, he reaches for a toy car, makes fat burbling engine noises, smiles up at his Dad – a wide smile that feels like it stretches to his ears. The smile has to be big enough to reach from his face to Dad’s, from Dad’s to Mum’s.

And sometimes it is.

 

31 thoughts on “Musical statues

  1. How heartbreaking, to think of how much more the child understands than the parents probably realize, how he feels responsible and frightened. Those last lines really got to me.

    It didn’t get the musical statues reference, although I understood what you meant. I thought it must be like musical chairs, but Wikipedia tells me it’s called freeze dance in the US, which I don’t think I ever played as a child.

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    1. Ah, yes musical statues – you dance along to the music till it stops then you have to freeze and if you’re caught moving, then you’re out of the game. It felt like a fitting analogy for a child to think of, that he would try and think of the whole Friday night routine as a game he has to try to be good at to make things better. Possibly a strangled metaphor too far? I think kids can miss alot of the meaning behind adult interraction but they work out more than you think too – they definitely feel tension even when parents try to cover things up and they feel responsible for everything. I’m glad you thought the last lines worked – I thought hard on the ending. Thanks so much Joy 🙂

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      1. Oh I think it’s a wonderful metaphor, not strangled at all. And I think you’re absolutely right, that children try figuring out the rules to the “game” and blame themselves for messing up when it goes wrong, even when it’s not their fault. In this case, it looks like he, sadly, has the right of it. Well done, all the way through.

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      2. Childhood can be a sad, burdensome time. I didn’t have the worst childhood, but I’m always astonished when I meet people who claim theirs was the best time of their lives. I remember a lot of anxiety – social and personal – a lot of nightmares and frightening times, some instigated by my own imagination, some real. Better to be an adult in many ways 🙂

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      3. I feel like I had a pretty good childhood — certainly not as sad or burdensome as many — but yes, still plenty of anxieties and disappointments and nightmares. Although a lot of those nightmares were from reading science fiction and Steven King books, so I have to take some blame for that! 🙂

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      4. Ah, yes, well my viewing habits really didn’t help. I’d watched the Evil Dead by the time I was 14 – tooooo young – saw Cannibal Holocaust and who knew what else at a similar age. I loved the stuff, but did have awful, recurring nightmares!

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      5. Oh no, I could never have survived watching Evil Dead at that age. I have a hard enough time with those movies at my current age! But it’s funny how some things hit you. It was a short story about Mothman that freaked me out the most — I reasoned that if Mothman could rip the tops off of cars and eat the people inside, he could easily rip through the screen window in my bedroom! So every time I heard wings outside — or any sound at all — I had to close the glass window pane, no matter how hot it got!

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      6. That sounds terrifying! And it is odd what hits you the worst. When I was young I saw a historical drama where one of the characters went insane ans was committed to an asylum. The sight of the actor in a straitjacket in a padded cell stuck with me for a long time … May you keep safe from Mothmen 🙂

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      7. It is odd, I agree. Especially when you’re young, you never know what you’re going to be vulnerable to when. I can see how the person in the straitjacket could leave a lasting impression, too.

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      8. Not sure I ever played it much myself or at least I wasn’t very successful at it. Always a clumsy child with slow reactions, I’d be out of the game almost the moment it had begun! 🙂

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    1. It’s not a happy environment to be in. My dad had quite a temper, I remeber lots of shouting. His parents argued too, especially when my grandad was drunk which was regularly. Though dad swore grandad was a sweetheart when drunk, it was when he was sober he was a bastard – his words not mine. This is the sad thing with this kind of behaviour too – it can be cyclical, one generation following another. The story is loosely based on something from dad’s childhood, though that ended with my nan beating my grandad with a broom. Don’t worry, I get pretty grumpy myself at times, but I’m writer, not a fighter 🙂

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      1. It’s something I’ve been spared. Never even heard of a single incidence of family violence in any of the ramifications, not even where there were drinkers. Maybe I’m very lucky.

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    1. Thank you so much Magaly for the thoughtful comment. Yes, you’re right – kids see a lot and understand most of it, at least on some level. A tragic and frightening childhood for so many kids

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    1. Have you seen a Punch and Judy show? Though they’re part of most English kids’ childhood and I value the tradition of them, it’s a seriously weird art form for youngsters – the squealing voices, the crocodile, sausages, a policeman who gets a good kicking, Mr Punch is a wife beater and I think Judy’s baby dies at some point (though it’s usually brought back after a bit – at least these days). A very European way of bringing up kids – with plenty of violence and death!

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