|Making A Universe
By Celia Bryce
|We were just kids then and didnt know the
importance of factories. Dads worked in them is what we knew. Above school, church and our
own lives what else was there? But that day, when mam rushed out shoving her arm into a
coat and throwing herself into next doors car we knew something was wrong. And that
something was at dads factory. We were left alone, our small world suddenly in
Which is why Billy and I decided to make a Universe. An easy task, we supposed. Something to fill our time until mam came home and things were right again.
Ill be straight back.
Her words had been buried under the Town Hall clock chiming three. Now it was chiming five. She wasnt straight back and we were arguing about constellations and galaxies and how many there were in a Universe. Black paper and coloured shapes lay in confusion on the kitchen table.
Billy was boasting that since he had a telescope he knew all about Universes. I was boasting that at ten he could hardly know anything.
And besides, I told him, the telescopes broken.
It was getting colder and though we could have turned on the fire to warm us we didnt. The kitchen fire was dads. It was his answer to mam complaining about clarting on with coal on bitter mornings. But it was his face that glowed as he presented her with the Gas Show Room chitty. That fire that came was his pride and joy, all wood surround and three buttons. Low, medium and high. Dads gift to mam.
We didnt turn it on. Somehow it wouldnt be right pressing those buttons, watching the flames turn the three white oblongs orange. It was as if turning dads fire on might make the thing at the factory worse.
Lets get the planets right first, I said making up to Billy. So we got out dads book about stars and our chalks and started on the Milky Way.
Louise from next door came in with a bowl of peas pudding and some saveloys.
Youre to eat this for your tea, she said. And mam says if you want to come round you can. If it gets dark. She says to ask have you got bread?
Weve got bread, I told her looking at the steam coming from the peas pudding and then looking straight at Louise. Whats happened at the factory?
She stood quite still and said nothing.
What? Billy asked, sounding older than ten suddenly.
An accident, thats what. And it was as if shed said too much because her face flushed. But its all right, she said quickly. Mam says its all right.
We buttered our bread with peas pudding and wrapped it round the saveloys. We didnt talk about Louise or the factory or the accident. Just sat eating in front of dads fire which we didnt dare turn on.
Lets just do the galaxy, Billy said later, his voice small and tired. A Universe is too big.
But even the galaxy seemed too big. We settled for constellations. Practising them. Testing each other.
Whats this one? The Plough. Wrong. Whats this one? The Little Bear. Wrong again.
I didnt get one constellation right. Billy got them all. He gleamed in the glory of it and I was glad to know nothing much about stars.
The clock was chiming seven when we heard the car pulling up. Billy got to the door first and let mam in. She shuffled past us like a grandma would and we followed her into the kitchen, watched her sit down in dads chair and smooth her hands slowly over the arm rests. Billy and I looked at each other not knowing what to say or do.
Lets get this on, mam nodded at the fire but didnt move. Billy sprang up and pressed one of the buttons.
Put it on high, love.
She sat and watched the small explosion as the fire ignited.
Wheres dad? I asked eventually. Mam looked at me as if surprised by the question but didnt answer straight away. Instead she took us both on her knees like small children. My heart banged.
Theres been an accident, but hes all right, thank God. Hes still there helping out.
She offered no more. We didnt ask. The rest didnt concern us but passed us by like shooting stars through the eye of a broken telescope. Our fears had been for dad and dad alone.
We were making a Universe, Billy said, but it was too big. We didnt know what to put in it. He pointed at the kitchen table and mam smiled for the first time since she arrived. Everything loosened up inside me, became water, and I rested my head on hers, listening to her voice as it rose and fell.
Stars. Suns. Moons, she was saying. Anything you can think of, like the world and the sky a thousand times over.
We sat until it was past Billys bedtime and mine. It was as if mam had forgotten about the time and we were in no hurry to remind her. Instead we savoured the warm kitchen and talked together as if none of what had gone before had really happened. The black paper that was sky and all the sticky colours that were stars and galaxies lay on the table, ignored.
When the talk stopped we sat staring into the orange light of dads fire. To me it was like looking at all the stars, moons and suns there ever were surrounded by wood. With three buttons. Low, medium and high.
At last came the sound of dads key in the lock, the front door closing and his footsteps coming towards the kitchen. We stopped thinking about universes. Our world was big enough for us. It was what we knew best and loved best and dad coming home safely had made it whole again.
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