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A Smile From Mr. Manners
By Celia Bryce

 

Simon knows all about Mister Manners. Mister Manners is invisible but he’s the one who invented please and thank you. The one who invented being nice to everyone and not being nasty and everything. Oh he knows all about Mister Manners.

It’s what grandma told him when there was just Simon to tell. Now it’s all different. Now there’s Rosie too.

Mister Manners, says grandma, lives inside everyone’s head. And when he’s awake in your head you say please and thank you and don’t get mad at people and don’t say rude words or nasty things. When Mister Manners is awake you don’t take things that don’t belong to you and you are nice to everyone.

Sometimes Simon wishes Mister Manners would just go to sleep. Or move into someone else’s head. Because now Rosie has arrived and he has to say please and thank you and think nice thoughts about her. Mister Manners keeps telling him to. So does grandma and mammy and daddy. Everyone.

And because he doesn’t want to and he doesn’t like Rosie Simon feels empty and a little bit sad.

Rosie used to be just a bump in his mammy’s tummy and that was all right. And now she isn’t a bump but a special unit in a care incubator or something and has all sorts of things happening to her. And tubes coming out of her and everything and he’s not even seen her yet. He’s not allowed. So how can he like her?

Anyway, she came too early. Simon wonders what Mister Manners would say about that.

Today mammy’s at the hospital again and so is daddy and grandma keeps wiping her eyes with a hanky and sometimes forgets that Simon’s there and sometimes doesn’t answer his questions. Or forgets where they are in the book. Sometimes she just closes her eyes and looks asleep. Like now. And it’s all quiet. Just the clock ticking and the fridge humming.

Simon’s allowed to play in the garden on his own now that he’s big, as long as he doesn’t go in the shed. But the shed’s got a nest in it and grandma’s forgotten to put the padlock on and the door’s open and a cat might have got in. So really he’ll have to go in and check. Even though Mister Manners is telling him not to because of the sharp things.

The sharp things are why he’s not allowed in the shed without grandma. But Simon promises Mister Manners that he won’t touch the sharp things. He won’t even look at them. He’ll just check that a cat isn’t in. Because there might be birds in the nest already. Grandma says you just never can trust cats when it comes to birds. And Simon reckons that means nests too.

Mister Manners keep telling him not to go in but grandma’s asleep and forgotten about his story and there might be a cat. And mammy and daddy are with Rosie and Rosie’s got an incubator. And the incubator’s in a hospital and it’s a long way away. And anyway it isn’t fair.

The nest is just on the ledge above the window. Grandma told him all about nests when he was only little and didn’t know about things.

‘What does it do?’ he’d asked

‘It doesn’t do anything but it’s where a mammy bird lays her eggs. And she has to keep them nice and warm until they’re ready to hatch. Until they’re big enough.’

‘What’s hatch grandma?’

And so she showed him an egg from the box in the fridge and there was a picture on the top of it.

‘Does a lion live inside the egg?’

Simon was pleased he’d said that because then grandma just laughed and laughed and said she’d have to sit down for five minutes.

‘No, pet. The pictures on it to say it’s a nice egg to eat. But inside the little eggs in a nest are baby birds living and growing. And the egg shells keep the baby birds safe and the mammy bird sits on the eggs to keep them warm and then the baby birds come out. That’s what hatching is.’

But then it got all mixed up because Simon wanted to know about the egg in the fridge and why wasn’t there a baby bird in that one and why didn’t they eat eggs from a nest? Then grandma gave him some chocolate and said she never really liked eggs much and she’d read him a story now.

The shed’s a bit dark but Simon’s not frightened of the dark now that’s he’s big. But he doesn’t like it when there’s no noise. He doesn’t like it when everything’s quiet. Which is what happens when grandma goes to sleep.

And the shed is quiet but there’s something making a noise from where the nest is. And he stares and stares and he thinks he can see the bird’s head. And that must mean she’s got some eggs in there. Because that’s what you get in nests.

Simon wishes he could see the eggs. But it’s very high up and there’s nothing to stand on except the stool. And he just wishes Mister Manners would go to sleep because now he’s telling him not to climb up on the stool.

It’s then that he hears something else in the shed and he turns to find grandma standing there, all quiet but looking vexed. His heart begins to thump in his chest. And Mister Manners is telling him, told you so.

‘Simon,’ grandma says. ‘What are you doing in here? Haven’t you been told not to go into the shed?’

He nods and looks at the colour of his shoes.

‘I turn my head for a minute and what happens? You’re in the shed.’

Simon can’t look at grandma’s face.

‘Well, what have you got to say for yourself?’

He has nothing to say for himself.

‘I thought I could trust you, Simon, but obviously not.’

And that’s when all of a sudden Simon’s sorry for being naughty. Sorry for going into the shed even though there might have been a cat in. Sorry for making grandma angry. And he wants his mammy and daddy to come and take him home and not to be with Rosie all the time. And he wants them now.

And all of this makes him cry.

‘Now, now,’ says grandma. ‘Come on.’ And she scoops him up in her arms even though he’s big now and gives him a big tight cuddle. ‘I’ll make us a nice drink of juice and we’ll have a biscuit as long as you promise never to go in there again.’

Simon nods and that’s good enough for grandma because she smiles at him and her face creases up like a piece of soft cloth. Then grandma’s face changes again.

‘But I’m wondering, was the door open?’ Simon nods. ‘Oh dear I must have forgotten to lock it last night. That was very silly of me. I’ll have to promise not to forget to lock it otherwise I won’t get juice and biscuit will I?’

Simon looks into grandma’s face and she’s looking back at him and then they’re both smiling and it’s all right again.

‘I thought a cat might be in. Getting the nest,’ he says. Grandma nods as they go back into the house.

‘Yes, a cat might have got in. Silly me. But the nest’s empty so it wouldn’t have mattered too much.’

Simon’s mouth falls open and he shakes his head. ‘There’s a bird in. I saw it.’

‘Is there really?’

Simon nods again feeling very proud that he’s discovered something to make grandma look amazed. ‘She might have some eggs mightn’t she?’ he goes on.

‘Well if she has we mustn’t disturb her.’

‘Why, grandma?’

‘Because she has to keep them warm, and if she gets disturbed she’ll abandon them and that would be a shame.’

‘What’s abandon?’

Grandma sits him down at the table and finds the juice from the fridge and pours him some. She pulls the biscuit tin from the shelf and opens it. Simon chooses one and begins to eat it.

‘If the bird abandons the eggs it means she flies away and doesn’t come back and then the eggs won’t hatch.’

Simon thinks about all of this and he munches his biscuit. He wouldn’t want the mammy bird to abandon the nest.

Suddenly he remembers mammy telling him something about Rosie. He remembers her nice face close up to his, almost touching, and whispering into this ear.

‘You see, pet, Rosie’s very small and she has to be kept warm until she’s bigger. That’s what the incubator’s for. And mammy has to be there because she needs mammy’s milk to get bigger. And then she can come out of the incubator and come home. We can all come home and be together again.’

It had all sounded so nice and mammy had hugged him very close when she’d said that and laid her head on his and it was all so warm and lovely that when she finally let go of him he felt cold. And then he was in the car and going to grandma’s and everyone was hugging everyone else and that was when he decided he didn’t like Rosie.

Simon finished his biscuit and licked his fingers and thought about the bird on the nest keeping the eggs warm and somehow in his head he could imagine Rosie being an egg and mammy being the bird.

‘Is the nest like a incubator grandma?’

Grandma looks at him. ‘Well now aren’t you a clever boy. I never thought of it like that but yes. That’s exactly it.’

‘And the eggs are like Rosie.’

Grandma’s eyes look suddenly shiny. ‘Yes, pet. They’re all just tiny little things, keeping warm while they get big enough to hatch out.’

‘And will Rosie hatch out?’

He looks straight at grandma waiting for an answer and grandma takes the lid off the biscuit tin again, lets him choose another one. She puts the lid back on and looks at it for a long time. The picture on the tin is a dog with big brown eyes and a patch over one of them.

‘As long as she keeps warm and keeps getting bigger, then yes.’ And grandma’s eyes are very shiny now and she gets her hanky out and wipes them. ‘Oh, dear all this talk and the dinner to get on.’

When the telephone rings Simon’s putting the butter on his bread and getting it right to the edges so it looks nice. But he can still hear grandma’s voice.

‘Oh love,’ she’s saying and she’s crying. ‘Oh, love.’

Simon leaves the bread and goes to where grandma’s standing in the hall. He leans up against her and she puts her arm around him. There’s a big mirror on the wall and he looks at himself and grandma in it. Grandma has dark curly hair and her dress is blue and she has her pinny on. He’s got his red shorts and stripey T shirt and he’s got yellow curly hair. Grandma calls him her angel.

It’s funny to watch grandma in the mirror, her lips moving against the phone and her eyes all wet and everything spilling down her cheeks. It looks silvery in the mirror.

And the phone goes down and grandma pulls him in so close his nose feels all squashed.

‘Have you got a headache grandma?’

She was always having headaches, Simon knew. Ever since Rosie came too early and since mammy and daddy left him here with her. She had headaches which made her eyes shine and her cheeks wet.

‘No, pet lamb. I haven’t’

‘Who was on the phone grandma?’

‘It was your mammy and she was telling me that your little sister, your Rosie, is coming out of the incubator. Now isn’t that wonderful?’

‘Is she hatching out? Can I go and see her hatch out.’ He jumps around the hall.

‘Daddy’s coming to pick us both up after dinner and we can go and see her. Now what a treat!’

‘And can she come home?’

Suddenly Simon’s body feels full of lemonade bubbles and Mister Manners must be covered in them. He begins to laugh. And it’s funny how all of a sudden it feels nice to laugh

‘No, pet, not straight away. I mean once the birds in the nest hatch out they can’t fly straight away. The mammy bird has to feed all the little birds till they get their feathers….’

And grandma keeps on explaining about things but Simon’s head is filling up with pictures of Rosie in a nice warm nest, all cuddled up with mammy and this time he doesn’t mind.

‘… and when she gets bigger she can come home, You’ll see,’ grandma’s saying.

Rosie will come flying through the air, thinks Simon and mammy too and daddy and though he knows they aren’t really birds the picture makes him smile and think nice thoughts.

And Mister Manners? Oh, he likes the picture too.

 

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